What is an Artist Proof?


One of the most commonly asked questions in our shop is “what is the difference between a print and an artist proof print?” Good question. And the answer is fairly straightforward.

When fine art reproduction became practical and viable through technological advancements in printmaking, many artists found that they could extend their market reach and make their art available to the masses by making inexpensive prints (inexpensive relative to the price of the original artwork). In an effort to manage the supply and demand chain, it was necessary to restrict the total number of prints made of any particular piece of art…..and so the Limited Edition print market was born.

Traditionally, the artist was very involved in the printmaking process. As the first “proofs” were either pulled or printed, the artist would work out the color and quality issues as they came out of the press. After several corrections, the artist may have set aside a number of “artist proofs” that would not be included in the regular limited edition print run, but were of high quality. As the limited edition print market took hold and supply and demand began dictating prices, the artists discovered that there may be a market for the very limited number of artist proofs. Clients could obtain a very limited, nearly perfect special print directly from the artist, setting themselves apart from the normal print buyer.

Over time, the artist proof became a standard in printing of a limited edition. Also known as A/P Prints, they are outside the regular edition and are equal in quality to the edition and signed as Artist Proof or A/P by the artist. They were traditionally the property of the artist and usually limited to 10-15% of the edition as well as being priced slightly higher due to the restricted supply. In today’s print market, the A/P edition prints are normally sold along side the regular edition prints at a slight premium.

What is important to note is that the Artist Proof prints of today are of the exact quality, type, media etc as the regular edition (unless of course the artist declares otherwise). The only difference between them is the restricted quantity of prints bearing the A/P designation.

So which type should you buy? Some art collectors insist on buying only A/Ps because they feel that they will hold their value or perhaps increase in value over that of the regular limited edition. Whether this is accurate or not, depends entirely on the current market. Like anything, a piece of art is really only worth what it can be sold for.

We hope that this brief narrative will be helpful to you in discerning the difference between normal limited edition prints and artist proof prints. 

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