What to Consider When Making Limited Edition Prints

Increase the value of your photographs with informed choices around the printing process.

Viktoryia Vinnikava_Making limited edition prints

By Liana Hayles Newton

Deciding to sell your work in limited edition prints can be a great way to generate interest among collectors and create a sense of urgency around the buying process. However, understanding what art collectors expect when purchasing limited editions is an important part of your job as an artist. There are a variety of factors to keep in mind – from deciding on the size of the edition to how to sign and date your prints properly. How can you keep your buyers happy and coming back again and again for professionally done limited editions? We tackle the questions to ask yourself and share tips for creating a successful limited edition run.

Viktoryia Vinnikava_Making limited edition prints
Photographer Viktoryia Vinnikava presented her latest collection in a Limited Edition run of 25 images

Choose the Edition Size Carefully

Limited edition prints tend to be more valuable than open editions, but once you set the size you will not be able to change your mind and create more images, even if they sold more quickly than you thought. This isn’t a matter of simply going back on your word – which is bad enough for your reputation on its own – it lowers the value of the pieces you have already sold. So while the more limited the set the more valuable the images, opt to select a number keeping in mind on how many prints you would like to, or think you will be able to sell. There is no right or wrong number and no optimal edition size to go with. This is a personal decision.

Once you chose to create limited edition prints, decide on the size of the run in advance and be clear with potential buyers about the number being created. Buyers of limited editions prints often make a purchase decision based on the fact that the piece is limited and to make a change to the run size is a violation of trust.

Whatever number you do decide on, if your work is printable, you don’t actually need to print the full run at once. Just label them chronologically as they are made (if you decide on a run of 10, for instance, label the first “1/10” and the last “10/10”). Many printers will allow you to keep digital images on file, making it easy to come back and finish printing a run when you are ready.

Sarah Lynch_making limited edition prints
Sarah Lynch, Untitled 1, 2014, Photograph on Fine Art Paper, 16.5″ x 23.5″
Limited Edition of 20

Leave Room for Options

Limited editions may be made at different sizes as long as you clearly communicate with your buyers what you mean when you say the piece is a limited edition. If your work is a silkscreen, for example, explain that the image will never be printed again at that particular size. This leaves you some opportunity to create a poster size limited edition print for example, and then an open-edition of notecards at a later date.

Think Long Term

Selling out a whole run of limited edition prints is an ideal situation, but you may be left feeling like you should have created more in an effort to cater to the market and increase your sales. This is a natural way to feel, but as we have already mentioned, it is simply not ethical to increase the size of your edition after it has been set. Instead, try to remember that this demand for your work will likely transfer to interest in future pieces. Keep a list of collectors interested in buying and notify them when a new piece is available for sale. You will build a strong collectors base who know they can trust your word and will be thrilled when an opportunity arises to purchase a new piece of your work.

Related Article: Marketing Your Art After Purchase: Turning a Buyer into a Collector

If you like art as much as we do, and want to be updated with the latest info about Agora Gallery, our exhibitions, and our artists, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter!

Liana Hayles Newton_ making limited edition prints
Original photograph by Liana Hayles Newton

Know How to Label Your Limited Edition Prints

When labeling photographs, screen prints, lithographs, serigraphs, or monoprints, sign each print with a well-sharpened pencil in the bottom white border area outside the actual image. For example, you may decide to indicate the print # (1/10 or whatever number it is) on the bottom left, the title (if you have one) in the center and sign and date on the right. Remember to sign in a location that will not eventually be covered by a mat.

Be Consistent

Just as you decide on the size of your limited edition print run and stick to it, once you choose a format for how you would like to sign, date, and number your prints, be consistent. Decide how you want to note the date (01-12-16 vs. 01/12/16 vs. 01/12/2016 etc.) and use this format each time you label your work.

Cathy Carter making limited edition prints
Cathy Carter Idyia #1, 2015, Photograph on Fine Art Paper, 26.5″ x 39.5″ Limited Edition of 5

Present Your Work Honestly

Be clear about the size of the run, what type of paper and ink was used when working with printable work, and document each and every item that you sell. Include an Artist Bill of Sale and an original Certificate of Authenticity with each sale. These documents should be signed, dated, and list all the important information such as the work’s title, media type, and if applicable: printer type, ink type, date printed, and the print run size.

