Art Market Value? Photo Editions and Print Editions

Two people look at photo editions hanging on a gallery wall.

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.

Ken Lum
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 Β£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?

48 responses to “Art Market Value? Photo Editions and Print Editions”

  1. Thank you! Having just received a nice printer as a lovely gift, I’m now ready to know more about editioning. Very helpful guidelines on numbers and pricing.

  2. Interesting distinction between prints and reproductions. So can reproductions be limited editions, or just prints?

    • Hi Dawn,
      I would say that you can print “reproductions” in a limited amount, calling it a limited edition, but that those prints would be less collectable and less valuable than an “original” limited edition as described above. Cheers!

  3. I have 4 Franz Bauer limited edition botanical multiflora thunb prints can anyone tell me roughly how much these would be worth?

  4. Hi! My daughter is a legally blind artist. Her original drawings are reproduced as photographs. She sells the reproductions framed for a small profit. But she never numbers them, would there be a reason to do that?

    • Hi Sheri,
      If editions aren’t numbered, it’s an “unlimited” edition. Nothing wrong with this. If your daughter wanted to limit / number the editions, it’s totally up to her. Does she sign the reproductions? I think that would be nice for her collectors.

  5. Great post, extremely informative. I do have a question about editioned prints. If I have a photo going into a gallery as a limited 5 of 5 edition, would that hold for the photo itself of just the specific size prints? I would assume for the photo itself.

    thanks in advance!

    • Hi Max,
      It is totally acceptable for the edition size to refer to just one particular size. So you could have an edition of 5 at one size, another size at 5, etc. Many collectors will ask if there are editions available in other sizes to get an idea of the total edition size. I wouldn’t recommend doing more than 2 or 3 sizes.

  6. Hi! I produce lino prints and color them by hand with watercolor. I currently have one design for which I have two quite different color schemes when it comes to coloring the final image. Would the two color schemes be labeled as separate editions, or as one edition? The actual lino print is the same for each.
    Thanks in advance…

    • Hi Fenja, to me it makes sense to have two separate editions, but perhaps you should indicate the colour version in the title, something like “Title (blue version).”

  7. dottynoodle says:

    This is exactly the information I was looking for, thank you! Well written and concise, you have helped a lot!

  8. Thanks! Enjoyed informative and concisely written – My current artwork is a photograph and separately a hand drawing (original) brought together/a long side each other as one piece of artwork….
    Is it possible for this piece to be editioned, I would desperately like it to be but not sure how I stand, any advice ?

  9. My artwork is composite piece: a photographic print with a hand made drawing.
    I am completely scratching my head of if it can be an editioned piece or equivalent, please help?
    Thank you

    • Hi Louise,
      It certainly could be. If anything, it would be more desirable since there is a unique component to it!

  10. Hi, this was really valuable, thank you!

    My question is, if you’d like to offer both framed prints in small limited editions and products (like…duvet covers, wall clocks) based on those same prints…but in unlimited editions…would that be possible? I’d like to have 1 print in various sizes with only 1 print available at each size (max 3-4). but for the same print i’d like to offer products as well. would the limited edition of the print then be silly since anyone could just buy a product instead?

    Looking forward to your thoughts, and thanks in advance πŸ˜‰

    • A signed limited edition high quality print would still have value even if you use the image for other products. The fewer sizes you sell the print at, the better though, as you do want to limit the total artworks that are available. Cheers!

  11. Patricia Martel says:

    My sister has several prints all different by the artist D Massaroni she bought and has certificate for all . We were wondering were we would go to see what the value on them now, she bought them 35 yes ago still mint condition

  12. I’m curious whether there is any difference in the valuation of a lower numbered print of a limited edition photograph (e.g., 2/50 vs. 49/50)?

    • Many photographers and galleries increase the price once a certain number have sold ie prints number 1-5 cost $x, prints 6-10 cost $x 20% and so on. So higher numbered prints cost more to buy, but the value of a lower numbered print will at least the value of the last sold print, plus a scarcity value because it is usually older (providing it is in good condition).

      • I bought #1 in a series of 7 pieces(mulitmedia/collage/painting) all with 7 editions each. I now want a different piece in this series but it is on #3, and cost $1000 more. Are the next editions in the series more expensive solely because they are assumed more popular?

  13. I combine original digital photography and original ink drawings in photoshop and then create an archival pigment print (professional inkjet). From your article and research I understand the print is considered and original digital print. My question is, can I offer 1) a signed and numbered limited edition of a specific size with a certificate AND 2) also offer a smaller size as unlimited reproductions with only a digital signature (not an original signature) and unnumbered without a certificate. Or, maybe even a non archival version that is more like a poster. My thinking is that it would be like a reproduction of an original print for people that can’t spend the money on an original but would obviously look more like a poster than a print.

  14. James Cox says:

    I have an archivale print from a limited edition printing. I’m curious as to the value of the archivale print, I know the value of the numbered print.

