What is an Art Edition? Part I

You might have noticed that in recent years, the market for prints and art editions has seen a rather substantial growth and appreciation, becoming a popular choice among art lovers. This is due partly because more contemporary artists have made these types of media part of their practice  – and also because they usually come with affordable prices.

When it comes to art editions you will encounter a lot of terms like AP, CP, TP, PP, HC or BAT. Since we know sometimes these might be a bit confusing, we also know for a fact that understanding your print and the value of its edition is definitely something worth knowing. This is the first post in a series of articles on the exciting world of art editions and what they mean (stay tuned).


Let’s delve right in…

A small dose of history 📜

Around the time paper was invented (9th century), first prints were also made in China, in the form of woodblock printing. Later on, by the 15th century, this type of art-making spread all over Europe through the invention of the movable type and the printing press. Text and printed images started to be used together more frequently in order to create illustrated books. At the same time, prints continued to be made separately and were considered their own unique art form, distinct from painting and drawing.

← Carved woodblock & movable type →


So, what is a print?

According to The International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA):

‘A print is a work of graphic art which has been conceived by the artist to be realised as an original work of art, rather than a copy of a work in another medium. Prints are produced by drawing or carving an image onto a hard surface (known as a matrix) such as a wood block, metal plate, or stone. This surface is then inked and the image is transferred to paper or another material by the application of pressure, thus creating an impression, or print. The printed image that results is the exact reverse of the image on the plate.’


What is an edition?

When a set of identical impressions is made from an individual plate or group of plates it is called an edition. Editions can be made by the artist, either working alone or together with a master printer.


Print master Lacy Matyas spreads the black oil color on a very smooth and flat surface, in this case glass, before inking the linocut engraving made by Lea Rasovszky.


Limited editions & numbering

A limited edition is made from a single plate, in a single run, in limited amounts, as the name suggests. Put simply, a limited edition print is basically an ‘assurance’ not to produce more copies of a print than announced prior to publication. This is emphasised by labeling each print with a distinct number followed by the total edition size. 

Almost all limited editions are numbered in the same manner (in the form of a fraction) – usually in the lower left corner of the print, outside the image. For instance 121/200, means that the copy you hold in your hands is the number 121 out of a total edition of 200. The numbering sequence doesn’t reflect the order of printing, although the work is still done by hand. The rule is simple, though: the smaller the number, the bigger the value, due to its scarcity. For example, a piece from an edition of 40 will be more valuable than a similar work from an edition of 200.

Mircea Cantor signing his Aquila Non Capit Muscas edition.


Signatures  can tell you a lot about a print and are a guarantee of workmanship and authenticity. As a general rule, fine art prints are more valuable when they are hand-signed by the artist. The signature can be located on the front of the print, the back of the print, or on its accompanying Certificate of Authenticity. To avoid fraud, limited edition prints are usually numbered in pencil, as computers can’t trace it.

Hand-Made Original Prints vs. Reproductions

Sometimes you might encounter pictures that are sold as ‘prints’ and even ‘limited edition prints’. These are, in fact, photographic reproductions of an original artwork – good quality posters generated by an inkjet printer. How to make a clear distinction between them?

An original print is produced – always by hand – from a surface on which the artist has worked – a stone, wood block or copper plate, using one (or more) printmaking techniques. Thus, the image is created by the artist as a print from an outset. The application of colour and the amount of pressure that is applied on each print is slightly different, therefore there will be subtle differences between the prints. By doing so, each single print is an original piece of art. An original print is by definition a limited edition since the plate or block used to make the print – simply wears away after a number of uses. After the edition is made, the surface is usually destroyed.

A reproduction, known by different names: poster, fine art print, or giclee print is a copy, of a painting or of an original print, produced by a mechanical process in which the work is photographed and then printed on a commercial printing press. Reproductions are often signed and numbered as if they were artist’s original prints and some are even offered as ‘signed limited edition prints’ when sometimes even the signature is photographically reproduced. Applying the term ‘limited edition’ to reproductions is misleading, since the first print in an edition is identical to the last as you can continue printing identical images indefinitely.

Tips & other recommendations 

Some things you should always consider:

🖊️ The art print is best to be numbered and signed

🤏 The smaller the edition, the better and more valuable

💛 Always, always collect art you love – and (when or if) it grows its value, consider this the 🍒 on the cake


👋 If you happen to have any questions along the way, feel free to ask our team of specialists at contact@arteditions.ro