A Buyer’s Guide to Prints & Editions: How to Start an Art Collection

Start by Bridget RileyStart © Bridget Riley 2000
Florence Whittaker

Florence Whittaker, Urban Art Specialist & Sales Director[email protected]

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With many extraordinary artist prints and editions now available to buy online, starting an art collection has never been easier – or so overwhelming. Here’s the ultimate guide to buying prints and editions to make sure you find the right piece at the right price.

What is a print?

Printmaking is a broad term describing a variety of artistic methods. These range from lithograph and woodcut printing to engraving, etching, and screen printing. More recently, the term has come to include digital printmaking.

Prints are artworks manually created by the artist themselves; occasionally, prints are produced by others under the artist’s direct supervision. Until 2009, for example, the now defunct print house Pictures on Walls (PoW) worked with the infamous street artist Banksy to publish his prints.

Eminently reproducible, prints are more plentiful than paintings or sculptures, allowing for the low-risk diversification of your portfolio and the potential for investment returns. Prints are easy to manage and provoke fewer unexpected costs than other assets. Additionally, in the initial stages of a buying process, it is straightforward to photograph, upload and assess prints through a computer screen.

What is an edition?

An ‘edition’ is a number of prints made using a single printing plate, often in one sitting. A ‘limited edition’ describes an edition of prints with a fixed number. The number of prints created as part of an ‘open edition’, on the other hand, has no limit.

Limited edition prints usually bear the signature of the artist, as well as a fraction (81/900, for example) indicating the number of an individual print and the overall edition size.

The size of an edition has a direct impact on prices. Smaller editions mean there are fewer prints made; each print is therefore more valuable, and more expensive.

How do I choose which print to buy?

The most important thing to remember when buying a print is to know who the artist is and where they are in their career.

The likes of Banksy, KAWS, and David Hockney, for example, are extremely well-established both within and outside of the art world. They have distinctive artistic styles and many highly influential bodies of work, which have enabled them to both acquire — and retain — a great deal of value, and sustain the interest of buyers and sellers alike. Known as ‘blue-chip’ artists, their work is also easier to authenticate; with many experts on hand to determine a piece’s provenance, and ensure the print you are buying is authentic.

Certain individual artworks will be worth more than others, according to both their appeal and rarity.

The most sought-after Banksy editions, for example, are often those directly inspired by or based on his in situ graffiti pieces. Girl With Balloon, voted the UK’s favourite artwork in 2017, is one of the artist’s most iconic and sought-after works. It was released in 2004 in a signed edition of 150 and an unsigned edition of 600. In that year, a signed Girl With Balloon print cost £150; they can now fetch up to £475,000 each, with the auction record sitting at £1.1 million.

Why invest in prints and editions?

When lockdowns and persistent uncertainties catalysed an overnight shift towards digital marketplaces in recent times, the increasingly globalised art market came out on top. With a proven ability to retain monetary and immaterial value, and an unrivalled resilience in the face of global shifts in consumer trends, art can be a strong investment choice.

Markets for Modern, Contemporary & Urban art are amongst the strongest performing in today’s art world. According to Artprice in 2021, Contemporary Art represented almost half of all sales in the international art market; during the same year, as reported by ArtTactic and Pi-eX, Contemporary Art auctions saw a five-fold increase in their revenue.

Prints occupy a unique space in this thriving market. Unlike well-known, larger scale works, which sometimes appear at auction only once in a lifetime, prints are bountiful; an accessible format, they are attractive to buyers and sellers looking to return profits in a relatively short period of time, and from the comfort of their own home.

Why invest in the secondary market?

In the art world, the ‘primary market’ refers to the first sale of an artwork.

The ‘secondary market’ describes the market for artworks that have already been sold at least once. Typically, artworks in the secondary market are re-sold by a dealer or auction house.

Although one can expect to have less contact with artists than in the primary market, the secondary market is generally much more stable. This means that sale prices are less likely to change dramatically, offering greater security for your investment.

On the 13th March 2020, Bloomberg reported that investors stockpiled a record $137 billion of cash in just 5 days. When coronavirus panic sent investors fleeing from risk, the secondary Banksy market experienced unprecedented interest.

How do I authenticate the print I want to buy?

It is always important to involve a third party when trying to purchase an artwork, as they will be able to accurately establish its provenance and authenticity. Specialist brokers can handle this, alongside all other aspects related to the sale of a piece.

Many high-profile artists have dedicated authentication bodies able to establish whether your print is genuine. If you recently bought your Banksy print, for example, it should come with a Certificate of Authentication (CoA) from Pest Control, the handling service who has acted on behalf of the artist since 2009. If you need your Banksy print authenticated, Pest Control should be your first – and only – port-of-call.

If you bought your Banksy before 2009, from the now defunct Pictures on Walls (POW), you can contact Pest Control to confirm whether your work is genuine. This can take any time between two weeks and two years.

If you need a specialist to authenticate your print, contact us and we can manage this process on your behalf.

Where do I buy a print?

The prospect of buying and collecting art can be daunting. We are more than happy to assist you in your search.

We connect buyers with our 30,000+ network of collectors of blue-chip prints and editions, and will provide you with a personal broker to manage the deal from start to finish. We will work with you to provide a bespoke service and get the best deal, while keeping you in control of the outcome at every single step.

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