Tag Archives: prints

What Exactly is a “Limited Edition” Print?

And Gone....
Creative Commons License photo credit: SuLeS

UPDATE: As a result of the discussions from this post, I’ve written a follow-up article that addresses more perspectives on this topic. Please visit A Closer Look at Limited Editions for further reading.

A few posts back, I mentioned that I put one of my “limited edition” prints up for auction on eBay. In the comments of this post, Stephen Gray asked a very good question:

One thing that always confuses me, however, is the use of the term “limited” or “limited edition” in the digital age. There’s really no actual limiting factor when dealing with digital photos and printing. I mean, even a good negative can be scanned and then reproduced in large numbers. So how do we as photographers define this? What are our responsibilities or requirements when using such terms? (I’ll be honest, not understand this–along with a severe lack of time due to a show I’m currently working on–was a big factor that kept me from submitting to the recent Fine Art Photoblog call for entries.)

As a consumer, if I’m buying something that’s touted as “limited”, then it comes with the expectation that what I’m buying will remain scarce. After 30, you’ll not sell this photo again or is there some other caveat involved?

To be honest, I was asking the same types of questions only a few months ago. Lucky for me, I work with highly talented individuals on the Fine Art Photoblog who could lend me some pointers on the topic. And to be perfectly clear, the material in this article is based on opinion and personal experience. I don’t believe there exists an official handbook or set of rules for “limited edition” photos. Take it with a grain of salt and offer up your own thoughts if your opinion is different.

And no, the photos shown on this post aren’t necessarily limited edition prints — they’re just “prints” of some sort.


Frosty Triptych
Creative Commons License photo credit: kiddharma

Let’s start with the formal source and see what the Wikipedia has to say about the topic of Limited Editions. Here’s an excerpt from the topic of the Special Edition as it relates to the artistic medium.

Limited editions have been standard in printmaking from the nineteenth century onwards. There is a genuine need for the concept here, as many traditional printmaking techniques can only produce a limited number of top-quality impressions, as copies of prints are known. This can be as few as ten or twenty for a technique like drypoint, but more commonly would be in the hundreds or thousands. But here as in other fields, the use of the concept has become largely driven by marketing imperatives, and has been misused in parts of the market. In particular, lithographic, photogravure, rotogravure, and computer reproductions of prints, derived from photographs of an original print, which are most unlikely to have any investment value, are often issued in limited editions implying that they will have such value. These need to be distinguished from the original artist’s print, carefully produced directly from his work in whatever the printmaking medium is, and printed under his supervision.

So to sum that up: driven by marketing imperatives, produced directly from the artist’s work (film or digital file), and produced under the supervision of the artist or directly by the artist.


Fingerprint 3
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mr Jaded

Cody offered up his definition of Limited Editions to me first when I posed the question. You can catch Cody at the Fine Art Photoblog or on his personal photography blog.

I treat mine differently than some people, but there’s no definitive way to do this. I sell my prints at whatever size the customer wants and it counts as 1-of-X in the edition length…as long as it’s signed and numbered. I don’t usually go below 12×18″ for mine, but it’s up to you. Anything purchased that does not have my signature is not considered part of the limited edition, but some folks believe that only producing a set number is what creates the value of the print. Ansel Adams’ estate would argue against this point, though, as you can go buy poster prints of his work for a couple hundred dollars, but his originals or prints from his negatives usually start about $10K. So, I sell ‘art’ pieces, and I sell ‘signed’ pieces…the signed ones are what matter to me…the others are for hobbyists and over-the-couchers.

So to sum that up: any size counts as part of the limited edition, must be signed and numbered, and reproductions are okay too and don’t detract from the value of the limited edition.


Creative Commons License photo credit: taivasalla

Joseph followed up comments with some of his own thoughts on the topic. You can catch Joseph at the Fine Art Photoblog or at his personal photography blog.

Again, like Cody said, there are a lot of interpretations of this. I’ve known a lot of people that do editions in one size only and that’s all they print, others that do a limited edition in one size and print others indefinitely, and those that do editions in all sizes, as in 50 in 11×14, 50 in 16×20 and so on. There is also a school of thought that believes that after the edition is printed the negative (or the digital file as it were) should be destroyed. If you ask me, thats ludicrous.

So to sum that up: there are a lot of interpretations of this topic and many are acceptable, and destroying the original negative or digital file after the limited edition is over is not necessary.


screen printed greeting cards
Creative Commons License photo credit: ‘smil

Since doing my original research on this topic, I’ve come to define the idea of Limited Editions to suit my own needs. You can also catch me at the Fine Art Photoblog or at the PhotoNetCast.

I think I have to agree with both Cody and Joe in their thoughts on this. I consider a limited edition print to require a signature and number at a minimum. The print should be produced directly by the artist, or under direct supervision of the artist (such as working with a professional print maker). Any size is okay with me (but no smaller than 12″ at the longest dimension), and any size counts as part of the same limited edition. Reprints, such as those from ImageKind, are perfectly fine during or after the limited edition and they shouldn’t devalue the signed prints. Limited edition prints are collectible pieces of art and their value should increase over time.

