June 20

For Some Artists, Marketing Limited Edition Giclees Makes Dollars and Sense

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For Some Artists, Marketing Limited Edition Giclees Makes Dollars and Sense

The one thing I am not is the Pope of Prints, which means I am far from infallible when it comes to my opinions. While I make my case for open editions, I also realize there are many who still use limited editions as a viable way of getting to market and making a living at it too.
In the art business, when it comes to the subject of limited edition giclée prints, there are those who feel as strongly about using them as I do about not. While I remain opposed to the practice for most artists, I fully understand the argument for using limited edition prints from those who rely on them to complete their business.

I do not wish for my opinions on not limiting giclee prints to stand in the way of anyone who is being successful, or to deter them from doing those things that help them get to market. Rather, I applaud those who make it work. Certainly, history shows there are innumerable successful visual artists who exclusively market their work using limited editions. Still, I believe there is a better way today.

A year ago, I wrote a post titled Five Opposing Thoughts on an Art Career. and used a famous quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald to illuminate it. I find the same quote apropos to today’s post. And, once again, with apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, I offer you this thought:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

To be clear, while I have not softened my stance on using marketing giclees, or digital fine art reproductions, as open editions, I merely welcome other voices. To that end, I have summarized a thoughtful insightful retort regarding my posts on this subject and present it to you here.

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The reply comes from one of the industry’s most well regarded giclee printers, Gary T. Kerr of Fine Art Impressions LLC in Davidson, North Carolina. Let me know if you have your own opinions to add to this lively conversation.


Hi Barney,

I am always in alignment with you on your writings, but this one I would like to influence you on as follows:

We have a case study where one of my artists sold a giclee for $33,000. It has a 10 page contract stating how the buyer can hang the piece and that they have licensed only one hanging position and that the other 3 ways it can hang are considered derivative uses and not allowed. The artist attends the installation of these diptychs which are 10 x 16 feet. Now comes the edition issue… these prints are editions of 13. Question, do you think the buyer would write the check for $33,000 in these were “open” editions?

Galleries drive the decision to use limited edition giclees

The facts are it is galleries that have pushed us toward limited, not our artists. The galleries want “exclusivity.” I agree it is a coercion of value. But in this world of marketing, they (galleries) need some sales pitch for the floor, limited editions have given them that hook (albeit a weak hook today).

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Regarding later made prints being better… Not necessarily so, not in the vast majority of cases. This is due to the fact that the quality of a reproduction stems from the capture process not the quality of wide format printer technology. Files coming out of our studio can be printed on a $99 inkjet from Officemax and blow away many marketplace prints. That’s because our capture process is second to none — I’ve got the magazine articles and white papers to prove that (but I’m sure you already know).

The pace of progress on improvements in digital fine art printing has slowed

I also think we are seeing the end of era with pushing printer improvements. Getting more ink channels, DPI, and color gamut is not happening at the pace of 5 years ago. Although improvements will be made, it will be at a far more gradual pace and meaningless when it comes to improving quality greatly. The quality of my prints has barely changed in 10 years! And we have been through every generation of printer technology here. Why? Because the capture determines 90% of the quality, not the printer make and model.

And if you have all the latest gear and the artist doesn’t like what they see, who cares how good the printer technology is! The music is in the pianist, not the piano. I have the same set of golf clubs as Tiger Woods, how come I’m not in the PGA?

Again, I always find your articles and blog amazingly accurate and informative, but my response today should provide some nuance that only the guy doing it for a living may see — hope you can reasonably parse my view.


My reply went like this:

Hi Gary,

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Thank you for your informative reply. In my estimation, by virtue of your stellar reputation, you are one of the premier master giclée printmakers in the industry. As such, your thoughts carry great weight with me.

I am not the Pope of Prints

The one thing I am not is the Pope of Prints, which means I am far from infallible when it comes to my opinions. While I make my case for open editions, I also realize there are many who still use limited editions as a viable way of getting to market and making a living at it too.

As is the case in the art business, there is no one size fits all formula for making a booming career. In the many years I worked for Decor magazine, I marveled at how top selling artists could approach their marketing in vastly different ways and still manage to be successful.

