Art Print vs Reproduction or Poster. What’s the difference?

John Moore in his studio in Fourways, Johannesburg. He owns one of the biggest printing presses in the Southern Hemisphere

When referring to art, there has always been confusion around the difference in meaning between a ‘print’, a ‘reproduction’ or a ‘poster’. As a fine artist and master printmaker myself, let me explain why it’s incorrect to call a poster a ‘print’.

It’s actually quite simple to clarify:

A print is something hand-made by artisanal hands – something pressed, rolled, inked, and processed in some way by the artist. First the matrix is made, cut or etched by the artist (such as a carved linocut) and then processed through various methods, individually, by hand. We call this process ‘hand printed’, a process whereby the artist gets involved to strike up an edition.

A Print : hand-made by artisanal hands; here John lays all the necessary tools to print up The Pangolin from the Disc Series.

Professional Printers and Reproductions

Sometimes other printers (meaning a person, not a machine) take on the job of creating the images for the artist, and we call these people professional printers. Using the artist’s original matrix, they can hand print these images up for the artist and it’s a perfectly acceptable tradition that goes back hundreds of years.

A reproduction – also called a poster – is a digital and mechanical process, removed from the artist’s hands and placed into a mass producing machine. There is a digital image taken of the original artwork, which can be scaled up or down and used in many various ways to create this reproduction. Reproductions can then be mass-produced to much higher volumes than the original image.

The paper is usually different, being thinner (dependent on the printing machines used).

Reproductions can also create multiple images in different formats, such as for cards, posters, mugs, t-shirts, fabric, and so on.

John reveals the Pangolin, Disc Series

Some Key Points

1. If a professional printer or artist creates original prints, the artist signs off the works. It’s up to the professional printer to make sure each image is exactly the same as the signed off image. An edition is created, at the allotted number (for example, I usually do 20 hand-prints in my editions). The artist signs the print run and we call this the edition. Hand-printed, hand-signed – each image a masterpiece!

2. A reproduction can also have an edition, but there is no impression or matrix involved as all works are printed off machines, based on a high-quality digital photo of the artwork. 

3. A reproduction can also have a numbered run, signed by the artist. These reproductions will cost far less than the original, and the paper is flat with no impression or signs of any hand-process in it, merely pigment on paper. 

However, reproductions are still a wonderful way to own art if buying the original artwork is not possible.

Here’s a quick tip: When buying reproductions, look out for a mention of ‘archival’ quality inks and paper, as those will be of a significantly higher quality and value, and won’t fade like a lesser quality (and often cheaper) poster might.  

I hope this has cleared up any confusion!

Feel free to contact me with any further questions, or follow me on Instagram @johnmooreartist where I’m always sharing behind-the-scenes videos of my printmaking process. 

P.S. I’ve just created my very first limited-edition run of archival quality reproductions! It was due to the beautiful response received for my Knysna Seahorse Disc artwork, which prompted me to make this piece more widely available – at a much lower price than the original artwork, but still at a quality and longevity very similar to the original. All posters will be signed.

See more poster details here and enjoy!