If you work in a medium that can be duplicated, such as photography, digital or print work, then learning how to edition and price your work properly could be a useful way to sell.
An edition is a number of prints struck from one plate or negative. A limited edition is a fixed number of pieces produced on the understanding that no further copies will be produced later. These are normally signed and numbered by the artist to show the unique number of that impression and the total edition size.
Once you have decided on the number in an edition, you have made a public commitment to your collectors to only produce that number. Making any more than this number devalues both the works you’ve sold and your reputation – you will be seen as untrustworthy and undercutting your own market.
So what happens if you have made 5 works in an edition and they have all sold out? It’s proven more popular than you thought, and you want to find a way to cash in; you want to make more, but you committed to that number. It is acceptable to produce another edition of the work in a greatly different size or medium, i.e. if the original edition of 5 was A0 then it may be acceptable to make an edition of 100 in A5, or to make the image using a different printing technique.
You cannot price your work until you have decided on the edition number: the amount of times you duplicate the work affects the value. The lower the number of works in the edition the more exclusive and hard to get the work will be, thus giving it a higher value. On the other hand, the higher the edition, the more readily available the work becomes making the work more affordable.
Often people charge a slightly higher rate for the first and last work in the edition as they feel those works have a special significance. This is acceptable and down to personal taste, and the ability to sell them.
The numbers of works you produce in an edition is up to you, and is dependent on your objectives. If you feel like you’ve made a work that will be very popular and are keen to get it out into the world and owned by the masses, obviously it would be advantageous to produce a large edition. Likewise if you wanted to keep the work affordable but still needed to cover your costs you could spread that across a larger edition. Alternatively you may prefer a small edition to keep the feeling of a rare or exclusive work or you may have a much smaller audience and find that making a large run would be unnecessary, as you’d never sell them all.
In any case, you do not need to produce all the work at once, as you may choose to print works as orders come in. But you must not increase an edition once you have decided on the size.
How big is an edition?
For reasons lost in the mists of time, most editions tend to be odd numbers under 10 – 3, 5, 7, 9. After that, larger editions tend to go up by 5s – 25, 30, 35 – but there are no steadfast rules about this. It’s just going to be easier to work to established norms than make an edition of an ‘unusual’ number for the market.
Often, artists will write ‘AP’ on some of the edition, standing for ‘artist proof’. APs sit outside the edition number, so you might have an edition of 5 works plus 1 AP. An AP tends to hold a higher value comparatively to the rest of the edition as it is traditionally a working proof in printmaking processes, and therefore slightly different from the rest if adjustments had to be made, i.e. colour corrections or touch ups. Even though digital processes do not require these touch ups, the tradition of making APs has remained, and is a slightly grey area in terms of edition size. It should not be seen as a way to increase a set edition size.
It is good practice for artists to keep at least 1 AP of each work for yourself, as it is very easy to end up with none of your own work and, if your prices increase, no way to directly cash in on this increase in value.
How to number the edition
Numbering an edition is simple, and can be done on the front margin or back of the print as desired (front bottom corner is popular and openly advertises the work’s status as an edition). Write lightly in pencil for an edition of (say) 5: 1/5, 2/5, 3/5 etc – this would be pronounced as ‘one of five’, ‘two of five’ etc.
Specific mediums may present particular challenges for artists in relation to pricing and editioning. In this interview, moving image artist Stuart Croft (1970-2015) talks about his approaching to pricing and editioning film work.