Art Collecting 101: Originals, Editions, and Reproductions


While art is ultimately about the visual impact it has on you and your environment, there’s also so much to discover in its bones. In this multi-part series, we’re diving in to help you choose what’s right for you, and why (spoiler alert: it depends!). First up: originals, editions, and reproductions.

Simply put, an original work of art is one-of-a-kind. It was created once, and by the nature of its materials and production method, for example a painting, it can’t be exactly re-made ever again. The mark of the artist’s hand is usually most immediate and apparent in original artworks.

However, depending on the medium some artwork is naturally created in the form of an edition. The work of printmakers, including etchings, lithographs, and hand-pulled screenprints are pulled from a plate, stone, or screen multiple times to form an edition. The distinction between a print and a reproduction is whether each and every print in the edition is created using the same process and materials. A limited edition of 100 lithograph prints is comprised of 100 lithographs, pulled 100 times.


On the other hand, a reproduction print is created in a different medium. For example, a painter may release an edition - or an open edition - of prints of the painting, which are produced in a different medium. The edition does not contain 100 paintings of the same subject. Rather, there remains one unique original (for example an oil painting on canvas) and 100 reproductions created using a method such as giclee printing on archival paper. With an open edition, the artist does not put a limit on the number of reproductions.

Though the term “reproduction” may make you think twice about the value or integrity of an artwork, this technical term actually encompasses a vast range of meanings. Look for high-quality, archival materials like thick, sturdy paper, or even metal, which will resist wear over time. A reproduction can also offer the artist an opportunity to experiment with finishes or embellishments, giving each new work a unique twist.

If you’re not quite sure the form of an artwork that’s caught your eye, never hesitate to ask the artist or gallerist. Asking questions doesn’t make you uninformed; it makes you inquisitive and conscientious. And like any professional, artists are happy to share their work with those who take the time to understand it fully.

by our resident fine art expert, Laura Staugaitis