What is a fine art print?
Fine art printmaking is based on the concept of creating a master plate, known as the matrix. This is used to transfer the image onto paper. Nowadays printmaking is an art form that has many subdivisions, each of which is an art form in its own right: etching, lithography, linocut, etc. The printmaking process is generally a complex one, using a variety of different techniques, and medium, depending on the type of print. The artist creates different surface textures, color effects and forms, just as in painting, producing a unique work of art, defined by the artist’s style and personality.
Most times the process of transferring or printing the image can be repeated numerous times, creating editions of the same image. Sometimes each individual print is retouched or added to afterwards, making it unique or one-of-a-kind. Other techniques involve using the same matrix but different combinations of inks and colors, also creating unique works(monoprints and mezzotints are examples of such works).
What is an edition?
When all the prints are created from the matrix to be identical, this is called an ‘Edition’. The artist generally limits the edition to a certain number of their choice. He or she then indicates in pencil (usually in the bottom left hand corner) the number of each individual piece and the total number of copies in the edition, for example, 5/40.
Bon à tirer
Finally every edition has what is called the Bon à tirer (the best of the edition). There is only one of these as it is the final one of the Artist’s Proofs, the model of perfection which the whole edition will be identical to.
Generally, once the printing of the whole edition is over, the artist destroys the matrix so that no additional prints can be made
Hors de Comerce (H/C)
Occasionally you can come across prints marked with H/C. This stands for Hors de Comerce, or “Not for Sale”. These are prints made extra to the edition and the artist’s proofs that the artist intended to give away as presents or simply not for sale. Given the fact that there are very few of these, over time and especially if the artist becomes famous, the Hors de Comerce prints have a higher commercial and collectors value than those within the numbered edition.
The artist’s proofs
While the artist is the creator if the matrix, which is the fundamental part of the artwork in printmaking, it is not uncommon for the actual printing to be done by an editorial. However, the first few prints are made at least in the presence of the artist who can then make any necessary modifications or changes to the matrix. These prints are called the artist’s proofs. Each one is considered a unique and one-of-a-kind artwork and has a higher commercial value than the rest of the edition. Generally they make up between 5% and 10% of the total edition number. Therefore the edition may be 100 and there are 10 artists proofs totalling 110 images all together. The proofs are marked with roman numerals, for example: II/V (second of the 5 total proofs).
The trial proofs are the most valuable proofs and do not form part of the edition. These proofs are used by the artist while he or she is conceptualising the artwork and therefore show us the step by step how the print was created. The artist may have tried to see how the artwork would look with a different color combination or added to the composition and printed it to see how it would look. Then they may have made final modifications based on this before declaring the matrix finished. These prints are the most highly valued and sort after by collectors.
Valuing fine art prints
Given that the matrix deteriorates slightly each time it is used, a print marked 1/40 is usually more valuable and of better quality than one marked 39/40. In valuing fine art prints you should also take into consideration the total number of the edition. A smaller edition number is always more valuable than a larger one, as there are less pieces circulating and in existence. It is mostly up to the artist how many pieces they will print for any one edition. However, some printmaking techniques are restrictive in themselves: for example, the technique of dry point does not allow for more than about 20 pieces. ©picassomio