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.
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.
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
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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.
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.
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.
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