Fine art prints are often printed in editions. An edition will contain a finite and often known number of prints. There is the normal print run, then there are often additional editions, such as an Artist’s Proof edition or Printer’s Proof edition.
The total print run is the sum of all of the editions. 70 regular prints + 20 Artist’s Proofs + 14 Printer’s Proofs + 10 other prints = 114 total prints.
Many collectors get a mistaken impression of rarity. They may see a print numbered out of 100 and don’t realize that additional and even larger editions of the print exist. A rule of thumb is that prints in the regular edition usually far outnumber each of the other editions.
Artist’s proofs and printer’s proofs are not to be confused with proofs. Proofs are test prints made before the final print run. For example, the printer or artist may make a proof of a print to see how the design is coming along. Looking at the proof she may decide the print needs more red in the face, or more shading to a tree in the background. Proofs will often differ, if only slightly, from the final product.
Other than perhaps being printed on different paper or having minor printing differences, artist’s proofs and printer’s proofs are usually identical to the regular prints. Artist’s prints are an additional edition meant for artist’s personal use, whether to keep, sell on the open market or give away to friends and acquaintances. Printer’s proofs are just like artist’s proofs, except they are made for the printer.
Other common editions include the following:
Hors D’ Commerce. Traditionally, these were prints made before the official print run used as a guide for the printer. In modern times, this term is often simply used as a name for an extra edition. In this modern sense, they are essentially the same as artist’s proofs and printer’s proofs.
Trial Proof. Traditionally a trial proof was used, in similar fashion as the Hors Commerce, as a guide for the printer. In modern times, they are often a name for an extra edition. They can be the same as the regular edition, or, as demonstrated by Andy Warhol, they can differ in color from the regular edition.
Current fine art print editions are often, though not always, hand numbered and/or signed by the artist, usually in pencil or crayon (ink can be detrimental to a print). This writing is often on the lower border area. Often times, the numbering indicates the number of prints in the edition. For example, an edition may be numbered 1/100, 2/100…., indicating that there are one hundred prints in the edition. Numbering can be found in Arabic (1, 2, 3) and Roman (I, II, III). Unless someone in the know says so, it should not be assumed that the prints are numbered in order of printing (#1/100 is printed first, 3/100 is printed third), because they often aren’t. If one edition is numbered and another is not, it is reasonable that the unnumbered had a larger print run. An ‘unlimited edition’ means there was no specified limit to how many prints there could be, and often means many prints were made.
In addition to possible numbering, prints often have handwritten or printed letters that identify the edition. The regular edition will ordinarily have no extra lettering. Common lettering for other editions are shown below. Most often the letters are next to the numbers, such as ‘AP 5/100′
Artist Proofs =AP or EA
Printer’s Proof = PP
Hors D’ Commerce = HC or HDC
Trial Proof = TP
Some editions are hand signed by the artist, and some or not. The catalogue raisonne usually will detail how an edition is signed, numbered and labeled.