Not everyone can afford an original from their favourite artist. However, many artists these days also produce limited edition prints which are more affordable. This post is to give you an insight into limited edition prints and what to look for.
What is a limited edition print?
The definition of a limited edition print is a print limited in number. The edition size, the artists name and the number of the print are usually signed at the bottom of the print in pencil.
The key thing to look for is the number of prints issued. The lower the number the better and the more likely they are to have some value. It is generally accepted that limited edition prints should have editions of not more than 250. You will often see limited edition prints with over 1000 prints issued. Generally, this is not a good thing. There are many prints produced that do not sell 1,000 copies without being limited edition. Some artists turn their prints into limited edition because generally you can ask more for this kind of print.
There are rules in producing limited edition prints. One of them is that the artist is permitted to produce a further 10% on top of the edition. These are called Artists Proofs and you might have seen A/P on an edition. In the early days, the 10% Artists Proofs were for the artist to sell privately. Generally this is not the case these days. They are normally sold by the Galleries or publisher extra to the edition.
Some people are under the impression that Artists Proofs are more collectable and hence more valuable than the numbered edition. This is not so either and it makes no difference to value whether part of the edition or Artists Proof.
Types of limited edition prints
Up until a few years ago, most prints produced were by the Offset lithograph method where the entire edition had to be printed in one go. Today, many artists are using the gicleé method. This allows an artist to have printed only the amount of images that he wants at the beginning. As prints sell, further copies can be printed as and when required.
Gicleé prints are produced on a wide ink jet printer with many different inks. The colour reproduction can be as good as the original. The original is usually scanned or photographed and the image kept digitally to be re-used when required. Gicleé prints are now a recognised and acceptable form of printing. The inks used are colourfast and not prone to fading and the quality of gicleé printing is generally excellent and being used by more and more by artists.
Etchings & Lithographs
Etchings and lithographs are normally produced as limited edition. An etching is done on a metal plate, usually brass, copper or steel. A wax ground is put on the plate which is resistant to acid and the picture “etched” into the wax. An acid is then poured onto the plate and the acid bites into the unprotected parts of the plate. Once the wax ground is removed, the plate is inked and the image usually pressed under pressure onto dampened paper. Because the plate is put under pressure, usually a maximum of 120-150 copies can be produced before the lines in the etching plate deteriorate. With etchings, the lower the number the better as the lines will be nice and crisp.
Lithographs are similar to etchings but are produced using stone (usually limestone). The image is drawn onto a ground of wax or similar and acid used to bite into the unprotected parts to form an image. Not so much pressure is needed to produce a good lithographic print so it is possible to produce a few more images from the stone than an etching.
To tell the difference between an etching and a lithograph, an etching leaves a plate mark on the paper and a lithograph does not.
There are other forms of printing like silkscreen, woodblock linocuts etc. At some point, I will produce a post on all printing forms.
Why Limited Edition Prints?
Limited Edition prints gives you access to some of the most sought after artists at a fraction of the cost of an original. For instance, you can pick up a print by Sir Peter Blake for a few hundred pounds while an original would cost many thousands. That applies also to artists like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, David Hockney, Albert Irvin and the like. You will find most artists have produced limited edition prints and there is a strong market for them.
Dependant on the artist and the subject of the print, when the edition is sold out, there is often such a demand on the secondary market, values rocket.
What could be more satisfying than owning a limited edition print by an artist you love, admiring it each day but also knowing that the value is going up and up.