At Format we product giclée prints - fine art digital prints made on inkjet printers. This technique allows for an infinite number of reproductions from a master artwork. One photograph could be produced a thousand times over (and then some), destined for homes and workplaces worldwide.
With modern print production, artists and their works can become easily accessible and all pervasive. Though this is incredible in many ways, it can also adversely affect the perceived value of a work and reputation of its maker, which is why many artists forgo scale in favour of a finite number of editioned pieces.
In this article we unpack the concept of editions: what it is, how and why artists product editions, and what it means for those of us purchasing an editioned work.
With some editions amassing upwards of £1.9m (ok, it was a Picasso) it can pay to produce less.
What is an art edition?
According to Tate Modern, ‘an edition is a copy or replica of a work of art made from a master. It commonly refers to a series of identical impressions or prints made from the same printing surface, but can also be applied to series of other media such as sculpture, photography and video.’
Historically prints were produced in as many numbers as the processes would allow, for example, until the plates wore out or quality was affected. However, in the late nineteenth century the concept of limited edition was introduced. For the first time artists restricted the number of reproductions which in turn increased the value of one’s work and notoriety as an artist.
Aside from a limited print-run, markers of an edition are a signature or certificate of authenticity, edition number and date. Editions are often accompanied by proof prints – an artist’s proofs or printer’s proofs – which are traditionally kept in personal collections.
How do I size an edition?
For limited edition works, the total number of prints should be determined from the beginning. It’s important to consider artist reputation and demand, size of a collector-base, if the artist values a steady income, or if they prioritise collectability. All of these things will come in to play.
As put by Artwork Archive, ‘just remember, you want it to be large enough to garner sales, but small enough to drive interest’. A limited-edition status will create a scarcity effect whether you’re printing 50 or 500 editions, though producing too many works will undermine the sense of rarity.
However many editions an artist produces, they should never alter the number after the fact. This will only compromise their reputation and relationships with collectors.
'Florence arches with mountain' by Chris Pennings from our Format Editions collection.
How to value an edition
Further to the point above, when pricing one’s work it’s important to evaluate the market and comparable artists in the same space. When producing editions consider the saying less is more. According to Artsty, ‘when edition sizes are small, the individual artworks in the edition become more rare—and this scarcity makes these pieces more desirable in the market.’
How to produce an edition
Once an artist has stipulated the total number of editions to be produced, they should specify artwork size. The same edition can be printed in different sizes provided this is clearly determined before sale.
This number should be documented on the edition itself (e.g. 1/12).
As we print and frame for artists Australia-wide, we manage this process by applying a Certificate of Authenticity upon request for editioned works produced at Format.
On each COA we will write the edition number, date and sign on behalf of artists to verify the provenance and quality of the piece. This has become a primary method of verifying work as it provides further information and validation than a single signature or edition number.
In our experience COAs are most useful when producing work for collectable, prominent artists and may not be essential for every artist. Read more about our Certificates of Authenticity here.
'Walking in the shadow of a cloud 1' by Kane Alexander from our Format Editions collection.
Why purchase an edition? Is it worth it?
There are many stores online peddling the works of artists for next to nothing. As consumers we can purchase and enjoy these works just as we would anything else mass produced – from fast fashion to furniture. Before long it will lose its lustre and it’s likely the artist will never be properly remunerated. Worse yet, their works may be knocked off, reproduced and sold without permission.
First and foremost, purchasing an edition supports the artist. It allows them to produce on their terms, to the quality they expect, and reap the rewards of their artistic practice.
As a consumer, consider an edition an opportunity to invest. Its short supply makes it inherently special, with a greater chance of its value increasing over time should you plan to sell it. If you purchase an edition with no intention to sell, it can become part of your lifelong collection. A limited-edition print from a favourite artist is something to be enjoyed every day – especially knowing it’s been crafted with such consideration in such limited supply.