When looking at the descriptions for some artworks, you would be forgiven for thinking it was written in a different language. There are so many terms, many of them French, and it can be a little alienating. But no more! We’ve put together some of the most commonly used art terms to cut out the confusion and help you know exactly what you’re looking at.
how to read a print
These are the most common edition types that you can find on artrepublic:
These are artworks that are limited in their production. The amount they are limited by depends entirely on the edition. Limited editions are normally numbered, but not always signed by the artist.
Special edition prints, such as those with Gold Leaf, Diamond dust or other finishes, are usually limited to smaller edition sizes compared with the main edition, such as 5 or 10 .
Edition Numbers – Edition numbers are normally written in the format xx/yy.
When producing limited editions, an extra number of prints, excluded from the main edition, are printed for the artist and or the printer to check - ‘proof’ - to ensure the intended results are achieved. These can be around 10% of the edition size, and can vary in appearance from the main edition.They can include colour variations that were “fixed” for the main edition, during the proofing process.
These are editions that have no fixed production volume – and can run indefinitely. For this reason they are usually not signed.
Originals are artworks produced by the artists. They can be unique 1/1 hand finished prints. On occasion this 1/1 may be the source image from which an edition is made.
Timed release prints are made available for purchase for a set time – usually 24 or 48 hours. The edition size is then determined by how many prints are ordered and produced, rather than being pre-defined.
Box Sets are sets of limited edition works, in a special presentation “box” which is often a piece of work in itself! The collections can be available as individual prints or they may only be available as a complete set.
Prints printed not for commercial sale will be marked with HC. They are often the same as the original edition, but were not originally printed for sale. They are sometimes made available by the artist for specific collectors, or given away as gifts.
As the name suggests, this is the amount of prints that have been produced in an edition.
It’s important to note that ‘variations’ and ‘special editions’ of a print will have their own edition sizes. For example, an artist may produce an artwork in an edition of 50, while also releasing special gold leaf or diamond dust editions in smaller edition sizes. In this case, the image may have a total print run of 90, consisting of 50 standard editions, 20 gold and 20 diamond versions. This excludes any ‘proof’ editions.
All of our paper sizes are displayed in the format Width x Height, in cm. If the first number is larger than the second, the print is in landscape format, if the opposite is true it is portrait.
The image size will sometimes be smaller than the paper size, suggesting a border or ‘margin’ around the image. Where possible we try to show this through the product image.
Papers will have either straight cut edges, or “deckled”, hand torn edges.
This mostly influences how you may choose to frame the print. Straight cut edges can be framed to the edge, whereas deckle edged prints will look impressive with a shadow float mount.
Artists work using a wide variety of print methods, all producing slightly different styles.
Giclées are a digital form of printing using high resolution inkjet printers to produce quality archival prints which can last for decades. These can be finished with hand-applied details, or hand finished with silkscreens and finishes.
Silkscreen, also referred to as screen-printing or serigraph, is a process where screens made of stretched silk are exposed to light to produce certain patterns, through which ink is then pressed onto paper. It is a manual process where each colour is applied by hand, often involving multiple layers.
A fabulous example of an artist who pushes this to the limit is Bonnie & Clyde. Who has produced 30-layered screen prints.
Silkscreens can also be used to finish or glaze other types of print.
Etching is the process of printing produced by ‘etching’ patterns, shapes and designs into the surface of a metal or acrylic plastic plate. Acid-bite etching is the use of acid to erode the metal plate. The acid cuts into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio (incised) in the metal. Etching is used for fine art prints and illustrations. It is used for small to medium ‘runs’ of prints. They can be made using one colour or a number of different colours.
A lenticular is a technology that allows the viewed image to alter, based on viewing angle. This is achieved through a layer of lenses (lenticules) on the surface of the print which only allows the viewing of one of the interlaced images. This creates prints that change based on where the viewer is standing. Artists use this effect to make images appear 3 dimensional, convey movement or change the colours in a print entirely.
Photographic prints use a variety of different printing processes. The result is often a more analogue feel to the prints, due to the chemical process that the prints are exposed to. They offer additional ‘glossy’ and ‘metallic’ results not available with Giclée prints. Note that silkscreens may be used to apply finishes such as diamond dust, varnishes or glazes to photographic prints, but are rarely used to print the image itself.
Relief prints are made by the artist taking a ‘block’ of material, often linoleum or wood, and cutting away the surface in areas they don't want to be printed. The resulting block can then be inked for printing.
Mixed media works are produced using a variety of mediums, or methods. For example a print may be a Giclée print with a silkscreen varnish, along with spray painted and hand drawn elements. Some artists may use 3D objects to enhance an image. Glitter, plastic models, glass, spray paint, oils and more can all be utilised to create a unique hand finished artwork. Or, an artist can create an original work with oil paint, collage and spray stencils.
Prints may be finished with varnishes, glazes and other layers to give a piece a special finish. This can be to highlight certain areas of the print or to give the whole print a certain aesthetic. They can be applied by hand or as a silkscreen layer.
The paper type is specified where available on our prints. The style or make of paper usually varies based on artist preference, with different paper types creating different end results due to different absorption of inks. It is important to wrap unframed prints in tissue-paper that is acid free to prevent damage. We always describe paper used in the following format: “300gsm Somerset Tub” – “Weight, Make, Style”.
Weight refers to the paper weight, with many of the prints being produced on paper between 300 and 400gsm. This makes for an extremely thick, quality paper which absorbs inks much better than thinner papers and lasts much longer. ‘GSM’ stands for Grams per Square Meter. Standard office printer paper is around 80gsm.
There are several makers of paper, with Somerset, Hahnemühle and Fabriano the most popular with our artists.
The last piece of information is the style, such as Satin, Cotton Rag, Satin, Smooth, Velvet etc. These all vary on the raw materials and production process of the paper.