What is an Edition?

In the art world, an edition is the total number of prints or multiples produced from a single plate. Before production, the artist decides on a specific number of copies he or she wishes to make. The number of prints or multiples is therefore limited (with a few exceptions), so that no further copies may be subsequently produced. In many cases, the original plate is destroyed after the total edition has been produced. Typically, the number of the sheet within the edition is noted within the lower margins of a print. For example, if one owns a sheet annotated 17/30, one can know that he or she has purchased the seventeenth copy from an edition of thirty sheets. If the number of the sheet and the size of the total edition run are not given in Arabic but in Roman numbers, e.g. III/V, the sheet will typically be from a special edition, which was printed before the total run and is often on higher quality paper. For multiples, it is common to indicate the edition number on an enclosed certificate.

The size of an edition is often determined by the printing technique or production method chosen by the artist. For example, offset prints can be produced in long runs of 500 to 1000 copies, without loss of quality (see What is an offset print?). More complicated techniques on the other hand are not suitable for large runs—as the plate gets used, the image can be distorted, thus making it senseless to carry on the edition.

Commercial aspects are also taken into account when determining the run length. The smaller the print run, the higher the value of the single sheet or multiple. An artist who reveled in the contrary of this concept was Joseph Beuys. Out of this conviction, he produced large editions, sometimes even unlimited ones, so that during his lifetime many of his graphic works and objects were available at affordable prices.

fineartmultiple sells exclusively original limited edition artworks, and no reproductions. Every work offered has sound provenance, coming either directly from the producer—who will have produced the work in collaboration with the artist—or from a well-known gallery or art dealer. 

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Glossary of prints and editions