When considering prices of artwork and art market value, how do photo editions and print editions factor in? If you’re an artist wondering how to price your art, you might also wonder how editions should affect your pricing. Additionally, how many photo editions should be in a set? Below is an overview of the most key information for artists who print and sell editioned artwork.
Limited Edition vs. Unlimited Edition
A limited edition print is an edition that has a fixed number of prints. Limited edition prints are marked with two numbers. First, the unique number of the print. Secondly, the size of the entire print run. For example, the first print in an edition of 20 would be marked as 1/20 and the last work in this edition would be marked 20/20.
The number of a limited edition print is usually marked in pencil on the front of an actual print (lithograph, collograph, etc). It is usually marked in pencil on the reverse side of a photo edition. This can be directly on the photo paper, or in pen or pencil on a label or the material which the photograph is mounted to.
An unlimited edition print is a print run that has no fixed number of prints. Because of the unknown quantity of prints, their market value tends to be much lower.
Original Prints vs. Reproduction Prints
An original print indicates that the print is of the original medium that the artist created the work in. For example, a printed photograph is an original print. Any type of printmaking is an original print (intaglio, monoprint, etc). A work of art created digitally on a computer and printed out is also an original print.
A reproduction print indicates that the print is not the original medium of the artwork. For example, a photograph of a painting or drawing which is then printed out as an edition is considered a “reproduction” of the original artwork, and not artwork itself.
Original prints are valued as collectible as any other artistic medium. Reproduction prints have a far lower value. As the Wikipedia article on editions explains, reproduction prints are “essentially in the same category as a picture in a book or magazine, though better printed and on better paper.”
Number of photo editions, and their value
The number of prints or photo editions in a limited edition directly affects the value of that work. The lower number of editions, the more collectible the work is. Thus, it has a higher monetary and market value.
As an example of edition size vs. value, check out the Ken Lum editions sold at the Vancouver Art Gallery gift shop.
I Can’t Believe I’m in Paris, 1995-2011
archival inks on arches watercolour paper
edition of 100
54.6 cm x 68.6 cm
$400 non members; $360 for members (unframed)
edition of 5
104.1 x 134.6 cm
Although the prints themselves are different sizes (54.6 x 68.6cm for $400/$360 and 104.1 x 134.6cm for $4,500), it is the limited size of the larger edition which dictates and justifies the increased price.
Here is another example of value related to limited edition size:
Rodney Graham’s Ponderosa Pine IV is an edition of 2 (sold at auction for $86,500 in 2009)
Rodney Graham’s Oxfordshire Oak, Banford, Fall, 1990 is an edition of 500 (sold at auction for £500 in 2008)
The above Rodney Graham example is a generalization, as the works themselves are not the same. Ponderosa Pine IV is also larger in size, thus the value difference can’t be based on edition size alone. However, the increased value of Ponderosa Pine IV does clearly reflect its more limited edition size.
How many works should be in an edition?
Generally speaking, for artists who want their work to become collectible and steadily increase in value, the size of the edition should be kept low. For contemporary photographs and original prints, the edition size is usually between 2 and 20.
Higher limited editions of 250, 500, and more are usually saved for certain works of highly collectible artists. In this case, the large limited edition will often still sell out and the easier accessibility of a higher editioned work will not adversely effect an established artist’s market value.
A note about photo editions and Artist Proofs
Artist proofs originated as test proofs of an artwork. They may still physically be this in some cases, although many artists have a predetermined amount of artists proofs in an edition which may be printed at any time. This could be before, after, or during the original print run. The purpose of reserving an artist proof from an edition is that once an edition is sold out, the artist still has a small number of prints available for donation or exhibition purposes. Classically, 10% of a limited edition size is considered an appropriate amount of artists proofs. Thus, if you’ve purchased a print, you might notice the edition size is something like: Edition of 20 + 2 AP. This indicates that 22 editions of this work either are or could potentially be produced.
What experiences have you had in editioning your artwork? Did smaller or larger editions benefit your sales or value?