Limited edition prints – The good the bad and the downright devious  

Many people have heard about a ‘Limited Edition Print” and will soon tell you, it’s worth something more than just any old print, but what makes it so special and what are the pitfalls involved for the collector?

We see printed items everyday, from magazines and newspapers to posters and images hot off a printing press. Although we may not be so sure of the processes involved in getting the ink onto the page to create the images and words, one thing is for sure you know there are hundreds and thousands of the same images and text on shelves in stores. From that you can soon realise the images are worth little more than a quick read and are soon relegated to waste in the case of a magazine, or a cheap frame if it’s a poster of a screen or music idol.

The limited edition print is different, it’s generally a short ‘run’ of an image often produced by a Visual Artist, with the aim of allowing more than one person to have access to their work, either an original piece or a reproduction of a major work they want to present as a print.

A small run means they produce anything from five to 25 prints, with some doing many more, I have seen a limited edition print run of 2500 in one case! I’m not sure I would want to hand sign that many…

Generally the Artist will produce an image in a specific medium, an etching, lithograph or relief print, like a Lino or wood cut. These days with digital technology and advanced high quality printers, short run inkjet prints have emerged as another medium to be considered.

Once the prints have been produced the Artist then checks the prints for consistent image quality and when assured the prints meet their standards, they then sign, number and date the works. Ideally you would see this at the bottom of the print, with the edition numbers to the left, indicating which print it was and how many were in the series, generally expressed as 1 / 20 showing this to be the first print out of a total of twenty. In the middle can be the title followed by the Artist’s signature and date.

Occasionally you will see other marks to the left, other than the edition number. Sometimes the Artist will ‘pull a print’, accept that it is the standard of image quality they want to maintain for the edition the write ‘BAT’ on the left side of the print. This is an acronym for ‘Bon a Tierer’ from the French, “Ready for the press”. Other marks can be A/P or Artist’s Proof, often produced as a gift for assistants who helped with the printing process, these still hold some value, but as it is not known specifically how many were produced, the value is often less that one from the numbered series.

If the print has been produced by a professional printing studio, the edition will receive an embossed mark showing the logo or mark of the print studio, indicating where it was produced. This is referred to as the chop mark and is only put on prints which meet both the studio and the Artist’s approval.

In this digital age however there can be devious ways to get around these finer details and make a standard print look like something it’s not. A signature can be scanned and put in a print, a watermark can be imprinted to look like an embossed mark. For the uninitiated this can lead them to believe they have something special, when in fact there may well be a few hundred of the same thing floating about with the same number.

Another trap for the unsuspecting, is the term “open edition print” allowing the “Artist” the opportunity to print as many as they like of an image, and while it might sound nice to tell your friends at your dinner party that you have an ‘editioned print’ those who know will soon pick that it’s an open edition print and really not of any major value by comparison to a limited edition print.

Of course if you just like the print and are not concerned about the value of the item then it doesn’t matter. But for those who want to know the value is there they will look out for the details.

In an age where consistent quality is just a mouse click away, printers can soon deliver a print that matches a high standard, so the buyer needs to be aware of what they are getting and how it fits into the scheme of things. If you are in doubt, consider asking your friendly professional picture framer for advice and information, after all we are here to help.

So… you have the print, you want to keep it pristine and show it to everyone, then frame it right, ensure the item will last the test of time and be professionally presented in a frame using good quality materials to look after it, at The Picture Framing Shak we can do that for you.

Steve Gray

The Picture Framing Shak

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