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Are We Witnessing the End of Fine-Art Printmaking?

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Angels over Granada, etching by Maureen Booth

Wagging Tail, Severed Head
Is unscrupulous competition killing fine-art printmaking? Or has it killed it already, the movement we’re seeing today being just the tail wagging after the head has been severed? Either way, we are seeing the disappearance of the fine-art print as we know it. It’s being accosted on all sides by an insidious digital-copy business which has illicitly co-opted the language of printmaking and made it its own.

The digital revolution has given rise to two notable novelties which affect printmaking. Let’s start with the good news. Computers, clever image-creation/modification software and high-quality inkjet printers have enabled artists to create original digital images and print them with astonishing quality on a variety of substrates. These “digital prints,” did not enter into the generally-accepted definition of original fine-art prints elaborated by the French National Committee on Engraving in 1964, because they didn’t exist at the time, but today they have a legitimate claim to being considered fine-art prints.

That 1964 definition stipulated:

Proofs either in black and white or in color, drawn from one of several plates, conceived and executed entirely by hand by the same artist, regardless of the technique employed, with the exclusion of any and all mechanical or photomechanical processes, shall be considered original engravings, prints or lithographs. Only prints meeting with such qualifications are entitled to be designated Original Prints.

The down side of the digital phenomenon is that this very same technology is being used by unscrupulous dealers to create high-quality reproductions of existing artwork and commercialize them as “fine-art prints.” Some of these operators are knowingly violating the canons of the centuries-old fine-art-print tradition. Others are simply ignorant. It’s not easy to tell which is which. Whatever the case, there is no excuse either for ignoring the tradition or for knowingly violating it.

Neither Moralizing Nor Nostalgia
This insistence upon respect for printmaking traditions is neither vapid moralizing nor luddite nostalgia. Over more than 500 years of proud history the term “fine-art print” has acquired the status of a trademark for artist-made serial-original works of art. What those works of art include may be up for discussion, but what they certainly do not include are art reproductions, regardless of the degree of sophistication of the copying methods employed.

What’s at stake here are the livelihoods of thousands of contemporary fine-art printmakers whose valuable, exclusive handmade original prints-whether created with etching tools or computers–are being unfairly undercut by dealers who, in a classical example of dishonest, disloyal competition, refer to their inkjet copies as “giclee prints” or even more brazenly, “limited-edition giclee prints.” As if the techniques and terminology of fine-art printmaking were not arcane enough already to the often-ingenuous art-buying public, along come digital sharp operators to confuse them even more with the deliberate usurpation of printmaking’s traditional vocabulary. They would have us believe this is simply commerce. It is, I submit, simple larceny.

This is not to say that there is not a legitimate niche in the market for inkjet or other types of art reproductions. No one in her right mind would sustain that. It’s just that those reproductions are not fine-art prints, any more than an offset art poster is. While it’s undoubtedly printed, it’s hardly a “print.” To affirm otherwise in order to commercialize digital reproductions at fine-art prices is fraudulent and should be treated as such in the marketplace, the media and the courts of law.

The Question of Big-Bucks Vested Interests
The issue is further complicated by the multi-billion dollar financial interests in play. All the giant inkjet printer companies have discovered the potential of the giclee market and are fomenting it with a vengeance. They make billions selling not only the large-format inkjet printers used in making art reproductions, but also the inks and papers. They manage to remain largely above the fray, however, as their communications usually to refer to their printers’ utility in terms of “graphic art” and “photographic” applications.

I want to share with you an anecdote which will give you an idea of the kind of clout the fine-art printmaking community is up against. Two summers ago a giant computer company (like a quarter of a million employees worldwide) flew some 60 American art-and-design-world opinion leaders to a charming European capital to stay in a five-star hotel and preview their new-model large-format inkjet printers. The “preview” consisted of an intensive three-day course at the factory including the most intimate technical details of the new printers, and hands-on practice sessions. The daytime workshops were accompanied by a series of sumptuous meals and excursions in the evenings. The visit to the factory was followed up by an all-expense-paid weekend at the Arles Photography Festival in France.

This astute manufacturer spared no expense to convert these imaging opinion leaders to its own new state-of-the-art large-format inkjet printers (and don’t forget the inks and papers) for use in all sorts of design, industrial and art applications. What, in fact, is the principal use to which these printers are put, in terms of volume use? You guessed it, fine-art reproductions. Though in the vast majority they are not sold as “reproductions” or “posters” but as “fine-art prints.”

A Simple Experiment
How serious is it? I recently did a simple experiment to gauge the extent of this printmaking death-watch-beetle phenomenon, an experiment which you can repeat yourself if you’re inclined. On Saturday, July 5, 2008 I did a Google search for the term “fine-art prints.” I had to wade through 15 websites offering “fine art prints and posters” and “giclee prints” before encountering on page two of the search a site ( dedicated to signed limited-edition photographs, but I had to trudge on to the 42nd entry on page five to find a hand-pulled fine-art print (Maria Arango’s original woodcuts). After Maria’s work I had to slog through four more pages of reproductions described as “prints” before finding another genuine printmaker, Laszlo Bagi, a screen-print artist. He appeared at the bottom of page nine of the Google search results for “fine art prints,” 97th on the list. I had to continue on to page 11 to find the next sellers of authentic fine-art prints, Santa Fe Editions.

