World Printmakers’ Print Workshop Central

Online resources for fine-art printmaking workshops

Call for Definitions of Fine-Art Print Terms

with 8 comments

More than one of the participants in the No Giclee debate have pointed out the necessity to define the terms we are using in the interest of clarifying the issues.  This was brought to our 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 propose their own definitions of the words we’re throwing around so freely in the debate, with no real consensus yet as to what we’re actually talking about. Then we can think about them together and try to reach an agreement on what each one means. This should make our debate clearer and more meaningful, and perhaps even lead to some conclusions on which we can take action.

So, if you would like to contribute your own definitions of terms like “fine-art print,” “hand pulled,” “giclee,” “digital print,” and any others you might find relevant, please feel free to do so in the “Comment” box. (Follow the “leave a comment” link located beneath the headline of this post.)

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. First of all Mike, thank you for your kind words. Always appreciated!

    I was originally going to post the words/terms/phrases that I have in this area, but find that I have well over 45 pages of them right now. I don’t know how conducive this would be trying to work on it here however. With a file this large it would equate to at least 60 or so screen pages and in my opinion would be unmanageable at that size. I’ve put the question to Mike as to how best to handle things so let’s wait and find out what his response is.

    In the meantime, just let me say that this “lexicon” is being organized on a traditional dictionary basis: alphabetized and with as succinct a definition as possible. I’ve not sited first usage, country of origin, root words, etc though. At the present time I don’t feel this is necessary. If we take it to the next level we might consider it then.

    Eugene Bradford

    January 18, 2009 at 2:01 am

  2. I’ve heard back from Mike and here’s the synopsis of the conversation. I’ve had this lexicon accepted by my publisher and Mike rightly suggested that it wouldn’t be a good idea to post the whole “manuscript” here or anywhere else. He did suggest, however, that I post a few of the words being discussed and/or debated. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

    It should be understood that: 1) I’m not the “originator” of any of the definitions, 2) that they are the “generally accepted” definitions, and 3) that I don’t have a vested interest in what the “final” definition turns out to be. 🙂

    I think that the first two words we should consider are PRINT & FINE-ART PRINT. They seem to be interchangeable in a lot of instances and I even hear fine-art printmakers using them as synonyms. I don’t think they are because print can be something as prosaic as the opposite of cursive writing. ‘Print’ can also be used in a sentence such as “I have to print my term paper.” ‘Fine-art Print’ on the other hand has a very definite and narrowly defined meaning. (Or at least it should.)

    Once we come to agreement on these two, I’ll post others. If you have a word that’s of particular interest to you, let me know and I’ll post that.

    Without further ado here are the two words and their definitions that I’ve been able to come up with.

    1) In the fine-art print making context: the image obtained from any printing element.

    Originally, this was either a metal plate engraved in intaglio, or a wood block or metal plate cut in relief. Since the nineteenth century lithographic stones have also been included. Since the late 1970’s screenprinting has also been included. An impression taken planographically from a painted surface may also be termed a print. (See monotype)

    Traditionally a strong distinction has been made between prints obtained by manual processes and reproductions obtained by photomechanical processes. (See photographic processes) This distinction is less observed today, since reproductions can be incorporated into artists’ original prints and are therefore not being produced for mass production.

    A print is termed “original” if the artist themself has worked on the printing element. This is in opposition to reproductive and interpretative prints which involve the use of a middleman to reproduce the design onto the substrate. Original prints are often only produced in small numbers; they may be numbered and signed by the artist.

    The distinctions between reproductions and original prints are generalized. In practice the definition is more imprecise, particularly when considering commercial printing. Some individuals have a much more rigorous definition of an original print than others due to photomechanical production methods for original prints of which only a very small number made, edition numbering and a certificate of authenticity all lead to qualifying it as such.

    2) A single print is a piece of substrate upon which an image has been imprinted from a matrix. In a wider sense, a print is the total of all impressions made from the same matrix. A print can have multiple impressions.

    The following definition for ‘Fine-art Print’ is going to be a lot more debatable if I’m not mistaken. I personally feel it needs to be more completely defined.

    ***fine art prints***
    Prints can be separated into two general types, fine art prints and historical prints. These types can best be understood through a differentiation of their emphasis. The distinction between the two types of prints is not clear-cut nor is it understood by all experts in the same way, but generally a fine art print is one conceived and executed by an artist with as much or more concern for the manner of presentation of the print as for its content, whereas the concern of the maker of an historical print is focused more on the content of the image than on its presentation.

