Art Terms

A selection of general definitions to describe various art terms.  Most of the definitions will be based on information found from various sources, which will be indicated when possible.  

Original artwork:

When an artist creates a unique artwork, that is an original. That original may be a painting of some kind, or a sculpture, or a performance work, print making, photography or one of many other kinds of media. It seems that the types of original media proliferate daily. However, if the artist makes it with his/her own hands OR under his/her supervision (Jeff Koons has a huge workshop with lots of "helpers" as does the glass maker Dale Chihuly - and so did many of the Renaissance artists), then it is an original.

With printmaking, there is a lot more confusion in the art-world, and in fact, Bernd's answer needs a bit of clarification. When an artist does original printmaking, they make a printing plate from which an edition is printed. The plate does NOT copy a work of art that was originally produced in some other medium (an oil painting, acryclic, etc.). It is a unique work, created solely as a print. The pieces of the edition are signed and numbered by the artist. (note: There are also "mono-prints", which are one of a kind prints that an artist makes - each one a unique piece - these are just like originals, except they are made by a printing process).  

Michelle Gaugy, art gallery owner, author, art consultant

Written Mar 9, 2014

Giclee Print:

"GiClee"  refers to the method of reproduction of an original image.  It is not an original, but the reproduction of the original.  It is always printed in "Limited Editions" which is indicated on each print. Because of the quality  and limit of the number of prints produced makes the GiClee print an excellent collectible.   A GiClee print is the next best thing to own if for whatever reason you can not own the original.

"GiClee Art Prints" are high quality digital prints that are printed on Archival and high quality paper or canvas, that will last up to 100 years.  They are sometimes called museum prints because museums favor them as reproductions.   More time is required for printing because of the scanning process and the amount of time spent by the artist and printer to color balance the image. When you look close up you will see much more detail on the Giclee print than a regular print because the printing quality is much higher.  The giclee will look much more vibrant and colors will be much closer to the original. This special process results in a more costly and collectible print, which is as close to the original as possible.  Beware of printers and artists who use the term "GIClee" loosely not having a good understanding of Fine Art requirements.   

Limited Edition:

In printmaking, an edition is a number of prints struck from one plate, usually at the same time. This may be a limited edition, with a fixed number of impressions produced on the understanding that no further impressions (copies) will be produced later, or an open edition limited only by the number that can be sold or produced before the plate wears. Most modern artists produce only limited editions, normally signed by the artist in pencil, and numbered as say 67/100 to show the unique number of that impression and the total edition size.


Because of the variation in quality, lower-numbered prints in an edition are sometimes favoured as superior, especially with older works where the image was struck until the plate wore out. However the numbering of impressions in fact may well not equate at all to the sequence in which they were printed, and may often be the reverse of it.

In later times, printmakers recognized the value of limiting the size of an edition and explicitly numbering the prints (e.g., a print numbered 15/30 is the 15th print in an edition of 30). The printing of editions with tight controls on the process to limit or eliminate variation in quality has become the norm. In monotyping, a technique where only two impressions at most can be taken, prints may be numbered 1/1, or marked "unique". Artists usually print an edition much smaller than the plate allows, for marketing reasons and to keep the edition comfortably within the un-degraded lifespan of the plate; or specific steps may be taken to strengthen the plate, such as electroplating intaglio images, which uses an electric process to put a very thin coat of a stronger metal onto a plate of a weaker metal.

Limited edition prints are traditionally signed and numbered in pencil with the edition number on the bottom left, the title in the middle and signature on the right. It is generally accepted that the printmaker can mark A/P (Artists Proof) on up to ten per cent of the edition - so an edition of 100 would have numbers 1/100 - 100/100 and an extra ten marked A/P.

A signed print is one signed, in pencil or ink, by the artist and/or engraver of the print. A print is said to be signed in the plate if the artist's signature is incorporated into the matrix and so appears as part of the printed image. Proof prints were originally signed as "proof" that the impression met the artist's expectation. Later proof prints were signed in order to add commercial value to these impressions. In the late nineteenth century, in response to the development of photomechanical reproduction techniques, fine arts prints were signed by the artists in order to distinguish between original prints and reproductions. Seymour Haden and James McNeil Whistler are usually credited with introducing this practice in the 1880s.


A record authenticating a print will increase its value dramatically and will help when it comes to insurance. Provenance is the record of ownership, or a historic record of the various owners of a work of art. The word comes from the French verb provenir, meaning 'to come from'.Many artists and publishers now offer certificates of authenticity with limited edition prints, and these can be requested by buyers in the second-hand markets as provenance. However you can also use invoices, receipts and any other proof of purchase as provenance.

Colin Bailey: Artist & Printmaker

Open Edition:

The reproduction may or may not be signed.  The important point is that because it is not numbered, there is no limit on the number of times that it can be reproduced.  It is therefore referred to as an Open Edition.  Open editions do not normally appreciate in value.