In all, my Google search turned up just two purveyors of genuine fine-art prints out of the first 100+ results. That’s less than 2%. The other 98+% are misrepresenting the lithographic, offset and inkjet reproductions they’re selling as “fine art prints.” Considering this preponderance of fraudulent competition, it’s no wonder print buyers and potential print buyers are confused. Given this state of affairs, how is an honest printmaker supposed to make a living?

What to Do?
How might the worldwide fine-art printmaking community combat this onslaught? Obviously it must begin by recognizing the reality of the situation and opening a debate on the subject. In the meantime, it occurs to me that they could start with a worldwide program to educate both actual and potential art buyers–as to what is a genuine fine-art print. They might also put some pressure on the search motors, who are, in all likelihood, unknowing collaborators in the online print-fraud operations. Why do Google, Yahoo, and the other search motors index art posters and giclee reproductions under the search term “fine art prints?” It would seem to be quite a simple matter for them to oblige sellers to present honest descriptions of their wares, under penalty of being banned.

There also seems to be obvious work to be done on the legal front, in the courts and legislatures. Some places, such as California and New York, have legislation to regulate and protect both printmakers and print buyers. (See a recent case here:,0,6289287.story.) Nor would some political initiatives seem out of order. Why don’t more countries and U.S. states have legislation in place to protect printmakers and print buyers? What can printmakers do to promote the enactment of that legislation? What other initiatives might professional printmakers undertake to recuperate their legitimate rights in these matters?

I don’t have the answers to all these questions, but I think it’s legitimate and necessary to raise them. And I’d like to see how printmaking professionals feel about these issues. Just go to the “Leave a Reply” box below and have your say.

Written by Michael Booth

July 8, 2008 at 10:21 am

17 Responses

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  1. Very interesting post. I’m a printmaker (hobbyist). I’m a bit of two minds about these issues. On one hand, it does seem very likely that printmaking as we know it will go the way of medieval instruments — there are some that know how to play them, and there’s a small niche for them. And, in a way, why not, there have been lots of technologies that have been abandoned.

    On the other hand, it does bother me all this (intentional) blurring of the boundary between reproductions and originals. It’s probably here to stay (too much money clout). So traditional printmaking might need to change the terminology, to present itself differently. Anyone for “original prints”, or “hand-pulled prints”, or something like that? This might exclude the digital prints (they are not very hand-pulled), but I’m not too worried about them — they will be ubiquitous, and, at some point, there will be a backlash/lawsuit/law against digital reproductions coming from actual artists whose creations were reproduced.

    Ironically, this is what got displayed at the end of your post:
    Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)

    * Canvas Prints UK
    * What is a Giclee Print ?
    * Giclee Canvas Prints


    July 8, 2008 at 3:24 pm

  2. Original Prints and Reproductions – A Need for Definition
    by Mark Graver
    (First published in Artists Alliance Magazine NZ # 76 Feb – Mar 2006)

    Enter ‘Artists Prints’ into Google and, even when limited to NZ pages, 105,000 examples appear. Of these the vast majority are sites selling ‘Fine Art Prints’, posters and ‘canvas prints’. Similarly many local galleries and craft shops will often have on display ‘Limited Edition Artists Prints’ and, the new favourite, Giclee. In magazines and newspapers ‘Limited Edition Prints’ are regularly for sale. But should we really be allowing the use of the term ‘Artists Print’ when applied to these works? Are they not merely reproductions or copies of other works?

    What, you may ask, is the problem? When I approached one such dealer in ‘Fine Prints’ in the course of researching this article I was told I was ‘fighting a losing battle’ in terms of trying to educate the public, and that ‘the terms art print and art reproduction, even poster are seen as pretty much interchangeable by the general public’

    And it is exactly here that the problem is revealed. There is confusion with the terms artists print, original print, reproduction etc. Definitions need to be in place and supported by agreed regulations. It is an issue of protection, for the consumer as well as the artist and basic philosophical and ethical issues need to be considered.

    This definition of an original print was prepared by the Canadian Artists Representation and recently published in Printmaking Today (Vol 14, No.3)
    An original print is “an image that has been conceived by an artist as a print and executed solely as a print in a limited number under his or her artistic control. Each print in the edition is an original, printed from a plate, stone, screen, block, or other matrix created for that purpose. There is no one original print from which copies were made. Each is inked and pulled individually; it is a multi-original medium. The unique qualities of each matrix influence the nature of the images created by the artist. Regardless of the technology used, an original print is conceived and executed as a print, not as a reproduction of work in another medium”

    The issue here is not the process but the intent. A Giclee (a fancy name for Inkjet from the French gicler to squirt) can be as much an original print as an etching or wood cut, it depends on the artist’s motive.

    There is a long history of definitions relating to prints. ‘In 1960 the Print Council of America published ‘What Is an Original Print?’ It allowed only prints for which the artist designed and created the matrix, permitting electric tools and even photographic techniques but no copyist – though others could print with the artist’s supervision. This principle was contained in the 1960 resolution of the UNESCO artists’ organization’.

