How to Sell Limited Edition Prints as a Photographer

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.

The difficulty of buying a print increases when there is a finite number available.

Collectors and galleries want to know the components of creating limited editions. These include how many prints there are, their printed material, as well as whether they have been signed and dated appropriately. 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. You can choose what size edition you want. It’s up to you how many copies you are able to sell. Also, keep in mind that the sale ends once it’s over. There is no other.

Another factor that should be considered when making prints is the process. You may need a smaller number of prints if you are making fiber-based prints in the darkroom. These are difficult to make and time-consuming. You should run the entire print run if the prints were created by a printing company using archival material to make the prints.

Don’t forget to label your first print when it looks exactly as you want. They can be more expensive than the numbered editions.

A smaller number of prints indicates a higher value for the buyer.

Whatever you do, remember to respect the trust of collectors and galleries and not make any changes. It will quickly devalue your work and your reputation will suffer.

Choose the Sizes of the Edition

If your edition has only five to ten copies, it may be possible to offer different sizes. That doesn’t mean you should offer everything from 4×6 to 20×24 prints. Choose three to five prints at most. When doing multiple sizes in a print run, it allows you to lower the price some and reach a broader audience. You have the option to choose.

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. You might want to inquire about the printing services used by fine-art photographers selling editions.

You might be able to find a printer who can print both and ship directly from 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 important things to consider when looking for a printer for 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 is to not make an image that has no borders when printing your prints. Signing on the image with a full-bleed print is not an option. If you sign directly on an image, it could cause ink to bleed and leave a visible stain. Your image should be printed with a border around it. At the bottom, you will need a bigger border that is approximately twice as large. 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. Next, write your name and title in the middle. If your print cannot accommodate this information, you can sign the print’s back in the lower right corner with the exact same information.

If you are using matte paper, you can sign 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 Track of Your Editions

It is vital to keep track of which editions are out and who bought them. You should also keep track of who bought a print, and how many were left in each edition. Especially if a gallery has some of your editions. Keep them informed about what editions you have sold, especially if they also have copies of your editions.

You’ll need to keep track of how many prints in each edition you have sold. You can use any spreadsheet program that is cloud-based, or bought to help you tremendously. With the columns set up like this, you can keep track of them all in one spreadsheet.

  • 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. This would eliminate the need to add the Title of the Image Column. Your spreadsheet or, if you prefer, your leger book can be used to set it up.

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. It will be easier if your site provider has e-commerce capabilities. 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. It’s obvious that social media is a necessity for most businesses. It’s up to you which ones. Investigate each and check if they have a sales channel built in that you can utilize.

Facebook, Instagram offer ways for you to promote your products on their platforms.

Art Galleries

If you have art galleries in your area, you should approach them to see if you can sell your work there. Many galleries offer a gift shop, and an area for artists to sell work. 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. Art fairs located in larger cities charge high prices for display booths, but attract more people who want to see 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. Take a look at what they have created. Be sure to check the artist’s work. Do the artists sell editions of their art? Which services are they offering, not just to the artists but also to the buyers?

Some of the best online galleries that I have seen offer art advisory services to help buyers find the right product. Investigate their return policy and check the reviews from people who have purchased from them. Online galleries often take commissions from the artists that 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. Upload your image and choose the size you wish to offer. The service will then take care of the rest. They will print and ship the work to the client. Limited editions can be accommodated by some services.

Do your homework before you go to these sites. 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! There are many local businesses that would love to show your work, including hair salons and coffee shops as well as professional offices. This is an excellent way to showcase your work when you are just beginning. 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. You should contact the company to arrange for the removal of the artwork. Also, you need to specify how long it will be up. The last is crucial because, if your work hangs for many months and doesn’t sell, it will be a free decoration.

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. You can start locally but you should also look into the larger metropolitan galleries. 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. Make sure you meet everyone when they arrive. 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. It’s great for potential buyers who don’t wish to buy on impulse. The buyer can bring the catalogue home to peruse and make an informed buying decision.

Limited editions allow you to market your photography and not just sell mass-produced copies. This will create new income streams, enhance the value of your work and allow you to sell at higher prices.

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

Image credits: Photos from 123RF