Printmaking 101: Edition Numbers

Have you ever been confused by the numbers or letters beside a title of a print, or in the lower corner of the actual work?  These strange little codes denote where the print is in an edition, or series of prints.  To improve your printmaking saavy, here is a breakdown of basic edition information you may see beside a print:

Edition Number (ex – 1/60, 3/10, 2/3, etc) – Prints are made from a matrix, such as a woodblock or copper plate, allowing multiple impressions to be made of the same image, or in other words, an edition.  Depending on the technique, it is up to the artist how large an edition will be.  In a traditional edition, prints should be as close to identical as possible.  So, if there are 10 prints in an edition, the first (1/10) and the last (10/10) should look the same.  Regardless of edition size these are all still ORIGINAL works of art!

Nostalgia II by Shahla Abdi, part of a varied edition.

Edition Variable–the exception to the above rule is the Edition Variable, usually denoted by EV but artists also sometimes put Ed. Var, Var. Ed. or VE.  This goes next to editions where the prints may not be

Nostalgia II by Shahla Abdi, note how the matrix is the same as the above print but the inks used to print the image is different

identical.  For example, an etching may be printed and then portions hand-colored in different ways.

Artist Proof–artist proofs are usually pulled before an edition, denoted by AP.  These are usually identical prints that are kept separate from an edition for the artists own purposes.  For example, if an artist is in a print exchange and needs to print 30 prints to give away, but wants to keep a few to sell, he or she may print an additional 5 artist proofs.  Sometimes monotype artists also call edition their prints as an Artist Proof, since there is only one of them.

Vessel II, 3rd State by Jenny Freestone

Trial Proof–Trial Proofs (TP, or CTP for color trial proofs) are prints pulled before the print is ready to be editioned.  Essentially, the artist is getting an idea of what the image looks like so they can make changes to the matrix as needed.  Often times, artists will pull several of a trial proof at a certain state (indicated by state numbers, such as Vessel II, 3rd State, to the left), before moving on.

Now that you know a little more about those edition numbers, take a closer look at them next time you’re in the gallery.  Seeing if a print is denoted 5/16, 6/20 EV, TP, or AP gives you more insight into the artists working process and can help you understand the print better–plus seriously impress any visitors you bring along with your conniosseurship!

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