    Various laws exist throughout the world in relation to prints to protect both the artist and the consumer. ‘In the USA retailers of art multiples in California must supply a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ which must state the artist’s name; whether the artist signed the piece or if the signature was mechanically reproduced; the technique and materials employed; the production date; the authorized size of the signed edition; the number of unsigned or numbered multiples; total multiples including proofs and whether the matrix was cancelled after printing.’ And in New York, article #15 of the state’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Law requires similar documentation when multiples are sold for over US$100. This documentation is required to state whether the multiple is a ‘reproduction’.
    In Hawaii there has been a Sale of Fine Prints Act since 1986 and in Britain there is a BSI classification of prints (British Standard Institute BS 7876 1996 was copyrighted so anyone wanting to show it to customers has to pay a fee so the guidelines while excellent are rarely seen!) The Australian tax department once ruled that an edition of over 100 was not a work of art and was therefore subject to sales tax. Though this has since been abolished the 100 print limit seems to continue as a benchmark of perceived quality.

    I asked The Ministry for Culture and Heritage if they knew of any regulations or
    legislation in place within New Zealand regarding artists prints or multiples but it seems there is none.

    The problem here is not with reproductions per se but with the terms being applied to and associated with them – of course they are printed and therefore prints in one form but the appropriation of Fine Art Print, Art Print and Limited Edition (particularly when they are often open editions or numbered in the 1000’s) is spurious. Printmakers need to push for a recognised policy of print documentation and to take back the traditional classifications that have been usurped and abused by a marketplace free of standards and regulations.

    Mark Graver

    July 10, 2008 at 3:47 am


    I learned many things in lithography from a certain M.C. Escher, an artist and a consummate master printmaker who died miserably in 1972. Today he is virtually forgotten. He was the creator of strange mirages and impossible hand-made perpectives which were, nevertheless, mathematically precise. It was a careful observation of his very special crayon technique in lithography–using the proper grain of the stone to reach a large variety of half tones—which gave me a key for my own technique. Today, looking for Adobe Photoshop in my computer, I think again of Escher, and how he would be delighted to manage all those images with such a large panel of technical possibilities.

    In 1985 I met June Wayne in Paris at the occasion of her exhibition “My Palomar Series” at La galerie des femmes. My encounter with June was determinant in the ordering of my ideas about lithography and the development of my printmaking studio, as well. Since those days, Tamarind ethics and techniques have become the example to follow, not only for me, but for so many printmakers around the world. June–certainly moved by holy inspiration–rediscovered the technical tricks of old, and she took them from Paris to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic things have become more and more incertain, difficult and lost, and the worst is now certainly to come. Maybe one day in the future, however, younger generations will rediscover again the lost techniques of the past and the contributions of Tamarind Institute and others will again be in the limelight.

    In fact, the galaxy of imagery is now crossing through other spaces. For many years people here in Paris have felt pride in telling me that the Parisian printmaking studios were among the best. Now, a large part of the most prestigious ones have closed for good. Because images are different, real art and creation are mostly taking place in other prominent areas such as photography, design or architecture. For a large majority of young people, printmaking means absolutly nothing. Another issue which makes young people indifferent to printmaking is the print’s “predictable” quality. I think young people potentially interested in printed images would look for more “unexpected” subjects capable of generating immediate astonishment. The names of artist printmakers working today, with the exception of a few famous ones,are completely unknown to this new public of young people, who have a very new and different sensibility to the image.

    BIGER, BOLDER, BRIGHTER? Too late! In 2002, Philippe Dagen, published “l’Art impossible.” He asks: “Why is art quite impossible today? Because the society has no more time to deliver to artists…” The market has migrated to other attractions and interests. The loss of attractiveness makes artists and printmakers more and more isolated. The artists who are still painting or engraving remind me of “Dr. Strangelove,” totally disconected from a cruel reality. It’s difficult to say with any certainty. Maybe they do artwork just for their own pleasure.

    Today’s imagery doesn’t need any support. Computerised images have their own light and are generally delivered in full colour. Curiously, if you like, you can also see them in black and white… you only need to click the button. Images are “transparent” and you can go inside and look at them from the back. You can lower the brightness, cut on the shadows, move the colours, and put the tree on the roof for less than a dollar. For anyone born in the era of computers, printed images are simply information, without any suggestion that they represent some thing more, without any connection to actuality or events. Unfortunately or not, the appreciation of the magic of printing a creative image on paper from a matrix especially created by an artist is becoming an exercise reserved to the rare “adults” initiated into those arcane arts.

    And now what ? The truth is that between the paper and the “screen” we must choose our camp. I know, I’m telling you a story that many people would prefer not to hear. On the other hand, the old or even the more-recent creative images on paper may not be totally dead. Maybe they are just asleep. New matrixes are appearing now to invite printmakers to make prints—perhaps in an entirely different manner–on new and unexpected supports.

