What are Signed & No. Prints?
I get asked a lot about signed and numbered prints by new collectors and young artists. I personally love these kinds of prints and if I can't afford an original piece from an artist, signed and numbered are the next best thing. They are much more valuable than ordinary prints (open edition), and are of a much higher caliber. So what exactly are they and what makes them so special?
what sets them apart
First of all, the name 'signed and numbered' refers to the fact that these are approved by the artist (per the artist's signature) and are limited in quantity. The artist will choose how many prints he or she will make for each piece of art in a collection. Once those prints are sold out, it's automatically discontinued. Each print is hand signed by the artist and numbered to show where it falls in the print edition. For example: if you buy the 1st print in a 200 print edition, it will be marked 1/200 (one of two hundred). If you buy the 178th print in a 200 print edition, it will be marked 178/200 (one hundred seventy eight of two hundred).
creating signed & No. Prints
Before creating a signed and numbered print, the artist will first create and approve of an AP (Artist's Proof). This will be printed exactly how the artist wants the signed and numbered prints created, and will use the AP print to decide if the colors, texture, tone and quality are right. The AP typically stays in the artist's personal collection. You can read more about Artist's Proofs here.
Once the artist has approved the AP, every print is printed in the exact same way so that each one is identical. The only distinguishing factor is the number marked by the artist in the print edition. They're printed on the same artist quality paper, with museum quality light-fast archival inks. Because they hold a much higher value than traditional prints and are considered collectors editions, each print also comes with a COD (certificate of authenticity). This is signed by the artist and states what number in the edition the print falls; which should, of course, match the number on the print.
Signed and numbered prints are great collector's items since they are part of a limited set. The lower the number in the set, the higher the value of the print (ie: 1/200 has the highest value as opposed to 200/200 which would have the lowest value in the set). Much like the first edition of a book, these prints retain their value which can increase over time. The value comes from the limited number of prints available as well as the signature from the artist, which is proof of the artist's approval and a mark of authenticity.
"Chagall did a series of prints called 'Daphne and Chloe' and those that are signed are worth 10 times as much as those that are unsigned. Otherwise, they are the same print." -Mark Rosen (former head of the print department at Sotheby's)
advice for artists
If you're an artist and you want to create limited edition prints, there are a few things you should keep in mind: Never print your signature. If you've signed a piece then go to have it reproduced, your printed signature can actually hurt the value of your prints. Especially moving forward in your career. This is because it's nearly impossible to tell if that print is a forgery (not created or approved by the artist); and anyone could be printing your artwork and passing it off as a 'signed and numbered print'. Also, signing the paper before creating the print is a bad idea. The point of the artist's signature is to prove the authenticity as well as a sort of 'quality control'. You're approving the print with your signature; if you sign it first how do you know if the quality is to par?
Another huge no-no is to print more than you originally stated you would. If you've set your limited amount of prints to a grand total of 50, but then you decide you're going to print 50 more after that (maybe because of demand) you undermine the value of those first 50 prints. This, in turn, will hurt the value of your art moving forward because it will be assumed that your 'limited editions' aren't so limited. Instead, increase the number of prints for your next piece or adjust the price of your prints.
Something to consider when deciding how many prints to make in an edition is where you are in your career. The more prints you create, typically, the less value they hold. I've seen artist print anywhere from 25 to 1,000 in an edition. If you're relatively new in your career, I recommend offering a higher number of prints at a lower price. As your career progresses and the demand for your art increases, you can start to lower the number of prints you create and adjust your prices accordingly.
Of course, this is completely up to the artist. In the beginning of your career the demand for your work is low. However towards the end, your early pieces suddenly increase in value and can very often be worth more than the last few pieces you create. So keeping a low number of prints available for your early pieces can increase their value substantially over time. It all depends on what you want out of your career as an artist.
I hope you found this helpful! If you want to start investing in artwork, but collecting original art is out of the question, signed & numbered prints are an amazing alternative. I've purchased these prints from other artists and I have started offering limited edition prints myself. If you still have questions please let me know and I'll do my best to answer them.