Of course, I realize the collector who bought a $33,000 limited edition giclée would not have ponied up such a princely sum for an open edition. One can only imagine if the print sells for that price that the artist’s originals are well in six figures. These price points make the exception, not the norm. I would not expect any artist who commands such prices taking much interest or heed in my advice or opinions. It is emerging and mid-career artists who are most likely to benefit by following my advice. If an artist is already established, they most likely have their very strong opinions about open vs. limited editions.

Championing Unlimited Editions Is Foremost a Financial Decision

To my way of thinking, most artists will make more money from prints in the course of their career if they offer them in open editions. That is the rationale for my pressing the case of open edition prints. I want artists to be more successful and make more money. If they can be more profitable in the long run by selling more open than limited edition prints, then printers, reps and galleries also will benefit in the success.

There are those rare artists, such as with Terry Redlin, who are able to print open, limited, and mega-editions and make it all work. But, like your artist mentioned above, Terry Redlin is beyond the pale for most artists who might try to approximate the success he has enjoyed. He was there at a time when limited editions on paper were sold in the thousands upon thousands.

A New Era Calls for New Ways to Do Business

Terry Redlin’s heyday of selling 10,000+ editions is a bygone era. Today, we are dealing with a new paradigm and new market realities. The trade publications and shows are on life support. Galleries are struggling to meet the new challenges coming at them from all sides, and artists are trying to figure out what they need to reliably get their work to market and keep their sales repetitive in the process. If there ever was a time to shake up the status quo, it would be now.

With your permission, I would like to publish your email as a guest post on my blog to make your case. I always will welcome a differing perspective on important issues and think it would be healthy if others chimed in as well.

Getting more voices in the conversation can only enrich the process and make everyone think a little harder about how to utilize this wonderful print-on-demand technology to advance the careers of visual artists. Not just at the cash register, but with respect towards how they and their legacy will be perceived by their actions and decisions to employ fine art reproductions in their business.

Related posts:

Milton Glaser Post Goes Viral – A Lesson for Not Limiting Giclees

The Case for Open Edition Digital Prints – Part Two

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About the Author

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

Barney Davey

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  1. This is what I love about being an artist in the 21 century, there are so many ways that we are able to market our work. No one size fits all. We now have the freedom to do what is right for our career. The internet has allowed us not only to market our art worldwide, but also to learn of the opinions and experiences of others on matters of importance, right from the comfort of our own homes.

  2. issues: I have sold giclees prints, limited to about 6 per edition…years ago when the technology was new & novel…Honestly, after selling about 2 of the same painting, I was bored…Who cares about the money? Selling the same image more than once is boring, let’s be honest…It reeks of commercialism, formulaic-ness, mass production- everything I became an artist to avoid…By avoiding the fancy decoration of numbers & titles & signatures, we make multiple photo-mechanical prints less seductive, & that is a good thing…Ansel Adams was right…His work was out there, with no embellishment, at easy to buy prices, & you weren’t seduced by a handwritten dangler…It was what it was…The whole marketing plan of lim. ed. prints is to cover-up for the fact that they are not done by the artist themself, they are works by the printer…The act of an artist signing & numbering a photo print done by somebody else verges on fraud by itself…

  3. issues: I have sold giclees prints, limited to about 6 per edition…years ago when the technology was new & novel…Honestly, after selling about 2 of the same painting, I was bored…Who cares about the money? Selling the same image more than once is boring, let’s be honest…It reeks of commercialism, formulaic-ness, mass production- everything I became an artist to avoid…By avoiding the fancy decoration of numbers & titles & signatures, we make multiple photo-mechanical prints less seductive, & that is a good thing…Ansel Adams was right…His work was out there, with no embellishment, at easy to buy prices, & you weren’t seduced by a handwritten dangler…It was what it was…The whole marketing plan of lim. ed. prints is to cover-up for the fact that they are not done by the artist themself, they are works by the printer…The act of an artist signing & numbering a photo print done by somebody else verges on fraud by itself…

  4. issues: I have sold giclees prints, limited to about 6 per edition…years ago when the technology was new & novel…Honestly, after selling about 2 of the same painting, I was bored…Who cares about the money? Selling the same image more than once is boring, let’s be honest…It reeks of commercialism, formulaic-ness, mass production- everything I became an artist to avoid…By avoiding the fancy decoration of numbers & titles & signatures, we make multiple photo-mechanical prints less seductive, & that is a good thing…Ansel Adams was right…His work was out there, with no embellishment, at easy to buy prices, & you weren’t seduced by a handwritten dangler…It was what it was…The whole marketing plan of lim. ed. prints is to cover-up for the fact that they are not done by the artist themself, they are works by the printer…The act of an artist signing & numbering a photo print done by somebody else verges on fraud by itself…

