What Is a Limited Edition Print?

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What Is a Limited Edition Print?

Limited edition prints are officially created copies of art and they hold more value than unofficial reproductions.

The label ‘limited edition’ is a broad term and is used to describe different work; it could mean a new and original work of art, or a digitally created reproduction. An edition is the number of prints in a set. Traditionally this meant the number of prints taken from the same plate.

Modern artists will choose the number in a set and the edition will be limited to that number. It is important to understand the different types of printing in order to make an informed choice on eBay when deciding whether to buy a limited edition print.

Types of Prints – Traditional versus Modern Techniques

Prints are created in different media and it is essential to research them and understand the results that they produce. Contemporary artists usually reproduce their work digitally. A copy is taken from the original image and used to create exact copies.

Contemporary prints refer to ‘recent’ work and not a specific time or era. Museums sometimes define post-1945 art as contemporary. On the eBay site the contemporary category refers to 1980-Now. Older prints will fall into the modern art category (1900-1979).

Artists are closely involved in traditional printing techniques. The artist creates a copy of their original piece from which more copies can be made. For example, the artist will reproduce their work onto a plate, usually as a mirror image of the original, and then a limited edition will be produced from the plates. These are also called ‘original prints’ but they are limited editions due to the restrictions on how many copies can be made from the same plates.

These methods are now less common with the rise of technologies which have made digital printing quicker, easier and cheaper. Images are scanned and printed in high quality which makes the prints exact copies and removes the need for labour intensive involvement from the artist. This enables artists to distribute and sell their work to a wider customer base. Numbering and signing the prints will also significantly increase their value.

The following table briefly describes some of the main traditional and modern printing methods.




Lithography is a traditional method of printing which uses a smooth stone or metal plate. A grease pencil is used on it so that the ink will only appear on some parts of the stone.


The etching process involves an image being scratched into the surface of a metal cylinder. This technique will not produce identical prints because of the inking and wiping process of the cylinder.

Screen printing

In screen printing ink is transferred through a stencil by a squeegee or file blade. It can reproduce the same design without compromising on quality, as well as print in multiple colours.


Giclée is sometimes called the modern printing technique of lithography. It can use up to double the amount of colours of lithography and produces fine art inkjet prints on canvas and paper. However, giclée printing is unregulated so there is no guarantee of quality.


The term giclée was first used in a printing context in the early 1990s and is taken from the French word for ‘spraying’ or ‘squirting’. A high resolution digital scan is made of the original piece and is then printed using archival ink. This high quality ink is particularly resistant to smudging, moisture and colour fading. Giclée printing leaves no dot pattern and can also maintain the original’s tonality and hues.

The giclée technique is used when it would be difficult for an artist to mass produce their work, but also if they need many copies due to demand. Artists can keep digital copies of their work once they have been scanned and so they are available immediately to create new copies quickly and at a low cost. It also gives artists the flexibility to change the size of their work and to print onto different media such as canvas or photographic paper.

Limited Edition Prints

There are several ways that artists can mark their limited editions to retain the highest value possible for their work.


When artists make limited editions of their work they will usually sign and number them.

  • This makes them more valuable and easier to authenticate as official prints.
  • Artists usually sign in pencil and will number the prints.
  • Smaller sets of limited edition prints are more valuable than larger sets.
  • The most valuable prints are the lowest numbers of small sets, for example 1/10 would be more valuable than a print labelled 945/1000.

It is assumed that the lower a print is in the set the earlier it was made. This is unlikely to always be the case, they may in fact have been made in reverse order, but lower numbered prints are usually more sought after.


A full record of a print’s previous owners will increase its value.

It is also advantageous for insurance purposes.

Even if an official record is not available receipts or other proofs of purchase are useful.

This ownership record can help to support the print’s authenticity. A further way to ensure the legitimacy of a genuine limited edition is to check that the print is not on sale elsewhere.

What are the Advantages of Buying Limited Edition Contemporary Prints?

Limited edition prints are a great collector’s item since they are usually signed and numbered as part of a set. Limited edition prints usually retain or increase their value. However, this will depend on the artist and whether their demand and popularity increases over time. This can be a harder task to predict for contemporary prints due to their more recent nature. Therefore, prints can make a good return, but they are not always a guaranteed investment and so buyers should also consider the enjoyment value.

Five Factors to Consider Before Buying Limited Edition Prints

Buying prints from art galleries is expensive due to the cost of rent, and delivery is often not available. There are many advantages to buying prints on eBay. There is more choice on eBaywhich allows buyers to choose a piece that they want, rather than being restricted to the holdings of a local gallery. eBay has a wide choice of prints which are all covered by the Buyer Protection Scheme. The following factors are aspects to consider before buying a print online.

1. Type of Print

Research the original medium of the drawing or the painting. The type of print will determine how realistic a print will look. For example, prints on canvas and paper will have different textures.

2. Size

Check the dimensions and whether they match the original. It is also important to consider the space in which it will hang.Will it fit?

3. Quality

Check the quality of the art against the asking price. Paying below market value but still expecting top quality art is unlikely. This could include low resolution prints or a poor colour quality which has lost its brightness and will therefore look lifeless in comparison to a top quality print. However be aware that when viewing photos on a computer screen, prints can appear to be lighter or darker than in reality. The photos can also depend on the lighting when it was taken.

4. Value for Money

Research in this area is essential. Work out exactly what the seller is selling and whether it is a reasonable price. Prints can vary from high resolution professional prints to a standard photograph poster stuck to a canvas. Be sure of what is being sold and whether it is worthy of its price. Use the “Completed items” box when carrying out an advanced search for similar items on eBay.

5. Seller and Delivery Assurance

Remember to check the delivery costs. If the print is worth a lot of money ask the seller whether they will insure the print during delivery. Check the seller's rating and whether others are bidding on it. A rare limited edition print will be popular and attract interest. Do not hesitate to ask the seller any questions about the sale or the delivery.

How to Buy Limited Edition Prints on eBay

Prints are available to buy all over the internet, but the benefits of buying from eBay include access to hundreds of trusted sellers, as well as PayPal secure payment systems. This offers choice as well as protection. Read carefully over the listings that are a good match and study the photographs and details given. To answer any queries, or to have certain details clarified, do not hesitate to Ask the Seller. To buy the chosen product, either place a Bid, Buy it Now or put down a Best Offer.

To begin an eBay search for limited edition prints go to the Art portal under the Collectables heading. Then navigate to the Prints section where there are sub-sections for Antique, Modern and Contemporary prints.

Results can be filtered using the boxes in the left-hand side panel. This will reduce the number of results. Check the box 'Limited Edition' as well as in any other sections such as 'Subject', 'Condition', 'Price', 'Style', 'Medium' or 'Signed/Unsigned'. When the search has been narrowed down enough, and there are several suitable options, the search is still not complete. It is important to spend some time researching the product and gathering as much information as possible before thinking of buying or placing a bid.

There is a search box on every page and also an advanced feature where the search category can be specified. To find prints quicker for limited edition prints search in the "Art" category. For more search tips use eBay’s Search Tips page. Use key words to narrow down preferences and carefully read through the search results to check that they are suitable.

If the searches are unsuccessful then save a search on My eBay which will send an email notification when the search is matched.


Buying a limited edition print is a great way of owning art that is connected to the artist but has a significantly smaller price tag than an original. They do still hold value and if the artist gains popularity then the limited edition print may also increase in value over time.

There is a wide choice of limited edition prints available on eBay and shoppers can buy with confidence with secure payment through PayPal and all purchases being protected by the Buyer Protection Program.

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