Resources for artists

How to turn your works into prints and editions

History of editions


The practice of printing multiple copies of the same image in ‘editions’ began in the 19th Century as a way to make more money from a single artwork. Artists then began to number editions. At the start, prints were published and assigned a number but the total number of prints in that edition was not specified. The lowest numbers (e.g. 1, 2) used to be considered the most valuable, because when using traditional printing methods the plates would slowly wear out and the prints produced would be less sharp. Nowadays with digital printing, there should not be any difference in print quality between the numbers, although some collectors still value the lower numbers more highly.


Limited editions


Today, the total size of the edition is usually made clear and is known as a ‘limited edition’. The edition size can be any number from two to as high as thousands. Think carefully about your choice as the total size of the edition will help to determine the value of each print.


Open or time-limited editions


While it is most common to release a limited edition of prints, there are other options for artists too.

  • Open editions: This means the numbers are not limited. The artwork can be reproduced in any quantity according to the artist’s wishes. Open editions will usually cost less than limited editions and are much less likely to increase in value as more in the series could be released at any time. The print will not be numbered and often will not be signed.
  • Time-limited edition: This is an increasingly popular way of releasing an edition, where the total number is not specified but is determined by how long the prints are on sale. For example, a well-known artist might release a new set of prints and have them on sale for a month. At the end of the month, the edition will be capped at however many were sold in that period.


How to sign and number prints


Traditionally, prints are signed at the bottom of the image on the original paper, in pencil. A pencil mark cannot be reproduced by a computer which makes it less vulnerable to fraud.


The signature should be on the lower right side, the numbering on the lower left, and the title in the centre. The numbering should show both the number of the print (the first number) and the total number in that particular edition (the second number).


Example:  10/100          Untitled             Jane Smith


What is an artist proof


Originally, artist’s proofs (or APs) were impressions of a print made during the printmaking process to check the state/quality of the printing. Nowadays, they will be identical to the numbered copies. APs can be particularly desirable to collect because of their rarity and, especially in the case of dead artists, because they can be evidence of how the artist developed an image. APs are often numbered using Roman numerals e.g. II/V (No. 2 out of 5 APs) and they will not usually exceed 10% of the total edition size.


Other types of proofs


  • Trial proof: this is a working proof made before the final edition, to check how it looks and how to develop it further.
  • Bon à tirer (BAT) proof: this means ‘good to print’ in French. It is the final trial proof, which the artist approves. It is often accompanied by printing notes, such as paper type, inks, or the inking process, and is the print used as a reference for the final edition.
  • Printer’s proof (PP): this is a complimentary copy of a print given to the publisher. There may be one or several of these, depending on how many people were involved in the production.
  • Not for sale (NFS) or hors commerce (HC) proof: proofs annotated with NFS or HC should not be for sale