    Jörge de Sousa Noronha Paris, VII / 2008

    jorge de sousa noromha

    July 20, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    • thought you might be inerested in this, i am in the proccess of putting toger a website for a reclusive 66 year old much neglected & ignored exiled british artist living in isolation here in italy, i find his work incredible,he works in many media & his original prints are superb especially his woodcuts which are unbelievable, some tripyches are 3 metres by 2 metres.
      he has also himself published 10 volumes of spiritual writings poetry & 4 volumes of studies, his studio is unbelievable. the address is

      carla almerinda rossi

      June 20, 2009 at 8:50 pm

      • I left this message 2 years ago, without any interest at all in this mans work, no wonder he shuns the art world where all people like to do is talk, about the death of printmaking? i offered an opportunity into the highly origininal work of a unique master artist & printmaker, without any response, people are only interested in their own ego’s, no wonder the art of printmaking is dead, nobody is at all interested in anybody elses work except their own. Carla Almerinda Rossi. Italia.

        carla almerinda rossi

        September 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

  4. Hi Mike yes the issue of reproductive value is challenged again by the relatively new digital medias now becoming part of the over all picture of method within Australia and I guess? all other university printmaking departments through out the world. There had be a stirring of debate not long ago in Australia about this issue. The problem seems to have been difFused to a point due to the nature of identity of a name. Some of the main University;s have changed the name of the department to print media while others have kept the orginal name of printmaking. This is more about specialising than debate though. The other push seems to be for multi medium and method printmaking research. Unique state or orgianl artists proof work. I also think photographic theory has become popular research tool for printmakers who have perhaps been method driven rather than theorical since most Australian istitutions started printmaking departments in the early 1960’s. I will finish up with a positive statement by a Melbourne printmaking lecturer, she basically remarked the youth of today are returning to printmaking as they have grown up on digital technologie’s they want the hands on approach again. On a recent overveiw of student numbers and university printmaking departments in the Print Councils national magazine the future in Australian printmaking is looking heathy. Fashions comes and goes Mike. I really can’t see our craft going away to soon and in theory terms basically perhaps the acceptance of photogrpahy and digital media may inform us a little on just why we make the printed works of art. Hey man im with you I still love etching and lithography but why not add another string to thhe guitar.

    Michael Florrimell

    August 4, 2008 at 10:08 pm

  5. There are a number of points I’d take issue with here. The first is that Mike’s suggestion that a reproduction ‘while it’s undoubtedly printed [is] hardly a “print”.’ I don’t think that fine art printmaking can reclaim the word ‘print’ as its own; I don’t believe that is a good use of energy.
    There are indeed many dealers and publishers marketing expensive, limited edition digital reproductions – in other capacity, I run a magazine through which these are promoted. In some sense these prints are competing for the same pounds that might otherwise be spent on fine art prints; in many ways, they do not. They are often cheerfully undemanding in terms of imagery and often produced to co-ordinate with current decor trends. Few fine art printmakers would wish to work under such constraints so you have to ask yourselves: is this a market you would wish to be in?
    Such prints do aspire or ape aspects of fine art prints. They purport to be the artist’s inspiration and to be made with care. Many are indeed limited editions. In the UK edition sizes for reproduction giclees have come down dramatically in recent years (95 and 195 are now the norm; several years ago editions sizes were 495). So there is a market and, I’m told, it is doing okay.
    But… but… in the UK at least there are more artists with an international profile making etchings and screenprints now, more than there have been for a long time. Possibly this is due to a digital backlash. One famous art college in London is reputedly about to reinstate its etching presses having abandoned them for a digital print suite several years ago. Tamarind Institute is looking forward to a move into glamorous, new premises. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has staged some fantastic print exhibitions in recent years. There is much good news to be told about printmaking.
    Every printmaker knows that the way in which they make their work is both fascinating and of a piece with the work that results. Printmakers have to keep banging on about why what they do is so great because the medium is in itself an inspiration. I think that is the best – possibly the only – answer to the reproductions business. Classifying fine art prints has always proved a highly unsatisfactory business though I think Mark Graver’s research into legislation regarding prints in different parts of the world is fascinating.

  6. Hi Mike, good to hear from you.

    First an apology. I don’t think I made myself clear. I have nothing against high-quality digital reproductions. To the contrary, I think they can be admirably well done. And people who make and sell them, calling them what they are–“digital reproductions”–have my complete respect.

    What I object to is digital people using the terminology of fine-art printmaking when referring to their digital copies. You know: “art prints,” “fine prints,” “fine art prints,” and yes, simply “prints,” which in the fine-art context refers implicitly to “fine-art prints,” I respectfully submit. I believe that fine-art printmaking can and should claim the word “print” as its own, always within the context of the art world. (Though I am not the final authority by any means. I would like to see on this forum other printmaking professionals’ points of view on this subject.)

    As for signing and numbering digital copies, I’m convinced it forms part of the sham that some digital producers are trying put over on the print-buying public.

    I’m not sure I understand your sentence about “Few fine-art printmakers would wish to work under such constraints, so you have to ask yourselves: is this a market you would wish to be in?” As far as I know, fine-art printmakers have no objection to digital reproductions so long as they don’t intrude dishonestly into the long established fine-print market, co-opting its terminology and traditions. What authentic printmakers object to, I submit, is these shrewd operators selling what the Spanish call “gato por liebre,” “cat for hare.” As for “edition sizes coming down,” that may be true, but it’s not really what we’re talking about, is it?

    As for their market “doing OK,” I’m sure it is. But that doesn’t make their methods either legitimate nor ethical, I submit.

