What are print editions?

17 June 2022  |  Admin

What are print editions?

Some of our customers ask “what exactly is a print edition?”. Well, a print edition is the total number of prints made of one design. A single print is never correctly referred to as an edition, it is a print from an edition of a hundred, for example. You’d be surprised by the number of artists and dealers who get this wrong!


The prints that make up the edition are usually numbered as a fraction one over one hundred for instance. This rarely means it is the first one produced, when multiple colours are involved and prints and put on drying racks and then re-stacked when dry often the order will become reversed and the last one printed will be the first to receive the next colour. All the prints in a modern edition should be almost exactly the same. However in the nineteenth century when mezzotint was a popular form of reproducing paintings very large editions were produced and it was likely that later prints from one edition would be inferior to early ones as the burr on the etching plate had been gradually flattened by repeatedly passing through the press.


These are limited editions, and once the total number has been printed they are not printed again. However a second edition can be produced provided it is different in some way - usually it would be printed in different colours, or it could be a different size. In theory it could even just be on a different paper stock though this would be frowned upon and would not be done by a reputable publisher like Atom! There are also ‘Varied Editions’ where each print is deliberately different in some way, usually with the addition of hand painted or drawn elements. This can also be referred to as ‘Hand Finished’. Finally there are also ‘Open Editions’ which are printed in an unlimited quantity, the number simply determined by how they are selling. These are usually cheaper and it is very unlikely that they will ever increase in value.


During the printing process there are often artist’s proofs (APs) and printer’s proofs (PPs) produced, and unless these are more than a very few they should also be numbered out of the total produced. Traditionally the artist’s proof was the one the artist approved, and the printer’s proofs were a gift to the printer and his or her assistants. The total number of proofs should never exceed ten or perhaps fifteen percent of the edition, although one does see this happening nowadays.


Proofs are not necessarily more valuable than prints from the regular edition but if people are particularly keen on collecting artists' proofs then it may drive the price up in the secondary market. This is also true for certain numbers in the edition.