category includes mostly those types of prints intended to
be used as posters, although some artists are producing hand-drawn
offset lithographs in small, limited editions and other artists
are experimenting with hand manipulated and modified color
copies as original prints. The Printmaking Police don't always
accept these as originals, however. There are just as many
printmaker purists out there as there are experimenters.
Very few prints produced photo-mechanically can actually
qualify to be called original prints, though. The element
of the artist's direct control and manipulation of the medium
Lithographs. These are the prints that comprise
the bulk of the poster market. They are inexpensive to print
in large quantities so they can be sold at affordable prices.
Original prints are very labor-intensive and therefore often
sell for hundreds of dollars each, placing them out of the
financial reach of most potential art collectors. The process
is the same in principle as in an original lithograph, but
offsets are printed on huge, high-speed mechanical presses
often in quantities of thousands of prints at a time. A big
technical difference between the two media is the concept
of offset printing. In an original litho the stone or plate
is inked up and then printed directly on a piece of paper.
In the offset process the plate prints, or offsets the image
onto a rubber roller and then the image is printed from that
onto the paper. This causes a double reversal of the image,
so the plate appears just as the print will appear. The image
on the plate is not a mirror image of the final image as
in the other print media (with the exception of the stencil
If you look very closely at an offset poster print you will
see a regular pattern of colored dots, similar to the dots
in color comics in the newspaper. The dots are called a "half-tone screen" or half
tone for short. The only way to reproduce the colors of the original
artwork that was photographed is to break down the colors into four
components, the "four-color process", sometimes called the
Pantone process. The four primary colors in offset printing are magenta,
cyan, yellow, and black. If you look closely at the dots you will see
that they are printed only in those four colors. By printing the dots
larger or smaller side-by-side with the other colors the eye is fooled
into seeing the mixed secondary and tertiary colors. The more dots
per square inch, the better (and more expensive) the print, but it's
still an offset and not an original print. Original hand-drawn lithographs
do not have the half-tone dots, unless for some reason the artist chose
to use a photo process in part of the image. In an original print each
color is mixed by hand and is printed separately, and even under a
microscope the drawing looks like a drawing, not a comic-book page.
Transfers. It is possible to produce a sort
of hybrid hand-manipulated offset print, however, using the "mylar" process.
In this technique the artist draws the image on a sheet of
transparent mylar plastic. The image is then exposed on a
photo-chemically coated aluminum offset plate and then printed.
Some people consider this a type of original print, but in
this artist/printer's opinion it blurs the distinction between "original" and "copy" since
there is no need for knowledge of or experience in the lithographic
process by the artist who is doing the drawing. This process
is a very useful shortcut to getting precise registration
of color in multiple plate images, however, and an added
benefit is that the artist does not have to draw the image
backwards as in the traditional process. A mylar transfer
lithograph has no halftone as a photo-mechanically produced
poster would, and is almost indistinguishable from a lithograph
drawn by hand on a plate.
Copies. Many artists are experimenting with
color copy machines as an additional tool for producing an
image. Theoretically, original prints cannot be produced
in this manner because of the lack of a matrix made by the
artist that physically produces the image. The copy machine
does just what it says. It makes copies, not originals. However,
a copy can be the basic image which the artist then adds
to and modifies into a mixed media print.
Prints are another type of color copy produced
with the aid of a computer on a large, special color plotter.
Like other color copies they are not originals and can be
printed in quantity or one at a time. Unlike offset lithographs
however, they do not have the half-tone dot pattern, but
a smoother and random array of tiny dots of color.