When it comes to the topic of editions, there is a lot for artists to know.
Of course, you already know editions are a great way to spark the interest of collectors. That they create a wonderful sense of urgency when buying in the art world. And, unlike “one-and-done” original works, you can reap the benefits again and again for weeks to come!
But there are so many factors to keep in mind—from choosing run sizes and correct labeling to pricing and impressing collectors—that it can be hard to know where to start.
The anxiety and doubt can start to bubble up with every answer you don’t have. What is the right way to create, market, and sell these pieces so that collectors are happy and eventually come back for more?
To help you get the value you deserve for your editions, we clear up artists most frequently asked questions.
What is the difference between editions and reproductions?
An edition is part of a set of original works of art intended for graphic reproduction and produced by or under the supervision of the artist who designed it. These are images or casts that are produced in multiples. Examples of editions include printmaking techniques like etchings and lithographs, fine art photography prints, bronze castings, ceramics, etc.
Each work in the edition has unique qualities and can vary slightly because each one is created individually.
A reproduction, on the other hand, is considered a copy/facsimile of the original work—not created in the same medium as the original artwork, usually using photomechanical means. So, not an artwork itself.
In fact, producing a reproduction does not typically involve the original artist. Instead, a digital image is usually created of the work, and that file can then be used to reproduce it on any surface in any size. Examples of reproductions include giclee prints, iris, posters, print-on-demand items such as pillows, garments, cards, etc.
Between the two, editions are considered more valuable, as they are collected like any other artistic medium. Reproduction prints typically have a much smaller worth, therefore, but because of this lower price point can help you reach a new segment of art buyers and they can be a valuable part of your art business strategy.
What is the difference between open and limited editions?
With open editions, the number of prints that can be created and sold is unlimited, offering artists the chance to make new prints based on the demand and a more constant source of possible revenue.
This differs greatly from limited editions, which have a fixed number of prints from the beginning of the print run. The number of limited editions is carefully chosen by the artist before production, and no more can be created after they are all sold.
Of course, this does make limited edition prints more valuable in the eyes of a collector, so artists are able to charge more for this type of print.
Can’t I just change the size of my limited edition run later?
Definitely not! Collectors buy limited editions because they are valued on the same level as originals. Their scarcity in the art world is what boosts their worth.
Alter the number in the run after the fact and you not only greatly decrease the value of the edition, but you break the hard-earned trust between you and your collectors—jeopardizing your entire reputation as an artist in the process.
To keep both their integrity and the value intact, many artists go so far as destroying the materials they used to create their works so that it’s impossible to add to the edition later on.
If your limited edition prints sell quickly, view this as a win! Being so in-demand gives you much better positioning when you create your next limited edition run.
Can I sell the same limited edition print in different sizes?
Yes! Artists can choose to create a few limited edition runs for the same photograph or artwork in different sizes—as long as this is clearly expressed to potential buyers before a sale.
Often times, the bigger the edition is dimension-wise, a smaller amount of prints is offered and vice-versa. For example, an artist may decide to print a hundred editions that are 4x6 in size, twenty that are 8x12, and only five that are 16x24.
This practice opens you up to a wider range of potential buyers who would prefer to buy a smaller print while maintaining the exclusivity and value of the larger pieces for collectors who can afford it.
Just be transparent with your art buyers about your offerings at all times, as to not damage your credibility!
What size should I make my limited edition runs?
In short? It depends.
Every artist may have a different strategy for success, depending on the popularity of their work.
For instance, an established artist with potential buyers at the ready can sell a handful of limited editions for hundreds or thousands of dollars a piece.
An even more famous artist could increase the number of editions and this accessibility would still not affect the value of the work in any negative way. Or, they might make the decision to create only two works total and drive the price up exponentially!
On the flipside, an emerging artist might have an especially difficult time garnering this type of interest.
For those who want their work to become collectible, the size should be kept low. For those who’d rather keep the income stream flowing, it might be wise to go bigger—just not so large that the intention and urgency behind a “limited edition” becomes arbitrary.
A good place to start could be anywhere between 20-250, while some artists go as high as 500 prints.
Again, it all depends on your collector-base and how in-demand your work really is. You may have to arrive at this number through good old fashioned trial and error.
