by Michael Damico
I hear this way too often: “Should I do a limited edition art / photo series?” You may be wondering why I say I hear this “too often.” It’s because I feel that the label “limited edition” gets abused in a way. This leads to a misunderstanding – among artists and buyers alike – about its meaning and value. Follow me as I explain:
- What a limited edition piece is
- Why it’s not a good practice to do a series on-demand (one-at-a-time as you sell them)
- Fun ideas or alternatives if you still wish to develop a limited series
What is the True Meaning of Limited Edition Art?
There are two qualifying markers of limited editions:
- When both the artist and publisher can verify the authenticity of the series and print quality
- The guarantee that no more will be made or even can be made
More specifically, print quality is determined on the front end and then the artist develops proofs before the series is printed. Next, the entire series is printed all at once and approved by the artist. Lastly, the publisher or printer destroys all available means to reproduce the print in the future. This may include deleting digital files, scans, printing plates, etc.
The verification process is usually where registering a copyright comes in to play. This is a very high quality way to:
- Legitimize the authenticity and total quantity of prints made
- Provide verification that they are the only ones on hand
Also, they the Copyright Office will issue a registration ID. This is a handy verification tool you can actually print on your Certificate of Authenticity. (NOTE: This process takes some time. Begin at the Registration Portal of the Copyright Office. Learn more about the entire process and next steps here.)
How do I Know if Mine is True Limited Edition Art?
I do not advise using language like “Limited Edition” unless it truly meets the definition. For further clarity, that means:
- All pieces are printed at the same time
- All methods to reproduce the work have been destroyed
- These features are verifiable by a buyer
Calling a piece you intend to sell on-demand (made to order) a “Limited Edition” makes you vulnerable to disrupting the truth of the series. For example, consider a scenario where your printer goes out and you have to buy a new one. Well, now you are quite vulnerable to having a mismatch in the series. Consider another example wherein your favorites series of canvas or paper is discontinued. Any new prints of the same so-called “limited edition” are no longer true to the series. I’ve seen these very scenarios happen. In fact, I could go on listing the ways you can have an on-demand series backfire on you in the worst ways.
Four Alternatives to “Limited Edition” Art
Finally, I can suggest a few creative ways to present your items as special to your buyers without the language of limited editions. But you need to understand something clearly first: many of the print production methods in use today are exponentially more advanced than when limited edition prints really started appearing in the art world. We now have extremely high quality reproduction methods using technology that simply did not exist at that time.
Alternative 1: Choose Your Words Carefully
So, using the correct language is the foremost way you can clearly express the added value of one of your prints. Here are some key vocabulary words you can use:
- “High Quality”
- “Fine Art Print”
Alternative 2: Embellishments
You can also take it a step further and begin embellishing some of your prints. In fact, many of the materials we print on now can easily receive a touch of paint on top of the print to create a genuine one-of-a-kind piece (quite literally, “1/1”). In fact, my customer Roy Laws offers this regularly. Roy does live paintings during events like fundraisers and concerts. With a focus on music, he usually paints guitars and legendary musicians. These paintings are often commissioned ahead of time or auctioned off to benefit a charity. However, others music fans want a copy as well.
So, most of the pieces on Roy’s website include three options:
- A standard reproduction on paper or canvas
- A newly painted recreation of the original (with a promise to match the original environment by drinking beer and listening to loud music while he paints your new copy)
- A printed reproduction with embellishments
Alternative 3: Signing and Numbering
For some, the initial investment on creating reproductions can be more than your budget can handle. For others, you are simply looking to give your clients something special. When you need or simply choose to print on-demand (as you go), consider signing and numbering each piece after it is printed. Specifically, I mean numbering each piece as 1, 2, 3, … It is a nice touch and viable alternative to numbering a series, like 1/500.
Alternative 4: Create a Micro-Series
Finally, if you really want to “Wow!” your collectors or buyers, consider reproducing FAR less in a series. I’m referring to a micro-series. So, rather than 1/500, I’m suggesting you something more like 1/10! Here is the process:
- Go to your local or preferred printer (hopefully us!) and order a printed series all at once (all 10, plus a few full size artist proofs)
- Register a copyright
- Instruct your printer to destroy the scan files and delete the print files (including backups) or destroy the plates, screens, etc.
Now your collector has something truly special. If you need direction in this process, we can offer this complete service for you (scanning, printing, submitting, printing certificates of authenticity, and destroying the production files).
For more information or to ask about special circumstances, email or call us at 615-815-6015. Are you and artist or photographer who wants to move to the next level in your creative career? Check out a helpful list of related dos and don’ts here.