Save and Properly Label Your Artist Proofs

When going through the printing process, you are likely to end up with a number of prints that are pulled at the same quality level as the end product but are given to you by the printer to make sure all is well before proceeding with the run. These initial prints are called “Artist Proofs” and have roots in the early days of printmaking when artists used them to work out the color and quality issues of the prints. Nowadays, these rare subsets of the edition are a standard in the limited edition print runs and are usually owned by the artist.
“Artist Proofs” are not to be counted in the numbering of the limited edition but should be signed and number separately – making sure to add “AP” to distinguish them.

APs can be sold at a slightly higher price than the rest of the run and typically are not sold right away (if at all). This decision is made at your discretion. The reason for this higher price comes from the idea that the first run images coming off a printer’s plate are the highest quality as the plates and screens have not yet been worn down.

Liana Hayles Newton_ making limited edition prints
Original photograph by Liana Hayles Newton

Sign your work

No matter how identifiable you believe your work to be, always remember to sign it. You can never be sure where it will end up in the future and the types of issues that can arise from a lack of signature or even an illegible or inconsistent signature. Chose a signature that is either easy to read or so unique that is very easy to identify and once you have made your decision, stick to it. This mark will forever serve to help authenticate a piece of your work.

Making informed choices around these issues from the beginning and then sticking to them will help you gain the trust of your buyers and help to build good long term relationships. Taking the time to decide on a signature and consistent way of labeling your work will also serve you well into the future and will go a long way towards preventing authentication issues from cropping up. The more you know about the process the easier it becomes and you can spend your energy focusing on what you do best – creating your work.

Twice a year, Agora Gallery hosts Illumination: An Exhibition of Fine Art Photography. This special exhibition explores many components of photography, from landscape to cutting-edge graphic imagery. Incredibly popular with art collectors and artists alike, this exhibition is highly sought after by fine art photographers. If you’d like to submit your portfolio for consideration, please visit our Gallery Representation and Promotion page. 

What other factors do you consider when making limited edition prints? Let us know in the comments!

 


Liana Hayles Newton is a Greenwich CT-based professional photographer and a writer who enjoys travel photography, portraits, and getting to know subjects through photographing their homes. Her recent exploration into the world of film has opened up a new creative channel which she is excited to continue to explore. Liana is a contributor writer for Architizer and Apartment Therapy magazines.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

29 comments

  • Do you tend to see more artists digitally removing their signature for prints, and then signing in pencil in the white space underneath, or keeping both? I can’t decide which method to use. If someone were to mat over the entire white space of the print, I’d still want a signature showing, but it could be distracting if it were framed with both signatures showing.

  • I’ve seen prints of oil paintings with the signature and number done in gold marker on the lower right corner of the painting itself, not on the white border. Is that also ok? Thinking of having some of my paintings printed and been wondering where to put my signature.

  • In todays digital world of prints, when I make a print I always add my signature digitally in the lower right hand side of my prints, but it is part of the print itself. Would this be acceptable practice with limited edition prints along with numbering it in the same manner, or should you have a physical hand written signature as you talk about in the article.

  • I am a photographer….
    Question: If I sell open edition, unsigned prints of “Image A” at “size B”, can I also sell that same “Image A” at the same “Size B” as a Limited Edition, if for example, it is Matted and signed?

  • Thank you for your insightful information here. Yet I have a question: You say to sign in a location that will not be covered by a mat, but if I sign in the lower right below the actual print, on the white paper, and then sell a print, there is no way to ensure that the buyer won’t use an overlay style mat rather than a reveal style – where there’s a border of paper white around the entire print. What is your thinking on this?

  • I’m unclear on the issue of limited editions of different formats.

    Based on Chris’ response dated December 10, 2018 below, where he says that “Limited editions only applies to physical prints of an image at a specific dimension, not to the image itself in any format.” it seems odd to me to have an image printed in different formats such as canvas, giclee, and/or metal (but same size) and be considered part of the same limited edition.

