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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Poster Printing: Is It a Litho or a Screen Print?

My fiancee and I both fell in love with a poster we found at a thrift store yesterday. The poster depicts a caricature of a horse in lion tamer’s garb with a whip, holding a top hat in one hoof. He looks ornery. The background sans serif type reads “CYRK.”

I did some research into the artist starting with his signature, “Swierzy,” and learned that Waldemar Swierzy had been a Polish artist who had died just a few short months ago (November 2013).

In Wikipedia I read that “in 1992 the government of Poland [had] issued a postage stamp to honor one of his Cyrk posters, ‘Clown with derby’ in 1992” and that “Swierzy is one of the Polish School of Posters’ most prolific artists, having created over 2500 posters.”

What Is It?

This was all very exciting, to have acquired a Polish circus poster for $20.00, but my fiancee asked me how it had been printed, and I could not immediately answer without a close inspection and some thought and research.

She loved it. I loved it. But what my fiancee was really asking about the poster was whether it had value as a work of art.

First of all, the poster came shrink-wrapped to a sheet of cardboard. I was concerned at first and thought it was probably a reproduction. After all, when posters are dry mounted to Fome-Cor or other, similar substrates, their value drops. I believe this is due to their not being removable, to the potential for damage during the mounting process, and to the likelihood that non-archival materials had been used in the dry mounting process (leading to a reduced lifespan for the print).

Fortunately, I was proven wrong. As soon as we had removed the shrink-wrapping, the poster fell off the board backing and dropped to the floor. It was just an unmounted sheet of art paper. This was encouraging.

Four Color Custom Printing or Custom Screen Printing with Match Inks?

Next, I looked at the colors in the large format print with a loupe. Specifically, I was looking for the four process colors and the rosette pattern of offset commercial printing (caused by the angles at which the process color screens are set to avoid moire patterns).

The rosette pattern would show that the poster was a “reproduction” rather than a “print.” Both traditional lithography and custom screen printing yield multiple copies of an artist’s work, but these are within a limited run, the artist participates directly in their creation, and they have artistic and monetary value.

In contrast, an offset lithographic copy of a work of art is created with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. It may have an aesthetic appeal, but the reproduction has far lesser monetary and artistic value because the offset lithograph is made from a photograph of the artist’s work.

Under the loupe I saw full, rich, solid colors, and I also saw a few areas with a screen pattern of dots. I did not see any of the process colors, and the dot pattern I did see was only of one color. From past reading, I knew that the pressure of the custom screen printing process yielded somewhat irregular halftone dots, and when comparing the halftone dots in the poster with the smaller, more regular, and more precise dots of offset lithographic work, I did see a difference. Not only were there no rosettes (and no overlapping screens of color at all), but the few areas of halftone dots were a bit irregular and not completely filled in. Some dots bled into one another as well.

From my print brokering work with a large format screen printer, I knew that even though the majority of custom screen printing work was done with flat colors, nevertheless, a skilled screen printer could produce halftones (and could even print process color halftone screens).

I also knew that process colors were transparent, and in looking closely at the inks used in the poster I could see only thick films of opaque ink colors. Looking at the back of the poster I could see that the ink was so thick that it had bled through onto the back of the poster in several places. The edges of the print were also pinkish red, just like the background behind the horse caricature, so it seemed that the pressure of the squeegie drawing the ink through the mesh screen of the custom screen printing press had forced the viscous ink through the porous press sheet.

Was It Signed?

The artist’s signature was present, but unfortunately it was not original. I could see halftone dots slightly smeared behind a solid black printed image of the signature. Granted, this would make the poster less valuable than a print from a limited edition that was hand-signed by the artist and then numbered (3/25, for instance, indicating the third “pull” from an edition of 25, made before the screens had been destroyed in order to limit the press run and increase the value of the individual posters).

But none of this was present. However, a hand-written number was on the back of the poster, drawn in light red pencil, perhaps a notation by the gallery that had shrink-wrapped the piece.

The Verdict

There are three levels of value you might look for in such a print. The lowest is an offset lithographic reproduction of a painting or another print. Clearly, this was not such a reproduction.

The next level would be a screen print (an indeterminate press pull from a print run of indeterminate length), unsigned but clearly the work of a noted artist (and Waldemar Swierzy had just died, making his work more valuable—since there would be no more prints or posters forthcoming).

Third and best would have been a hand-signed, original screen-printed poster with a notation of the numbered print and the length of the print run, which this was not.

What is the poster worth? Neither more nor less than a willing buyer would offer. More than anything, it’s just exciting to acquire a real piece of art for $20.00. It comes with a history and with all the fanciful images an ornery lion-tamer horse can evoke.

6 Responses to “Poster Printing: Is It a Litho or a Screen Print?”

  1. Spidee says:

    Among the popular and less expensive methods of promoting a company item to the world and the clients is by [means] of [a] company printing service. It is a significant method of interacting [with] the world about business and the brand name. The major goal of a company printing service is to impress potential clients and members. The printing poster must be cool, understandable, and crisp so that [potential clients will] be amazed and get drawn in.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I am in total agreement. A combination of good design, provocative marketing copy, and quality printing will make a poster memorable and will raise a company’s brand awareness.

  2. ahmed says:

    This helps to promote the business activities of companies. The poster must be beautifully designed and attractive to catch the customer’s [attention].

  3. You know Poster printing has covered large part of marketing and promotions. But it fully depends on the subject, design and printing. If any one of this three is not properly managed, marketing fails.

    Keep posting…



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