What Is a Limited Edition Print?

Over the past few months, as my associate, Bob, and I have revised our website and planned for 2013, we have been thinking about and discussing the issue of Limited Edition prints quite a bit. They are an integral part of our business and an art form that we take particular pride in.

For those of you who do not know it, Bob is a Master Printer with credentials that would fill a book. We have recently been working with Museo Fine Art Digital Media and their luscious archival papers to create some of the finest photographic prints available anywhere for collectors. So, naturally, we have a lot at stake with our Limited Editions.


Our Process

In the way of background, like some of my colleagues, our print runs are of either 10 or 25. Mostly they are 30” x 40”, but if someone custom orders a larger (or smaller) size, we count those toward the total, so that the 10 and 25 counts are never exceeded.

In our case, the prints are laboriously hand-made. Bob and I will sit down and carefully analyze my images for potential LE status. Once candidates are selected we apply strict criteria to them to ensure that they are truly exceptional images. Then the real work begins.

Dust and water spots are tediously removed. We go over every square inch of the digital image in post-processing to make sure that it will print to our highest standards, spending hours and several trial prints to “get it right.” We use our own Epson 9900 or Canon professional printers with the finest archival inks to generate our prints. We print mostly on Museo Fine Art archival, museum-quality papers. Each image is printed to order (except for ones we hang in galleries). Once dried we inspect the print and only a flawless image will get my signature.

Bob then prints a gorgeous Certificate of Authenticity, with several security features, so that our art clientele can feel comfortable with their purchase, knowing that if they resell it later they can prove its legitimacy.

I’m only describing our process as an example of how I know many of my colleagues work, irrespective of print run. The question is, why do we declare so few of my images to be Limited Editions and print them in such small runs?


What is a Limited Edition Print? Really.

The answer is fairly complex, but it mostly boils down to the fact that we take the “Limited” part of the phrase rather seriously - and very literally. Partly it is also due to the fact that I am at a different point in the arc of my work, having reached the ripe (but not old) age of 65. My kids are thankfully out of the house, and I don’t have to worry about paying the rent or putting food on the table today. And, perhaps most importantly, I am at a different place in my art where I view Limited Editions with a highly critical eye, some say too critically. If I consider an image a work of art, I want to make sure that that it will be very special to my buyers and will hold its value over time.

I do realize that other photographers feel very differently about Limited Editions. Some turn a lot of their images into Limited Editions. Others consider print runs of 500, 1,000 or even 5,000 to be Limited Editions (yes, I ran across this in a gallery I recently visited run by an incredibly talented photographer).

I am not denigrating the work of other photographers, whatever their view on Limited Editions. If a business model works for a sustained period of time, that means that happy customers are involved. But I do think that a case can be made that the concept of Limited Editions has been diluted by print runs that, by definition, can hardly be considered limited.

And so, I turn the issue back to you readers. What do you think?

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