Tag Archives: signed work

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.

WIKIPEDIA’S DEFINITION

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.

CODY REDMON’S DEFINITION

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.

JOSEPH SZYMANSKI’S DEFINITION

080220_1041
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.

BRIAN AUER’S DEFINITION

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.

SO TO SUM THAT UP…

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 ELSE?

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.