Art Market

The Differences between Prints, Multiples, and Editions

Shannon Lee
Jun 30, 2020 5:11PM

In the past few years, the market for prints, editions, and multiples has seen a dramatic uptick. Thanks in part to the popularity of artists who have made these types of replicated works major parts of their practices—like Banksy and KAWS—along with an accompanying surge of younger collectors whose tastes and budgets align with these media, dealers and auction houses have seen a growing appreciation for a category that long played second fiddle to painting and sculpture.

Despite this marketplace momentum, one major sticking point remains: What, exactly, is the distinction between prints, editions, and multiples?



Ostensibly, these categories are fairly straightforward to define. According to Adam McCoy, head of prints and multiples at Artsy, “Strictly speaking, a print is any work executed on one support (called a matrix) with the purpose to be transferred onto another support. Most often, the second support is paper. However, it could be a range of other materials such as aluminum, canvas, etcetera.”


An edition, McCoy explained, “can include any type of work with duplicates or very similar variants of an artwork executed for publication. Editions include most forms of printmaking, but can also be sculptural objects.”


Meanwhile, a multiple is “associated with sculptural objects executed with several duplicates,” such as Picasso’s ceramics or KAWS companions. “A bronze sculpture from an edition of three is not exactly my idea of a multiple,” McCoy added. “A painted wood sculpture from an edition of 10 or 20 does fit the category much better.”

“Context is everything”

From there, however, things get a little complicated for collectors. “Really, context is everything,” noted McCoy. “There is always nuance and exceptions. Editions and multiples are always works with duplicates.”

“It’s relatively rare to have prints referred to as multiples at this point, but it’s not wrong,” said Jeff Bergman, director at Pace Prints. “Editions, as far as I’m concerned, can refer to everything under the sun that’s not a one-off or unique.”

Jeff Koons, for example, will often make smaller, editioned versions of large-scale sculptures that are more affordable to the average collector. While his 10-foot-tall Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994–2000) sold for a record-breaking $58.4 million at Christie’s in 2013, 10-inch versions are available as an edition of 2,300 for a relatively modest €8,500 (about $9,500).

Prints are often made with a similar democratic intent. “There’s no rule of thumb for this, but you will find that a print will be something like 10 to 25 percent of the price of a unique work on paper by that same artist,” said Bergman. “In theory, the smaller the edition, the more you can charge.” There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. According to Bergman, artists who have an established printmaking practice and a high market demand, like Nina Chanel Abney, can often command price points for editioned works that are comparable to their unique works on paper.

Though it may well seem as though “editions” could simply be used to refer to both multiples and prints, there is an important catch: Not all prints are editioned.

Monoprints and monotypes

“You can create prints that are their own unique works,” said Jeremy Ruiz, studio manager at the Lower East Side Printshop. These prints are often either monotypes or monoprints. Monotypes are essentially created by painting directly onto a plate and pressing a piece of paper on top of it in order to transfer the image. A monoprint, meanwhile, can use any number of techniques, but is still essentially its own, distinct, un-recreatable work.

How monotypes are defined is really up to the artist, Ruiz explained. Artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg are prime examples of this. Though the two artists both famously used silkscreen techniques to replicate images, they printed onto canvas instead of paper and considered these works paintings, not prints.

That distinction is an important one. Warhol’s silkscreen-on-canvas works are routinely among the top lots at auction in a given season—his one-of-a-kind 1963 work Eight Elvises, for instance, fetched $100 million in 2008, placing it among the most expensive works of art in the world at the time. Meanwhile, his prints on paper tend to sell for relatively reasonable sums in the six figures, or, in the case of his unlimited editions (also called non-editioned multiples), for a little under $400.

Variable editions

There are also variable editions, which, as the name implies, are editions that are varied slightly piece to piece. That could mean that they are on different surfaces, are made of different materials, are colored differently, or use slightly different techniques. Often, these are signed with the initials “EV” along with the edition number.

Printer’s proofs

Another subset of the print market is the printer’s proof. When a set of editions are printed, artists will often give a small number of additional impressions to the printers, which are annotated “P.P.”

“It is basically a form of appreciation, as well as payment for their skill and expertise,” said McCoy. Printer’s proofs are essentially of the final editions, so they have roughly the same value as their equivalent editions, he noted.

Several notable presses include Universal Limited Art Editions, Gemini G.E.L., Tyler Graphics, Crown Point Press, and Cirrus Editions. “Each is still publishing new works, but they all have impressive histories stemming back to the revolution in printmaking that occurred in the 1960s and ’70s,” McCoy added.

Today, there are numerous more contemporary presses giving artists increased access to publishing prints, with Two Palms, Highpoint Editions, Counter Editions, Keigo Prints, and Wingate Studios among the most significant.

Far from being hard-and-fast rules, the distinctions between prints, editions, and multiples serve far better as loose guidelines that help clarify the work’s value.

Shannon Lee