    Kind regards,

    Mike Booth

    Mike Booth

    September 17, 2008 at 1:21 pm

  7. Mike:

    As a professional printmaker who has tried to make a “living” at producing fine art hand
    pulled prints for the past 16 years, I can tell you definitely that the problem IS ignorance both on the part of the buying public, and on the part of the galleries who sell the work. I live in a part of Canada that is sparsely populated and we have very few galleries. We do, however, have a LOT of frameshops that bill themselves as “galleries” and sell work along with the framing that they do. What do they sell? Of course, they sell offset reproductions, poster prints, etc. They occasionally sell other artwork, but it is basically the offset stuff that moves. Part of this is the manner in which they do business. The artist who has the offset edition comes into the store and tells the owner that he has this image to sell, but that the proprietor will have to buy a certain number because he has only so many left. If the proprietor likes the image, is familiar with the artist’s name, knows that the work sells in other shops, etc., etc., then he is likely to buy a number of the offsets. They get priority in terms of display and in terms of his efforts to sell because he has invested money already and needs to move his stock. They get, in short, front and center stage placement.
    Unfortunately hand pulled prints, if he deals them at all, get stuck in the back and often not talked about at all because (a) the proprietor only accepts them on a consignment basis and (b) he knows little or nothing about the process.

    Just to tell you a short story. I was invited to display my hand pulled prints at a small gallery and craft store which opens for the tourist season in June, and closes in October. I went up and had at look at what they were doing. They did have a nice little display area for fine art, but of course I was not surprised to see that 90% of what they had on display was offset reproduction. I told the owners that I had a problem….I did not want to put my work next to offset unless they were willing to have my educate their clients and the general public. They were amenable. I brought up a small portable etching press, set it up along with a fold out display of etching,
    drypoint, silicone lithography plates, relief and collograph matrixes, and a short explanation of each process. SURPRISE, SURPRISE. I left my calling card, and information about ATELIER WEST. I got people coming by my studio to tell me that they had seen the display, liked the information, did not know the difference, and could they please see more work?

    I truly think that the onus is on the galleries to do some serious work in getting the buying public to understand the process. I have suggested many times that the galleries who are serious about selling fine art should do an “open talk” twice a year
    in which they invite a printmaker in, set up a small display, and talk about the process and how it differs from offset reproduction. We will get nowhere through
    mud at each other, but being positive about how we produce our work, and showing people that the price they pay for a hand-pulled print is truly legitimate considering the process, will go a long, long way to bringing printmaking back into the fore front. I don’t know how many people I have talked to who begin to tell me that they have an awesome print collection and when the conversation gets down to the nitty gritty they discover they have an awesome collection of poster prints that they have paid huge sums for, some of them paying as much as $400.00 to $500.00 for a reproduction that is in the size range of 12″ x 14″ (unframed). Ignorance is costly….both to the consumer and to the traditional printmaker.

    Bottom line…I don’t whine. I just do everything that I can to spread the word. Each time that I go somewhere I take information and I distribute it. Whenever I have a conversation about printmaking, or someone shows up at my studio door, I ask the
    question: “Are you a collector?” Then I proceed to feel them out and find out how much they know about the process. It works every time.

    I don’t for one minute believe that printmaking is dead, nor did I believe that painting was dead in the ’80’s. It will continue to happen, and if we are diligent enough to insist on the proper terminology being used in the proper manner people will eventually distinguish for themselves. The problem is of course that people are usually slow to learn.

    Audrey Feltham

    Audrey Feltham

    September 18, 2008 at 12:37 pm

  8. That old Mike Booth, stirring up shit again….here’s my quick take from the production side of the squeegee…I’ve got no pedigree from a university, but I’ve collaborated with some amazing artists in my career, produced and continue to produce limited edition screenprints, and over the last few years delved back into the amazing world of gigposters ( for you old farts who forgot how to rock and roll and decry the lack of interest in screenprinting and hand made art, check it out – this movement is influencing advertising, graphics, and driving interest in good old hand printed art. But more on that later.

    Giclee (or ejaculate) we cognicenti all know is a fancy word for INK JET PRINT. Audrey above makes the most telling point – it is galleries, not so much the artists, who have foisted this new art form on their buying public, replacing the ‘offset litho’ as the preferred low cost/high return object de art to sell to unwitting customers.

    And I’m sure bona fide painters, in another parallel webworld, are this minute sounding off on an internet forum about the proliferation of cheap knockoff ‘real oil paintings’ mass produced in some 3rd world art factory and sold on street corners or hotel lobbies throughout the civilized world.

    My point? The same reasons that make Walmart so successful drive the mass proliferation of reproduction digital art. People are generally stupid…make that ignorant…of the process that makes the product they want to buy. In too many cases, they just don’t care. Why should they? Consumerism doesn’t place a high value on knowledge, craft, or quality.

    They want it cheap, yet with perceived value. A limited edition print, complete with a certificate (“It’s real art Martha, it says so right here”) the giclee gives them that.

    They want it to match the couch. (“my goodness Martha, it looks just like a photograph”)

    They want it to go up in value and make them rich, just like the art snobs in the mansions. (“this is a Limited Edition Giclee Martha, not one of your friend’s little paintings. My friend Bob bought one by this artist for $300 and another one just like it sold for over $3000 on ebay….)

