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?

14 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

    Charlie

    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

  3. Do you know whether “Waiting for the Party” by Galtchansky and Wissotzky qualifies as a variable edition print? I have #436/480. Does this imply that 480 variations exist?

    1. Hi there, If the artist follows the standard numbering rules, then you have the 436th print of an edition of 480. Unless the letters “VE” are written next to this number, it is most likely that it is a standard edition. In other words, all 480 are exactly the same. By the size of the edition number, I would think that this may be a giclee or digital print, as it is less likely that an artist would print that number if printing by hand (although it is still possible!). I hope this is of some help, Margaret

  4. Hi Margaret,

    I make cyanotype prints. Printing the same photo is always going to be different (amount of chemicals, paper, UV, etc.) If I create 10 prints in the same day it seems like that would be labeled VE 1/10, 2/10, … and so on. This doesn’t limit me from printing the same photo on a different day, right? Maybe the title could have v2 appended? Thanks!

    1. Margaret White

      Hi there,
      A limited edition by its very definition has to be limited. So you need to decide how many prints you are going to make from your negative for the rest of its life. This determines the size of the edition. If you print ten this year and print ten next year and then destroy the negative, that is an edition of 20, not two editions of ten. However, to get some consistency within an edition most artists would create an edition in one time period. I agree that using the prefix VE is very appropriate if you are getting large variations between each print produced.
      Hope that helps!
      Kind regards,
      Margaret

  5. Hi I’m still not sure about varied edition. If you have an edition of 20 and want to hand colour and print on a different coloured paper 5 of that 20 differently.Are those 5 still included in the original edition of 20. Or is it a new edition called V/D 5/5.?thanks

    1. Hi Ali,
      Nice to hear from you! It sounds like you want to create a variable edition of 20 because you are making a total of 20 images from that plate, but they are not all going to be identical. So VE 1/20 to VE 5/20 might be printed on a different paper or have different colours to VE 6/20 up to VE 20/20, but as they were all printed from the same plate they are still part of the edition.
      Hope that helps, and happy printing!
      Margaret

  6. Hi,
    I have been doing some multiplate printing over monoprints/coloured backgrounds – so all the prints are unique. I printed some with all 3 plates, some with 2 plates (in different combinations) and some with 1 – do these count as monoprints, a large variable edition, or several smaller variable editions e.g variable edition of plate 1, variable edition of plate 1+2?

    1. Hi Nina, It sounds like you are doing several different editions, and they are all variable. If it’s the same image then all those would be part of the same variable edition, but it sounds like you have got multiple images, so mulitple editions each with their own variations. For example a print made with plates 1 + 2 in different colourways, would be one variable edition. This would be a different edition to a print made with plates 1 + 3. In the end how you edition your prints is up to you (there are conventions, but not everyone follows these – a bit like having different interpretations of the Bible!). However, above all you want to be honest and clear with buyers about what has been produced. An art buyer doesn’t want to buy from an edition of 5 and then discover there are actually 100 prints just like it.

  7. Titles for V.E.
    Hi,
    Can you retitle prints in a V.E.? As I change the edition I also would like to title it differently, is this OK?
    ie 1/5 V.E. “Black Dog”
    2/5 V.E. “Fade to Black”

    Thanks,
    Geoff

    1. Hi Geoff,
      I believe an edition traditionally and typically has one title. As to your question; “Can you retitle?”, as an artist you are your own person and can decide how you present your art to the world. However, the reason that we have print conventions is to make it transparent to potential buyers what they are purchasing. Whatever you choose to do, I recommend that you make sure that it is clear to your audience what you have produced and in what number. Someone buying “1/5 VE Black Dog” would probably assume that there is a “2/5 VE Black Dog” out there in the world somewhere (and 3 more after that).
      Hope that helps,
      Margaret

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