  15. […] Editioned Prints and Photographs: How Many, What Value … – I have been working on an article which contains advice and discussion about pricing artwork. I decided that editioned prints and photographs deserve their own post! […]

  16. Hi,

    thanks for a nice article. I have been asked to make a series of photos on fine art paper for sale online as limited edition of 10 or 15 pieces. I am currently having exhibitions where I sell pictures both on canvas, aluminium, plexi and wooden plates. The pictures are of different sizes. The limited edition of these are 20 (a few of them 40). Now I am unsure about how the rules are. Can I make a limited edition of the same photo where I for instance on canvas make 20 pieces and then start a new limited edition of the same photo on fine art paper (or aluminium or other plates) starting a new numbering? Not sure if I manage to explain it well….Can I have the same photo on canvas and number it 1/20 – 20/20 and make the same photo on fine art paper and number it 1/10-10/10?

    Hope you can help me out on this question!!


  17. I found the answer to my question πŸ™‚ So you dont have to reply. Thanks anyway πŸ™‚


  18. Hi Heidi, so what was the answer?

    • Hi Ozzie,

      As I figure out it is allowed to start a new series since it is a different material/artwork.

      • Perfect thank you for the answer.

  19. connie baca says:

    Yes i just bought a print of the pitcure Blueboy and i noticed there was hand writing very small in. Tthe lower right bottem in white pencil with a c with a cicrle around it and the number7057. So what type of print is this. Why theres no ending number. Thank you so much for your help

  20. VERY helpful post! Have spent much time researching this very topic online. Yours is the first to actually answer my questions! Thank you!

  21. Re Heidi’s Posts of 5 July 2016 & 21 April 2017:
    Hi Heidi, I think you are right that you can have a number of series of the same image, providing they are treated differently, ie printed on different material, perhaps different size etc. But other well known photographers have had problems with this approach, the buyers claiming that they were unaware that other prints of the same image had been sold/or were available. So I guess the answer is to make it very clear to prospective buyers (probably in writing), that there are other editions of the image available.

  22. if i make lets say a limited edition of 20 pces printed, all signed and with certificate, can i also offer an unlimited serie of the same but without signature to a lower price for people with less budget?

  23. Nico, I cannot see how you can have two versions of the same image, with perhaps the same size, same treatment, and call one an unlimited print, and the other a limited edition print. To me it’s a contradiction; at worst it’s a broken promise to buyers of your limited edition prints, signed or unsigned.

    • Its a good point. At the very least it needs to be clear in marketing material, and in the certificate of authenticity, that the open editions exist. But doing an OE and LE of the same will only drive away serious collectors, perhaps permanently.

      • If you want to do an open edition of an image whereas you also have a limited edition, you must create it in a lower quality paper type and maybe not have it signed. And as mentioned before, make sure that it all customers are aware of what they are getting.

        You also need to decide as well what type of customer base you want to create, collectors or random art buyers. Then mold your offerings accordingly to attract those type of customers.

        At the end of the day you have to think as to what a collector or a random art buyer values.

        Collectors value mainly to maintain or increase their artworks monetary investment, even though they might buy the art piece because they love it. When spending serious money ($2500+ for most), one immediately wants to make sure it’s a smart buy. You get this with exclusivity, provenance and artists with stablished careers (famous, well known artists).

        General art buyers mainly care about getting a good deal for art that will look good in their home or office. Might not care too much about limited or not as long as they like the art piece in some way.

        Of course there’s some gray area here as in everything and I might of oversimplified it but from all I have studied and experienced it really boils down to this.

        Hope I was helpful.

  24. Nice write up. You should note the difference between the terms “impression” and “edition” — they are not interchangeable. “How many editions” should say “How many impressions” — regardless of how many impressions in an edition, it is still one edition.

  25. I have a question about limited edition of a print. If I create limited edition with size of 20 prints and I don’t sold all of them for example 4 will never be sold because nobody will buy them. Is this still limited edition? what will then happen to clients which bought the 16 prints as part of limited edition? Thank you.

  26. Here’s my take… Yes, it’s still a limited edition. When you advertise the edition quantity, you make a commitment to limit the quantity available, i.e, keep the supply low. You, as the supplier, can’t make a commitment to accurately predict demand, which is an inherent market risk the buyer assumes.The numbering of the edition should not be altered once you’ve advertised it. Whether or not the edition is “sold out” is irrelevant to the maximum qty you advertised were produced. You reserve the right to “never say never”, and keep the unsold pieces available for purchase for the life of your business and beyond. Imagine a delayed demand for the work emerges in the market and “only” 4 remaining pieces are available… the price for those 4 could now increase beyond what the first 16 sold for because the market knows they’re the “last 4”. Rather than being perceived as a surplus with low demand, the 4 is now perceived as a low supply with high demand and therefore increased market value. And the earlier pieces may also enjoy a rise in value now that the edition is sold out.

  27. Henry Bortman says:

    I’m a digital landscape photographer. I’m thinking of producing, for each of several images, a limited-edition set of 10 prints, each print mounted within a 16×20 mat and framed. If I wanted to also produce a set of 25 smaller prints of each of these images, from the same original digital files, mounted in 8×10 mats, unframed, and sold at a lower price point, would these be considered part of the same edition, a separate edition, or “outside” the edition of the larger prints?

  28. Karen stotz says:

    I have an originaI have a collograph painting from the immigrant train at Donner Lake by Frank Tenno Johnson it’s number 597 it shows that the original is it the Woolaroc Museum in Bartlesville and the copyright is from Aaron Ashley Inc. from Yonkers New York…would it be worth anything?

  29. Choosing photography prints does not mean that you have to buy it is because it is unique, or just because it is from a famous photographer that you look up to. Buying photography prints means that you should appreciate what is being displayed.

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