Auction catalogue printing: 11 creative tips

Auction catalogue printing: 11 creative tips

In an interview with Antiques Gazette, Christie’s boss Guillamme Cerrutti welcomed online auctions as part of the mix – but he stressed that…

‘…live auctions “are the essence” of what Christie’s does and they will return. “The future will be omnichannel,” he said.’

True ‘omnichannel’ marketing means presenting a consistent experience to audiences on their channel of choice. In the world of art and antiquities, that choice is likely to be print.

Notwithstanding many succcessful experiments, the last 12 months has also shown up the fundamental limitations of representing fine art on digital screens. Sotheby’s first digital-only event, in spring 2020, showed that it led to a bias in the types of works which sold most successfully.

“Denser pieces such as Matthew Wong’s landscape from 2018, fetched over twenty times its estimated valuation. Difficult and challenging works, such as American Expressionist Clyfford Still’s ‘PH-144 (1947-Y-No.1)’ were less popular, with only one bid lodged (it still sold for $25m).”

Clearly, there’s life yet in offline auctions and printed catalogues: providing opportunities for accuracy of colour reproduction, creative differentiation, and the engagement of discerning collectors and sellers.

Here’s a list of 11 ways to elevate your own catalogues, present your collection at its finest, and muster interest before your next sale.

1. Vary your size

Playing around with size is a cost-effective and sustainable method of grabbing your buyer’s attention. Ordering bespoke paper sizes, if you’re printing in large quantities, can allow you to print more efficiently, reducing waste, as well as differentiating your products.

For their mid-century design sale, Sworders came to Park looking for a catalogue that broke with tradition. The product was printed in 210 x 210mm – smaller than A4 and larger than A5. This size is rarely used by auctioneers, and it has attracted attention across the industry for its singularity. 

2. Custom colours

Specialist inks, such as Pantones, can be used to reflect a particular artist’s work, or channel a time period or theme.

To mirror the abstract work of sculptor Louise Nevelson, we suggested the use of Pantone 877c on the frontispiece of Freeman’s catalogue for the Bachman family’s personal collection sale. This metallic silver provided a contrast to the glossy and embossed black cover, and mimicked the use of chromatic textures in Nevelson’s work. 

3. Gloss foiling 

A foiled heading lends a tactile finish, while also affixing the reader’s attention to important text and detail.

We used this technique on the catalogue for the sale of Dorrance Hamilton’s personal collection, another collaboration with Freeman’s. Section dividers for the fine art, furniture and jewellery sections were finished with an embossed matt gold foil. These luxurious finishes contributed to this product winning ‘Best Catalogue’ at the 2018 Print, Design and Marketing Awards.

4. Throw-out sections

It’s not always possible to do justice to wider pieces, such as long artworks or furniture items, with a simple double spread. In these cases, a 6pp or 8pp throwout allows the work to be shown in full, in exacting detail. 

5.Translucent paper

Shrouded your best lost in intrigue through the use of translucent page – a perfect method for adding suspense and anticipation.

For the Dorrance Hamilton catalogue, Freeman’s wanted to reflect the American philanthropist’s passion for the environment. A translucent frontispiece, adorned with a floral design, proved a dramatic and appropriate opening statement for this stunning catalogue. 

auction catalogue printed for freeman's auction house

6. Multi-page covers

A 6pp or 8pp cover can make for an opening salvo to truly grab buyers’ attention.

Lyon & Turnbull used this to great effect for their sale of the contents of Kirkton House. An 8pp cover unfolds to reveal one of the sale’s feature lots, a stunning damask panel. 

7. Metallic foilling 

A flash of silver and gold, embellishing key words, or adding a glint to a catalogue’s spine, makes a fitting tribute to jewelry or high-end collections. 

In three-days sale, Woolley & Wallis showcased a variety of Asian art. This required a bespoke catalogue for each day of the sale: one finished in silver, one in bronze, one in gold. 

8. Embossing and debossing

Another great method for adding tactility to your product, embossing or debossing can vary your catalogue’s feel, and add a further sense of luxury. 

Freeman’s Dorrance Hamilton catalogue features gold-embossed lettering on the cover and section dividers, adding a further touch of class to this award-winning product. 

9.Die-cut apertures

As with translucent paper: die-cut apertures offer a tantalising sneak-peek at the contents of a catalogue. 

Freeman’s used this perfectly to showcase the Stars & Stripes collection of Dr. Peter J. Klein, which featured vintage American flags. The word ‘FLAG’ is cut into the cover, offering a preview of the Star-Spangled Banner featured on the 2pp frontispiece. 

10. Mix up your stocks

Different stocks can enhance certain features of a lot, or channel different styles. Use gloss to bring vibrancy to older paintings, or use an uncoated cover stock for a distinctive, modern feel. 

Lyon & Turnbull used an uncoated stock to great effect for the Kirkton House catalogue, selecting a pleasing texture to mimic the feel of the damask panel on the 8pp cover. 

11. Leather-effect laminates

Channel the domesticity and home comfort of a diary, journal or notebook, through the use of leather-effect laminate. This soft touch product will work perfectly for sales of furniture, interior design or textiles. 


The importance of print in a digitalised auction industry

In other industries, digital disruption has typically led to a heightened awareness of the power and purpose of print. For auction houses, this goes above and beyond mustering the interest of customers in the run-up to a sale.

Collectors mulling over future acquisitions; sellers considering which auction house to approach regarding a prize collection: these are the relationships which underpin the auction industry’s commercial model, which every market player must nuture to ensure their ongoing success.

It’s in light of those audience characteristics that every auctioneer should be considering how to communicate with audiences.

Doubtless, online auctions are a welcome addition: an affordable way to conduct higher-volume sales.

But the best catalogues are often of a collectible quality themselves: lingering on coffee tables, appealing to discerning tastes, as collectors mull over future acquisitions, and sellers consider which auction house to approach regarding prize collection.

Perhaps, one day, digital channels will fill that role – but we’re not there yet. That much is clear from the ever-greater degrees of creative differentiation in printed productions, and the continued backing of offline sales by industry heavyweights.

Against that backdrop, it’s clear that printed catalogues are set to remain an crucial part of an auction house’s marketing mix.



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