Proofs, and more proofs

A recent conversation highlighted for me that there are some misconceptions about printing proofs that are made in the course of developing or finalizing a handmade print. To clarify here are some brief definitions. Please let me know if there are more questions.

#1. A Trial or Working Proof is a print made during the course of developing or working on a plate so the printmaker can determine what to work on next. If any of these are saved it can be interesting to see the artist’s process. These are rarely signed, and are often on inferior paper since they are literally “proofs”.

#2. A State Proof is a trial/working proof pulled when the artist feels the image may be ready to print the final Edition. If a major adjustment is made that changes the image significantly then that means there’s a new state. There can be many state proofs pulled when testing different papers or ink colors, until the final choice is made and the edition is printed. If they are saved as Monoprints they are signed and marked with the State #.

#3. A Counterproof (also called a Cognate) is an image that is printed from a fresh print while it is still damp, rather than from an inked plate, by simply putting fresh paper over the wet print and running the two through the press. The image will be reversed from the finished print. The image on the inked plate can also be transfered to another plate surface that might be worked into a new print, reversed of course. Sometimes this reverse print is called a Transfer Print, but that term is also used for other types of image making so that can be confusing. These prints are all unique since they do not match the edition.

#4. Artist Proofs are identical to the Editioned prints. Usually an Edition is planned to have a set number of prints, say 25, but it may have required 30 or 40 or more prints to be pulled in order to have the right amount of perfect prints. Out of those extras there may be 5 that are also perfect and these are reserved for the artist’s own use. The Edition is signed and numbered and the remaining Artist’s Proofs are marked as AP#/#.

#5. Printer’s Proofs are like Artist’s Proofs in that they are identical to the Edition, but they are copies given to the master printer who worked on the actual inking and pulling of the prints with or for the artist. They may be given to the printer in lieu of some part of payment for working for the artist. They are signed by the artist and marked PP#/#.

#6. Publisher’s Proofs are copies reserved for the the patron/publisher who provided financial support for the project. These are signed and marked Pub.P#/#. The “publisher” is often a gallery that represents the artist.

So it’s easy to see that an Edition of 25 might have required twice that many prints to be made to provide all those extra people with their own prints. These are usually held out of the market until all the Edition prints are sold, or archived for many years, hoping for an increase in their value with the growing reputation of the artist.

Also, to clarify a couple of other things that are unique to prints:
Unique is not just a term we use to show off what we think is a special print. It refers to the print itself being a one-of-a-kind… which does actually make it unique.

Some collectors try to buy a print with the lowest edition number, such as 3/30. There’s no special benefit to the low number, as the prints have been shuffled countless times while they were printed, dried, sorted, signed, etc. There’s absolutely no way to identify the order in which prints are made, therefore 3/30 is no more or less valuable than 23/30.

I hope this makes viewing original prints and their proofs less confusing.

Yours in Ink!

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