How to Sell Limited Edition Prints as a Photographer

Tutorial

At some point in time during your photography career, you will probably decide to start offering limited edition prints of some of your best work. It’s a good idea to sell your prints as editions because it’s the way you can court collectors and galleries to purchase or represent your work.

Knowing that there are only a limited number of prints and sizes available increases the gravity of the buying task.

There are a few components to creating limited editions that both galleries and collectors want to envision when purchasing, how many prints are in the edition, what they are printed on, and that they are signed and dated suitably. Here are some factors to consider.

How Many Prints to Produce in the Edition

Deciding on what size your edition run will have has no hard and fast rules. It’s entirely your choice. You’ll have to consider how many you think you can sell; also knowing that once the run is sold out – that’s it! There are no more.

Another factor to include in your decision is how are you making the prints. If they are fiber-based prints that you do in the darkroom, you may want to have a smaller edition for those since they are time-consuming and a challenge to create. If the prints are created at a printing service using archival materials to create the prints, you should do the print run all at once.

Don’t forget, you can label the first prints when you finally got the print looking exactly like you wanted as Artist Proofs. These can fetch a higher price than the numbered editions.

Remember that a smaller print run indicates an exceptional value to the buyer.

Whatever you do, don’t breach the trust of the gallery or collector and go back on your word and make more prints than you originally decided for the edition. It will quickly devalue your work and your reputation will suffer.

Choose What Sizes to Offer in the Edition

If your edition run only has five or ten, you may want to sell different sizes in the edition. That doesn’t mean you should offer everything from 4×6 to 20×24 prints. Pick three to five at most. When doing multiple sizes in a print run, it allows you to lower the price some and reach a broader audience. The choice is yours.

Choosing a Printer

The next thing you’ll want to start researching is finding a printer that can deliver the highest quality prints. You may be fortunate enough to find a printer in your area or you can find photo printing services that specialize in creating high-quality, archival prints. If you have networked with any other fine art photographers who are selling editions, you may want to ask them where they get their prints done.

You might also get lucky and find a printer that can do both the printing and will ship directly to your client. Sure it will cost extra, but it will free up more of your time so you can get back to creating photographs.

Some of the things you might want to look out for when finding a printer for your photos are:

  • The type of printer and pigments they use.
  • The various photographic papers and finishes they offer.
  • Who are some of the clients that they create prints for?

One well-known printer posts a list of some of their clients and it reads like a who’s who of the greatest photographers known today!

Labeling your Limited Edition Prints

Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to sign your prints keep using that same method for all of them. This isn’t just a matter of where to place your signature on the print, but also adding the title and edition numbering.

My suggestion, when creating your prints, is don’t make a borderless print of the image. A full bleed print will leave you no place to sign and don’t sign on the actual image! Signing directly on the image will result in a discoloration of the ink that could affect the print in that area making an unsightly stain. Print your image so there is a border around the image and leave a larger border (approximately twice the size of the other borders) at the bottom. It’s in this space that you can now begin your labeling.

In the left bottom corner outside the image start with the edition number. Those are expressed as a fraction like 1/10 which means this is print number one of an edition of ten. Then in the center write the title of the piece; then lastly, on the bottom right, your signature. Now if your prints can’t accommodate that information, then sign the back of the print in the bottom right area with the same information.

If you use a matte finish paper then your signing can be done with a soft lead pencil. If you are using a semi-gloss, or glossy finish paper then you’ll need something that will make an indelible mark that will also not affect the achievability of the paper. My recommendation is the Staedtler Lumocolor Permanent fine-tipped marker.

Keeping Records of Your Editions

Keeping track of what editions you have out, who purchased them, and how many are left is important. It’s also important to record who purchased a print and what was its number in the edition run. Especially if a gallery has some of your editions. You’ll want to keep them updated on what you’ve sold from the same edition run they may have in their inventory.

You’ll need to keep track of how many prints in each edition you have sold. Thankfully, any of the spreadsheet programs that are cloud-based or purchased will help you out tremendously. You can track them all on one spreadsheet with the columns laid out something like this.

