Understanding the Distinctions: Editions, Prints, and Multiples in the Art Market

In recent years, there has been a significant surge in the market for prints, editions, and multiples. With artists like Banksy and KAWS making these replicated works a central part of their artistic practices, and a growing number of collectors with an affinity for these mediums, the art world has witnessed an increased appreciation for this category. However, one question remains: What exactly distinguishes prints, editions, and multiples from one another?

An edition, as explained by McCoy, encompasses any artwork with duplicates or similar variations created for publication. While editions often include various forms of printmaking, they can also extend to sculptural objects.

At first glance, these categories may seem straightforward to define. According to Adam McCoy, head of prints and multiples at Artsy, a print is any artwork created on one surface, known as a matrix, with the intention of transferring it onto another surface, most commonly paper. However, the second support can also be materials like aluminum or canvas, among others.

On the other hand, multiples are typically associated with sculptural objects produced in several identical copies. Examples include Picasso's ceramics or KAWS companions. McCoy clarifies that a bronze sculpture from an edition of three does not quite fit the definition of a multiple, but a painted wood sculpture from an edition of 10 or 20 aligns better with the category.

The Role of Context:
However, for collectors, the distinctions can become more nuanced. McCoy emphasizes that context plays a crucial role in determining how these terms are applied. Although prints are rarely referred to as multiples today, it is not incorrect to do so. The term "editions," on the other hand, can encompass a wide range of works that are not unique or one-off pieces.
For instance, Jeff Koons often creates smaller, editioned versions of his large-scale sculptures, making them more accessible to a broader range of collectors. While a 10-foot-tall Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for a record-breaking price at auction, smaller 10-inch versions are available as an edition of 2,300 at a more affordable price point.

Prints and editions are often priced differently based on their size and scarcity. Generally, prints are more affordable than unique works on paper by the same artist, with the price varying depending on factors such as edition size. However, some artists with established printmaking practices, like Nina Chanel Abney, can command comparable prices for their editioned works due to high market demand.

Monoprints and Monotypes:
Within the realm of prints, there are also monotypes and monoprints, which are unique works. Monotypes are created by directly painting onto a plate and then transferring the image onto paper, while monoprints can employ various techniques and result in distinct and unrepeatable works. Artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg have used these methods to create unique pieces that they consider paintings rather than prints.

Variable Editions and Printer's Proofs:
Additionally, there are variable editions, which feature slight variations in each piece, such as different surfaces, materials, colors, or techniques. These editions are often denoted with the initials "EV" along with the edition number. Printer's proofs, on the other hand, are additional impressions given to printers as a form of appreciation and payment for their expertise. These proofs hold similar value to the final editions.