If you're new to collecting art, or just have a casual interest in art and would like something new for your home, you may have some questions regarding where to start finding the perfect piece for your wall. And, once you find that perfect piece, you may need some guidance as to what kind of print, how large, and what type of framing to offer. So let's take a look at some of the choices you'll be asked to make.
Guide to Purchasing Fine Art Prints
What's the Difference In Prints?
One of the wonderful things about the world of art and decor these days is the incredible selection of media types you can get art printed on. While original paintings are limited to the media they are painted on- usually canvas, paper, or some type of board- reproductions can be printed on almost any type of media imaginable. Photography, which is my medium of choice, is now available on an equally dizzying array of media types. There's cheap photo paper, which itself comes in a choice of glossy, pearl, satin, or matte finish. Then there's fine art paper, which has its own variety of paper types, from glossy, to matte, to watercolor, and more. Then you have the many varieties of canvas, metal prints, acrylic prints, and even prints on wood!
What's In A Paper?
The many different types of papers available make it difficult to choose which one is best to hang on your wall. There are so many, in fact, that to help avoid confusing people browsing my galleries, I've selected the paper I believe is best for displaying my work- Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Rag Baryta. While the paper is described as having a "high gloss" finish, it's actually not as glossy as other gloss papers, and personally, I would describe it as a semigloss finish. The paper itself is a 100% cotton rag paper, is a 315gsm weight (heavy) and is acid-free and fully archival. Equally as important, no optical brighteners are used in the paper. Optical brighteners are added to some papers to make them look as bright white as possible. However, over time, those optical brighteners break down and will change the color of the paper, and subsequently, the inks that are printed on the paper. Not exactly what you want to have happen to that beautiful print hanging over your fireplace or sofa.
While I've narrowed selection down on my website to what I feel is the best paper for my work, you may see different papers listed elsewhere and wonder how they compare. The next step down from the cotton rag paper I use is a group of papers known as alpha-cellulose. This is essentially paper made from wood pulp. This paper tends to be a bit stiffer and have a cheaper feel than cotton rag, which feels more luxurious and is softer to the touch.
Finally, there is resin coated (RC) paper. RC paper tends to be thinner and weighs around 190gsm, though there are some heavier RC papers available.Sealed between layers of polyetherine, the emulsion and a coating is laid over the top. RC paper is generally not considered archival, as the ink will not bond with the paper as tightly as it does with a rag paper. This means that over time, if your print is displayed in an area with direct sunlight or under bright lights, it will begin to fade more quickly.
The Paper Advantage
So why choose paper? One advantage of paper is that it requires a frame to be properly displayed. While that can also be a disadvantage, if you'd like to tie the print to your decor, framing is a great way to do that. You can have the mat match the color scheme in the room and coordinate it with the print, and then select a wood frame to complement the wooden accents in the room, bringing all of the elements in the room together.
The disadvantage is that the larger the print, the more expensive custom framing can be. For this reason, I generally don't offer prints larger than 24"x36". Also, paper can be prone to kinking if not properly handled, and this problem gets exponentially more prevalent at larger sizes. My frameless options offer sizes up to 40"x60" without need for framing (though they certainly can be). And since they are mounted before they leave the printer, there's no chance of the print getting kinked.
Wood Float Plaques
Wood float plaques are a great option for fine art prints, without the need for a frame. You can get them with a variety of edge colors to match your decor. I'm partial to basic black myself, or one of the classic wood finishes, but you can get everything from granite to royal blue to red or white. The true beauty of the wood float plaque is that the print is printed on the same fine art paper used for my paper prints, which is then mounted to the wood plaque, and finished with a surface coating to provide UV protection and moisture protection. The rear is finished with a ¾" backing frame for hanging, so the piece appears to float off the wall. Plaques are available in sizes up to 48"x72".
Wood float plaques are only available from a select few vendors, and aren't available from most of the mass market art print websites I've explored. It's a unique, elegant option for displaying art, while remaining affordable.
Prints on Metal
Metal prints have become increasingly popular in recent years, for both their sleek, modern presentation, and their ease of maintenance, since they simply need to be wiped with a microfiber cloth. Metal prints are also more hygienic than other types of prints, since their porous surfaces can attract germs.
I offer a gallery Exhibit Mount metal print. The metal substrate is mounted to 2mm styrene backing, and finished with a metal inset frame and a French cleat hanging system. A wire hanging option is also included. Exhibit mount metal prints are available in sizes up to 48"x72". While they are ready to hang right out of the box, your local framer can add a frame of your choice if desired.
The metal prints I offer can be cleaned with a variety of cleaners or disinfectants, which makes them increasingly popular for hanging in healthcare facilities. This goes hand in hand with the effect nature photography can have on our mental health.
The Crème de la Crème - Acrylic Prints
Acrylic prints are simply the ultimate in fine art prints. I offer Lumachrome TruLife Acrylic prints. Lumachrome prints offer increased resolution, clarity, depth, and color vibrance over standard acrylic prints, and then face mounted to the acrylic sheet. The result is a nearly three dimensional effect that appears to be glowing when lit properly. This type of print is only available on these acrylic face mounts.
