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What the heck is a fine art print?

Our most commonly asked question- what is the difference between your two papers offered?

We hear a lot of fancy terms thrown around these days. Fine art, archival quality, museum grade, professional quality, acid free, giclee prints. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. What on earth does giclee mean (and how on earth do you pronounce that word)? What is archival quality? Why would I need museum grade, that seems a bit overkill! I just want a cute print to put in the kids room! Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. They’re all (kinda) the same thing.

When it comes to buying prints. You essentially have two options. The fine art print category, or the cardstock print category. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for so you can determine what you are buying, and which is best for you.


We have all heard of the term ‘acid free’ when it comes to scrapbooking or crafting. The reason this  comes into the equation, is that the acid content in paper makes them (eventually) turn yellow, brittle and crack over time. The difference between fine art paper and normal cardstock paper lies in the composition of the paper itself. In fine art paper, natural fibres are used. Usually pure cotton fibre and/or pure alpha cellulose fibre are in the composition. The paper is not artificially bleached with chlorine, which you often find is the case with your average white cardstock (commonly used for regular prints). This ensures the paper base is pH 7 or above, classing it as acid free. There are many different finishes to papers: glossy, matt, textured, smooth. These are all just personal preferences usually decided upon by the artist. These finishes exist in both fine art cardstocks and print cardstocks.

- fine art paper is acid free pH 7 or above, made of pure natural fibres
- regular print papers will eventually yellow, become brittle & crack
- fine art paper terms to look out for: cotton rag, linen rag, natural canvas, cotton paper, german etching & silk 


The ink used holds the same weight of importance as the paper used when making prints. The printers used in creating giclee, archival and fine art prints, are of a very different calibre to the average inkjet printer used. Not only do you need to sell a kidney to be able to afford one, but they usually come with 8-12 colourants resulting in a much larger colour gamut. When these colours mix together they are able to produce millions of colours which results in a perfect recreation of the original every time. Something your old $159 Brother inkjet from Officeworks could never dream of being able to do! Something else to consider is that no matter what the archival properties are of the paper you are using, the ink used will have an effect on longevity. A fine art print cannot be a fine art print by one element alone (paper/ink). They must work hand in hand to be able to be included in the fine art category.

- fine art printers use 8-12 colourants (pigments) which can last a lifetime
- fine art prints must be composed from fine art paper AND fine art inks (pigments)

When it comes to our fine art prints, you really CAN tell the difference. Firstly, the paper feels thicker- near card like. The surface is roughly textured to the touch (not just printed on top to appear textured). It is very similar to that of real watercolour art paper and luxurious in quality. Unfortunately it is difficult to photograph the true difference effectively and something more obvious when experienced in person. 

At Isla Dream Prints, our matte cardstock prints are delightfully smooth and vibrant. They too look beautiful and there is no questioning their quality - they are our budget friendly and in general our most popular choice. But there is definitely something extra special about our fine art prints. The textured paper helps the flawless colour to almost become 3D and jump off the paper. The colours are crisper, and the quality difference between matte paper and cotton rag is obvious even to the untrained eye.

Everyone’s intended purpose for a print is different. Some like to have endless options of beautiful prints to rotate around. Others buy a print to frame and display for a long period of time. So it really does come down to personal preference, and how you plan on using the print. This is the primary reason we offer both cardstock prints and fine art prints. We can offer the best of both worlds. If you are after a more budget friendly print, that you will change around frequently, and don’t intend on using and displaying for the next 50+ years, then a matte art print is the right print for you.  If you have a passion for beautiful quality, rich pigment, and longevity is important to you, then a fine art print is the right print for you.