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How to sign numbered but not limited prints?

Ake Vinberg , Sep 01, 2003; 05:11 a.m.

I am getting to the point where I occasionally sell a few prints to friends and family. I have been asked to sign and number prints, but I cannot get myself decide on a limited series. There is just no way I will commit to destroying my originals, at least not yet.

So how do I number the print? "#13", "13/--", "13"?

Signature bottom right, numbering bottom left? Sign on the mat or on the print? The latter would mean keeping a white border around the print inside the mat.


Bob . , Sep 01, 2003; 07:32 a.m.

One possibility if you are not going to produce limited editions is to just date the print, possibly with a number for the N-th print produced on that date. That leaves your options open for later and uniquely identifies the print as it is sometimes important to future collectors *when* a print was made. There have been several discussions on where, and with what, to sign a print.


Alan Davenport , Sep 01, 2003; 11:43 a.m.

There is just no way I will commit to destroying my originals

I expect there are very few photographers that actually destroy their films, no matter how "limited" the output. I don't think that's necessarily unethical, either. A limited edition of a given shot that is printed on a particular paper and mounted just so, is arguably different, and perhaps worth more, than the same shot done differently. And you don't have to limit the edition, just start numbering and keep going. If you use a limited edition, you can make it very large (5,000 prints) so you're not likely to run out soon. Or, scan and work digitally! Then when you reach the end of the limited edition you can erase the file and still have the film to rescan and start over for the next edition! :o)

tim atherton , Sep 01, 2003; 12:32 p.m.

Ralph Barker , Sep 01, 2003; 01:16 p.m.

Tim - Excellent link. Thanks.

Michael A. Smith , Sep 01, 2003; 04:18 p.m.

I have been numbering, but not limiting prints for years. On the recto (the front), I sign my name on the mat--right side. I then put the date of the negative on the left side.

On the verso (the back) I put the negative number following by the number of the print preceeded by the # sign. On the next line I put the title and the date--the date being part of the title for me.

But you can do this any way you want to. There are no rules about any of this. Do what feels right to you. But do not sign on the face of the print itself. It is tacky.

Ed Pierce , Sep 02, 2003; 01:14 p.m.

I sign and number editions; an edition being prints made in one session. If they all sell, I print a second edition and raise the price, etc.

I prefer to leave a space between the mat window edge and the print itself; it's easier for precise cropping. I use 1/2" around the top and sides, and 3/4" along the bottom. I sign the mount board below the print. On the back, I have a stamp with my name and address, and spaces for title, print #, edition #, negative #, date printed, and date taken.

Mark Muse , Sep 02, 2003; 05:59 p.m.

Ake, here is what I do:

• I always print with a hefty border to help protect the image area. This helps with handling damage. If is is a relatively small print I decide the frame size and print for the borders I want, and then do not matte - just frame and seal. I sign the print directly - lightly - in pencil.

• I sign and date on the right side, subject/location on the left.

• I do not number my prints. You could use "AP", "artist proof", or just "proof" followed by a number if you were not ready to do a formal edition but felt compelled to number them.

• On the back of the framed and sealed print I paste a laser printed label with my name, phone number, email address, and copyright information.

• My position on copyright is that the purchaser is buying an "art object." They can look at it until the cows come home, they can burn it, they can tear it into little pieces if they are so inclined. But they have not purchased the right to reproduce the image in any way. I still own the image and all reproduction rights. I might sell reproduction rights to a specific image for a specific project. But in that case I supply a file in the appropriate color space with the appropriate profile embedded in it.

Regarding editions and numbering see if you can locate a fine arts printmaker (university?). I believe there are formal rules for this.

Bill Taylor , Sep 04, 2003; 10:08 p.m.

I bought two prints recently, and the artist had a nice technique for naming and numbering. On the front was just the matted print. No names, numbers or anything. On the reverse was the artist's contact information, the print's name, and the sequence number (#6/50) and the series number (Series II) of the print.

This way the print does have a unique identifier, but you are not permanently limited in the ultimate number you can make. The buyer knows exactly where they stand in line, with earlier lower numbers being presumably better than later, higher ones. It gives the impression of being a limited edition, without actually being one. And with a little personal restraint on the photographer's part, each new Series (in the book trade this would be a new Printing or even new Edition) can be produced only once yearly, to lend a greater air of rarity to the prints. The photographer should be sure that all prints in a series are of like materials, composition, framing, exposure, processing, etc.

The prints I bought are not dated, but the date could be included in the Sequence and Series, e.g. "#7/100 - Series 2003", the way it is on $1 currency.

And many artists include a copyright stamp or statement in their name and contact information.


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