    Wouldn’t they be considered three different limited editions?

    • Hi Gerry,

      Yes, they would be considered different editions.

  • Hello,

    My question is if I have a limited edition image, can that same image also be used for an album cover for a musician? Since it’s not being printed on nearly the same substrate as my limited edition prints, I’m just not certain. The other option, since this image has yet to sell as a fine art print, is to just make this image an ‘open edition’ and call it good. I hate to do that, but will certainly do so if that is the protocol.

    Thanks so much. Cheers!
    Kevin

    • Limited editions only applies to physical prints of an image at a specific dimension, not to the image itself in any format. For an album cover you would want to license the image and collect a licensing fee according to agreed upon terms. It’s similar to how some pop songs are used in commercials, the artist is paid a licensing fee for use of their song. Now if that artist released 100 signed gold stamped vinyl singles for collectors, that would be an example of a limited edition.

  • I have 3 limited edition prints by William Coombs, i am trying to find an aftermarket to sell them, can anyone point me a the right direction?

  • I’m a little unclear on the process of printing digital work. If the work is digital to begin with, for example of digital painting done with a Wacom tablet, or on a iPad Pro or Galaxy Note, and I wanted to print from a place like finerworks.com, would it still be considered a limited edition? Or must a limited edition be printed using plates from a photograph of an original work of art on canvas, paper or panel?

    • Hi Cecil, the way you choose to print your digital art should be your decision, but a limited edition is an artwork itself and comes with a certificate of authenticity where it states that it is a limited edition.

  • I have a print that is numbered 2/16/500. I understand a two-number system, 5/100, but not three! Please explain!

    Thank you!

    • Hi Carolyn,
      It could be Bon A Tirer Proof, but it’s best to ask the seller of the print. They should be able to give you all the information.

    • Sounds to me like they made a second series after they sold out of the first series…which is unethical.

  • When making a fine art print from a painting or ink drawing, do you suggest leaving a boarder so that you can sign in that area ? Also, do you leave the original signature on the print as well ? Thank you!

    • Hi Kristi,

      If the original work is signed, there is no need to leave a border. The authenticity of the work can be confirmed by selling it together with a special certificate.

  • Regarding a digital print, not a “giclee” of another work, but an image created digitally from the start: the finished file and artist’s proof were finished last year. I’d like to print an edition. Should I date it this year, when it is printed, or last year, to be consistent with the date on the AP?

    • Hi Judi,

      The print should be dated with the original date and you can also add this years date aswell.

      • Thank you for your answer. I will go with the date of the finished work and the AP; as prints in the edition are identical to the AP.

  • […] what you’ll sell — original work only, limited edition prints, print-on-demand or […]

  • I have produced a limited print of only 50, but since then I have been approached by an author who would like to add the picture to the book which he is writing on the same subject, the picture will be very small! but the limited edition prints produced was large 34″ X 17″ . your advice would be very much appreciated

    • Hi Mick,

      Thank you for your message. Are you trying to ascertain whether it is an acceptable practice to publish your limited edition print in someone else’s publication?

      • Hi Daisy thanks for the reply, I was under the assumption that a limited print is limited to the amount stated ie in this case 50! But I had been approached by an author who wishes to add the picture in small format to his book! what i’m asking is, is it acceptable to give permission as it’s not the actual print, and it’s a great advert for my artwork Thanks Mick

  • I have a different situation. I am not a photographer, but I enjoy purchasing unique, vintage photos. I have purchased an original slide with rights from the owner. I now want to produce a limited edition of prints of this single slide (a vintage photograph). I can’t very well sign it as that seems misleading. What do you suggest I do regarding the COA requirements and possible writing on the photo itself?

    • Hi Jim,

      It’s possible to add a note saying that it is an original print, photographed by the artists name.

  • Thank you for posting such an informative article! Answers so many questions that artists may have.

  • This is valuable information and I’ve found all of it to be true in the growing of my art print sales. I had developed a strong international market for my original oil paintings and wanted to supplement those sales with direct print sales from my website. I found the ideal starting place for marketing prints was to inform past collectors and followers through social media and I immediately sold out an entire edition.