Proofs are impressions of a print taken during the printmaking process. They are used to evaluate the current state of a plate, stone, etc. while it is still being worked on by the artist. The artist will pull proofs to evaluate issues such as color and line and then alter the plate, stone, etc. accordingly until the print is perfected to the artist’s standards.
After perfecting the print, the artist will often set aside a number of “artist’s proofs.” Though technically considered proofs, the quality of these prints is the same as those from the regular edition. Artist’s proofs are not included in the regular edition but are still of the same high quality; they are exactly the same as works from the regular edition, but are not numbered or noted as works from the regular edition.
Instead, artists will often designate artist’s proofs with the initials ‘A.P.’ for ‘Artist’s Proof’ or ‘H.C.’ for ‘Hors d’Commerce.’ The amount of artist’s proofs pulled varies, but the number is usually relatively small in comparison with the regular edition. Oftentimes, artists will pull more prints than the edition calls for to allow room for error. For example, if the edition is supposed to be 75, the artist may pull 100 prints with the knowledge that he or she will have to discard a few prints due to flaws that can occur during the printmaking process. He or she may pull 100 prints but throw away 10 that turned out flawed. Once he or she has taken the 75 for the edition, 15 prints would remain that are exactly the same as the others. These 15 would then become the artist’s proofs.
Most artists collaborate with professional printmakers to create their original print editions. Artist’s often gift the print shop or printer a signed artist’s proof as gratitude for his/her assistance and expertise in collaborating to create the work. If gifted to a printer, an artist’s proof may also be known as a ‘comp’ or a ‘complimentary.’
The value and collectability of an artist’s proof and a work from the regular edition are the same. In today’s market, artist’s proofs sell for the same price as prints from the regular edition. Some collectors prefer artist’s proofs while others prefer works from a regular edition, but this is essentially based on personal preference. Those who prefer artist’s proofs often argue that these proofs are special because they were likely in the artist’s possession at some point and may have been used as examples of the print presented to friends or associates of the artist.
It is important to note that exceptions to the general nature of artist’s proofs do exist. For instance, Andy Warhol created many proofs for his original screenprints, often annotating them as AP (Artist’s proofs), EP (Exhibition proofs), HC (Hors Commerce), PP (printer’s proofs), or TP (Trial Proofs). In the case of trial proofs, he pulled prints during the printmaking process of an edition that reflected unique color or compositional changes, essentially making each TP a unique print. As unique works, these prints are extremely valuable and in no way identical to the prints from the regular edition.