All The Basics You Need To Know About Prints, Editions, and Multiples

Starting a collection would require a lot of knowledge on everything you'll find in the market. Even in huge collections, versatility among media and artists stands out. A lot of collectors still go for prints or multiples and most begin through this. But what are prints? What are multiples and what makes editions still so valuable?

What is a print?

A print is an original work or a reproduced work manufactured through different transfer processes such as lithograph, etching, screenprint, or woodcut. Prints are often made in multiple iterations. Some pieces are only made for prints and that's when we can call them 'original', others are reproductions of existing works, rendered in print.

Though prints involve the reproduction of a certain image, it can be considered an original work with the attention to detail of the artist and the printer who collaborate closely with each other to create; this gives birth to proofs that are of a certain value as well. Prints are never made in large-scale productions; they are not intended for commercial use. Original prints are signed by or initialed by the artist with the acknowledgment that the byproduct of the collaboration is as desired and intended by the artist. With this said, it's safe to say that a print is just as valuable as any works on paper.

The reason artists make prints vary. A lot are products of collaborative works with the printer but other prints are made to trace down the creative process of the artist. In the end, the intent in creating prints still can only be answered by the artist.

Cartellino Prints Multiples Editions
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

What are originals, editions, and multiples?

'Originals' are prints produced in a limited number of impressions. These impressions are collectively called 'editions', numbered in the form of fractions—for example, 12/30 wherein 30 is 'edition size' or the total number of original prints made for the edition and 12 is the individual print number.


Multiples, while still produced in defined editions, vary in materials used as it can be mixed media or even three-dimensional such as ceramic, acrylic, and others. Some prints may be seen with the mark 'A/P' instead. This means "artist’s proofs", produced before the originals and just like editions, each A/P edition is marked with edition numbers in the form of a fraction, in this case, for example, "A/P 2/5." Many other proofs may be produced before the A/P such as trial proofs, state proofs or color proofs. The final proof of the perfected image shall be labeled B.A.T. which means bon à tirer in French, or ‘ready to print’. The following editions shall be matched to this image.

Cartellino Multiples Editions Prints James Jean
James Jean, Adrift II, 2016, Giclee, 28 x 22.5 in | Photo courtesy of James Jean

Open vs. Limited Edition Prints

As their names would suggest, open edition prints (also known as unlimited edition) can be reproduced an infinite number of times and limited editions are made in limited amounts. These all depend on the techniques used or the artists' intent. Prints that run on smaller editions are of higher value than large editions.

Signed, Initialed, and Unsigned Prints

Most prints are signed by the artists themselves. This adds to the authenticity of the print and as well as an acknowledgment that the print produced is their work. Other prints have two signatures as the printer has signed it as well. Fret not if the print is only initialed by the artist; some artists only initial prints. If you can, always opt for signed or initialed prints as they are more valuable in the market.

Cartellino Multiples Editions Prints Takashi Murakami
Takashi Murakami, Flower Ball (Autumn), Edition of 300, 2013, Offset Lithograph, 27 x 27 in | Photo courtesy of Kumi Contemporary

Print Care Guide

Prints, just like any forms of art, should be cared as usual: don't display on direct sunlight and of course away from moisture and sources of heat. It is recommended that everything you use with your print is 100% acid-free such as mounting and matting materials.

The Value of Prints and Multiples

Prints and multiples have been on stagnant water even before the millennia but as the generations evolve, the market finds prints and multiples on an upward trend in terms of value and interest. There are a lot of first-time collectors who start with prints and multiples which has been backed by many auction houses and galleries. Now more than ever, the opportunities for collectors to take on prints is at its prime.

Anchor photo courtesy of Unsplash