    We (I) can make fun of those uninformed art buyers all we want, but lets face it. By being in the print game, we selected an art category that was originally set up and continues to be the poor person’s entry point into fine art ownership. Nobody is paying 10 million dollars for a print of a shark in formaldahyde in a tank. And ‘print’, even though you/we fine art people want to ignore it to the detriment of the entire field, is still and always will be joined at the hip with commercial printing applications. So the general public doesn’t quite get it when you start splitting hairs. And the commercial side just laugh as they make bank. And fine artists who never cared for the limitations of converting their art for a traditional print run flock – no, they stampede – to giclee because they don’t need to do a damn thing and the print looks exactly like their original. So why would they give a rat’s ass whether google differentiates between a hand pulled limited edition print and a limited editon print. they are selling their art.

    In other words, if you got into this to get rich, well, I think that should be a required course at art school – reality 101…

    So stop whining, keep producing, keep getting better, keep exploring new ground. market yourself, market your product. Stop treating and teaching print as some half dead archaic form…..

    Giclee and digital printing may be here to stay, or not – in my other life, as a commercial screenprinter, writer, and member of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology, I’ve seen it take out wide swaths of traditional screenprinting production since it’s introduction around 1995. But with this relatively quick takeover (large format full colour work, short run full colour, display graphics, short run textiles, etc) in just 13 years, comes the growing realization it is not the end-all be-all, that certain areas it cannot compete, that issues with quality and longevity remain, that it is not the ‘single print solution’ that it is sold as, and that with the technology comes high cost and high maintenence, and 3 year obsolescence cycles. We predict that many of the upstart companies that have invested heavily in digital will price themselves and their competitors out of business. the companies that use it in conjunction with screenprinting and offset will continue to grow and survive.

    We screenprinters embrace certain parts of the digital workflow without question – computers and inkjet printers have made the preparation of artwork and film so much easier and more precise and AFFORDABLE.

    the trick is to take the best and evolve your work.

    I think it all comes down to the local printmaker, within their circle. You have to value your process, and get it out to ever increasing amounts of people. Take the time to explain or demonstrate the process. Above all, produce the best work you can.

    OK I got to go. Take care Mike. Printmakers, it will come back around. The best solution is to make work that digital can’t.

    note 1: I do these things called ‘flatstocks’ with the members of the American Poster Institute – these are the gigposter artist I was talking about. We get together with 100 or so of our members and put on shows. almost 95% of the attendees use screenprinting for the posters. the noobs that show up with digital prints quickly figure out that they don’t sell. this may not be ‘fine art’, but it sure is people art. And it is spawning a resurgence and interest in screenprinting amongst young designers and artists like you wouldn’t believe. this is refelcted in University and college screenprinting courses – most teachers I surveyed in an article I wrote for Screenprinting Magazine – ‘I ain’t no fool I’m going to school’ report line-ups for signup.

    Andy MacDougall

    September 18, 2008 at 7:19 pm

  9. Re; whether a giclee reproduction can be called a print: The denotation of “print” is something that was printed. For example, you could say of the pattern on a blouse “that’s an attractive print.” So a giclee reproduction could technically be called a print. The problem comes with the connotation. “Print” in the world of visual arts is shorthand for “original fine art print.” So to call a reproduction a “print” does seem like a ploy to hoodwink the ignorant, especially when it is reproduced as a signed limited edition, which is definitely nothing but a marketing trick.

    It would be nice if the giclee people would admit to making reproductions, but I doubt they ever will. And this issue predates digital. I confess with shame to having signed a “limited edition” offset poster of one of my prints in my youth.

    About Andy’s comments above: they are very funny and to the point. I would like to note, however, that original fine art is also being made digitally. Please visit my web site or Dot Krause’s for examples.

    Martha Jane Bradford

    September 22, 2008 at 3:57 pm

  10. […] of examples from our experience in recent months. The first one is a commentary which surfaced right here in a comment on Print Workshop Central. It’s from the deputy editor of Britain’s printmaking magazine of record. In the midst […]

  11. Mike:
    I love Any’s idea of a logo that would mark a print as “Not Giclee”.
    I regularly emboss my prints with a copy that shows that I have
    printed my own work, but I would be willing to add that “Not Giclee” chop as well. It’s a great idea. The chop is one of the first things that prospective buyers see, and they ask about it.
    So they would be immediately asking about the Not Giclee chop.
    To those who are interested in designing the chop….keep it simple. I’ll be the first to use it!

    Audrey Feltham

    Audrey Feltham

    December 7, 2008 at 2:38 pm

  12. I would ask first of all if there’s a lexicon of accepted and agreed upon fine art printmaking terminology. If so, why hasn’t it been quoted here and other places. If not, then why hasn’t one been compiled? It would only seem obvious that it be done in order for all parties to be on the “same page” when discussion these perceived problems. If we’re using the same words but have different definitions for them, then there’s bound to be a mountain of misunderstandings.

    I’m a fine art photographer and I can guarantee you that the prints I produce are fine art prints. These prints are produced for the most part on an HP Z3100 digital printer. I market them as “Digital Pigment Prints” and certainly NOT as “giclee” prints. (The term has lost all meaning to begin with since it’s consistently misused.) Just because I utilize a modern matrix (digital) it doesn’t mean that my prints are any less “valuable” than those pulled as screen prints, lithographs, mezotints, ets. It DOES mean that I use a different medium.

