A Guide to Understanding Print Editions & Techniques
News / Collecting

A Guide to Understanding Print Editions & Techniques

Apr 28, 2020

Printmaking is believed to have originated as early as the 1st century AD during China’s Han Dynasty, and from the beginning, the medium’s ability to reproduce images and create unique visual qualities has influenced everyone from book publishers to contemporary artist. When looking at prints there is a lot of terminology to navigate from printing techniques to edition information. Below we outline all you need to know to better undertand print editions.

The Basics

Limited edition

Limited edition means there is a limited, set number of prints available. The artist has been directly involved with the edition and each print within the edition will be identical in terms of quality and size.

Print Edition

A print edition is the total number of impressions from a given print otherwise known as the edition size.

Numbered Print

The numbering of a print takes the form of a fraction. It shows the number of the print and the total number of prints in the edition, for example '25/500' means the print is number 25 within an edition of 500.

Limited edition prints are usually numbered in pencil to reduce the risk of fraud as computers can't trace it.

An example of how a limited edition may be signed, numbered and in this case dated

An example of how a limited edition may be signed, numbered and in this case dated

Artist Proof (AP)

When technology was less advanced in the early days of printmaking the first prints of an edition were of a higher quality. Re-using printing plates would gradually wear them down, causing a decline in quality throughout the edition's production. The artist would often keep these higher quality prints for themselves.

Now that printing technology has advanced the quality of a print is no longer a concern. Each print in a giclée or off-set lithograph edition is identical. Today, Artist Proof's can be exactly the same as numbered copies of the print.

Often the artist creates an AP as a working trial. These are likely to have extra annotations or different colours etc., which show the work's progress.

It is more desirable to own an AP partly because of tradition, but mainly because there are fewer AP's within an edition which heightens the desire to own one. The number of APs in an edition should not surpass more than 10%. Due to this restricted supply, they are usually priced slightly higher than other prints.

Festival (Destroy Capitalism) - AP, Screen print on paper, 2006

Festival (Destroy Capitalism) - AP, Screen print on paper, 2006

Banksy

Final Proof (BAT)

The final proof of a print that the artist approves and wants the rest of the edition to look like. It is argued that the final proof is more prized than the artist proof because there is only one.

Printers Proof (PP)

As the name suggests, a Printers Proof is a print given to the printer(s) to thank them for their work. The number of PPs in an edition depends on how many craftsmen were involved in the production.

PPs are similar to APs in that there are fewer of them. However, PPs are normally even rarer than APs, which makes them slightly more expensive.

APs and PPs are both numbered in the same way, for example 1/5 AP and 1/5 PP.

Happiness: The Case Against (Small) - PP, photo-etching and woodcut on paper, 2017

Happiness: The Case Against (Small) - PP, photo-etching and woodcut on paper, 2017

Harland Miller

Hors Commerce (HC)

Hors Commerce translates to 'out of trade' in English. HC's and AP's are very similar except HC's are only available directly from the artist. A HC is given as a gift to the artist for allowing the publisher to print their images. Of all the special prints, the HC's are the most valuable, since they are more rare.

Printing Techniques

Screen Print

Screen printing is perhaps the most omnipresent printing technique today.

The process involves using an ink blocking stencil, which is added to the screen to act as a barrier. When the ink is passed across the mesh screen, the blocking stencil only allows selected areas to pass onto the surface.

Screen print - In process

Screen print - In process

Nexsigns

Head - AP, Screen print on paper, 1982/2001

Head - AP, Screen print on paper, 1982/2001

Jean-Michel Basquiat

On the Road, Screen print on paper with UV glazes and glitter varnish, 2020

On the Road, Screen print on paper with UV glazes and glitter varnish, 2020

Joe Webb

Woodcut

Woodcut printing uses a relief technique and is the oldest type of print. This technique involves removing the non-printing parts of an image, leaving the printing parts level with the surface, by carving into a wooden block.

Woodcut - In process

Woodcut - In process

Camilo Güell, Youtube

Fucking Ace, woodcut, 2016

Fucking Ace, woodcut, 2016

David Shrigley

Linocut

Linocut printing is a very similar, but more modern, technique to woodcut printing. Linoleum is used as opposed to wood. This material is far softer, which allows for more fluid, sharp lines.

Linocut - In process

Linocut - In process

Barysta, Youtube

SO SHRILL MEDIA, linocut print on paper, 2020

SO SHRILL MEDIA, linocut print on paper, 2020

Tim Fishlock

Light, Linocut on paper, 2017

Light, Linocut on paper, 2017

David Shrigley

Monotype

A monotype print tends to create just one good impression from each prepared plate. Each monotype print is cherished because they have their own unique, textual quality. Their creation involves drawing with ink or paint on a smooth surface like glass, metal or stone. The image is then produced in reverse when it is hand-pressed onto a ground support.

Monotype - In process

Monotype - In process

The Museum of Modern Art New York

Monotype IX, Monotype on paper, 1987

Monotype IX, Monotype on paper, 1987

Helen Frankenthaler

Lithograph

Lithography has the most complex printing process. It involves drawing directly on a flat surface (usually stone) with an oil-based implement, then coating it with a water-based liquid. When oil-based ink is applied it’s repelled by the water, inking in just the image and allowing it to be transferred onto a paper ground.

Lithograph - In process

Lithograph - In process

Kanoria Centre for Arts

Believe in Extraordinary, Lithograph on paper, 2015

Believe in Extraordinary, Lithograph on paper, 2015

Tracey Emin

Kaikai Kiki News NO2, Offset lithograph on paper, 2008

Kaikai Kiki News NO2, Offset lithograph on paper, 2008

Takashi Murakami

Digital Print

Digital prints are used to make common reproductions. They are created with a computer and usually use an ink-jet printer. The digital information is fine-tuned to ensure that it matches the original work.

Giclée prints are a form of digital print. Giclée literally means to 'squirt or spray'. The process involves spraying pigmented ink in mists of minuscule dots onto canvas or high quality paper.

Baby Nest, Giclée print on paper, 2010

Baby Nest, Giclée print on paper, 2010

Nancy Fouts

Tell Me Beautiful Untrue Things - AP, Giclée print on paper, 2017

Tell Me Beautiful Untrue Things - AP, Giclée print on paper, 2017

The Connor Brothers

We hope this helps you navigate the wondrous world of printed editions. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us should you have any questions at all.

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