Try taking a look at artists with similar popularity. Do some digging on the number of pieces they are selling and for what price. Is it working for them? What are their marketing tactics? What works for them will not necessarily work for you, but it is a good way to test the waters and get your feet wet.
Just remember, you want it to be large enough to garner sales, but small enough to drive interest.
And if you find that after a few runs you are in such high demand that you are selling out, fan the flame by decreasing the size of your next run and raising your prices!
How do I price my editions?
The general rule of thumb is the fewer prints you have available, the more valuable they are and the higher you can price them. But like we just talked about, a small run alone does not make the work valuable. It greatly depends on your work’s popularity in the art world. Finding that sweet, sweet spot between supply and demand.
Because the less demand there is for a work, the less it’s worth—which means a lower price tag to match.
So, where do you even start?
Bless the internet, because we now have access to a whole bunch of data that makes setting our prices a little easier. Instead of pulling a number out of thin air, put your research cap on and start looking for artists that have similar work to what you are currently producing.
How much do these artists charge for their work? Is there a pattern in this pricing?
Just make sure you are making an honest evaluation of your work and are then comparing it to artists with a similar style, working in a similar medium, with a similar amount of experience, as well as selling within a similar geographical region.
Then, like with all art pricing strategies, make sure all of your costs for creating are covered in the final price of your run. That includes your materials, equipment, studio space, and (don’t forget this one) your time!
Some other things to note?
If limited editions begin to sell out quickly, it is common practice for the price of the remaining pieces to increase in order to match what the market is willing to pay. And even if the work is not selling like hot cakes, it’s not uncommon to set the prices higher for the last few editions remaining.
The harder it is for people to get their hands on, the more valuable it is.
Prices will also differ for different sizes of the same work (i.e. larger works in smaller numbers require a higher price tag). But in this case, too, prices can be marked up at any point of time, depending on the demand.
What is the correct way to label my prints?
A limited edition is typically labeled with the number of the print created during the run, followed by the size of the print run as a whole.
For example, the first print in a run of ten would be marked 1/10, the last being labeled 10/10.
On your photographs or prints, write this number in pencil on the front of the artwork, on the left side just beneath the image. For open editions, this spot can be left blank. Your signature goes on the right-hand side, along with the date if desired. A title (if you have one) can be written in the middle between the number and name. Just remember to label the piece where it won’t be covered by a mat!
There are a few other labels artists can use to convey different meanings, replacing the edition number at the bottom of the piece—such as “AP” for Artist Proofs. You can learn more about these different labels here.
Whatever you do, be consistent! The format you use to sign and date should be identical between prints, so you continue to build trust with collectors.
How else can I gain a collector’s trust during sale?
Besides being true to your word, labeling your work consistently, and being extremely clear about run sizes, always present collectors with a professional invoice and Certificate of Authenticity for the work.
These simple, yet profound pieces of paper provide extra assurance that the value of the limited edition is genuine, as well as formal documentation should the owner ever need to prove its value down the road.
These documents should leave no detail out: the work’s title, price, print number, medium, dimensions, date printed, print run size, printer type, etc. Signed and dated by the artist, they should be presented to your buyers alongside your work.
It’s incredibly easy to make them, too, if you have the right tools! Learn how here.
How can I keep my editions organized?
There is so much to keep track of when it comes to editions—pieces coming in and out of the studio, run sizes, prices, dimensions, collector information, documents, etc.—that it can get overwhelming really fast.
And while it often seems like the lowest priority in your art practice, staying organized and keeping track of all of these moving parts is extremely important to the success of your business.
Luckily for artists, an art inventory management software like Artwork Archive offers a really simple and easy way to manage editions and reproductions, and all that entails.
With Artwork Archive, keep clear records on the number of editions created, which prints have sold, at what prices, and to which collectors. Plus, you can add details like inventory numbers and unique images for individual editions.
The goodness doesn’t stop there! Generate COAs, invoices, and other professional reports with the click of a button. Then record the edition’s exhibition and award history to add to its value and credibility. Plus, stay on top of what is submitted and accepted, so you can stay professional and never double book or double sell the same print again.
You can even get insights on how well your editions are selling. And, note which buyers you need to reach out to again with new editions!