So to sum that up: need a signature and number, produced by the artist, sizes don’t matter much, and reprints are okay.


Like I said before, there are no hard set rules on this topic. But after doing a little research and talking with some experienced photographers/artists, I think we can say the following about Limited Edition prints:

  • Produced directly from the artist’s original work (film or file).
  • Produced directly by the artist or under direct supervision.
  • Limited to some pre-defined number of prints.
  • Signed and numbered (X of N) by the artist.
  • Sizing of prints is up to the artist.
  • Unsigned reprints are acceptable and don’t devalue the limited edition.
  • The original work doesn’t need to be destroyed at the end.

What other rules or guidelines do you have for Limited Edition prints? Do you disagree with anything here? Have you found other resources that address this topic? Leave some comments and discuss!

UPDATE: As a result of the discussions from this post, I’ve written a follow-up article that addresses more perspectives on this topic. Please visit A Closer Look at Limited Editions for further reading.

Want to Sell Your Art? I Have a Proposition…


I’ve been testing the waters of the fine-art marketplace, and I’m finding that it’s probably more difficult to break into than stock photography. It’s not that I’m against doing stock photography (I do have some images in the PhotoShelter Collection), but I feel that my work is more suited for artistic prints rather than magazine ads.

I’ve been trying to make way with Auer PhotoWorks, but I think I’ve gone about it in the wrong way. For one, I don’t have the time or energy to spend on the design and marketing of the site. And for two, galleries don’t attract the amount of traffic that’s needed to make sales.


Well… I’m going to shut down Auer PhotoWorks at some point in the near future. But I’ll be replacing it with something else. I’m going to start a photoblog for fine art photography. Blogs naturally bring in great traffic because of their structure (and because WordPress is so awesome). The goal of the blog will be three fold: 1) To share more of my work than my once per week “how I done it” feature, 2) To motivate me to spend more time on my photography, and 3) To generate enough traffic to make sales.

I’m thinking of using fineartphotoblog.com or fineartphotographyblog.com for the domain, and the name of the site will naturally follow from the domain name. Anybody have any preferences?

The site will have a simple, neutral, and navigable design. It will run on WordPress. There will be no ads. Each photo will present the viewers the opportunity to purchase the photo. All photos can be purchased as a print. Some can also be licensed.

I’m testing out ImageKind right now as my future method for handling print sales. I have a feeling they do decent work, and I like the fact that they have so many options for papers, matting, and framing. I just ordered a couple of my own prints so I can evaluate their quality (and my color management). I only have a few images up, but I’ll be adding some on a daily basis until I have a good collection going.


I want to take this thing a step further. A photoblog from one person is neat, but a photoblog from a collection of artists is beyond neat. I’m looking for up to 5 other photographers that would like to be part of the photoblog as a method of selling their art. The idea is that a group of photographers should be able to drive more traffic than a single photographer. It will lighten the load on everybody by reducing the need to post a new image every single day. This will allow us to focus on our best work and prevent us from rushing our image preparation. We’ll also be able to feed on each other’s popularity and bring in a wider selection of potential art collectors. I’m saying 5 for right now just to test things out, but we may bump that number up if there’s enough interest.

Each photographer would be responsible for selling their own images — the blog is only a means of generating traffic, you won’t be able to buy anything directly from it. I’m going this route because every photographer will have different needs, and they should have full control over how their images are sold. Not only that, but bigger sites like ImageKind and RedBubble are more trusted than an independent site with a cheesy shopping cart.


I don’t have all the details planned out quite yet, but it’s slowly solidifying. I’m planning on launching the site some time in January. You guys are a knowledgeable group of people, so I’d like to hear your thoughts and questions on this thing. If you have any ideas for improving this idea, I’d be more than happy to hear them. If you think it’s totally stupid, I’d like to hear that too.


If you’re interested in being one of those five photographers, put together a portfolio of 10-15 of your best photos that you would want to sell as fine art. You can do this with Flickr, Zooomr, ImageKind, RedBubble, your personal gallery, or whatever means you have to present me with photos. It needs to be publicly accessible, and I have a reason for this.

I’m not going to decide who gets in and who doesn’t. The photographers who submit a portfolio will decide who gets in. I’ll ask the photographers to vote for the top three to five portfolios, depending on how many there are. I’ll tally up the results and take the top photographers. If I don’t get any takers, I guess I’ll be going it alone. If I get one or two half-hearted attempts, I guess I’ll be going it alone (I reserve the power to veto). Honestly, don’t submit a portfolio unless you’re dead serious about selling your work and helping out with the blog. And do realize that if you want to sell your images through a place like ImageKind, it will cost you a monthly fee at some point.