Prints Versus Posters

poster showing a rabbit with big ears,  facing the camera  and set against a black background

How is one to distinguish prints versus posters? When I wrote earlier about methods of printing used for prints, and posters, and photographs. I explained how with modern pigment inks, posters and prints will last for many decades. Seriously, with proper care they can last over 100 years.

There was a time when posters were produced to be disposable, so the inks didn’t last. But now the quality of inks is so good that the question nowadays is, what is a print versus a poster? Are they the same thing by different names?

Maybe they can be distinguished because they are for different purposes? Or maybe there are real differences in quality. What’s the truth about prints versus posters?

If you ask most casual consumers they may say that prints are usually smaller and more expensive. And that they are printed on thicker paper. They will probably say that the artistry that goes into a print is of a higher level that that in a poster.

The fact is that the line is blurred today. But to understand the differences we have to go back to the origin of posters, when they became popular and why they were made.

The Nineteenth Century Cult Of Celebrity

In the middle of the nineteenth century, photography was widespread. Just take a look at this one statistic. By the early 1860s, around 400 million photographic cards of celebrities were sold every year in Britain alone. The population of Britain in 1860 was around 20 million. So that’s 20 photo cards for every man, woman, and child in the country. Unbelievable, And that was just thirty five years after photography was invented.

Posters using photo-printing methods had one purpose and that was to advertise. They advertised everything from shows to railway journeys to foreign holidays. At the same time, the barriers in art were breaking down. Artists like Toulouse Lautrec and and Pierre Bonnard were happy to use their skill to turn out posters. Art was invaded advertising.

By the end of the nineteenth century, just about any print shop could mass produce posters cheaply.

And when the advertising campaign was over, people would take the mass-produced posters and put them on their walls at home. And thus was born the mass market for cheap art at home.

Art and Advertising

Today the differences between posters depends on how much art goes into them. Prints deserve better quality materials, to match their intent. But now everything is so easy to produce that even that difference had broken down.

Of course, it also comes down to the numbers printed. That’s it really, A poster is rarely considered to be a valuable work of art simply because of the numbers. Again, that shows in the low cost and good value of our posters.

Of course a cheap poster printed on thin, glossy paper is a cheap item. But who says posters have to be printed on paper like that? Our wildlife posters are printed on museum-quality, thick matt paper with pigment inks that will last for decades and more. Or check out the posters category for all the posters!

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