A Guide to Understanding Print Editions and Techniques

Hang-Up Gallery
Mar 25, 2019 12:39PM

“Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?” Andy Warhol

With so many technical terms regarding print editions and techniques, we decided to put together a glossary to help you pin down a better understanding.

Let's start with the basics...

Print Edition

A print edition is the total number of impressions produced from the same plate. This can be a limited edition, with a fixed, relatively small number of impressions determined by the artist.

Numbered Print

The numbering of a print takes the form of a fraction. It shows the number of the print and the total number of prints in the edition. For example '25/500' means the print is number 25 within an edition of 500.

Limited edition prints are usually numbered in pencil to reduce risk of fraud as computers cannot trace pencil marks.

AP - Artist's Proof

When technology was less advanced in the early days of printmaking the first prints of an edition were of a higher quality. Re-using printing plates would gradually wear them down, causing a decline in quality throughout the edition's production. Traditionally, the artists would keep these prints for themselves.

Now that printing technology has advanced the quality of a print is no longer a concern. Each print in a giclée or off-set lithograph edition is identical. Today, Artist's Proofs are exactly the same as numbered copies of the print.

Sometimes the artist creates an AP as a working trial. These are likely to have extra annotations, notes etc, which show the work's progress.

It is arguably more desirable to own an AP. Partly because of tradition, but mainly because there are fewer APs within an edition which heightens their desirability.

The number of APs in an edition should not surpass more than 10%. Due to this restricted supply, they are usually priced slightly higher than other prints.

BAT / Final Proof

BAT is the acronym for “bon à tirer” , a French expression meaning good for printing.

This is the final proof of a print that the artist approves and wants the rest of the edition to look like. As there is only one of these proofs for an edition, it is argued that the final proof is more prized than the AP. This unique print is traditionally kept by the printer.

PP - Printer's Proof

As the name suggests, a Printer's Proof is a print given to the printer (s) to thank them for their work. The number of PPs in an edition can vary depending on how many craftsmen were involved in the production.

PPs are similar to APs in that they are pulled outside of the regular edition and there is fewer of them. However, PPs are normally even more rare than APs, which makes them slightly more valuable.

HC - Hors Commerce

Hors Commerce means 'out of trade' in English.

HCs and APs are very similar except the former is only available directly from the artist. A HC is given as a gift to the artist for allowing the publisher to print their images. Of all the special prints, the HCs are the most valuable, because of their rarity.

Printing Types

It is thought that printmaking originated in China as early as 105 AD. The process was introduced in Western Europe from Asia particularly in the 18th century; even so, for much of its history fine art printmaking has been regarded as a private art activity, peripheral to painting or sculpture.

From the Old Masters period through modern times, many great artists embraced printmaking as part of their artistic practice, but it is especially in the 20th century that printmaking really became an art expression in its own right.

Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg popularised the technique by appropriating the medium and exploring its potential in works that would stand alongside painting and sculpture as a primary means of expression.

Many things have changed since then in the printing world and the process is constantly evolving. There are many different types of print. Below we outline some of the most widely used.

Screen Print

Screen printing is perhaps the most omnipresent printing technique today.

The process involves using an ink blocking stencil, which is added to the screen to act as a barrier. When the ink is passed across the mesh screen, the blocking stencil only allows selected areas to pass onto the surface.

Watch this interview with Harland Miller where hetalks techinque...

Nola (White Rain) - Signed, 2009
Hang-Up Gallery


Woodcut printing uses a relief technique and is the oldest type of print. This technique involves removing the non-printing parts of an image, leaving the printing parts level with the surface, by carving into a wooden block.

Above: Woodblock printing process (Credit: BI NAN/CHINADAILY.COM)


Linocut printing is a very similar, but more modern, technique to woodcut printing. Linoleum is used as opposed to wood. This material is far softer, which allows for more fluid, sharp lines.

Above: Linocut printing process (Image from chandleroleary.com)

David Shrigley
Light, 2017
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Lithography is usually seen as the most complex printing process. It makes use of the chemical process of the immiscibility of oil and water when they come into contact.

The artist draws directly onto a flat stone or metal plate; this is covered with a greasy ink, then coated with a water-based liquid. The ink only adheres to the lines of the drawing and it is repelled by the wet areas. Paper is then applied to the slate and pressed. The image is transferred onto the paper, revealing a mirror-image of the drawing on the stone.

Jonas Wood
Archaeopteryx Lithographica - Dilophosaurus Wetherilli (Set of Two), 2015
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Digital Print

Digital prints are used to make common reproductions. They are created with a computer and usually use an ink-jet printer. The digital information is fine-tuned to ensure that it matches the original work.

Giclée prints are a form of digital fine art print. Giclée literally means to 'squirt or spray'. The process involves spraying pigmented ink in mists of minuscule dots onto canvas or high quality paper.

The Connor Brothers
If it's Not Weird I'm Not Interested, 2017
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The Connor Brothers
Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here , 2017
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