    In my specific case many of my prints are indeed “hand pulled” when I utilize a pigment transfer process. This can’t be done mechanically of course and so therefore qualifies as a “hand pulled print”, by my definition at least. Is this print disqualified because I used a computer as a small part of the process? If so I suggest that any definition excluding modern technology is antiquated then.

    I fully sympathize with traditional fine art printmakers. I’m one myself. But I also pride myself in being innovative and incorporating new techniques and processes in my work to enhance the experience of the art lover/client.

    Martha makes a fine and valid point above. And no, we’re not related that I know of so I don’t have a vested interest in supporting her view. lol The links she provides are more than ample proof to me that ART is being created and shown by the involved parties. Is it any better because of the medium used or the process employed? Hell no. There’s an old saying among photographers: “You sepia tone a bad print…resulting in a bad print that’s been sepia toned.” The process doesn’t change the fact that it’s still good or bad art. ONLY the artist can do that.

    This seems to me to be the crux of this entire discussion. If the art isn’t any good, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. To paraphrase — a print is a print is a print. Only the quality of art it displays is of any importance. The process is a means to the end only.

    Eugene Bradford

    January 14, 2009 at 11:47 pm

  13. […] attention again yesterday in an excellent post by fine-art photographer, Eugene Bradford (scroll to the bottom of this page to see his comments.) So we’re opening up this post to create a space where people can […]

  14. This is a very interesting discussion. It appears to be a matter that should be settled sooner rather than later.

    I have become disabled fairly recently. I prefer to paint; I used to draw portraits. However, due to numerous back surgeries and spinal cord injuries, I am lucky to even move my arms or walk. Painting is almost impossible. I took a PRINTMAKING class a year ago at the local University and the weight and size of the presses was almost impossible. I completed the class and got a good grade. I have a great appreciation for those artists. Drawing or etching original work was simple, but the physical act of inking and rolling literally killed me. It was with great difficulty that I completed the class. The knowledge and craft was importnat to me, but came at great physical price.

    While lying in bed, depressed and feeling totally helpless, I dsicovered Photoshop. I learned that I can create art through ditigal means. The instant color and ability to manipulate is exciting and immediately satisfying. For one in constant pain, this little bit of artistic creativity gives me some new sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It is not what I’d prefer. I’d perfer a paintbrush and ladder, but I can’t do it. It does not make me less of an artist. I have had to adapt to my life situation. Is that not what life is all about? I thought I was done with art, but I found a new way taht I can do while my arms rest on my stomach on the laptop. Incredible. Talk about lifting the clouds of disability depression! You can’t imagine the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I felt to be able to create something again. Isn’t that what art is all about? Expression of feelings and emotions through various means?

    I don’t think any of you are saying that this form of art is not art. But I do believe that competitions that prohibit this type of art when they include all other types of painting, printmaking, etc. may be short sighted. Many do.

    I have been told my work is good by many friends, so I thought I’d try to enter contests, shows etc. I recently discovered the term “no giclee prints.” Never having heard the term, I googled it, only to discover a whole line of people who say that my art is not really art. Then others say the art is art, it’s the # of print’s that’s the problem; then others say it’s the original signing or limiting of the prints that’s the problem. My head is spinning. Who gets to define the term? Which do I follow?

    I understand the technical debate issue. I cannot physically move the press. Those who can are in an entirely different league. Yet, I am told my work has commercial value. As a recently disabled person, it was quite an exciting thought to think I might actually be able to make a living selling art work originally created as a form of pain management and distraction. I can get lost in a digital canvas for hours and realize that’s 5 more hours without r.x.

    Art is in my blood. It is my passion. I would like to see some new terminology that is created to meet the ever changing technical abilities associated with computers and graphic imagry. Computers are here to stay. It is only logical that they would enter the art world. If the art world does not come to some concenus on this topic soon, definitions will continue to be created by Microsoft.

    My daughter can create incredible graphic imagry; most teenagers can. It is not the same thing as what I’m doing, yet I cannot tell her that her cool cropping, editing and blurring is not ART. Her frieneds ask her to create their banners because she is artistic. I cant help but think my scoffing at her “art” is kind of how I feel about others scoffing at my “art” now.

    One of my favorite artists of all time is a man named Romaire Bearden. I believe a majority of his work was cut and paste from newspaper and magazine prints. I also believe at the time he started to do this, there was a great outcry in the art world. It was not his original work… or is it? He personally inspires me.

    However the experts come down on this new topic, I wish they would figure it out. It seems to me that new definitions and terms should be in order. I, for one, would not even object to terms like “Master Printmaking”, which infers exceptional ability on the part of the printmaker, as a whole new term.

    Photoshop makes PRINTS. You cannot take that term away; it exists. The button “PRINT” has created a whole new definition. Photoshop does not “giclee”…. that is a very small term coined by a very small part of the world’s population now. Unfortunate, true, but Microsoft says “Print”.

    I, personally, felt sad to see a little *sign — “no giclee prints” after I mounted work to send for a competition and googled the word. It’s confusing for one who simply loves to create with color. I think my work is art. I just dont know how to classify it now, and I feel somewhat intimiated by this discussion, as I know that this is a physically inferior to actual printmaking or oilpainting a landscape…. yet perhaps not mentally inferior…. it’s all my selection of color, placement, angle, size, etc. That’s art, not graphics.