Lumachrome TruLife Acrylic prints offer unmatched UV protection to resist fading, making them the perfect print for display in brightly lit areas or areas that receive direct sunlight. These prints are finished with a ROMA rear-mounted float frame, allowing the print to float off of the wall for a truly eye-catching presentation.
What About Canvas?
Canvas prints continue to be incredibly popular. But as a long term fine art print, they present some drawbacks as compared to the other print styles I do offer, so I don't offer them on my website. The issues for me are that over time, canvas prints are prone to fading due to the fact they are designed not to be framed behind glass and have no other protection in front of the print. Also, it is my experience that over time, when not printed well, canvas prints can begin to flake a bit, showing a deteriorating image. In addition, due to the texture of the canvas and the way the canvas soaks up the ink, images don't appear as crisp and detailed as the other media. Finally, in areas of moisture such as where I live in Coastal Maine, the stretcher bars may absorb moisture and begin to warp.
For me, that's just too much in the negative column to ignore. I intend for my prints to last a lifetime or more, so all of the options I offer are truly archival. What's more, the pricing for canvas is similar to that of my wood float plaques, but wood float plaques are archival, not subject to warping, and coated to protect against fading from UV light.
What's My Favorite?
This is difficult to answer. If money was no object, there's not doubt I'd fill my home with Lumachrome TruLife Acrylic Prints. The way they appear to glow, and the detail they show is just simply eye-popping. However, with price concerns always being what they are, for me it's choice between the Duraplaq and the Exhibit Mount Metal Print. Both of these are beautiful prints, both are satin finish and will display well for years. The question simply comes down to wether or not you want the beveled edge finish of the plaque or a clean edge like the metal. The metal can also be framed if desired. Since pricing is similar on these, I'm likely to lean towards to the metal print, but you can't really go wrong with either.
What Size Print Do I Need?
Once you've decided on a print style, the next question is generally, what size should you order? This depends on the space you have to fill. Let's say your print is going over the fireplace, as a centerpiece in your living room. The mantle is 8 feet wide, and 5 ½ feet high and the room has a cathedral ceiling. If you are looking for one print to fill the space over the mantle, you'll want a print that is roughly ⅔ to ¾ of the width of the mantle. That means you would want a print somewhere around 60" to 72" wide. You would also want to hang the print so that the bottom is roughly six to twelve inches above the mantle.
The same holds true if you're hanging above a sofa. If the sofa is 7 feet wide, a print of a size between 45" wide and 60" wide would be ideal and fill the space nicely. If you plan to include smaller prints grouped around the larger one, of course, you would reduce the size of the larger one accordingly so you can leave adequate spacing to give each print some room to breathe.
Where To Purchase
The online art marketplace has exploded in recent years. There are plenty of websites out there that offer work from thousands and thousands of artists. Some of those sites are Fine Art America, RedBubble, and Art.com, among others. These websites are the equivalent of going to an art festival and browsing the different artists' showcases. You can find almost anything you're looking for.
The issue with these online marketplaces is threefold. First, you have to sift through a lot of work. A LOT. Redbubble, for instance, boasts over 700,000 artists, with millions of pieces of work. Yes, you can search by keywords, and by medium to narrow your results, but that still ends up being a lot of work to search through to try and find what you want. And while there is some terrific work there, none of the sites I mention are curated, meaning anyone can list their art for sale. It can become quite the hodgepodge of various levels of talent and quality.
The next issue is quality. All of the sites mentioned above not only produce prints, but also household goods such as beach towels, coffee mugs, t-shirts, cellphone cases, and more. Redbubble, for instance, uses multiple production facilities in ten different countries to get their orders out. That all sounds good in theory. But in practice, I can tell you from experience that quality suffers. Items from the same order may be produced in different facilities depending on the item. Producing the volume of work that they do, things sometimes fall through the cracks, and quality may be uneven. It happens. Most times, they do a good job of things. But when things don't go smoothly, you've got a problem.
Finally, if you have to reach customer service to handle an issue, it can be a nightmare. We've all had the experience of dealing with customer service reps at big businesses like this. Getting answers can be frustrating.
Buy From The Artist
Your best bet, when possible, is to buy directly from the artist. Why? Because when you purchase directly from the artist, he or she will personally be overseeing production of your print. I personally have vetted my printers, and their products, to ensure the quality is what I expect. And if there IS a problem with the print, I will be the one to answer my phone and then contact my printers to have the issue corrected. I can tell you in over 12 years of selling my work online, I have never had an issue with an order that came through me directly. The same is true for many of my artist friends.
When you purchase directly from the artist, they will be the ones responsible for producing your print, and the quality will reflect that. The service will be personal, because you'll be dealing directly with the person who created the work you're hanging on your wall. As an artist, it is an honor for me to have my work on display in your home. I take that seriously, and because I do, I offer only the best prints available.