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Standards and Guidelines

Printmakers Contracts

Unanimously adopted by CAA Board of Directors on October 28, 1978. Published in CAA Newsletter 3, no. 4 (December 1978): 11.

Addition to Professional Practices for Artists, Section IV: Printmakers Contracts.

These guidelines are designed to assist artist-printmakers in the negotiation of agreements for the publication and distribution of print editions. They are designed to acquaint the artist with the basic business considerations and legal concepts underlying such agreements, but they are no substitute for competent legal advice.

1. Persons Involved in the Publication and Distribution of a Print Edition

There are four functions, apart from that of the artist, involved in the publication and distribution of a print edition: those of the publisher, the printer, the distributor, and the dealer. The publisher is responsible for publishing the print, i.e., making the arrangements for the artist to work with a given printer. The printer prints the artist’s image. The distributor markets the print to dealers, who, in turn, sell to the public. Frequently, one person will perform several functions. An artist may also be a publisher, as may a printer. The publisher is also likely to be the distributor of the edition. Many dealers are also publishers.

2. Initiation of a Print Project

A project for a print edition is frequently initiated through discussions between an artist and a publisher, generally concerning the nature of the image and the medium. The publisher may arrange for the artist to work with a printer. Before the artist begins work, however, there should be a written understanding covering the costs of the work done by the printer up to the production of the bon-a-tirer. Generally these costs are initially paid by the publisher. The agreement should also deal with the possible cancellation of the project and how the printer’s costs are to be paid if the project does not mature into an edition. For example, the agreement may provide an artist with the right to cancel a project for any reason, subject to being responsible for all or a substantial part of the costs if the artist exercises that right.

3. The Bon-a-Tirer

The bon-a-tirer is a print which, when so marked and signed by the artist, constitutes the artist’s approved copy of the print and the standard which is thereafter to be followed in the printing of the edition.

4. Publication of the Edition

At or about the time the bon-a-tirer is signed, the artist should enter into a written agreement dealing with the publication and distribution of the edition. The following matters pertaining to publication should be covered in the agreement:

A. Cost of Production. The cost of production may be paid by the publisher, by the artist, or jointly. Frequently, the publisher will advance the cost of production and provide for the repayment of those costs from the sale of the edition. Traveling expenses of the artist and shipping costs of plates are regarded as production costs.

B. Edition Size. The edition size should be agreed upon between the publisher and the artist prior to printing and should be incorporated in their contract.

C. Artist’s Proof. The contract should provide for the number of artist’s proofs and how they are to be signed and numbered and whether the publisher is to acquire any artist’s proofs for sale. Artist’s proofs should not normally exceed 12% of the total edition.

D. Publisher’s Proofs. The contract should also provide for a specified number of publisher’s proofs for use as documentation and for promotion and exhibition purposes. The publisher normally agrees not to market these proofs, but there is a question about the practical enforceability of such a provision. Publisher’s proofs can be stamped on the reverse side in large letters to identify them as such.

E. Trial Proofs. The contract should provide that all trial proofs, to the extent that they are not destroyed, should be in the property of the artist and should be delivered to the artist at or before the date of publication of the edition.

F. Cancellation Proofs. The contract should provide for the delivery to the artist of a cancellation proof or other proof that the plate or stone has been destroyed or otherwise rendered unusable for further printing.

G. Printer’s Proof. The contract should provide, in accordance with custom, for one printer’s proof to become the property of the printer pulling the edition.

H. Preservation and Retention of Plates. Unless practically unfeasible, it is recommended that all plates be preserved in their canceled states for art historical purposes. The contract should specify whether such plates are to be the property of the artist or the publisher.

I. The Publisher and Documentation. The contract should provide for documentation in an appropriate manner of the title, date, size of paper and image, size of the edition, the process and type of material, number and type of proofs and other material facts. The documentation should accompany all sales of the work by the publisher and should be kept on permanent file by the publisher and the artist.

5. Distribution

The artist’s agreement with the publisher will also normally cover distribution of the edition since the publisher is also usually a distributor. The provisions on distribution should include the following:

A. Distribution Expenses. All costs of distribution, including selling, advertising, and promotional expenses are normally paid entirely by the publisher or the distributor.

B. Artist’s Income. The artist’s income from the sale of an edition may come either (i) from an outright purchase of the edition by the publisher or another distributor for a set price or (ii) from a percentage of the sales of the edition, which the artist consigns to the publisher or a distributor for sale. The agreement should make clear whether the artist is selling or consigning the edition and who has title to it.

C. Consignment. When an artist consigns an edition for sale, the edition remains the property of the artist, and the consignment agreement should so state. The publisher, or distributor, acts as the artist’s selling agent, with sales made at prices set by the artist, in consultation with the publisher or distributor. The agreement should provide for the rate of commission to be paid to the publisher or distributor and for periodic accounting and payment to the artist of all amounts due, at least twice each year. The publisher may recover the direct cost of production from the income due to the artist from the sale of the edition. For example, an agreement between an artist and an publisher may provide for the publisher to receive all the proceeds of sale up to the amount of the direct cost of production, with the publisher and the artist to share the remaining income, usually equally. In such a case the agreement should provide for the artist to receive and verify proof of those production costs. Alternatively, the artist and publisher may elect to consider the artist’s creative work to constitute the artist’s share of production costs. The artist and publisher may then divide ownership of the edition with each assuming 50 percent, or they may share equally in the proceeds of the sale. Any arrangement between artist and publisher or distributor should be in writing.


Philip Pearlstein, 1977.

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