How Many Prints Should I Have in My Fine Art Edition?


This content was written by ChromaZone Ink, Melbourne FL.

How Much is Too Much?

Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” did editions in the 5000 range, while many artists will only reproduce under 100, so what is the best number?  It is indeed confusing.  You don’t want to short yourself on sales with a low edition number, yet, too high of a number and you run the risk of devaluing your work, right?  One solution we at ChromaZone Ink Canvas prints like is to offer three or four different editions of each image. These editions could be substantially different to represent and justify different price levels. Ultimately the choice is yours, but to better understand your options, here is an overview on editions.  We’ve based these suggestions on our actual work with hundreds of artists through the years in both the printing capacity and the art gallery sales venue. ChromaZone Ink Canvas Prints solutions include a combination of giclée prints on canvas, paper and metal.  You can learn more by contacting us at 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901.

Limited Editions

Much of today’s fine art nomenclature was derived from the days before giclée printing and the large format inkjet printers were invented. Back before Roland and Iris leaped into the market offering the unlimited high-quality consistency of “giclée” (inkjet) prints, most editions were printed with metal plates or even stones.  

The problem with these methods is that with time and iterations of stampings, the stones wore out and images became fuzzier and not as clear.  This is what gave rise to numbering editions, that were limited by the life of the stone.  So if you purchased a work from this earlier method it would have a number on it like 2/100 or 95/100.  The first number represented the order the print was made and the second number tells how many total number of prints were made before the stone was predicted to wear out. Because each printing surface had a definite life span, the prints became “limited editions” (LEs).  Artists would also sign, usually in pencil, each print near their signature that was part of the original art.  Traditionally, the added pencil signature and print number were in the lower right corner of the work, in a place where they would not be covered by a frame.

Artist’s Proofs

Before artists would give approval for the printer to release prints, they usually had to make test prints.  Each test print might indicate a need for a slight change in the etched surface of the plate or stone.  So an artist would work with the printer running test prints until the output was exactly what the artist desired.  These test prints were called “Artist’s Proofs” (APs).  Test prints would number from a very few to perhaps 15 or 25. With the limited lifespan of the printing plate, artists & their printers HAD to get the prints right in a relatively few number of proofs so they could maximize the quantity of sellable works. The APs were generally held by the artist for his or her own collection and may or may not have been sold.  If they were sold, they were deemed more valuable because there were fewer of them and because they generally had slight differences in them, making each one a bit more original. (At ChromaZone Ink Canvas printing, we include the price of proofing in our digital scanning cost). 

These days, however, APs are only one or two and it usually involves the printer making adjustments, not the artist.  So instead of having slight design differences printed in them, artists today will run a very small edition and often treat the surface with exceptional enhancements, justifying a higher price with more scarcity.

Open Editions

Open editions are a more modern-day evolution because of the high quality of printing available to us these days.  Simply put, “Open Editions” have no limit.  Whereas APs or LEs are produced in smaller numbers with a level of scarcity or exclusivity, open editions are endlessly reproduced, and the ten-thousandth print is as good as the first one.  For this reason, they are the least expensive.

The Sales Solution

Your sales goal is to increase the opportunity of images that have the highest income potential, right? ChromaZone Ink recommends having at least 3 limited editions of the print, and one open edition, differentiated by the media and level of “embellishing”. Embellishing is the practice of adding extra media to the surface of a canvas print.  For example, your first edition could be your “Artist Proof” edition on canvas prints. It could have the most embellishing on it.  You could accent or change parts of the image with clear gel textures and colored oil paint, acrylic or even mixed media if the motif dictates.

Your second edition could be the limited edition on canvas where you do a minimum level of embellishing.  For LEs we recommend an application of clear gel medium with which you can add brushstrokes that mimic the motif underneath.  This gives them a rich texture, yet not as premium as adding colored paint or mixed media to them as with the AP edition.

Your third edition could be on metal, which is a very popular medium.  All of these limited editions would be hand-signed and numbered. Finally, you could have an open edition on paper.  This gives you a total of 4 different editions, each dramatically different from the other, therefore eliminating confusion among your collectors.  These of course are only suggestions.  You may choose to have a limited edition on paper if you like, but then you would have to somehow differentiate it from any open editions.  For more on embellishing, see our FAQ entitled “What is Embellishing and can I do it myself?”

Finally, there is the question of different dimensions within an edition.  We have seen artists have numerous editions, each of a different set size.  For example they would have one edition of 200 16″ x 20″ sizes while a different edition would be 18″ x 24″. While we would love to sell you that many canvas prints, we do not recommend that tactic.  For one, it gets very confusing to manage – remember, you have to keep track of all the numbers and what gallery has them, etc.  It also tends to devalue the work overall.  Our recommendation is to offer different sizes within the same edition.  For example, your embellished canvas edition could come in 3 set sizes, or you could even offer custom sizes within each edition.  The beauty of using ChromaZone Ink is that we manufacture our own stretcher bars on site, so we are happy to produce custom canvas sizes for you.  You will not be limited to standard sizes.  This makes it easier for you to entice a collector with a “one of a kind” custom size or thickness!

Determine the Quantity in Each of Your Editions

Now that you’ve figured out how many different editions you are going to offer for each image, you need to determine the number of prints in each edition.  The most important thing to remember here is that whatever number you choose; you must stick to it!  For example, if you decide to run an embellished limited edition of 300 and it sells out very quickly, it would be most unethical to up the edition so you could sell more.  Your collectors are paying for the scarcity and extra attention you put into your limited editions, so you would kill your reputation if you raised your edition numbers after they have sold out.  Remember – selling them out generally makes them more valuable!  This is also why you want to make sure you get the contact information for all your collectors if possible!  When an edition sells out, they would probably love to hear about it.  It gives you the opportunity to build your relationship with them, and it makes them feel good that they made a potentially wise investment.  Your next contact with them would be the release of your next edition.  Remember, it’s much easier to sell to an existing customer than a new customer!

Now back to numbers… At ChromaZone Ink Canvas Prints, again, we would LOVE to sell you thousands of prints, but our opinion is that limited editions should generally remain below 500.  Interestingly, the United States Copyright Law has a similar opinion. In Chapter 1 of section 101, it clearly states what constitutes a work of visual art:

“A ‘work of visual art’ is—

(1) a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author;”

For this reason, one might want to plan their editions as such: an AP premium edition of, say 15 and a limited embellished edition of 185 for each type of media.  While that government declaration is certainly up to your personal interpretation, it is always best to think like one of your collectors.  If you are going to have multiple editions on different media, make sure they are different enough from each other so as not to create any doubt or question about the level of investment they are making in your work.  If you don’t care to do any embellishing yourself, you can always hire an apprentice or you can check out the “Surface Enhancement” options we at ChromaZone Ink Canvas prints offer for our giclée canvas products.

Be Consistent with Signing

Finally, your signature is your brand. Whether you’re signing in paint, ink or pencil, it is best to sign the same way in the same location on all your works.  Keep in mind that some images may be framed and could take ups some surface real estate, so sign accordingly!  Generally paper editions are signed in pencil, canvas editions in paint or ink. Metal editions have a much slicker surface so some experimenting might be warranted.  ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing would love to be your giclée & metal printing company, call us at 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901.

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United States Copyright Law:
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