your thoughts on signing and numbering prints : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Printing & Finishing : One Thread

I recently attended a gallery that was showing a series of platinum prints by the same artists. Many (perhaps all I donít recall) were signed, dated and numbered. e.g.

February 14, 2001 3/8 Jane Doe

I was curious as to how others treat their final matted prints. I usually sign and date but had not considered indicating the print number. Is this a platinum printing thing?

How do you decorate your final matted prints?

Thanks Ė doug

-- doug mcfarland (, February 14, 2001


Numbering prints is routinely done for mechanical prints, such as etchings and engravings. The paper is pressed on the inked plate, and with each print/pressing, the original plate deteriorates. Therefore, it is of some value to know what number of a series of prints you obtain, since the lower number will be a cleaner print, and thus potentially be more valuable. The total number of prints will also indicate the relative rarity of the print. I suppose that for a commercial photographer there may be some reason to limit an edition. For most of us, it will make little sense. And the negatives do not deteriorate appreciably with subsequent printings...

-- Paul Oosthoek (, February 14, 2001.

"The great discovery that a larger profit could be made from the snobbery to which a limited edition appeals is comparatively recent, and can be regarded as one of the sequelae of the pervasion of the photographic process." (William M. Ivins, PRINTS AND VISUAL COMMUNICATION, p. 72) In other words, until the advent of photography, limited editions didn't exist--prior to that, exactly repeatable visual information was by definition limited. The key word here is "profit".

-- Ed Buffaloe (, February 15, 2001.

Doug, unfortunately [to my way of thinking] some dealers/galleries/photographers have discovered that artificially pretending to limit the number of prints, increase their sales price. I think it is a fact of life. I also think it is stupid, deceptive, and counter the 'democratic' nature of the medium of photography. As most photographers who have ever done their own darkroom work know, it is first of all highly unlikely that there will ever be an 'unlimited' number of fine prints produced by any photographer, and secondly, almost impossible to produce exact copies of a print in a darkroom.

The practice of numbering prints [as remarked above] comes from the printmaking tradition, where the plates, stones, or engravings used to make prints would naturally wear out.

I do hope many of us will be able to refrain from issuing limited editions, but I am sure the practice will continue to thrive.


-- Christian Harkness (, February 15, 2001.

I number my prints (001, 002, 003...) of each negative, but not as part of an edition (001/010, 002/100...). The edition number implies that there have been that many prints made, which is usually a lie; either they don't sell all that well in which case the edition number is never fulfilled, or they sell like hotcakes and the photographer isn't able to derive the full economic potential from his work, and many of them cheat. The first few prints, for personal use and gifts to friends, are signed but not numbered.

-- Bill Mitchell (, February 15, 2001.

One other thought, "usually" when a shooter numbers the additions, after the printing is all said and done, the negatives are usually cut so that no new additions are made... Some artsy people put a pencil line on the overmat and sometimes it looks nice but I prefer to keep it clean.

-- Scott Walton (, February 15, 2001.

David Vestal did an article in Photo Techniques (within the last year or so I think) regarding limited editions and found from his data gathering that limited edition prints actually averaged lower in price than prints which made no claim to being part of a limited edition. Just goes to show that P.T. Barnum said it best...

-- Larry Rudy (, February 15, 2001.

On the subject of signing, do most of you sign the mat or the photo itself (bottom right corner border or something)?

-- Johnny Motown (, February 16, 2001.

I refrain from signing the mat, it just looks messy. I only sign the bottom right corner, of the back of the print, with a soft pencil (depending on the surface, to ensure no damage to the front) with simply my signature, date of printing, and index number of the negative. I always hinge mount my fine prints, so this information is always available.

-- Jeffrey Haddock (, February 19, 2001.

I always sign and date the back of a print with a soft pencil. That's more for the benifit of family generations 100-200 years from now to assist them in "placing" the photo in time. I'm not sure my work will have any interest to anyone else but I hope it does.

I sign the matt board as follows:

Date Title Signature

If the matt is seperated from the print at least the back of the print has my name and date. I don't dry mount, I hinge mount and use photo corners.

I honestly think a beautifully printed, matted, framed photo should have the photographer's signature on it somewhere. I suggest looking at prints in galleries and deciding what works best for you. There are many variations. Plus pen vs. pencil of course...

I avoid signing the front of the actual print for several reasons. If I screw up the writing or spelling of something I need to toss out what had been a nice print. Somtimes my handwriting is nice, soft, and clean and sometimes it just doesn't flow and I ruin the print. Also not all pencils/pens write well on all photo surfaces. If I screw up the matt it's easy to cut a new one, and a lot less work then going back in the darkroom.

At the risk of getting flamed: My work is my art. Maybe not great art, but my art. I'm not going to apologize for signing my art.

-- Peter T (, February 20, 2001.

...ohh...and numbering prints at my level would be absurd. I'm not sure it really makes any sense at any level. IMHO.

-- Peter T (, February 20, 2001.

I mount my prints AA style (see "The Print"), that is, my window mat opening is larger than the mounted print. This allows me to precisely control the edges of the print. I also bottom weigh the border so I have room to sign and date the mat board that the print is mounted on, yet visible to the viewer. I have not been including the title on the image, although I'm considering it.

I sign in soft lead 0.5 pencil, which is easily erased with a soft white eraser without damaging the mat board fibers. Some of my clients won't accept a print without my signature. This came up recently when I gave a print away but it came back the next day because I had forgotten to sign it. Made me feel good, even if my work is only mediocre.


-- doug mcfarland (, February 20, 2001.

It's the artists bussiness and nobody elses. Each to their own. James

-- james (, February 20, 2001.

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