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Standards and Guidelines

Fine Art Print Publication Guidelines for Artists

“Printmakers Contracts,” unanimously adopted by CAA Board of Directors on October 28, 1978. Published in CAA Newsletter 3, no. 4 (December 1978): 11. Revised, retitled “Fine Art Print Publication Guidelines for Artists” and adopted by the Board of Directors on February 15, 2015.

An addition to Professional Practices for Artists, Section VI: Artist-Printmakers Agreements.

These guidelines are presented to assist print media artists in the negotiation of agreements for the production, publication and distribution of print media projects and to acquaint them with basic business considerations underlying such agreements. Mutual trust between all parties involved is of paramount importance. These guidelines are not to be considered a substitute for professional legal advice.

These guidelines address original works of art in any print media; "original" referring to works of art intended by and created by an artist as an original print. These guidelines do not address either the legitimacy or standards of print reproductions of art works created in other media. Transparency of printmaking techniques and accurate documentation regarding the creation of an original print will bolster confidence in discernment between original prints and reproductions.

Since these guidelines were first adopted in 1978, the use of digital or computer-based technologies by artist-printmakers has become commonplace. In many cases, digital media are incorporated into printmaking, whether through digital-photographic (photomechanical) processes, digital manipulation of source imagery, or digital output incorporated into the creation of the template and/or into an editioning process such as 2D, 3D and CNC printers (laser engraver, laser cutter, and so on).

Additional considerations include the varied ways in which artists produce prints. For example, individual artists may challenge conventions of editioned printmaking, creating unique impressions or variable editions. Prints may also exist as sculptural pieces and multiples that build into installations with formats that change with location and venue. 

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 or a print edition: publisher, printer, distributor, and dealer. A publisher makes arrangements for an artist to work with a printer. The printer prints an artist’s image and may collaborate with the artist to develop an image the artist could not have envisaged independently. The distributor markets the print to dealers, galleries, and art consultants who, in turn, sell the print. One person may perform several or all functions. An artist or a printer may be a publisher. A publisher may be the distributor of an edition. And some dealers may also be publishers.

2. Initiation of a Print Project

A project for a print or a print edition is frequently initiated through discussions between an artist and a publisher. The publisher may arrange for an artist to work with a printer. Before the artist begins work on an edition there should be a written agreement between the publisher and artist specifying who is responsible for which costs of the work done by the printer up to the production of a bon à tirer (B.A.T.), if a B.A.T. is part of the creative process. Generally, the publisher pays these costs. The agreement may also detail how and under what conditions the project can be cancelled and identify responsibility for costs up to cancellation. 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. In addition, the agreement should include a breakdown of the edition that itemizes how many impressions are available for sale, consignment, donation, and/or become property of the artist or other involved parties.

3. The Bon à Tirer (historical, French, for “Good to Pull”)

In many, but not all, editioned prints, the bon à tirer is a print which, when so marked and signed by the artist, constitutes the artist’s approved impression for a print edition and the standard adhered to in printing an edition. Practices vary in that sometimes the bon à tirer is later sold, sometimes considered the property of the lead printer, or sometimes can become property of the artist. On occasion, the bon à tirer may be referred to by a different name, e.g., R.T.P. (Ready to Print) but the designation serves the same or a similar purpose.

4. Publication of the Edition

At or about the time the bon à tirer is signed, the artist should enter into a written agreement with the publisher and/or distributor concerning the publication and distribution of the print 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, the artist, a third party, or some specified combination of the three. A publisher may advance production costs and provide for repayment of those costs from the first sales of prints from the edition.  Traveling expenses of the artist and shipping costs of materials 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 the agreement and print documentation.

C. Artist Proofs. The contract should provide for the number of artist proofs (often designated as A.P.) and how they are to be signed and numbered. All artist proofs should be appropriately noted in the print documentation. As a general guide, the number of artist proofs should not exceed 10% of the number of prints in the edition. Artist proofs are the property of the artist. The artist may agree not to sell any artist proofs before production expenses are recovered from the first sales of prints from the edition.

