Understanding Your Print and the Significance of its Edition

Buying original prints can be a great way to edge your way into art collecting. There are a whole range of techniques and styles to explore, and usually something to cater to most tastes.  

A print is essentially an image created from a block, plate, stone or screen that the artist has worked upon. A print is usually printed by a technician or ‘master printer’ under the supervision of the artist. Techniques used by the artist can vary greatly, with the use of everything from traditional woodcut techniques to more modern digital processes. A single number within an edition is usually part of a larger run of prints, that are essentially identical.  There may be some differences or inconsistencies within the print run, but this is at the discretion of the artist.     

We often get asked what all the numbers and letters on a print mean. People wonder about the value of different numbers in an edition thinking perhaps the lower the edition number is, the more valuable the piece is. There really is no evidence to support this. Sometimes a collector will have an affinity with a particular number, say 7, and try to obtain that number within the edition when they buy. The only thing that has the capacity to affect the value is the actual number of editions in the print run. This is controlled simply by the logic of supply and demand. If there are less prints in an edition, theoretically the value is higher as there are physically less pieces available.  

At times the artist labels a print with a range of other symbols that denote prints outside of the actual edition, such as AP, CP, TP, PP, HC and BAT. These markings denote the testing process that the artist and printer go through to get to a satisfactory final product. There are some collectors that aim for these pieces as they signify a part of process undertaken by the artist and printer in order to get to the final product. Often an artist will supervise the printing of their work, and the signature and numbering are often seen as proof of this, as well as the authenticity of the piece. Often the printers will leave a ‘chop mark’ on the print, that signifies that the print has come from the print house. This is usually a raised mark on the margin of the print with the logo of the print house, and is seen as another marker of authenticity.  

Each artist will have their own technique that they have chosen to work with, from woodcuts, to etchings, to ‘a la poupee’. Every technique will resonate differently with different artists, for example, Joseph Banks uses the ‘a la poupee’ technique to create his luminous botanical pieces [see image below]. This technique enables the artist to ink the plate with several different colours, using a separate brush or cotton bud for each colour. An etching is when an image is drawn on a metal plate, and then then acid is used to remove the negative space around the image, the plate inked and a print pulled from that.  

Also worth taking into consideration is the difference between a ‘print’ and a ‘reproduction’. The reproduction is often a print created digitally from a photograph of a work. These are signed and numbered as editions by the artist, as part of a limited print run. These reproductions have the capacity to hold value, as they are seen as to be a quantifiable product that has been endorsed by the artist. One of the most famous cases of this is the offset lithograph reproduction of Brett Whiteley's ‘The Arrival’. One of these lithographs sold in 2007 for just over $15,000, and demonstrates the value that can be held in a reproduction piece [Whiteley's 'The Arrival' is pictured below - note: we do not have this work currently in stock].

It must also be said that framing your prints can be important as well. Everything from light,  humidity and framing processes can affect the integrity, longevity and value of the print. It is important to get good advice on this, as a faded, or light damaged print will not hold value as well as a print in better condition.

Click Here to Read our Glossary of Print Edition Terms