Many self-taught artists ask me about signing prints. They worry that if they order the prints from an online POD service they will have to pay shipping twice if they want to sign them before mailing it to the customer.
In some situations, I would recommend signing the print and in others I wouldn’t. Let’s first clarify why you should be signing your work at all.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO SIGN YOUR ART?
Signing your work is, first and foremost, a mark of a professional artist (or an artist who intends to be a professional). But the other major benefit to signing your prints is that it helps you to lay claim to your art and can sometimes settle copyright disputes.
THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS A “PRINT” COULD REFER TO.
“Print” refers to any sort of reproduction of a work – so it could be a giclee made from a photograph or scan of the original, which is arguably the most common use nowadays, or it could mean a “printmaker” who uses a flat plate of some material has created multiple works from that single plate including this print in question (this is usually called a hand-pulled print).
The latter is a little closer to an original work since the artist creates that print with their own hands through a somewhat lengthy process, rather than a machine creating the print.
SIGNING A HAND-PULLED PRINT
If you are signing a hand-pulled print (the printmaker kind), then it is standard practice to sign all prints (all the ones you intend to sell, that is) in pencil under the bottom-right edge of the print. You should also include the edition information if it is a limited edition print, but under the bottom-left edge of the print.
The edition information should look like a fraction with the top number being the number of the print (ie the first one made or the fifth one made, etc.) and the bottom number being the total number of prints that will be made of this piece (ie an edition of 25).
However, if it is not a limited edition, you shouldn’t put any numbers on it to clearly differentiate it from your limited edition works.
If you are titling the piece, it goes under the bottom edge of the print in the center. You may also want to deem a particular piece an Artist’s Proof, which means a piece where you are still working on the plate. In most instances you don’t sell these because if you are still working on the plate then the print isn’t “finished” yet.
However there are occasions in which you might want to sell a proof. In that case, it is preferred to write AP or EA (the traditional French abbreviation) either next to the edition information or next to your signature. Some more traditional printmakers will put this in a cross formation with the edition information, but it’s not standard anymore.
SIGNING A GICLEE REPRODUCTION
Signing these is a bit simpler because there are fewer rules. I always suggest that open edition prints (ie you are not capping how many prints you will make of the piece) are not signed at all. This is easier for you, ensures that you aren’t accused of trying to sell an open edition under the lie that it is a limited edition, and allows the value to stay with the originals and the limited editions, since a signed piece has an increase in value over an unsigned artwork.
Many art industry professionals publicly state that a signature can double the price, especially when an artist becomes more well-known.
For a limited edition giclee print, typically your signature goes in the same spot, under the bottom-right edge of the image and you would sign in ink. You do not usually include a title. Most people place the edition information under the signature to help further distinguish a hand-pulled print from a giclee print.
One thing to note is that sometimes in a giclee print you can see the signature on the original work in the printed image. If that is the case, it is considered inappropriate to sign the print as well. But you would still want to include edition information if it is a limited edition.
DO YOU SIGN YOUR WORK?
How do you currently sign your originals and prints? I’d love to hear what standards you’ve adopted and if you are considering changes based on this article. If I get questions that I feel are appropriate, I will add the answers to this post because I do think it’s a good resource for artists who have never learned the industry best-practices of signing prints.