D. Publisher and Hors Commerce Proofs. The contract should also provide for a specified number of publisher proofs and how they are to be signed and numbered. As a general guide, the number of publisher proofs should not exceed 10% of the number of prints in the edition. A hors commerce proof is typically not for sale. The agreement should state whether the publisher or the artist owns the hors commerce (often designated as H.C.) and whether the H.C. should be signed or not.

E. Trial Proofs, Progressive Proofs, and Color Proofs. The contract should clarify whether all trial proofs, progressive proofs, and color proofs, to the extent that they are not destroyed, remain the property of the artist and if they will be delivered to the artist at or before the date of publication of the edition or another time specified in the agreement, unless the artist wants the publisher to sell them. All proofs not destroyed should be appropriately noted in the print documentation.

F. Cancellation Proof. The contract should provide for the delivery to the artist of a cancellation proof (if it’s possible to create one given the production process(es) involved) or other evidence that any print matrix (or matrices) has been destroyed or otherwise rendered unusable for further printing. In the case of digital media, the publisher should certify to the artist whether the publisher continues to hold any copies of the file. Physical proof of cancellation of a digital file may not be possible.

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

H. Preservation and Retention of Print Matrices and Digital Files. Unless practically unfeasible, all print matrices and digital files should be preserved in a canceled state. The agreement should specify whether print matrices and/or digital files are the property of the artist or the publisher.  If the artist or the publisher retains the print matrices and digital files as un-cancelled, the agreement should state whether the print may be re-editioned with significant modifications and under what conditions. Re-editioning a limited edition print project is unethical and may provide legal grounds for recovery of damages and attorney fees by purchasers of a limited edition print.

I. The Publisher and Documentation. The agreement should provide for documentation of the title, date of publication, size of paper and image, manufacturer and type of paper or other support, number of prints in the edition, number and type of proofs, numbering of the edition and proofs (e.g., Arabic, Roman, alpha, etc.), printing process(es), color and type of ink or other material adhered to the support, if a digital print the name and model of the printer, color profile used, location of signature or notation that the print is unsigned, notice if the edition is post-mortem, design and location of any blind stamp or other stamp identifying publisher, printer, or artist, and other material facts. Signed and numbered documentation should accompany all sales or other distribution of each print by the publisher, dealer or artist. The documentation should be kept in a permanent file by the publisher and the artist and made readily accessible to anyone with a reasonable request for the information.

J. Copyright and Licensing of Images. The agreement between the publisher, artist and any third party should specify who owns the copyright to the print image. In addition, details and limitations regarding licensing of the image by the copyright holder (especially for publicity, marketing or advertising) should be specified in the agreement. Unless expressed otherwise, the artist retains copyright to the work of art and typically provides the publisher license to use images of the print in promoting sales of edition prints and to provide for educational and noncommercial use of the print image with the appropriate copyright citation. Assuming the artist’s ownership of the print image, any licensed use of the print image negotiated between a publisher and a third party should be approved by the artist in advance, with any realized income shared equally between the artist and the publisher or third party.

5. Distribution

All arrangements among artist, publisher and distributor should be in the form of a written agreement signed by all concerned parties. The artist’s agreement with the publisher should specify distribution of the edition and include the following:

A. Distribution Expenses: all costs of distribution, including selling, advertising, and promotional expenses (frequently paid entirely by the publisher or the distributor).

B. Artist’s Income: the artist’s income from sales of an edition. This income may come from (i) an outright purchase of the edition by the publisher or another distributor for a set price or (ii) a percentage of the sales of the edition by the publisher after all productions costs have been repaid to the publisher with a negotiated split (often 50/50) of remaining profit or (iii) a split edition where the artist receives half of the prints. The agreement should make clear whether the artist is selling, consigning, or receiving part of the edition and who has title to it. In the case of a split edition, standard practice is a 50/50 split of the edition.

