What is a Variable Edition Print?

Normally, when you are printing an edition, you are striving to make each print in the edition as close to identical as possible. Editions are labeled with the particular print number, then a slash (/), then the number of total prints in the edition. 

e.g.  1/10     – print number 1 from a total of 10 identical prints. 
        15/20     – print number 15 from a total of 20 identical prints.

With a variable edition print (also called a “varied edition“) most of the image information is still coming from the plates, but the artist is intentionally manipulating the printing in some way.

Variable Editions are also labeled with the print number, then a slash (/), then the number of total prints in the edition.

e.g. VE 1/10     – print number 1 from a total of 10  prints from the same plate, but with intentional variations
       VE 15/20   – print number 15 from a total of 20 prints from the same plate, but with intentional variations

These prints are still considered limited editions as well, as the plate will be destroyed at the end of the edition and no more prints of this image will be created.

variable edition print - Rolleston Station
Rolleston Station – Hand tinted differently in each print in the edition

Sometimes I choose to add colour by hand tinting the image after the printing is complete. For example in the edition Rolleston Station I hand coloured the images with watercolour once the print was dry. In other instances I may choose to print the same plate onto different coloured backgrounds. The result is a set of prints that are very similar, but not quite the same, and so this artwork would be known as a variable edition print.

I number these prints with the addition of the letters “VE” indicating that the edition is a variable or varied edition.

If you are interested in printmaking terms you may like to read my article: What is a limited edition print?

4 thoughts on “What is a Variable Edition Print?”

  1. Hi, I apparently hit a wrong key a few minutes ago and stimulated your newsletter invitation which resulted in my comment disappearing. simply put, I wished to thank you for the description of VE #/#. My own process creates prints from the original, an image created on an iPad. The images can be printed in a variety of sizes per the desires of a client, however I’d planned on limiting the total number of prints. Some clients wish a signed & numbered print (in addition to the signature that I digitally create in the artwork itself). In order to make it clear what is provided, I’ve signed and described the display preparation process and wanted to number them but puzzled about how to do so ethically and honestly. The VE designation allows customers to order their rendition in a size appropriate for their display environment and have a number that protects potential future value should the stars ever align to make ByGeorge! a desired artist’s mark :-). I’ve signed up for your newsletter and look forward to other production tips that may help satisfy my small circle of clients


    1. Hi Charlie, I’m glad you found this article helpful. Artists can approach numbering their prints in different ways (some are very loose around how they use terms such as “edition” and “limited”) but I like to stick to the traditional systems and terminology. I currently have an exhibition on, and I have made a small information sign for people viewing that explains how a variable edition works. With so many mass produced items in our lives, I think creating small edition sizes means that you are creating an item to be treasured rather than a product. Best wishes with your art!

  2. I love what you write about creating something to be treasured rather than a product…..your information has been very helpful to me. Thank you. Happy New Year! —from Jean Capron, Sausalito, California

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