  5. Interesting article.

    As an artist I’m against open editions for my work, mainly because I’m focusing on exclusivity, but I can certainly understand this works for other artists. If I were to create open editions, although the prices would be much different I feel the prices of my originals would not increase at the same rate. Almost all the artists I’ve studied (with exceptions) offer very affordable (many ridiculously low) originals making their open editions fill a more popular market, the masses so to speak. With limited editions as an artist you don’t reach the masses, so we could possibly be missing on that, in my case in particular I filled that void by using posters, a great solution for anyone to still collect and decorate without breaking the bank.

  6. I do agree with Fiona on being an artist in 21 century rocks!…….
    Internet = huge exposure
    Open editions of SOME artwork = great way to connect and find customers
    With Originals = I am focused on local market, but of course willing to ship anywhere..
    Lastly – I don’t do “Limited Editions” of digital prints vs. giclee – almost everybody can print these on their printers, but I do have option and if somebody wants my signature & date on their digital print I’ll do it -you can sign 200 digital prints of an image, but you don’t have to call it Limited Editions so you don’t confuse the buyers ….

  7. The debate on limited editions may never be over. But, the case for using them on digitally created reproductions as the only means to effectively get the best prices is over. I don’t think limited edition giclees are going away any time soon. If any artist is making a living using limited editions, bully for them. In the art business, there has always been more creative ways to get to market than one can imagine. Just do what works for you, and if it is not working, change it up and do something else.

  8. I’m going to come at this from a different perspective. I’m not a visual artist. I can’t draw a straight line. But I worked in the art publishing business in the 80’s, when limited editions by our artists were sold out before we could ship them out, And for healthy price points, starting above $1000.00 a print, which made everybody involved in the art publishing food chain, money. So, I’m coming at this from the point of view as a buyer and seller of art since the early 80’s. What I’m seeing today is that there doesn’t seem to be enough value in limited editions , whether they be on paper, or giclee, or whatever, to make them have any significant value, over the long haul, when compared to open ended editions. And both seem overvalued beyond the artistic merit that the work carries within it, when compared with the unique value of unique one of a kind original works of art. I’ve made money over the years buying and selling limited editions, but anything over 100 copies doesn’t seem too limited to me. Have you looked at secondary art market sales prices for limited editions? I’m not referring to the asking prices, which are absurd, and just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. . I’m talking about the selling price. Two very different things. Art that shows listing prices of multiples of thousands of dollars can’t even sell on Ebay for a couple hundred dollars. Has the market for limited edtions faded so badly? Have limited edtions lost that much value over the years? It appears so. So, as far as the difference in merit between the value of a limited edition and an open edition…WHAT’s the Difference ? Not much, as far as the actual secondary art market is concerned. Stick with buying unique originals. If you have the only one, you set the price. If someone wants to buy it from you, you have the only one. You are the market.

    Saying all that, I’m also pragmatic enough to know that other people place values on things that I see no value in. So I have have limited editions for sale on my website, as well as original paintings. But over the years, I’ve definitely moved very definitively to buying mostly, if not entirely, only unique original works of art.

  9. I have only been painting (watercolor – on Yupo, actually) for a short time and decided after much consideration that, since my pieces are heavily composition-based, detailed, and colorful in both an abstract way and realistic way, that high quality limited edition prints made the most sense (each piece takes 4 months or so). I had to learn how prints are made and the differences between image capture methods, inks, printers, and paper/canvas and then test out different printing outfits locally and nationally. My point, or comment really, is that I disagree with the idea that a reproduction of my original artwork is not my art but the work of a printer. I painted it originally with paint. And the design of the painting is 100% mine. Is a photograph not the photographers work but the camera and printer? Explain, please.

    1. It is not my opinion. It is a legal issue. Before you turn over your work to a printer, it is advised you have the printer sign a release stating all the work done by the printer is your legal copyright. See these links and do your own research to protect your copyrights. No one else will do it for you.

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