  • Purchaser’s Name
  • Title of the Image: Self-explanatory or you could create a unique numbering system for each print and record that.
  • Size of the Print
  • Edition Number: 2/5 or 1/10, etc.
  • Payment: Here you can record if the transaction has been paid.
  • Delivery Status: Here you can mark if the print was picked up, delivered via courier or post or if it was through a gallery.

The other method is to do a spreadsheet for each edition. That would then eliminate the need for the Title of the Image column. You can set up your spreadsheet, or if you’re old school your ledger book, whichever way works best for you.

Where to Sell Your Prints

Your Website

If you have a website, that’s the first place you should start to put your editions up for sale. If your website provider offers e-commerce options that will make it that much easier. When you put them on your website provide as much information as possible about the image, how many are in the edition run, how many sizes, the material it’s printed on, and the type of print it is.

Social Media

Social media is the next logical channel to sell your work. I think it’s safe to say that it’s a must for almost every business to have a presence on social media. Which ones you choose is up to you. Investigate each and check if they have a sales channel built in that you can utilize.

Facebook and Instagram both have ways to sell products through their platform.

Art Galleries

If you have art galleries in your area, you should approach them to see if you can sell your work there. Most galleries have a gift shop and even an area where artists can sell their work on consignment. Look around and see what kind of art they are selling and what are the price points.

Art Fairs

Art fairs are a great way to sell your editions to serious collectors. If you live in a smaller community, the art fairs may lean more towards a craft sale than an art fair. The art fairs in the bigger cities have high fees for their display booths but they also attract more than the average person who wants to look at art. They market to galleries, curators, publishers, and art buyers in the region who will come and look for artists they can represent or commission.

Online Galleries

There are also online galleries that will sell your work. When researching them, read everything on their website carefully. Look at the work they represent. Check the quality of the art. Are the artists selling editions? What services do they offer; not only to the artist but to the buyer?

Some of the better online galleries I’ve encountered have art advisors that can help the buyer find what they are looking for. Investigate their return policy and check the reviews from people who have purchased from them. I’ve seen online galleries that also take commissions for the artists they represent. The buyer picks the artist from their roster, sends in the specs of their commission, and the artist will send them updates on how the work is progressing.

Print On Demand Sites

Print on Demand websites are very popular because you don’t have to worry about order fulfillment. You upload your high-resolution image, pick the sizes you want to offer, price them and the service will take it from there. They will print and ship the work to the client. Some services will even accommodate limited editions.

Do your research when looking into these types of sites to sell your work. Check their policies when it comes to returns, refunds, and shipping. Find out what you’re responsible for and what they will cover.

Local Businesses

There are lots of local businesses that would love to show your work! Hair salons, coffee shops, restaurants, and professional offices. I think this is a great way to get your work in the face of as many people as possible when you’re just starting. Many artists don’t put a lot of thought into hanging their work in a business as they would if you were in a gallery, but they should.

You should curate pieces that will suit the space you’ll be hanging in. Also, you should have an agreement, in writing, that outlines who is responsible for the work should it be damaged. If the business wants the art moved you should be contacted to do the moving; also include how long the work will hang for. I think that the last one is important because if the work stays there for many months without selling, you have essentially decorated their place of business for free.

Have An Exhibition of Your Work

An excellent way to showcase your work and sell your editions is by having an exhibition at a gallery. Start locally, but also have a look at some of the galleries in the major metropolitan areas. Develop a body of work on a central theme or idea and once you’ve found a gallery to submit to, follow their submission guidelines, which are usually on their website.

Once your opening date is secured you’ll want to make sure you send out press releases to the media in the area. Ask the gallery if they have a mailing list that you can include a promo piece in and if they know of any art buyers and curators that you can invite to the vernissage. When everyone arrives be sure to try and meet as many people as possible. Seek out the media people and those in the art business. There’s nothing like meeting them in person so they can get to know you and your work better.

A good idea is to have a catalog printed of the images in your exhibit. This is great for the potential buyer who doesn’t want to make an impulse buy. They can take the catalog home and peruse the work at their leisure and can make a better buying decision.

Limited editions are a great way for you to reach a new audience with your photography rather than just selling mass-produced reproductions. You’ll create a new revenue stream, increase the perceived value of your work, and you can sell at a higher price point.


P.S. Be sure to also read my guide on how to price your fine art photography.


Image credits: Photos from 123RF

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