My personal rules for limited edition prints

seventeenth street

Seventeenth Street, 1991, by Nancy McIntyre

water-base silkscreen with 96 colors

edition 65 plus 7 APs

24 1/4 x 19 1/4″ image on 30 x 22 1/2″ Arches 88 Silkscreen 100% Rag

With new technologies being introduced on a yearly basis, one of the most perplexing is the way technology and artistic expression have become intertwined. It can be both good and bad. Although I have utilized both to a satisfactory conclusion, it did not come without some degree of confusion. None more so than the options provided to reproduce flat art. These are the images applied to portable flat substrates such as paper, wood, canvas, etc.


Specifically, the printing of art in multiple copies or editions of a singular piece of work. As a fan of the more traditional ways of creating art, I personally place no real value in what you can print on a commercial press (offset, digital or web). These are the presses that print brochures, catalogues, POP, stationery, packaging and so on. As an experienced visual communicator, commercial printers are indispensable for those products and have used them my whole career.


For an artist who has spent time creating only one painting, he or she may feel like a commercial printer will not fulfill the artist needs for quality reproduction. The artist may decide to go the route of a giclée high-end digital art printer. These high-end large format printers purport to have excellent color reproduction and longevity. I have bought one or two myself and I am completely satisfied with the results. However, I don’t expect that it will have any value outside of my own personal enjoyment. It was one of 500 copies. Officially, it is a limited run. At 500 copies, you may question what is the cut-off for a limited edition. Also, what value is there really for that amount of prints. Say the print was 60.00 for an 16 x 20 print on high quality archival grade of paper. That would place that artist painting if he just sold that at $30,000 dollars. Size does matter in art. A 16 x 20 inch painting in the contemporary art period may not command $30,000. That’s a pretty good take for an artist.


Many of us in the art world will not sell a painting for that much at that size. With galleries getting up to 40 percent of the take, a high end art print edition might be a way to go, especially if you can sell all of the prints. What if you did sell all of the prints. That would be great and a sign that maybe more could be sold if available. Would there be the temptation for the gallery or the artist to print more? If so, how would you the art buyer feel about the value of your work in this scenario?


Limited edition printing for fine are reproductions has no rules or governing body. There are no rules for substrate quality, number of colors for a high end press. Some will say it starts at 8-colors. Some fine art dealers have printers that go as high as 12 colors. And, what quantity constitutes limited runs? And lastly, what is that worth to you the buyer to have a reproduction instead of the original?


With these factors in mind, my personal rules for limited editions are as follows:

  1. It has to be hand pulled. Not digitally printed. It all about the craft. If the artist was breaking a sweat washing screens and pulling a squeegee by hand, dry pointing an image on copper or plexiglass, using a huge stone and turning a press wheel by hand, cutting into a sheet of linoleum or wood with blades that can take out a finger or putting on an apron and gloves because ink and chemicals are being slung everywhere, then you’ve got my attention. Signed and numbered by the artist.
  2. Substrate. Is the paper going to last a lifetime. Most 100% cotton paper meet this criteria. There are not doubts that new long lasting papers are out on the market that may last 100 years or more.
  3. Very limited editions. Less than 200 would be ideal but not a deal breaker. If your going above that, you might be using a machine or the artist stamina is off the charts. Just saying.


When it comes to the art I enjoy, I have a few rules. The image used to illustrate this topic meets all of the criteria and then some. However, don’t let my idiosyncratic nonsense influence your way of viewing and purchasing art. Art has no price limit if you are that jazzed about the image. I’ve purchased all kinds from traditional hand-pulled prints to high-end fine art giclée prints. It’s fun and makes for great conversation or even reflection. You may be lucky enough to collect a value added work that will appreciate over time. I welcome your thoughts or experience about this topic.

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