Artist Proof vs. Gallery Proof: What’s The Difference?

Prints are lower in price than other forms of artwork, and they can still hold and gain in value over time. For this reason, an increasing number of collectors are focusing on prints as a way to build their collection. This has led to a wide array of fine art prints for sale.

If you are looking where to buy fine art prints, it is important to know ahead of time all the terms you will encounter. Maybe you have looked around and are wondering “What is an artist proof?” or “What is a gallery proof?” That’s what we’re looking into today, along with the printing process itself to help you know the full value of what you are buying.

Art Prints in General

Before getting into the difference between an artist proof and a gallery proof, we need to know: what is an art print?

Prints are reproductions of works of art (such as paintings) or the artwork itself (such as the silkscreen works by Andy Warhol). Whether reproductions or original art prints, there are ways artists can increase the value of the prints.

One way is by printing a limited edition. What does limited edition mean? Reproductions are often printed off in limited runs and signed by the artist to give the prints a higher value. If you find numbered prints for sale, you are dealing with limited edition prints. If the print is not numbered, it might be from an open edition, and typically worth much less.

Depending on the types of art printing techniques used by an artist to produce their prints, several samples are taken during the process to check for quality. These are not part of the limited edition, rather they are unique art prints typically worth more than numbered prints (we will go into two of the most popular kinds in a second).

Serigraph vs Lithograph

Different art techniques require different prints. The two most common ways of printing limited edition artwork are serigraphs and lithographs.

A serigraph is typically used for the highest quality prints. A work is scanned and a silk screen is made for every single color that appears in the painting. When using oil paint, printers have to wait a day or two between each screen — and some prints have hundreds of colors.

Then what’s a lithograph? These are simpler, typically printed in four colors, and are a much faster process. Metal plates are made for each color layer, printed one on top of the other. This easier production and lower quality affects the value, hence the importance for art lithographs to be numbered and come with a certificate to be worth investing in.

Which is more expensive, lithograph or serigraph? It depends. All things being equal, serigraphs are generally more expensive as they take much longer and are higher quality. But famous lithograph artists might be using the form to create works that end up being worth more than a typical serigraph, given the importance of the work and the artist’s influence.

Artist Proof

With all of that out of the way, what is an artist’s proof? It’s a print made using the same process of a limited edition, but it is for the artist rather than to be a part of the edition itself. Traditionally, artists would pull their proofs out while calibrating the lithograph or serigraph to make tweaks to the printing process. Thus, the artist proof would have imperfections compared to the other prints.

However, the artist proof definition has changed. Today, artist proofs are typically identical to prints in the limited edition, taken after the printing process has been perfected. Either way, these will be labelled AP, meaning artist proof. And, often, they will be numbered depending on how many artist proofs are made.

Artist Proof vs Numbered Edition

It is important to remember that while artist proofs are often identical to numbered prints from the same edition, they are not the same thing!

Are artist proofs more valuable than prints in a limited edition? Absolutely, as these are not printed to be sold and are much less common — making them some of the most valuable prints.

Gallery Proof

Gallery proofs are prints pulled by the artist to send to art galleries. (Not to be confused with a galley proof, which are used in book publishing for editing and proofreading purposes.) A gallery proof will likely be labelled GP or HC, and usually not numbered. What does HC stand for? Hors d’Commerce, meaning out of trade — prints made not for sell but for galleries and publishers to have and display.

Because gallery proofs/hors d’commerce are more rare then artist proofs, they are typically more valuable. Hors d’commerce prints are highly coveted.

Final Thoughts

Many factors adjust the value of your investment: art print sizes, printing system (lithograph vs serigraph), number of prints in the edition, artist recognition, etc. So knowing what to look for helps.

While the question isn’t limited to gallery proof vs. artist proof, these are the most valuable prints. While a printer’s proof value is often close to an artist proof in value. The processes of serigraph and lithograph are also important for understanding the value of the print, especially is the print is a reproduction or the artwork itself. Keeping all this in mind when shopping for prints will ensure that your investment is worth it.

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