When I was 8 I lived for Saturday mornings when they would (for some unknown reason) play re-runs of the 50’s black and white TV show “Zorro” and I would jump up and down on the sofa as Guy Williams played the masked hero. What has this got to do with printmaking? Well, Zorro would always save the day and then leave his mark, a sword slashed ‘Z’.
As printmakers, we should all be leaving our marks too, at the bottom of each print. If we don’t, we do ourselves a disservice. The marks on a print tell us who printed the print, how many were printed, and when. They can also tell us what type of print it is and where it was printed. In short, marks give your work provenance and a credibility in an age when art can be reproduced cheaply at any printshop.
That’s all very well you may say, but what the heck do all the different marks mean?
11 Printmaking Marks and Their Meaning
1. The signature and year are fairly self explanatory. They show who made it, and the year.
2. 1/100 – the “fractions” tell you which number the print is of an edition e.g. 1/100 means that the print is number 1 in an edition of 100.
3. A/P or E.A.(Epreuve d’artiste) – this stands for Artists Proof. These prints aren’t part of the main edition, but are of the same quality. They number around 10% of the number of the print run. Artist’s proofs are numbered in Roman numerals i.e. A/P I, A/P II and so on.
4. B.A.T – this stands for Bon a Tirer which is French for “good pull”. It is also sometimes called a Printer’s Proof, abbreviated as PP. This is the first good print to be pulled from the plate. This is the standard to which all further prints are held. If an edition is printed on the artists behalf, then this is normally kept by the printer. These are not usually numbered.
5. HC – this stands for Hors de Commerce meaning “Out of Trade”. These are kind of a kick back from a publisher if they use your prints. They are kind of like artists proofs and are sometimes used like gig posters to promote the artist or printshop. They aren’t always signed or numbered (but they should be).
6. Imp – this stands for Impressit (Latin for “has printed”) or Exc. (Excludit – “has exectuted it”). If you print your own stuff, you can write one of these after your signature to say so.
7. E.V. – this stands for “Edition Variable” (it’s French). A variable edition is one where aspects of the print may be different with each print in the series, for example there may be some colour variation. Sometimes when only the colour varies, the edition is called a Colour Variant Suite.
8. Chop Mark – This is an mark embossed with or without ink and may be found at the bottom of a print. There may end up being several marks per print because printmakers, artists, and printshops may all have their own chops.
9. TP or (sometimes e.d’E or E.E. epreuve d’essai in French) – this stands for trial proof and is the usual mark for prints pulled while testing colours and papers. They are usually followed by a Roman Numeral e.g. TP I, but they aren’t usually signed.
10. T.p.l’a – tiree par l’artiste meaning the print was printed by the artist. T.p.l’a is more of a European convention.
11. CP – Cancellation Proof at the end of an edition the plate is usually defaced or scored in some way and then a final print is pulled showing this mark. Often the plates are then destroyed to preserve the integrity of the edition.
Other Printmaking Marks
An Open Edition may only have a signature and date and has no limit to the number of prints in the series.
The marks 1/1 or T.p.l’a 1/1 both signify monoprints, but the former would be printed by a printmaker on the artist’s behalf, and the latter by the artist themselves. Sometimes the only marking in the bottom left for monoprints is “monoprint”.
Phew! I hope that helps clarify how to mark prints properly. Have I missed any out? How do you mark your prints?
One of the main books I used as a reference for this article was “The Art and Craft of Woodblock Printmaking – Wooblock Printmaking with Oil – based Inks and the Japanese Watercolour Woodcut” by Laitinen, Moilanen and Tanttu, University of Art and Design Helsinki, 1999: pp138-140.