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.
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.
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