The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Photograph and Prints



At the Lyons Gallery we help both the novice and expert collectors navigate the ever-shifting landscape of the global art market and expose all its various platforms that make up the art world. Within this guide, we will advise what type of artwork you are purchasing and where it sits within the eyes of the art market and the collectors who invest. 

In doing so, we will investigate the differences between original vs. reproduction, terms used when discussing editions, estate stamped and signed, and lastly, various printing methods both in photography and printmaking. 

Extending upon this, we will also discuss the main types of artists and how each is valued differently within the art market.

Original vs. Reproduction

When discussing a work of art it’s a common understanding that an original painting with its texture, translucency, application colour and scale of the canvas, cannot be compared to a reproduction. It outweighs it both as an investment and as a viewing experience. 

However on that note, a reproduction is a great way to support an artist when one cannot buy the original. But there are ways around this, which we will explore later on.

When discussing photography and prints, the terms ‘original and reproduction’ change. When the term ‘original print’ is indicated, it means that ‘a series of prints was approved by the artist for production’

To determine the market value or to understand what you have bought, you need to know the difference between open edition, limited editions, and artist proof/ AP prints.

Open Edition, limited edition and artist proof/ AP prints

Open Edition means that the artist has not indicated how many was printed, and usually these are unsigned; this is seen as less valuable compared to limited editions at auction. Despite this, it’s an ideal place to start for a new collector with a budget. 

Limited editions are a set number of prints at a certain size where the artist generally declares how many there are in that group and where that particular prints sits within it. Example 5/35 Edition indicates that this particular print was the 5th to be printed out of the 35 in total.

Limited edition prints come in two types:

  1. Signed by the artist or estate representative nd comes with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA)
  2. Unsigned by the artist but authenticated by the estate and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA)  

During the process of creating limited editions prints it’s common for a few images that need adjusting in contrast or exposure. To be added to the series, these are named 'artist proofs or AP’. 

Artist proofs or AP are not sold until the whole limited editions are all sold, and are actually seen as more valuable than any of the prints in the edition. The amount of AP varies between artists but normally they range from one to five.

Note: When looking at the value of editions in the primary and secondary market, the golden rule is that the first, last editions and AP’s are seen as the most valuable, for example 1/50, 50/50 and AP edition.


Modern vs. Vintage prints

Another important point to understand is the difference between modern and vintage photographs.

A modern print refers to an image edition that was produced later on, from when the shot was taken. This was approved by the artist, where they could have personally developed it themselves or handed it over to their estate. These printing techniques are done digitally with superior master printers. 

Vintage prints are originally created/printed in the period it was taken. A lot of vintage images are not editioned due to the fact that this is a concept virtually unknown 30 years ago, and was only used in the art market by art dealers in the 1960’s and 70’s. 

Vintage prints are generally one-off prints generally taken from negatives or transparencies and produced in dark rooms.


Authentication terms

 Limited edition and open edition prints can be authenticated in two ways: 

  1. Estate stamped. The Estate Stamp is a unique embossed stamp that is either imprinted on the back or the front of the artwork. This represents the artist approval of this production. 
  2. Hand-signed by the artist

Usually a certificate of authenticity or COA comes with the print for both signed and stamped, to prove the authenticity or provenance.


Terms used when describing the process or medium used for the print

Archival Pigment Ink: This is a modern day printing process that uses high-end inkjet printers using specialised pigment inks that are designed specifically to be long lasting and fade free.

Archival paper: Generally means that its paper that is used to be long lasting where terms like conservative grade or archival grade are used. Is important that the ink sitting on a paramount paper to ensure that the artwork won't change/ fade and last more than a lifetime.

C-type prints: Before the major development of the digital revolution, the colour printing process was in four formats:

  1. R-type - colour prints from a colour transparency
  2. CibaChrome - an llford colour print process with high colour saturation, again for transparencies)
  3. Dye Transfer - an extremely expensive and complicated Kodak colour printing process)
  4. C-type prints - the most common process out of the fours, producing colour prints from colour negative film.

All four colour-printing processes are done through a ‘wet’ chemical method (in a Darkroom). However C-type is the only method used nowadays.

Silver Gelatin Prints: a traditional process used when producing Black and White photographs and is also a ‘wet’ chemical process. When a piece of paper coated with silver nitrate and held together in a gelatine layer, it is exposed to light via a black and white negative film. As the paper and film exposed on top are both ‘negative'; this produces a positive image on the paper as two negatives make a positive.

The beauty of silver gelatin is that no two prints are the exact same as it is an organic process and each print is affected by different stages of the development process, such as who is doing it, chemical temperature, the time and light within the room.  This type of printing process is the most desired by Collectors due to this uniqueness.


Lithograph: lithograph is a type of printmaking method that uses oil and water when they come into contact with one another. It’s a unique hand-pulled process that resembles painting and can reproduce the same image as many times as the artist desires.
The method uses a flat stone or metal plate in which the image area is worked on using greasy oil based substance. So when the drawing is done, the artist will ink the plate or stone, allowing the ink to adhere to the oil base substance. While the non-image areas repel ink. As the stone goes through the press, the image is then transferred from one surface to the next this being paper.
Offset lithographs: uses an offset press, similar technique to above. However the ink is transferred first to a rubber blanket and then directly applied to either stone or paper.  This allows for reproduction of already made sketches or prints.
Silkscreen Prints: another popular printing method that uses a stencilling process that involves printing ink through stencils that are supported by a porous fabric mesh stretched across a frame (this is called a screen).  It is ideally suited for bold and graphic designs.


The Different Types of Artists

Since you now understand what type of artwork you are looking for, it’s important to know the terminology used to categorise an artist.  From a collector’s perspective, this means to know where the artist sits within the eyes of the galleries and as an investment.

Note: It is common to think these categories are used to label that artist based on age such as Mid-career or Established to be someone in the middle-aged or older. This is not the case.

Emerging Artist

An Emerging artist is someone who is in the early stage of their career. They have either just finished their training at an art school or more loosely understood as someone who hasn’t caught the eye of an art critic or gallery yet, and is still building their reputation in these groups.

Mid-career Artist

This is someone who has been creating an independent body of work over a number of years and has received recognition through publication or public presentation. This artist has had a significant number of solo exhibitions at various galleries, located nationally or internationally. 

Established Artist 

Established artists are considered at a mature state in their career and have created an extensive body of work independently. They have reached an advanced level of achievement with great representation both nationally and internationally.

Blue Chip Artist

A Blue Chip artist is exactly like an established artist however, they have hit the auction houses or so-called ‘ Investment grade’ art. Please note that many artists and art dealers don’t want to risk an auction sale if they believe the artist is ready, as it could be at risk of declining the value of the artist work. Therefore artists that fall under this category are often household names, with an amazing track record of high achievements.



Here at The Lyons Gallery our dedicated team of experienced art consultants are here to help investors, collectors and buyers globally invest in art works that not only will be talking pieces in homes, businesses or galleries but investments that show healthy and steady returns year on year.
To further enquire or have one of our art consultants reach out please email us at 


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