What is an edition?

What is an edition?

At Avant Arte, limited edition artworks are our bread and butter. As with many good things, they come wrapped in jargon. Read on for a quick fix summary of everything you need to know to start collecting.

6 min read

section of a collaged lithograph in vibrant primary colours

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Why do artists make editions?

An edition is a set of repeated artworks – from prints and sculptures to collectibles and NFTs. Though made together, the artworks in an edition are not necessarily identical. Depending on the materials and processes used, small variations can occur. This, paired with the artist's involvement and traceable authentication, is what sets an edition apart from a simple reproduction.

For artists, editions present the opportunity to take their practice in new directions, offer more collectors a chance to own their work, and to underpin sales of original artworks with a more consistent source of income.

An installation became an edition when Yayoi Kusama began selling mirrored balls from her Narcissus Garden at the 1966 Venice Bienalle

A lithograph by Robert Rauschenberg created for the Met Museum's 100th anniversary in 1970 – one from an edition of 4,569

Printmaking has played a part in visual culture for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In 1960s New York, artists put repetition and reproduction at the core of their work – turning to industrial processes and mass-manufactured objects. Andy Warhol made celebrity silkscreens in his chrome-wrapped studio. Robert Rauschenberg lifted text from newspapers, and photos from glossy magazines. Yayoi Kusama sold mirrored plastic balls for $2 each until the 1966 Venice Bienalle expelled her for doing so.

Today, edition making continues to offer fertile ground for exploration. Many of the artists we collaborate with cite the influence of these experiments – from happy accidents to obsessive iterations – on the work they make next.

Why do Avant Arte make editions?

We believe editions hold the key to our ambitions for making it radically more accessible to collect art. Beautiful artworks, lower prices, and more to go round. In tandem, we love helping artists try new things – to make things they've always wanted to make. Many of our editions tread uncharted territory for the artists who create them.

Available to buy for 24 hours only, a time-limited edition of signed silkscreen prints by Ai Weiwei gave 1,285 people the opportunity to collect his work.

Much like art itself, editions aren't limited to conventional materials. In support of the New York City AIDS memorial, Jenny Holzer filled 25 glass pharmacy jars with slogan-baring condoms.

How many artworks are there?

Edition size lets you know how many artworks will be produced – or minted, in the case of an NFT. The 'limited' in limited edition means that no more than this number of artworks will be made. For the majority of editions, this limit is set before the artwork goes on sale. For a time-limited edition, edition size will be based on the number of collectors who buy the edition during its window of availability. An open edition, by contrast, is open – meaning there is no limit to how many artworks can be made.

An edition of 8 in marble and bronze by Joakim Ojanen

Generally, each artwork will have an edition number – expressed as a fraction like 3/8 – to signal its position within the edition. Some collectors prefer the edition number to be low, while some try and collect their lucky number. Many don't mind at all.

Knowing the edition size gives you a sense of your artwork's rarity and, in the case of limited editions, confidence that its value won't be undermined in the future.

Where does the price come from?

Much like an original, the price of an edition will be largely dictated by the demand for artworks by the artist who created it. As ever, bigger and more complicated works will command a higher price.

However, when making an edition several new factors come into play. Larger editions are generally priced lower. The medium (what the artwork is made from) and associated production costs will also be considered.

What about hand-finishing?

In some cases, artists will add unique details to their editions by hand. Objectives vary. For Scott Kahn, hand-finishing allowed him to recreate the texture and depth of his oil paintings. Gisela McDaniel used personal artefacts – shells, beads and trinkets – to imbue her self portraits with meaning. Guimi You added celestial bodies in 25 different configurations to the sky of her Californian seascape.

When each artwork is totally unique, we move beyond the scope of an edition. Art can be difficult to categorise, and in some cases distinctions are blurred, but that's all part of the fun.

Gisela McDaniel hand-finishing an edition of self portraits using acrylic paint, shells and beads

Scott Kahn hand-finishing one of his prints, leaf by leaf, in oil paint

Proof of what?

You'll likely hear or see the word proof in the context of art editions. This refers to test prints or extras that fall outside of the stated edition size. Early proofs will often differ from the final artwork, but may be retained for archival purposes.

An artist's proof (AP) or printer's proof (PP) matches the final artwork and will be kept by the artist or printmaker, respectively. Artist's proofs are not usually sold. More often, they are archived or gifted to friend's of the artist. The number of APs tends to be limited to 10% of the edition size, which makes them covetable on the rare occasions when they are available to buy – and encourages us to make friends with artists.

How are editions authenticated?

From stamps and signatures to certificates and NFTs, there are many ways that an edition can be authenticated. All of them help to verify an artwork's provenance. Most Avant Arte editions will include at least two modes of authentication. For example, a print is often signed by its artist and accompanied by a separate certificate of authenticity (COA).

Ultimately, the quality and complexity of editions should make them difficult to fake, but a little peace of mind never hurts.

Angel Otero signs prints from his edition Broken Record

Bespoke authentication measures on a time limited print by Tom Sachs

What does the future hold for a limited edition artwork?

At times overlooked or misunderstood, editions can be as much part of an artist's legacy as their originals. Found not only in private homes, but in the permanent collections of institutions around the world and – more recently – on the blockchain, limited edition artworks have an ever-growing breadth and impact. If you'd like to start or grow a collection, you're in the right place. Take a look.

An experimental silkscreen by Christian Rex van Minnen, printed in 34 seamless layers, makes a strong case for editioning as an art of its own.

Questions about editions or collecting?
Email us on collecting@avantarte.com.


Edition · A set of identical or near-identical artworks in any medium.

Original · In the context of art, 'original' refers to a unique, one-of-a-kind artwork.

Reproduction · An umbrella term for any recreation of an original artwork. Unlike an edition, there is no need for an artist or their estate to be involved.

Edition size · The number of individual artworks that make up an edition.

Edition number · Unique to each artwork, denoting its position within the edition it belongs to.

Time-limited edition · In this case, edition size will be based on the number of people who order an artwork during a preset window of time. After this window closes, the edition size will be set and production will begin.

Open edition · An edition with no set size, meaning that more artworks can be produced at the artist's discretion.

Hand-finishing · Details added to some or all of the artworks from an edition, one by one – making each them unique and increasing their value.

Proof · A version of an editioned artwork that is not part of the final edition. This can include both prototypes, and additional copies of the final artwork.

Artist's proof (AP) ·  A proof of the final artwork generally kept by the artist for archival purposes. In most cases the number of APs will not exceed 10% of the edition size.

Printer's proof (PP) · A proof of the final artwork kept by the printer or producer who created it for archival purposes.

Certificate of authenticity (COA) · An official document that accompanies an editioned artwork and verifies its provenance – usually stamped and/or signed by the artist.



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