Updated: Apr 7, 2021
This article is intended for collectors of fine art prints on paper, i.e., for those who want their art to last for many years and possibly use as an investment. Also, new artists/printmakers can benefit significantly from this information.
What fine art prints should you buy?
1. Small prints can be precious and easy to frame or store. Be aware that exceptionally large prints may need expensive framing/glazing owing to the weight of glass.
2. For investment art, the most valued art is original prints, i.e., etchings, woodcuts, serigraphs, hand pulled non-commercial lithographs, monotypes, monoprints, stencils, chine collé, etc. These are more valuable if they are signed by the artist and are limited edition with the signature and number of the edition either on the border of the print or on the print.
3. Next of value are professionally printed and highly-pigmented giclée prints, and photographs that have been signed by the artist and have been numbered as “limited edition” prints. Be careful that the edition does not go beyond 100. Photographs can be on photographic paper or on the highest quality archival printing paper. I recommend that art be printed on archival/acid free paper and better yet 100 percent cotton paper and that highly pigmented inks are used (these would be rated high for low-fading properties). Open edition prints should be of the same preceding quality and are good if buying on a budget and are primarily decorative. (Note: Prints on smooth paper are sharper but prints of textures paper have more character.)
4. There is a market for vintage prints that were printed on wood pulp paper, i.e., photogravure, rotogravure, letterpress; and they can be treated for their acid. Also, there is a revival of these printing processes and prints/small books are being produced on cotton and acid free paper…but all this goes beyond what this article is about.
Additional considerations for fine art print purchases:
1. Initial condition. If the art has been matted, ensure that a backing has not been glued to the art, and that the mat has not been taped with yellowing tape to any important part of the art, like behind the image.
2. Provenance. This is important to prove that the art has not been altered and is not a forgery, reproduction, or stolen. Most of this information and documentation should be obtained before at time of purchase; depending on the state in which purchased it may be the law if you are purchasing a “limited edition” piece. Ask for a certificate of authenticity with your sales receipt. If possible, get a photograph that shows the art, yourself, and the artist and/or seller. I have purchased books that contain photographs of the art by the artist (sometimes the book has an image of my print).
3. Handling. Handle carefully at the time of purchase. Do not place in backseat of car with open windows, etc. Best to have an area ready in a clean trunk.
4. Short-term storage. Place in a safe area (on top or behind a bedroom cabinet) until you can secure framing or long-term storage.
5. Long-term storage. Use a metal (not a wooden) flat file and keep the art in an archival sleeve backed with archival mat board. This will keep insects away from the fibers of the paper. For embossed art, maintain its relief properties by matting art and not placing heavy items on top that will flatten relief.
6. Matting and framing. If you plan to display your art, use archival materials like 100 percent cotton or at least acid free paper that comes in contact with the art. There are time limitations to protection from acid free mats.
7. Protective display. Use UV protective glass and safe placement (not close to windows, heaters, water fixtures, etc.)
8. Determine value and insure art. At a minimum, document art via photographs or video placed safely on the web/cloud.
9. Corrective treatments for damaged art. If repair is needed, consult a conservation professional. Do not repair it yourself!
Important Note: Much care must be given to removing art from old mats and frames. You may need to consult a professional if the art is joined to the mat or frame.