Prints vs. Originals: A Closer Look

All collectors, new and seasoned, ask themselves the question: Should I buy a print or an original?

The answer: Both.

There are benefits to both formats, which are not always mutually exclusive, and the context and purpose of a purchase weighs into which is the appropriate choice. Still undecided? Here are some factors to consider:

WHY: What are your goals in buying art?

Intent is an important part of purchasing art. Generally, the reasons are some combination of collecting and furnishing. Where the work fits in your collection and space is vital to deciding what format you are drawn to.

Often, the lower price point of print reproduction comes with the freedom to make diverse and numerous purchases, if variety is an important component of your collection. Buying original art, however, supports the artist’s career, which may lead to appreciation in the future.

WHAT: What type of work are you looking into?

Bunch #1, 2013
Lizzy Dargie
Screen Print
40 x 27 in.

Certain works are meant for print format. Mediums such as photography, reliefs, and intaglio, are prints by nature; the definitions of “original” and “print” are not mutually exclusive. The work featured in the IFPDA Print Fair in New York falls into this category. Printmaking is a diverse and skillful medium that can, at times, get overshadowed by painting and sculpture. Don’t limit yourself when purchasing art—you might be surprised what you discover.

Three-dimensional work, meanwhile, is impossible to properly experience as a print. Some drawings and paintings can really come alive in a high quality, editioned print. Others, particularly ones that have strong textural elements or mixed media components, are more difficult to capture on a completely two-dimensional plane. On the other hand, not all original pieces fit in every space, especially when it comes to issues of scale. Be sure that the work you are interested in is suited for whatever format you wind up purchasing it in.

WHEN: What circumstances are you making your purchase in?

Confidence is key when purchasing original art. If you are sure you love a piece or an artist, it’s always worth holding out for the original piece, even if it means making a payment plan, or waiting until the moment is right.

Prints allow for more exploration—if you are a fan of a particular piece, but you’re not sure whether your tastes will change in the next few years, purchasing a print will give you the opportunity to spend time with an artist and get to know their work. Original prints can also differ edition to edition. Be sure to look into what variety the artist or dealer has available.

WHO: Whose work are you interested in?

Sometimes that piece you absolutely can’t live without is also one that may not be in your price range, or one that already belongs in an existing collection. Prints are an affordable and accessible option when the specific image is most important to you. It can fill out a collection with a wider range of work, and outfit your space with pieces that are meaningful to you, regardless of its availability.

If, however, the artist is someone you feel a strong personal connection with, beyond just one piece, you may want to consider supporting them by buying an original. Original art is more than an image—it’s an art object that becomes uniquely yours. Engage the artist and gallerist in conversations about the work until you find the piece that is right for you. The process is part of the experience.

WHERE: Where will this piece be installed, if at all?

Another element to consider is the piece’s audience: who is going to enjoy the work, who is going to live with it? Sometimes you want a work of art to be a conversation starter, and sometimes you want it to be something you can coexist with harmoniously.

Prints are a more flexible option when faced with many spatial limitations. If you are certain that an image is right for that particular place in your life, seek out a print version to create the aesthetic of your choice. If you are committed to buying an original work, speak with a dealer about your options—different sizes, or the potential of commission.


What is most important is that the choices you make are right for you. Don’t limit yourself to one option or the other; both can have its place a thoughtfully curated room or a well-rounded collection.

If you want to get a better sense of what original work is available in print format, there’s no better place to explore it than the diverse setting of an art fair. Don’t miss the IFPDA Print Fair, happening November 3 – 6 in the Park Avenue Armory, on 67th and Park in New York City.

Thursday, November 3, 2016: Puloma Ghosh