C. Consignment. If an artist consigns an edition for sale, the edition remains the property of the artist, and the consignment agreement should stipulate this. The publisher, or distributor, acts as the artist’s sales agent. For consignments:

  • Prices are set by the artist, often in consultation with the publisher or distributor. If a price ladder (referring to increasing the price of a print in an edition as their availability decreases) is established, the artist must agree in writing to the ladder. Any discounts to museums, dealers, galleries, or others that affect the artist's portion of income must be agreed to in advance by the artist.
  • All sales should be accompanied by signed/numbered print documentation (preferably with a color representation of the print image) that discloses title, date of publication, size of paper and image, manufacturer and type of paper, number of prints in the edition, type and number of proofs, numbering of the edition and proofs, printing process(es), color and type of ink or other material, if a digital print the name and model of the printer, color profile used, location of signature or notation that the print is unsigned, notice if the edition is post-mortem, design and location of any blind stamp(s) or other stamp(s) identifying publisher, printer or artist, and other material facts.
  • The consignment 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 (preferably quarterly and minimally biannually); and for the duration and renewal arrangements, if any, of the consignment agreement.
  • The publisher may seek to recover the direct cost of production from the income due to the artist from the first sales of prints from the edition. This cost recovery should be clearly outlined in the agreement between the artist and the publisher. For example, an agreement between an artist and a publisher may provide for the publisher to receive all the sale proceeds of sale up to the amount of the direct cost of production, with the publisher and the artist to share the remaining income in a proportion noted in the agreement, usually equally. In such cases the agreement should provide for the artist to receive and verify proof of all relevant production costs. Alternatively, an artist and publisher may elect to consider the artist’s creative work to constitute the artist’s share of direct production costs. Following the agreed upon determination of costs and their recovery, the artist and publisher may then divide ownership of the edition with each assuming 50 percent, or they may share equally in the proceeds from print sales.

D. Distribution of Proofs. The distribution agreement should state whether Artist Proofs, Publisher Proofs, Printer Proofs, Trial Proofs, and any other proofs can be sold. If they can be sold, the agreement should state when they might be sold (often only after the edition has been completely sold), if they are signed, and the type or style of numbering. All proofs not destroyed should be appropriately listed in the signed/numbered print documentation.

6. Resources

Important resources for additional reading include:

Some state statutes that govern sales of multiples:

  • Arkansas Annotated Code Sec. 4-73-301 (1983);
  • California Civil Code Sec. 1740 (1970);
  • Georgia Commerce & Trade Code Sec. 10-1-430 (1986);
  • Hawaii Code Title 26,Sec. 481F (1986);
  • 815 Illinois Compiled Statutes 435 (1972);
  • Maryland Commercial Code Sec. 14-409 (1975);
  • Michigan Art Multiples Sales Act, MCLA 442.351; MSA 19.409(1);
  • Minnesota Statutes Sec. 324.06 (1983);
  • New York Arts & Cultural Affairs Sec. 15.01 (1981);
  • North Carolina Statutes Chapter 25C, Article 2 (1997);
  • Oregon Revised Statutes Sec. 359.300 (1981);
  • South Carolina Trade & Commerce Sec. 38-16-10 (1986);
  • Wisconsin Administrative Code ATCP Sec. 117.01 (1990)

Authors and Contributors

Philip Pearlstein, 1977.

2015 Revision - Jim Hopfensperger, Western Michigan University and PPC Chair; John Richardson, Wayne State University and PPC sub-committee chair; Catherine Chauvin, University of Denver and President of the Mid-America Print Council; Susan Tallman, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Art in Print; Norm Stewart, Stewart & Stewart Printer/Publisher; Paula Panczenko, Tandem Press; Mary Hood, Arizona State University; and Peter S. Briggs, Museum of Texas Tech University.

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