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How to Detect Fake Art

In my art collection, I found several paintings that were sold as originals on eBay but later found to be fakes. Needless to say, it was a big shock and disappointment especially when I paid top dollars for them. Two such examples are shown below. The left-hand column shows a scanned image of fake artwork while the right-hand column shows a screenshot of Photoshop that reveals the dots made by a printer when the image was magnified by the program.

Scanned image of painting Screenshot of Photoshop when the image is magnified
On canvas mounted on a card stockFake Art 01A Fake Art 1B
On watercolor paper
Fake Art 2A
Fake Art 2B
Fake Art 3A Fake Art 3B

Self-Representing Artists are found all over the Internet...

Selling their Original artwork, directly to the public. One of the most popular sales venues is eBay... where collectors may bid on artwork from artists all over the world. Unfortunately... along with the wonderful, original artwork... there are those who would try to sell fake art online.

What is fake art?

Scam artists will print a photograph on a canvas or paper. Then they apply paints or graphite (in the case of a graphite drawing) to the image. This is done to create textures, to make each image look and feel like a real painting or drawing (as well as to conceal the dots). Nowadays, you can buy large-format inkjet printers at a reasonable price, enabling scam artists to easily produce large prints, such as 18 x 24 inches. As you may imagine... this is easier than a paint-by-number painting, because the complete image is already printed on the support.

How can you detect fake art?

Most fake art is created by applying paints and varnish to a printed image and/or using wet brushes to manipulate the dots created by inkjet printers. You can see the dots by using a hand-held 30X illuminated microscope, which only costs about $10 on eBay and Amazon.com. What you look for are uniform dots... usually in colors of yellow, blue, and magenta. The dots are more easily detected in light-color areas and the areas where one color changes to another (see the sample images below).
An original painting should NOT have these dots anywhere on the painted surface.

Examples of fake art

The following are example artworks created as experiments using Photoshop and an inkjet printer. In the microscope images, notice the uniform dots that prove that the artwork is a print. Most of the fake art would contain more paints, so there may be only a small area where the dots are detectable.

Fake art Image under microsope
Fake Art Example 1A Fake Art Example 1B
Fake Art Example 2A Fake Art Example 2B
Fake Art Example 3A Fake Art Example 3B

What should you do if you purchased fake art?

First... be sure to keep copies of all receipts and email relating to this online transaction.

Then... contact the artist and make arrangements to return the artwork for a full refund. If the artist refuses and you paid through PayPal, you may have buyer protection and you may be able to file a dispute, to receive your refund.

Then... report the seller to their sales venue (ie: eBay, ETSY, etc...). There are rules against misrepresenting items for sale on eBay and on other sales venues. Consequences vary... but your report will go on file, which may help prevent future fraudulent sales.

Then... be sure to leave honest feedback about receiving fake art from this seller. You will be doing everyone a favor, by warning others not to buy from this scam artist.

Finally... misrepresentation of a product advertised for sale or sold through an Internet auction site is called "auction fraud", which is a federal offense. Victims should report these internet crimes online at the FBI website.

How can we help prevent the sale of fake art?

By writing articles, showing samples and increasing public awareness of this scam.

I hope this article will make it easier for buyers to spot fake art and riskier for scammers to try and sell it.