Hot off the Press: A Guide to Prints and their Editions

Have you ever wondered about the significance of an ‘edition’ on a print?
The figures you may see in the bottom corner of a print indicate the total number of prints made from a single plate. Two primary categories exist: limited and open editions. Limited editions are exclusive, with a fixed number of prints created, enhancing their desirability and value. Each print is meticulously marked to indicate its position in the series. On a print from an open edition, you would not find an edition number. However, there is a deeper layer to uncover. We are delving into the technical nuances of editions, essential for navigating the complex landscape of the art world. Prepare for an enlightening journey into the realm of printmaking…

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) Flowers (Feldman & Schellmann II.6) 1964, offset lithograph, ed. of approximately 300. Sold for $68,750. © Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ARS/Copyright Agency, 2023

What Constitutes an edition?
Each individual artwork (whether a print, sculpture, or photograph) within a series is often referred to as an ‘edition’, illustrating that it is part of a collection of identical artworks.

Numbered print
The numbering of a print takes the form of a fraction and is often found with the artist’s signature. It represents the print number as well as the total number of prints in the edition. For instance, 5/20 indicates that the print is number five out of a limited edition of 20.

Uneditioned prints
There are some prints that are considered as ‘open editions’ or uneditioned, that do not bear an edition number. This can be due to various reasons, including the artist’s preference and the nature of the artwork. These prints are often well-documented to solidify their authenticity.

Brent Harris (born 1956) Swamp 1999, etching and aquatint, ed. P/P. Sold for $1,875. © Brent Harris

BAT: Bon à Tirer
BAT is the acronym for ‘bon à tirer’, a French expression meaning ‘good for printing’. It signifies the final proof of a print approved by the artist, serving as a guide for the rest of the edition to replicate. Since there is typically only one of these proofs for an edition, the print technician traditionally retains it. 

H/C: Hors d’Commerce
Hors d’Commerce is a French phrase signifying ‘not for sale’. A H/C proof resembles an Artist’s Proof in being identical to the final edition. Historically, H/C proofs were intended for the artist and their collaborators, hence the instruction that they are not to be sold. However, in practice, these proofs are frequently retained with the rest of the proofs.

A/P: Artist’s Proof
Artist’s Proofs are often marked with A/P or the French version E/A (Epreuva d’Artiste). This edition indicates that both the artist and print technician are satisfied with the progress, ready to commence the next steps of the official run of numbered prints. There are no official rules regarding the number of A/Ps created, but in most cases, the numbers are less than 10% of the numbered run. These editions are created and often kept by the artist and print technician as a record of the print’s progression.

John Coburn (1925-2006) Garden of Desire 1976, screenprint, ed. A/P. Sold for $3,250 © John Coburn/Copyright Agency, 2023

P/P: Printer’s Proof
As the name suggests, a Printer’s Proof is similar to an Artist’s Proof. The Printer’s Proof is an edition produced by the artist and print technician during their creative process perfecting the edition. Like A/Ps, there are only a few P/Ps produced.

T/P: Trial Proof
Trial Proof prints are pulled while the artist is actively working on the composition, often differing from the regular edition. This is used to assess a print’s progression and may lead to further refinements for the subsequent stages of the work. These trial impressions may not precisely mirror the final edition, and some collectors may appreciate their unique nuances. These prints often feature additional annotations and notes, showcasing the work’s progression.

A question that frequently arises among art collectors is whether the edition number of a print has any significant impact on its value or exclusivity. While some collectors may prefer collecting A/Ps or the number 1 in the print edition, these distinctions do not necessarily enhance the worth or exclusivity of the print. All prints are created by the artist’s hand and are to be enjoyed by everyone at any stage of their art collecting journey!

By Hannah Ryan, Prints & Multiples Specialist

Top Image: Andy Warhol, 1970 / Alamy

May 2024