It’s possible that, thanks to technological advances in printing, we’re living in an age with as much change and new potential for culture as the generation of the printing press, or the steam engine. Aside from online stores that allow artists to reach and sell directly to fans and collectors without middlepersons taking a cut, digital printing has reached a level so advanced that the whole notion of art editions has exploded.
Limited editions, at one point, meant that an artist created some kind of print or carving or cut or type, etc., and used a press to literally press different editions of the work onto another piece of paper. These presses could only churn out a handful of prints because eventually the cut and the ink would wear away. Hence limited editions, with the first prints in a limited edition valued higher because they were closer both physically (with fresher ink) and in reproduction to the original piece.
Enter digital printing. With digital printing, high quality cameras can scan any work of art, no matter its materials, and high quality printers use high quality inks to create a print. These digital reproductions are still called prints because that’s what they are, and they create an entirely new set of possibilities.
Now, there are three levels at which you can buy art:
Level 1: The original. The original work of art can run in the tens of thousands in the genre we’re concerned with, which is a pretty penny for most of us. There’s also just one original! So, you know, good on you if you manage to own only originals, but it’s simply not feasible for most of us.
Level 2: Limited editions. Limited editions are replications of originals, produced in limited numbers. So whereas there is only one original, there may be some 25, 50, or 200 limited edition prints. These are often sold with their number in the print written somewhere in the margins (a habit picked up from the days when the lower numbered prints were closer to the original than later prints). When limited edition prints are printed digitally instead of on a press, they are usually less expensive than physically printed prints (and the original), but can still often price in the hundreds of dollars.
Level 3: Open, or unlimited, editions. Open editions are literally unlimited. Because of the digital printing technology that prints the 5,000th print with the same quality of reproduction as it prints the first or second print, artists can sell an infinite number of open edition prints. Because there are so many of them, their price is decidedly the most affordable of the three. Thumbtack Press sells open editions.
Because you can print infinite prints, and because they are so much more affordable than limited edition prints, it suddenly became obvious to me that artists could reach a much bigger base of collectors if they sold open edition prints. And what’s more – think of all the young people who, with limited budgets through their university years, for example, can now afford a high quality print of great art that was previously unattainable for them.
That’s what Thumbtack Press is now. It’s a curated community of artists and art lovers, people who love a particular aesthetic, yes, but also people who appreciate having access to art at affordable prices. Our various paper, canvas, and framing options are just a bonus. The key tenet is a shared passion, amplified by the technology of our age.