What Does Limited Edition Mean?

Limited Edition Art Prints

Limited edition art prints are valuable reproductions of works of art. But like so many phrases and terms in the art world, it can be hard to understand what the meaning of limited edition is. Below is an easy guide to understanding what you need to know. Before we get to a limited edition definition, we need to know what a print is.

What is a print?

A print is a way for an artist to make a reproduction of their work. Think of posters depicting a work of fine art — that is a print. In fact, almost any reproduction of a work of visual art is a print. That is why many people think that prints can never be worth much money, because many of them aren’t that valuable. But the story doesn’t stop there.

Some artwork is created exclusively in print, i.e. there is no “original” that the print is a copy of. Think of photography or the screen prints of Andy Warhol. These are the original works that happen to be prints. (This is also why photo art limited editions are some of the most popular.) They can also make prints in a way that increases their value. That is why they make limited editions.

What is a Limited Edition?

Limited edition prints are a special kind of print that holds and can increase in value over time. A limited edition is “limited” because only a certain amount of prints are made. Each “edition” is a collection of prints made at the same time. A first edition would be the first round of reproductions made of a work. Once those sell, the artist might decide to make a second edition, then a third, and so on.

Prints in a limited edition are typically numbered and signed, greatly increasing the value of the print. Are signed prints worth anything? Absolutely. And some limited edition prints come with an artist certificate of authenticity, increasing the value even more.

For example, say a photographer takes a picture of a mountain. From that one negative, she makes a plate to print off several reproductions of that image. She decides her first edition will be thirty prints. She signs each individual print and numbers them (the first one numbered “1/30” because it is the first of thirty, the second “2/30” and so on). She then drafts a certificate of authenticy to go with each print.

Et voila! She has produced a limited edition of her mountain photograph. This form of limited print release photography means that thirty people can purchase a high value image of the mountain rather than one.

What are the benefits of limited editions?

Printing limited edition artwork benefits everybody. The collectors benefit by having greater access to pieces, and the artist benefits by having more art to sell. And that’s why limited editions work.

Think about it. When you buy limited edition prints, you are collecting a valuable work of art but with less initial investment. You get to have beautiful wall photos to enjoy, with a reasonable price tag, but now you own artwork that can hold and increase in value. Meanwhile, the artist is better supported because their sales volume is increased.

Compare this definition of a limited edition to that of an open edition, where an artist repeatedly makes reproductions of their work using the same materials with no defined “limit” to the edition. Whenever they need more to sell, they simply print more. Because the reproductions aren’t limited, there is nothing to protect the value of each print. Thus, open editions are much less valuable than limited editions.

Are there other kinds of valuable prints?

The short answer is yes. There are printer’s proofs, artist proofs, hors commerce & more. During the printmaking process, many individual prints are pulled by the artist or printer to check for quality and test tweaks to the printing process. Sometimes, these trial proofs can make it onto the market. Once the plate is finished and ready to print the limited edition, it is copied into a “bon à tirer” (BAT) plate, which means it is ready for printing.

An artist proof is a print that the artist makes and keeps for themselves. This proof can then be used at galleries and art museums later on, even if all the copies in the limited edition are sold to private collectors. These proofs are not numbered but rather labelled EA, for épreuve d’artiste (meaning: artist’s proof). Are artist proofs more valuable than a limited edition? They certainly can be. Artist proofs are less common as there are far fewer of them and they are not meant for the market, even though they occasionally show up there.

Lastly there are printer’s proofs and hors commerce proofs. Printer’s proofs are given to the printers for free and are often labelled P/P. Hors commerce proofs are made to sample out to sellers who might be interested in carrying copies of a limited edition and are often labelled H/C or NFS (meaning not for sale).

The Verdict on Limited Editions

As you can see, the reproduction of art doesn’t always mean a complete reduction in value. Limited edition prints are a great way to enjoy art while investing in something. Furthermore, limited editions can be a great way for artists to connect to more collectors and support themselves. Now that you know all of the terms and labels, you can confidently shop for limited edition art prints.

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