There have always been brilliant craftsmen who were instrumental in helping the artist to achieve true representation of his idea. That wonderful tradition continues today as master printers and artists enter into remarkable, inspired collaborations to make quality works of art which genuinely prove the artist's mastery and vision. Every situation is different and in every case the artist participates to a greater or lesser degree. This does not detract from the originality of the print however -- the collaboration itself or the use of various products and techniques does not alter the fact that it is an original print. No matter how the process is achieved, if it follows the unique design of the artist, under his supervision, it is an original print.
First the artist creates a design on a selected medium such as stone, wood or metal. A print is then made by inking the design and pressing it against paper, in this way leaving an image.
The methods of printmaking can be characterized in four categories:
1. Relief is the earliest known technique of image duplication. This includes woodcuts, wood engravings and linoleum cuts.
2. The intaglio process includes engravings, etchings, drypoints, aquatints and mezzotints.
3. The planographic or lithographic process.
4. The stencil process includes serigraphs or silkscreens.
The argument over the correct meaning of the word "original" as applied to various print media has gone on for a long time. Of course, a "purist" will argue that the artist must complete the entire process using one of the traditional techniques. In the past fifty years, however, attitudes have begun to change. The possibilities to the artist, due to innovative mechanical processes and the continual patenting and marketing of new art products, have expanded greatly. And though the artist may have the vision and the eye for creative perfection, he may not necessarily have the technical know-how to execute every step along the way.
The concept of originality is different in printmaking than in other fields. The dictionary defines "original" to mean that form which a copy is made. In printmaking, however, the printing surface is not the original. It simply provides the elements for the creation of the original prints. Each successive print is also considered to be original. So when the matrix, or the printing surface is destroyed -- that is after the specified number of "original" prints is made -- there will only be that number of "original" prints of that image.
Afters, reproductions and re-strikes are not original prints.
An after is a print that is a handmade copy of an existing work of art. Although it may be of excellent quality and far superior to anything the original artist may be capable of, it was not created by that artist.
Many centuries ago prints were made specifically as copies of paintings. In the image itself or directly below it in the margin, a copyist made note of his part and the other craftsmen who played a part in working on the plate. It was a matter of pride. Today copying has an entirely different connotation. In terms of value, afters are on very shaky ground even though they may be technically stunning.
A reproduction is a print that is a copy of an existing piece of art, usually created photo-mechanically -- and at that, without the artist's permission. With your magnifying glass you will be able to see the dot screen process that identifies this process very rapidly. The photo-mechanical process of copying involves a process which breaks down colors and gray areas on the original resulting in a pattern of tiny dots which you can always find on a reproduction. Any reputable art dealer will let you examine a print with a magnifying glass. And when you are considering investing a good deal of money in a work of art, you must always research that particular print and all its peculiarities before you buy it.
One word of caution is that photo-engraved copies of etchings, engravings and woodcuts (all line drawings) will not have dots. These are identified by using a magnifying glass to see that the lines are heavier and less defined than the original hand-drawn ones.
Re-strikes or reprints are later impressions made from the original printing surface sometime after the first edition was completed. They may be printed in unlimited editions long after the artist has died.
Sometimes, museums and other public institutions buy the original matrix. They reprint the image and sell it to familiarize the public with an artist -- usually someone they have in their permanent collection -- at a relatively low cost to the buyer, the proceeds of which would go to operations and acquisitions.