What Classifies a Print as Open Edition?

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What Classifies a Print as Open Edition?

eBay is a fantastic place to buy open edition prints and other pieces of art. Prints are produced using various printmaking techniques which create artwork by printing onto a canvas or piece of paper. People have been collecting and hanging art on their walls for centuries and prints have only increased in popularity of late.

On the internet there is a wealth open edition prints available in many different styles, designs and print methods to purchase. Ecommerce websites like the renowned auction website eBay host an extensive range of open edition prints to suit every kind of art collector from fan to enthusiast.

The purpose of this guide is to inform the reader and shopper about open edition prints and explain the best manner in which to purchase them from renowned auction website eBay.


Printmaking is simply the process of making art by printing predominantly onto paper. The process is capable of producing multiples of the same pieces known as a print or sometimes as an impression. There are many printmaking methods which produce many print styles including:

  • Woodcut
  • Aquatint
  • Mezzotint
  • Drypoint
  • Lithography
  • Screen-printing
  • Engraving
  • Etching
  • Monotype
  • Monoprint
  • Digital (Pigment & dye-based inks, Giclee)
  • Foil Imaging

Prints are made by transferring ink from a matrix or through a silk or fabric screen to a sheet of paper or canvas material. Printmaking matrices are often made from: metal plates (zinc or copper), polymer plates (stone, aluminium or polymer for lithography) for etching and engraving, blocks of wood for engravings and woodcuts and linoleum for linocut prints.

Printmaking was developed because artists had the desire to make more money from their work by selling multiple copies instead of individual pieces. Producing multiple copies also reduces the overall cost and market price in comparison to single images.

It was not until the mid-19th century that prints were given editions thanks to the Old master print period. Until then prints were produced with the demand and it was common practice for artists to rework their worn-out plates or use another to create a new state.

Plates can be restored or reworked to a certain degree but on the whole it is not possible to produce more than a thousand prints from any process except woodcut and lithography. A couple of (or a few) hundred is a typical and practical upper limit for print editions although it varies greatly across the different printmaking techniques and mediums. In drypoint prints for example, ten or twenty may be the ultimate upper limit for an edition.

Modern day prints are still classified as fine art as they are produced by an artistic process rather than a purely mechanical process despite using high-tech equipment and technology.

Open & Limited Edition Prints

In printmaking, an edition is a number of prints struck from one plate. There are typically two types of print editions: limited and open.

  • Limited Edition - a fixed number of prints or impressions produced on the basis that no further copies will be later produced
  • Open Edition - no cap on prints produced only limited by the number that can be produced and sold before the plate wears and becomes unusable

Many modern artists create only limited editions which are usually signed and numbered to identify the piece and its edition. Due to the ease of mass-producing open edition prints, they are generally not numbered because when a particular print was made during a print run does not influence its value at all unlike limited edition prints.

In contrast to open edition, limited edition prints are often collectables and therefore more expensive due to the small amount of prints usually produced. Limited edition prints are marked with their edition number and the number of the print. For example, a marking of 1/20 on a limited edition print means that that individual print is the first of 20 prints in that edition.

Despite not displaying specific edition markings, open edition prints may still contain various markings which mean different things.

Artist’s Proofs are often marked ‘A.P’ or ‘E.A’ (or E. d’A meaning ‘épreuve d'artiste’).

Prints that are for some reason not suitable for sale can possess ‘H.C’ or ‘H/C’ which carries the French meaning ‘hors de commerce’ meaning ‘not for sale’.

Prints carrying a ‘P.P.’ mark identify print proofs that are specifically for the printer.

In certain cases, a master image may be additionally printed to compare and check the quality of the other prints in the edition. These prints are often marked with the initials ‘BAT’ or ‘bon à tirer’ which translates into English as ‘good to print’.

Type of Prints

As previously mentioned above, there are many different types of prints to choose from in many different styles of printmaking. All prints however can be devised into four categories stemming from their production method: relief, intaglio, stencil and planographic.

  • Relief prints (such as woodcuts and engravings) as the name suggests are created using a raised surface where the artist cuts off unwanted material to from the print plate.
  • Intaglio prints are printed onto paper from a recessed design and includes prints such as etchings, aquatints, mezzotints and engravings.
  • Stencil prints involve ink or paint being pressed through a prepared screen like screen-print.
  • The fourth type of print is planographic and involves printing an image from a flat surface or matrix such as lithographs.

It is now commonplace in the art market that collectors and traders label pieces ‘lifetime impressions’ and ‘late impressions’. Lifetime impressions describe prints produced during the artist’s lifetime whereas late impressions are those produced after the death of the artist. Identifying these prints is simple and can be established by closely examining the watermark of the print.

How to Buy Open Edition Prints From eBay

eBay is a fantastic source for buying pieces of art such as open edition prints. To find the desired item the buyer has two choices: to search using the toolbar or to browse through eBay’s categories.

Authoritative internet shopping website eBay is known for its great customer service, the most competitive pricing found anywhere on the internet and its overall great user experience. As part of this great user experience, eBay offers all of its customers a choice regarding purchase to suit everyone’s purchasing preference.

eBay shoppers can choose to either: purchase their item immediately (by clicking Buy Now) or to bid for the desired item in an auction format (by clicking Bid Now and entering a suitable bid) attempting to get the best price possible.

To find the sought-after open edition print using the categories option: simply click on All Categories from the homepage and then click Art, then click onto subcategory Prints..

Using eBay’s search function to find the desired open edition print is also very easy; merely enter the name or date of the piece, the piece’s artist or the open edition the print originates from. From here the buyer will be greeted with a page of search results to browse through before clicking on the most suitable result to be taken to that product’s individual listings page..

As such an authoritative name in the field of internet shopping, eBay also provides information about the products seller including their eBay rating, selling history and location. This is particularly useful as the buyer can then decide whether the seller’s location is local enough to pick the item up themselves or whether they’re better off having it delivered to their door.

If the buyer reads the products listings page and feel that they still require more information (or would like to have a question or query answered) they can contact the seller themselves directly.

For any more information surrounding how to use eBay, please visit their comprehensive help section of the website.

Once the buyer has browsed through eBay’s search results and are happy that they have found their desired open edition print, they can begin the purchasing process. eBay offers all of its customers a choice regarding paying for items; buyers can either purchase their item immediately (Buy Now) or bid for the item in an auction format (Bid Now).

Thanks to third party payment authority PayPal,, all purchases on eBay are safe and secure. Should the buyer have any issues or problems with their chosen limited edition modern print, they are covered by eBay’s Buyer Protection scheme.


There are many factors to consider when purchasing any piece of art, especially open edition prints.. However with the help of this guide and the information and considerations outlined within it, buying an open edition print from eBay is quick and easy.

Purchasing an open edition print is not just a good monetary investment for the future; they are a great investment in true art.

This guide has provided some invaluable hints, tips, and information on how to purchase open edition prints on eBay and what to look for when buying these pieces of art.

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