Art Explained : Offset (Lithography) Prints

We trust you've found value in our 'Collecting Series' up to this point. As we present the final installment within thePrints and Multiples segment we now delve into the world of offset (lithographic) printing. This term might carry a certain allure for collectors, yet it's essential not to let the sophisticated terminology mislead you. You might be wondering, what exactly does this entail? And importantly, what's its true value? Let's explore these questions together.

Offset printing (lithography)

Offset printing is a special method of printing used only when creating litographs. Lithography is a printing process that uses a greasy substance to transfer an image onto a new surface (typically paper) from an engraved flat stone or metal plate

An offset print refers to using an ‘intermediate surface’ (often a rubber made cylinder - pictured below) between the original plate (the ‘main surface) and then using this to print onto the ‘final surface’ (eg. paper, wood, fabric) that the image is printed onto. So in short, when you are buying an offset print, you are buying a print of a print and not a print of a plate. How and why? - you may wonder. Let’s find out! 

Using this ‘intermediate surface’ rather than the original plate serves two purposes: it protects the original plate, but also reverses the original image. By transferring the engraved design from the original plate onto the rubber cylinder and using this surface to print from, it avoids overuse of the original plate where the design is engraved, preventing it from perishing or becoming damaged in the printing process. 

Furthermore, when printing directly from the original plate, the image printed on the paper will be the reverse of what's on the plate. This will then not be the same way round as the original artwork that is being copied,because the image is flipped- think of it like a mirror... If your reflection on the mirror became static and you sat side-by-side with your reflection, you would notice that your reflection is reversed. So if for example, you have a ring on your right hand, in the mirror, it would then appear on the left hand. That’s what happens when printing directly from a plate! With the ‘offset printing’ technique this issue of reversing the image doesn’t happen because the intermediate surface has already picked up the reverse image from the original plate, so when it comes to print from that intermediate surface, the final image printed will already be the same way round as the original artwork! In short, offset printing therefore helps simplify the process of printing the original image the right way round, with little effort or deterioration to the original plate… voila! 

Are ‘Offset prints’ therefore less valuable than a conventional ‘Fine Art Print’ because it's not from the original plate? Yes and no…. Yes on the one hand, because the final print has had less contact with the original image itself, (and so ultimately less contact with the artist); but also, no, not necessarily, because we need to remember that the scarcity of the edition can often override these concerns , and allow it to still retain good value! But again we stress… you’ll need to bear all these considerations in mind carefully, and be very selective if you want to find lithographs with good investment potential to add to your collection!

And... that’s a wrap for now! 

This article is part of a series on collecting where we will explore some key art collecting terms to help demystify, and make the experience more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. We know that not every art lover and art collector has a degree in Fine Art or Art History, and may not be comfortable with all this art world lingo, but we strongly believe that not knowing the lingo shouldn't be a barrier that stops people from feeling empowered to start collecting. We hope this article helped to clarify these terms, and you’re now feeling more clued up on all things prints! 

Feel free to comment below if you have any suggestions on other art market categories that you would like us to explore. Until then, happy (sm)art hunting!

#Collecting #Printmaking #WhatIsAnOffsetPrint 

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