Limited Edition Art: What Every Artist Needs to Know
Everything you need to know about publishing your art in limited editions.
Publishing a limited edition artwork places certain obligations on you as the Publisher, the most important of which are control of the production and monitoring the edition. The process of producing a limited edition requires some advance thought about the size of the edition and some knowledge about the printmaking process.
What is a Limited Edition?
Limited edition prints, also known as LE’s, have been standard in printmaking since the nineteenth century. Today limited editions can be found in as many as two or 1000. For the purpose of this post we’ll be speaking with reference to limited edition archival inkjet prints—which are more commonly below 25o per edition. Given today’s art market, smaller editions are more common, as it is assumed the lower the number in the edition, the more valuable and collectible the limited editions are likely to be.
LE’s should to be distinguished from the original, they should be carefully produced directly from the original work and printed under the artist’s supervision. This is a distinction needed to separate them from mass produced offset prints, giclées and canvas transfers (which are made from offset paper prints).
A limited edition is normally hand signed and numbered by the artist e.g. 16/100. With exception that the artist is deceased or lives a great distance from the printmaker. In this case, the LE often includes a Certificate of Authenticity, signed by the artist, their estate, and/or the Master Printmaker.
How many prints will be in the Edition?
Decide on the size of the edition, this determines how many prints can be made; there’s no standard amount. As few as 1 or 3, or as many as 1000 or more. Reflect on how the volume will affect the sales of your original works and consider that the smaller the edition, the higher price you can ask per print. Lastly ask yourself, how many you think you can sell?
How to do I choose a Printmaker?
Select a reputable printmaker to produce your editions. Do your homework, ask other artists, get referrals, do some testing, make studio visits, speak with technical staff and review current samples of their current work. Building a relationship with a printmaker is for the long term.
Don’t let price determine your choice of printmaker. It is also not about who has the latest or greatest equipment. We all know that it is the artist behind the camera, who makes the art—not the model of the camera. Saying that, good quality, reliable equipment is a must for any printmaking studio. But most importantly, the technical talent of the printmaker is critical to the success of your Edition. If price is critical to your selling position, consider asking for a volume price and watch for special promotions by reputable printmakers.
What is an Artist’s Proof?
Now that you have a printmaker, you are ready to begin with the process of making an Artist’s Proof (a Printer’s Proof may also be made). This will require your artwork to be scanned (in the case of film) or digitally photographed (for painted artworks). In the case of digitally created artwork, you will need to supply your printer with a high-resolution file (usually 300dpi at the intended print size).
The Next Step
Once the Artist’s Proof is approved, a Production File is created for the Edition. This file has locked-in data pertaining to the colour and density adjustments made during the proofing process, it sets the print size and defines the border – the amount of white space – around the image. The Production File may also be tagged with additional information such as type of paper used and any special finishing options.
Who keeps track of the edition—monitoring print sales?
As prints are called off (sold) against the Edition, it is the publisher’s responsibility to log print sales and monitor the balance of the Edition still available. Determine how you will control the edition: you will need to keep track of each print number (e.g. “6 of 50″) as it is sold, and ideally the buyer’s details. In some cases, when an Edition is sold out the Production File and all proofing files for that print are destroyed to ensure the integrity of the Edition.
Notes: The conventions for numbering prints are well-established, but there are other marks to indicate that the print exists outside of an edition. Artist’s proofs are marked “A.P.” or “P/A”; monoprints and uniquely hand-altered prints are marked “unique”; prints that are gifted to someone, or are for some reason unsuitable for sale, are marked “H.C.” or “H/C”, meaning “hors de commerce”, not for sale – usually a print that is generally reserved for the publisher like an Artist’s Proof. The printer is also often allowed to take some impressions for themselves, these are marked with “PP”. Finally, a master image may be printed, against which the members of the edition are compared for quality; these are signed-off as “bon à tirer”, or “BAT” (“good to print” in French). Sometimes the number of the main, public, edition can be rather misleading – representing 50% or less of the total number of good impressions taken.
If you have a question about making limited editions or self-publishing and can’t find the answer on our site, please let us know by commenting.