    Entering philosophical discsusion now. I look forward to clarification!


    Hannah Lake

    April 17, 2009 at 10:14 pm

  15. My name is Sue Ellen Davis..
    I have extensive knowledge of “THE DIGITAL ART REVOLUTION”
    In 1986 I was introduced to the macintosh computer..
    I had done traditional paste up for a few years and loved it.
    I hated the computer at first, I liked being that good with the exacto

    … BUT, I had to learn to use THE MAC to stay with my original major,
    I said to my art self,, it’s only a TOOL.
    I am an Artist first… advertising design back then was a stable creative job.

    I began showing my fine art in 1989.
    I have worked in Advertising Agencies .. HELLO, back BEFORE PHOTOSHOP EVEN exsisted.
    Hated being stuck behind a machine, so slow was every change..
    I met DeBusk in 1991 & quit the agency to help with his Gallery and began to design his brochures,
    t-shirts, ads in ART NEWS and ART IN AMERICA..
    Sold the his art for his as well.. Art Expo, Tias Japan

    After moving to Los Angeles, I was told about this NEW art publisher via Art News, I met with Dolgin and was hired imediately overseaing limited editions with the Iris..
    But it bothered me.. selling them as “SIGNED LIMITED EDITIONS”

    Knowing about computers and colors I oversaw the reproduction process for all the artist’s Dolgin published. The year was 1995.
    He did not care that I had showed my original paintings in New York at Art Expo in 1994…only 6 months before
    I ended up quitting Dolgin Fine Art..because he wasn’t paying for ads, nor the ARTISTS, on time.

    The digital printing process was new.. digital printing inks were not that stable…
    Giclee is not & was not a lithograph or screened process.. it didn’t require layers of screens,,,and tested inks,
    Needed a professional 4×5 scanned on a High dollar drum scanner.. rgb, taken through Lab, then color corrected in CMYK..
    matched to the original..
    The IRIS printer printed each piece of the edition, one at a time, taking approx 30 mins. for each print to print.
    Scans came in as RGB then had to be output as CMYK, and most studio’s used photoshop to adjust the curves.
    Phil Lippincott actually wrote Color calibration software for color control from input to output within a Digital Network.
    The paper or canvas also could cause color variations..
    THE new ArtPRINT had longevity issues of inks fading unless UV protected, etc… intellectual property rights.. also a problem.
    THE ART WORLD needed to intellectually address the “digital fine art print making process” seriously
    ..into the business of Art Marketing.

    The Term “Giclee” was made by Jack Dugan, who is a cool guy who’s studio was over Main street in Santa Monica, down the street from a Gallery I delt with for DeBusk… Early 90’s Main St. was limited edition hotspot.
    The rock stars came to the art openings…
    Graham Nash’s studio was the most famous Giclee Printing Studio at the time I organized the seminar, they mainly reproducing old rock n roll photos as cepiatones on watercolor.

    I loved ART, the ARTIST & the Art World.
    The collector needed to KNOW it was a limited DIGITAL REPRODUCTION.. Giclee edition..standards of inks needed to be set, with seals of longevity approvals for the early giclee’s. to even be ethical to market.
    A gallery selling the print might display it in a storefront window… poof magenta fades.

    FOR THE LOVE OF ART, I organized the “Digital Art Revolution”seminar for Art Expo LA 1996.
    I had a panel of all the digital “professional’s” + Sytex, Phil Lippincott a forefathers of Seybold, as well as some of the newer Giclee printshops such as HARVEST all spoke on the panel.
    SYTEX loved me, because this seminar meant potential sales of another $80,000 IRIS printer..

    The time I invested in the Art Market, for this seminar was a loss, However, I was mentioned on the front
    Cover of ART BUSINESS NEWS Oct. 1996.. for organizing what was said to be the most “dynamic seminar” in the history of Art Expo..

    IT REALLY IRRITATES ME.. that that My name isn’t in association with Giclee…
    I received credits on the FRONT COVER of Art Business News in 1996, at ART EXPO, ..where is my online reference? For the work I DID FOR THE LOVE OF ART.

    …all that publicity?? WHERE DID IT GO?

    In this digital age.. ARTISTS have to be smart,
    As Artists we need to KNOW & protect our rights..
    Intellectual property is valuable, and it’s ours, Our time is worth MONEY.
    Don’t release ANY designs print resolution, until you have been paid in full…or have a legal contract.
    Know your rights and protect them….have a REALLY GOOD Lawyer.
    Intellectual property laws have been made as technology progressed…
    Unfortunately, the legal process isn’t really set up to protect the artist..

    Fine Art is Fine Art..
    Nothing compares to the luster of thick paint, or beautiful handmade paper.
    Originals are still originals..
    The Artist will always be the Artist.
    Posters are Posters,
    Reproductions are Reproductions..

    I am a FEMALE Artist/designer/visionaire
    I am Art Everything, because I had to be.
    Paintings, drawings, furniture design, art direction of film, packaging, Advertising, Publishing,
    Created my own cosmetic brand..
    I own trademarks & know all about digital rights and intellectual property rights etc.
    but I have had to learn about them the hard way.


    Sue Davis


    February 25, 2010 at 4:02 am

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