Printing Limited Editions

One of the wonderful attributes of original printmaking is that, once you have created the plate, you can choose how many times to print it.  More than one person  can acquire your original work because each impression pulled from the plate is an original print.  There are a variety of factors that influence the number in a limited edition of original hand-pulled prints.

Deciding on edition size

Lion, drypoint on plexiglass, ed. 5

Most of my editions are around 25.  This number was arrived at rather arbitrarily, thinking about the number of hours that go into developing a plate, and the relatively low price collectors will pay for a print as opposed to an oil painting, especially for a young artist just starting out.  I toyed with an edition of 40 and a few editions of 16 or 20, before deciding that 25 seemed like a good number.  Some plates have  a naturally limited number. Drypoint on plexiglass, for example, only holds up for about 5 prints before it loses it’s special line qquality. Drypoint on zinc may hold up for 20 oe 25 before you can see the wear on the plate.  Other plates, such as a zinc etching or a collagraph made from Masonite and acrylic medium, may physically hold up for considerably  larger editions.

There may be market reasons to increase the size of the editions.  There was a period of time during which my work was represented by a wholesaler to the design trade.  Because of the investment they would make in marketing materials (this was before the internet and easy digital reproduction and distribution of marketing materials), they needed the editions to be no smaller than 100 and and requested even larger editions of 150 for some images.  

I knew that technically this should be feasible – zinc plate should hold up for that many prints, I had been told, though I had not printed an edition that large.  My collograph plates seemed likely to be even more durable, being well coated with acrylic medium as a final coat regardless of what materials went into creatin

Anthurium, collagraph

g the plate.  That sounded like a huge number  to print, but they were willing to buy prints outright in lots of 10  or 20 at a time rather than take them on consignment, so I was willing to set larger editions for those works.   You will find a few editions from that time period that number up to 150. 

advantages and disadvantages of a larger edition

One obvious advantage of printing a large edition is that there are more impressions to sell. 

On the other hand, printing a large edition by hand is a large investment in time and materials, and requires storage space until the impressions are sold. There are “master printers” who will print the edition quite competently for the artist, in which case the print is still hand-made, but the actual impressions are pulled by a master craftsman instead of the artist. This would add significantly to the cost of production.

For me as an artist, there is often impatience to get on with creating new work rather than following through on the tedium of printing out a large edition and then having to continue to market those items.  In one case, I sold the whole edition of 150 through a dealer.  While it was exciting to sell out the edition, I spend an entire summer printing that same piece over and over, day after day, week after week.  It was, frankly, boring to ink and wipe the same plate 150 times.  That’s when I decided that one disadvantage of large editions was artist fatigue!

One way I found to deal with this conundrum is to print out only a few of a larger edition, and then protect the plate from the elements so that additional impressions might be pulled later if the first ones all found collectors.  I had concerns early on that it might be difficult to preserve the plates or to recollect exactly how I printed them, but that’s a topic for another day!  Suffice it to say that, if my edition says 25 or 100, it is very possible that only 5 or 10 have actually been printed so far.  In some few cases, only one or two were ever printed.





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