Prints are one of the most confusing aspects of buying art. There's a lot of nuance as you get into the details of different types of prints, but at a basic level here's what you need to know.
1. Prints can be a highly affordable way to purchase art by artists you love without spending a fortune. And, if you purchase them correctly, can maintain high standards of quality.
2. Not all prints are created equal! (part I) First, you should understand if the prints are Limited Editions or not. Limited Edition prints mean exactly what they sounds like - a limited number of prints are created, so there is a level of scarcity. And, not surprisingly, the smaller the number of prints the more valuable they are. A large run print might have 250 or more available while a typical smaller run size might be 10-30, but sometimes is as low as 2-3. The smaller the number, the more likely the quality is upheld on each print as well as it's easier to review 10 prints than 250.
Typically a Limited Edition fine art print is also unique in that there is no "original" piece of art that has been copied as a print - the prints are the originals themselves. This means that the artists are deeply involved in the process as the printmaking process is part of the art itself rather than simply a way to copy the original piece of art. Contrast this with mass produced (non-limited) prints which are often, not always, copies of an original piece of work.
You may also want to understand how many "Artist's Proofs" were created alongside the print. In theory these are a small number of prints that are virtually identical to the Limited Edition prints but were reviewed by the artist themselves prior to moving to the larger Edition prints. Sometimes in reality these are simply a smaller number of prints set aside from the regular Edition prints. While many would consider Artist's Proofs to be more valuable (as they're more rare and/or more "touched" by the artist) the reality in the market is that these will normally carry a similar value to the Limited Edition prints. But it does help to know how many were created as, for example, if there are 20 Limited Editions and 5 Artist's Proofs, there are 25% more prints available than if you just looked at the Limited Edition numbers.
Also, it's not uncommon to see prices increase as you get further along in an Edition. These prices are typically set ahead of time and are intended to represent the fact that there is diminishing supply as you get further along, which usually is an indicator of strong demand as well. Of course all of this might not matter once you get to the secondary market.
3. Not all prints are created equal! (part II) Second, there are many different methods for creating prints: screenprints, relief, lithography, intaglio, etching, aquatint, digital prints, woodcuts, and more. There are also many different types of paper that can be used. Generally speaking and all else equal, the more manual the process the more expensive the print, but there are many other factors that impact price including who the artist is, how many colors are involved, how large the piece is, how large the Edition size is, how many remain, etc.
So, should you buy prints or unique originals? That's a personal question, but we'd recommend asking yourself the following questions:
Do I want to have the only one of these works or do I care if others have it?
Do I really want an original piece by this artists, but can't afford a unique original piece?
Am I intrigued by the printmaking process itself, as a form of art, and / or do I especially love the way the print looks (texture, overlaid colors, etc.)?
In addition to offering unique original art, Keenlee partners with printmaking companies, galleries and artists offering Limited Edition prints and Artist's Proofs as we believe these offer a great opportunity to find and own high quality works at affordable price points. However, we do not offer mass produced, non-Editioned prints as we believe these don't offer as special of an opportunity to own incredible art.