How to tell if works of art are Reproductions vs. Prints?

by Simone Bueno (SU)

Have you ever wanted a piece of artwork, but didn’t know whether it was real or a replica? Most people don't seem to understand that the terms “print” and “reproduction” do not mean the same thing. If you’re reading this page, you are most likely one of them. With so many different types of prints and reproductions, it is necessary to understand their differences if you are hoping to determine the value of an art piece. There are a lot of ways to tell if a piece of artwork is a reproduction, print, or an original work of art – especially to a trained artist. If you are not an art enthusiast, and don’t know what to look for, you are not alone, as telling the difference between prints and reproductions can be difficult.

In today’s world of art, it is interesting to learn that not every artist intends to reproduce his or her work and sell it. Many artists still don’t have their own websites, or sell paintings directly to their customers, either. If you are an art collector, determining the authenticity of a piece should be done by a professional. Anyone willing to sell a piece of artwork should give you the option of authenticating it.

Reproductions vs. Prints:

A reproduction is defined as a copy of an already existing work. It is just a photo that is reproduced, often scanned and then mechanically printed. The key is to realize the distinction between produced and reproduced works. In other words, some pictures are reproductions, which mean that they are photographic copies of paintings; often of famous museum quality paintings, also called art prints or posters.

Around the time paper was invented, the earliest prints were made in China around the ninth century. By definition, a print is a work of original artwork produced by the artist who designed it, rather than a replica of a work. Prints are impressions, which are created by drawing or carving a picture onto surfaces, such as metal, wood, or stone. An original print means that the picture is not a copy of a painting.

The total amount of prints made by an artist is called an edition. The image is then pressed onto paper, creating the print. Artists will typically sign and number each print to verify their authenticity. Prints can also become paintings. An example is artist Andy Warhol, who turned his art into prints, and then into paintings by using a silk screen. It is common for artists today to paint on their work, to create individual paintings.

To recap, a print is something created by the actual artist, and usually they will sign their initials or name somewhere on the print, to confirm authenticity. A reproduction is just a copy of the original print. Art aficionados usually prefer prints to reproductions. Prints and reproductions can have some value depending on the artist, the piece of artwork, and how many reproductions, or copies were made.

The misunderstanding comes from the word "print" being used interchangeably with “reproduction” to mean the same thing. As mentioned before, it is important to note that the two forms of art are not the same. If you understand the difference between prints and reproductions, you are golden, and on your way to becoming an art expert.