How to Sign a Print

In traditional printmaking there are specific guidelines to follow when signing a print. These guidelines are a must to follow if you’re creating block prints, lithographs, etchings, and any other form of hand-pulled printmaking.

When it comes to signing a giclee print, which includes a scan of the original or photograph, the guidelines are much simpler.

This post will review best practices for both forms of printing.

How to Sign A Hand-Pulled Print

Here are the guidelines:

  • Prints must always be signed in pencil
  • The artist name and date are to be signed on the bottom right side of a print just below the printed image. Never on the image!
  • The title of the print is to be written in the center of the image just below the printed image. It’s also common to put the title in parentheses or inverse commas. (Occasionally artist who do not made editions will sign their title more to the bottom left side of the print.)
  • Limited Editions are to be marked on the bottom left side of the print just below the printed image, and are most commonly marked like a fraction. For example if you are marking the 12th print out of a limited edition of 50 prints made at one time, it would look like: 12/50
  • Open Editions (there are no set limits to how many prints that are made) and Monoprints (a single printed image) would leave the bottom left side under a print blank because there are no editions to mark.
  • There are a few less common marks that can also be found on the bottom left side under a print such as, A/P which means artist proof, or T/P which means trial proof that are good to be aware of, but I would worry too much unless you are a serious printmaker.

It’s not always necessary to include all of the above information, but what you do include should always be marked consistently in the same location on all your prints. Being consistent when signing your prints is the single most important thing you can do! Sometime this alone can settle copyright disputes.

Here are a couple of examples of the rules I’ve outlined above:

Above is an example of how to sign a pulled print by John Stein

Above is a traditional signed woodcut print by Kenneth Stephen Broad. It’s a near perfect example of how to sign a hand-pulled print. It’s just missing the date, and the title is off centered.

The above woodcut by John Hall Thorpe appears to be an open edition print since it’s missing the edition numbers. He has also shifted the title over to the bottom left side of the print.

Matting & Framing a Print

When matting a hand-pulled print it’s important to always leave at least 1/4 inch space or more around the entire print. This allow enough space to showcase the artist signature, title, and edition at the bottom of the print.

How to Sign a Giclee Print

Signing a giclee print has fewer guidelines which creates a wide variety of options for signing these prints. This is due to a variety of printing options. Giclee reproductions can be made on watercolor paper, gloss photography paper, and wrapped canvas just to name a few. How the print was made will dictate the best practices for signing it.

If applicable, sign your giclee prints following the same principles as hand-pulled prints, but if you need to deviate from those guidelines here are a few best practice to follow:

  • Sign the print at the bottom just below the image or on the back. It’s considered bad practice to sign your name directly on the print, however some artist still do it.
  • Make sure you sign your print and not just the mat. The print can be removed from the mat over time, and could possible loose its value without a signature.
  • Always sign your name with something permanent! This is why a pencil had always been the traditional tool for signing prints. Anything else can fade over time. If you’re a photographer and print on a glossy paper you may choose to use a permanent marker, but not pen which can fade.
  • If you choose to sign the back, an artist label can be made to fill out all the appropriate information.
  • Most important sign your prints consistently the same way, in the same spot every time! This will ensure it’s your art and increase the value of the print, which can also increase over time.

Here are a few example of signed giclee prints:

The original photography above by Liana Hayles Newton has been signed in permanent marker on the front.  This was a good choice because she created her work on a glossy surface. She has also opted not to title the piece.

Above it the signature of the famous photographer Ansel Adams. He has signed his piece in pencil which works well because the photograph was printed on mat textured finish artisan paper.

Ansel Adams also has a variety of label filled with information on the back of his work. The label above was made with a stamp and it goes directly on the back of his photographs. Then he fills out the information by hand.

Below is another label, which was generated on a computer, and then initialed by him to show proof it’s his work.

How I Sign My Own Giclee Prints

I made the personal choice to sign all my work on the back of my prints. There were two reasons for this:

  • I really did not like how my prints looked framed up with a white boarder around them.
  • I absolutely hate my signature and can’t bare to look at it on the front of the print!

These reason may seem silly to you (because they are completely ridiculous, I know!) however they shaped how I sign my prints, and now I will continue to sign them this way til I no longer make em. (In which case I’m probably dead, lol)

I also decided to create a stamp of authenticity to mark all my prints. I did this to prevent others from duplicating the unique way I sign my prints. It’s just an extra layer of security on my art.

Why You Should Sign Your Prints

Signing your art is super important!

It immediately adds value which can increase over time. Especially if you make limited editions. It also secure trust and value to your customers.

You may opt out of a lot of the guidelines mentioned above, but if there is one thing you choose to do when it comes to signing your print is to simply sign it.

Sign it the same way, with the same tool, in the same spot on all your prints. 

How do you sign your prints?

There are so many variations on the traditional guidelines of how to sign a print I would love to here how you sign yours. Let me know in the comment section below!

Want to know more about the difference between a giclee print and a hand-pulled print? Read: