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What Is An Artist’s Proof? What Does This Mean When You’re Buying Art?

(Artist's Proof) Missed By A Hare
Missed By A Hare by K. Cantrell

What are people referring to when they talk about an artist’s proof? Art collectors often want to purchase the rarest and most desired work from both renowned and up-and-coming artists. One way a collector increases the value of their collection is by purchasing limited edition prints and artists’ proofs. But what is the difference? 

There aren’t any significant differences between artists’ proofs or limited editions, however, artists’ proofs are the copies of the original that the artist kept for personal use. Usually, the artist will hold no more than 10% of the total editions as the artist’s proofs.

Artist's Proof - Pony Express
Pony Express by C.A. Pardell

How To Identify A Limited-Edition Print?

The easiest way to tell if you are viewing a limited-edition print rather than an artist’s proof is by looking at the writing in the lower portion of the print or accompanying paperwork. Limited proofs or editions will identify which ‘copy’ it is in the run. For instance, it would say 50/99, meaning it is the 50th print of a total of 99. In addition, the artist will often add their signature to further authenticate the prints or collectibles.

Artist's Proof - Guiding Hand
Guiding Hand by C.A. Pardell

What Is An Artist’s Proof?

Now that we have determined how to validate if a piece of art is part of a limited edition let’s look at what characterizes it as an artist’s proof. 

Compared with a limited-edition print, there usually aren’t as many artists’ proofs printed or created. In most cases, an artist’s proof is more valuable due to this smaller amount. Another critical difference is artist’s proofs may not perfectly match when compared with the original artwork or the limited-edition prints. 

These discrepancies contribute to their uniqueness and ultimately to the increased value. When artists begin mass-producing their work for sale, they will receive proofs or samples to ensure the colour and quality are identical to the original piece. In most cases, it takes a few different runs to get an exact match. 

In some instances, the colour may need to be corrected, or it may be missing an intricate detail from the original. In the past, this was a more common occurrence because prints were made with plates, whereas today, art reproduction is a much easier process. 

Digital media has allowed an elegant and meticulous transfer of original art to print editions and recreating sculptures. Artist’s proofs will also be numbered along the bottom, the first number being which proof, followed by the total number of proofs. Additionally, the initials AP will often be present to signify it being an artist’s proof. Some artists will write these numbers in roman numerals, so they are easily distinguished by art collectors as artist’s proofs instead of edition prints. Artist’s proofs can be worth 20% to 50% more than any limited editions.

Artist's Proof - No More Forever
No More Forever by C.A. Pardell

What Does This Mean When You’re Buying Art?

When purchasing art, it is important to request all information about the number of print editions and artists’ proof from the gallery. This is crucial to know the actual value of the piece. Knowing which print from the total you are considering purchasing is also essential. For example, if only 30 prints or pieces were created, they would hold a higher value than if there were 200 printed. The same goes for artists’ proofs. 

Another important detail is to ask if the original artwork was demolished or kept by the artist. Suppose an artist has kept the original art, whether a photo negative, sculpture or canvas painting. In that case, there is always a possibility they could run further editions, which inevitably would decrease the value of any previously purchased art.

For more information about artists’ proofs and any other inquiries regarding the value of art editions, please contact EA Studios. To view limited editions of well-renowned artists like Norval Morrisseau or David Wong, please contact us to make an appointment.