Guide to limited edition prints


An Art buyer must take a few things into consideration when buying a Fine Art reproduction. Here are a few quality guidelines to make it easier to help you choose a cost effective purchase.

Before I start talking about quality, I would like to stress the importance of provenance. Of knowing where your items come from. Who produced them and who is selling them. As well as all printing details within each print’s certificate. Typically, you can buy from artists themselves, small galleries who represent them directly or commercial galleries. These last ones may buy from publishers and agents.

So always do your research and learn about your source. Always ensure it is an ethical and reputable seller that doesn’t fall short on quality. And who will pay the artist their fair share and sell you a genuine piece.

Buying giclee prints over other printing methods

Firstly, there are a variety of printing methods that will ensure longevity for your print. Giclee is the the most preferable and the method of choice by most artists. But what is a Giclee print?

A giclee print is a Fine Art standard print that meets two requirements: On one hand, it is produced with pigment inks (paint based). As opposed to dye inks (what an average household printer uses). And on the other hand, it will be high definition and well colour balanced to replicate the features and tones of the original piece. The fact that pigment inks are paint based, will make them last as long as the original in most cases. Some manufacturers of pigment inks and giclee printers even dare to claim their print will last 100 years.

But please note, that EVERYTHING will eventually fade if kept in direct sunlight for long periods of time. This is nature just doing its thing! So if you buy to invest, whether an original or a print, make sure to store your print. And not to keep your valuable piece in a sunny conservatory!

Other printing methods will not guarantee that same longevity. Household printers and toner (flyer, greeting cards and poster printing) for example do not use lightfasting inks. Therefore the longevity of a print can be often counted in weeks, specially in direct sunlight. So if you think you have saved a lot of money by buying a £3 card instead of a £30 print – be warned!

How to spot a bad print

On that note, be aware that on rare occasions, some artists may make badly or ill informed decisions. They may go for cheaper printing options to sell at cheaper prices. Overall, you must always enquire about how your print is produced. If the artist can’t tell you where and how it was printed, chances are, they are not printed to the best of standards.

Tell tale signs that will tell you it is not up to standard:

– If you look closely it looks “printed”, as in magazine printing, a lot of methods produce very small dots. If it was a Fine Art Print, the printing quality would just make it look as good quality as the original.
– Upon inspection there may be lines across that are slightly different hues, some other methods that produce printing in lines are very easy to spot (like toner printers and photocopiers).
– Sometimes the paper and the overall poor presentation will tell you when an artist has skimped on quality.
– Even price sometimes can be a tell tale sign: if you are paying £5 for an A4 print for example, it is likely a bad reproduction and won’t last. Since giclees are costly to produce.

What a Limited Edition Print should be – according to the Fine Art Guild

The best guide to buying limited edition prints, is the FINE ART GUILD. According to their website: “Limited edition reproductions are produced in limited numbers. Which is intended to make the picture more exclusive. The market price can rise over time, if demand outstrips supply. Edition sizes vary, but the size of the edition is a marketing decision and has nothing to do with the constraints of the production process”

“The Fine Art Trade Guild print standard sets a maximum edition size of 1950. But recommends that editions are kept below 850 worldwide. Most limited editions are signed and numbered in pencil by the artist. With a commitment that no other reproduction of the image will be made. People who buy limited editions from reputable sources will therefore not see that same image on greeting cards, packs of cards or other merchandise. However, this is not a legal requirement so you should check that this is the case before buying the print.”

Does the Fine Art Guild set Trade Standards?

Obviously, there is no law behind this, but ethical practise. And the Fine Art Guild sets those parameters. One must always check the certificate of authenticity that comes with the print. As this should state the total prints runs. If the print has been made into cards it should be mentioned. And if the print has no certificate, beware of its veracity.

Some artists abuse these guidelines by concealing alternative prints. Always feel free to ask if that image has been made into cards, as that is the most common breech of ethical practise.

In some more extreme cases of malpractise, artists have produced several parallel limited edition prints in different sizes from the same image (without mentioning it in any certificates). That is why it’s important to ask and observe an artist or publisher to spot those who are not as exclusive as they claim to be, as in the long run, those extra print runs will devalue your print.

Beware of Open Prints – what is an Open Print?

An Open Print is a reproduction that is not limited and can be done in any quality. Varying from “poster” quality to unnumbered (and unlimited) Fine Art Prints. Which makes them the most affordable prints to buy. But also the less valuable on the long run. As they can potentially be always readily available to produce and to buy.

Like the Limited Edition market, Open Prints can also be abused and marketed poorly. In cases such as sellers failing to provide any information that will suggest the piece is in fact a reproduction and not the original. So, when buying any artwork that looks too affordable, always ask whether it is a Print.

Open prints do not require certificates and do not need to have extra signatures to showcase the fact that it is a Print. Often only having the original signature as part of the reproduction, hence making it look exactly like an original. Some reproductions will even be done with a giclee method. Even printed on canvas and with a varnish coating to look like smooth brushstrokes. To the untrained eye, it may look like an original piece.

That said, if  you are buying artwork because you like it, then Open Prints may be the way to go for you. As they look the part at a fraction of the price. However, these prints are often produced by publishers who have purchased the image rights from the artist. Often at meagre prices, and what you are buying will not benefit the artist as much as buying Limited Edition Prints or original work. So this an angle that also needs consideration from part of the purchaser.

The collectable Retouche editions

When buying limited editions or open prints, always be aware of the existence of retouche prints. A retouche print has had work by the hand of the artist on top of the print. Be it a final glazing, a few brushstrokes, or even a full covering of brushstrokes to elevate it from the term print. Whereas a retouche is very appealing, its value should never surpass that of an original. And it should be clearly started on the piece or the price tag that it is a retouche.


This article “GUIDE TO BUYING LIMITED EDITION PRINTS” was written by artist and gallery owner Anna Ventura.

Anna holds studies in Fine Art and illustration. And has worked in the Art industry for over a decade. With a variety of roles as an artist, Art demonstrator, Arts organiser, gallery assistant and now gallery owner. from a trade perspective, dealing with publishers, artists, galleries and materials suppliers directly. She has always had a keen interest in discovering the hidden structures of the Art world. From the unspoken rules of exhibiting and selling through galleries and exhibition halls. To discovering the right product and portfolio to bring to market for an ethical Art practise. See other articles like guide to buying limited edition prints.

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