    Ideas? Suggestions? Additions? Corrections?

    Eugene Bradford

    January 19, 2009 at 7:12 am

  3. So, we’re off and running on the definitions, thanks to Gene Bradford. Gene and his definitions will probably take a lot of buffeting before this process is over, and I want to thank him ahead of time for his valor.

    I’d like to comment on the first one, “print.” I’d like some clarification on this paragraph:

    “Some individuals have a much more rigorous definition of an original print than others due to photomechanical production methods for original prints of which only a very small number made, edition numbering and a certificate of authenticity all lead to qualifying it as such.”

    What do you mean by “photomechanical production methods for original prints?” Are we talking here (mainly) about digital prints? In any case, I would submit that whether or not a print is an “original” has nothing to do with small editions, whether or not they’re numbered, or a if they be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. None of these factors “lead to qualifying it as such.” In fact, these are some of the factors alleged by giclee repro fraudsters to lend a false air or originality to their reproductions.

    Originality, I submit has to do with the intention of the creator of the image, regardless of the medium he or she works in. Did an artist create it as a art print, whether on a plate or a computer? Then it’s a print, I think.

    I also think we should stipulate that the term “print” in the context of art, always refers to a fine-art print, not merely to anything that is printed. So, “giclee print” is a non starter. If it’s a giclee, it ain’t a “print.”

    Gene’s definition of “fine-art prints” nicely distinguishes them from “historical” prints, but does not define them, I think. I would start with this definition of fine-art printmaking from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

    “…broadly, the production of images normally on paper and exceptionally on fabric, parchment, plastic or other support by various processes of multiplication; more narrowly, the making and printing of graphic works by hand or under the supervision of the artist.”

    Multiple Originals
    A fine art print is a “multiple original.” That is to say, usually within the confines of a limited edition, the artist conceives and executes his work specifically in the context of one or another of the serial techniques: etching, woodcut, silk screen, lino cut, etc. Most artists feel that the technique itself adds a new dimension to an original work of art, transforming a mere drawing into something more sublime through one or another of the processes of serial reproduction.”

    Nowadays I think that “etc.” should include digital techniques.

    Mike Booth

    January 21, 2009 at 2:27 pm


    This is an interesting resource for anyone interested in the terminology of printmaking, especially digital, though not limited to that. It’s the DAPTTF (Digital Art Practices & Terminology Task Force) which arose out of the discussions on Harald Johnson’s popular digital-fineart discussion list (

    I was on the committee which drafted this glossary in 2005, and I think most of its content is still relevant, at least as a possible starting point for our own definitions.

    Mike Booth

    January 28, 2009 at 12:28 pm

  5. Great points Mike. Actually my definition of photomechanical process is any process involving the transfer of a photographic image to a printing matrix, such as an etching plate, relief block, or a lithographic stone. A magazine reproduction would be accomplished by photomechanical processes if it was a photogravure for instance. As for your comment…we definitely need to include digital processes in the fine-art category and NOT in the “giclee” fraud attempts. (Btw, just to stir things up some…lol…I don’t look at all “giclee” prints as being frauds. I DO look at the hucksters attempting to rip people off as frauds. Graham Nash for instance produced absolutely gorgeous “giclee” prints using the Iris printer. Just to clarify.)

    Looking forward to following the link to DAPTTF!

    Eugene Bradford

    January 29, 2009 at 6:53 am

  6. More definitions, these written by the folks at Studio 1617 in Silver Lake, CA. They are quite complete and have a nice personal touch, though the subject of giclee is touched upon very lightly:

    Mike Booth

    January 29, 2009 at 10:52 am

  7. Hi Mike,
    Just thought I would draw people’s attention to the fact that David Hockney has just had an exhibition in London of inkjet prints entirely drawn into the computer using a graphics pad (as I do these days).
    As he says in the introduction to his catalogue (Annely Juda Gallery) ‘the computer is just a tool’. It is as good as you are.
    Who will say that Hockney’s prints are not ‘original prints’? I think the hand-print brigade are on a sticky wicket here! Not that I don’t appreciate that there are differences; just that definitions other than ‘ this print does not exist in any other form’ are out-of-date.

    Julia Matcham

    July 16, 2009 at 11:49 am

    • Is a print defined by the mechanics by which it is made? After all, we are talking about images and whether they even get out of the computer is beside the point.

      rufus foshee

      January 30, 2010 at 2:33 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: