Note: for the purposes of this article, the term print is limited in scope to that of giclees and/or prints produced digitally. This is distinct and separate from the traditional route of creating prints from metal/stone plates or via screen printing.
The issue of prints is particularly important to digital artists whose work must be output as a print. This has led to a new class of prints - that being original prints. Whereas traditional prints have been a reproduction of an image already in existence, for the digital artist - the print is the original.
These prints fall into two broad categories: Limited Edition and Open Edition. The difference between the two has to do with whether or not there is a cap or limit on how many prints of a given image will be created.
The art prints that I sell on my web site are all signed, numbered, original, limited edition prints. The buyer knows exactly what he/she is getting.
In the past I have sold some open edition prints on third party art/print web sites. For those prints, there are no controls - a print may sell one or a million copies. Of course an artist may pull their source image file from one of these sites once a certain number of prints have been sold, but the buyer has no assurance of that. And because open edition prints are not individually numbered, the collector has no idea which print in the series they have or how many there are in existence.
Typically an open edition print is a print that has not been personally produced by the artist, is not signed and notated, and does not come with a Certificate of Authenticity.
One may also see prints issued as both open edition and limited edition. The differences between the open edition and limited edition prints may be based on size and substrate, in addition to those factors mentioned above.
Sizes. Open edition prints are typically available in a variety of sizes allowing the buyer to purchase the print that best meets his/her needs. In addition to being available in a variety of sizes, open edition prints typically allow the client to choose the print substrate, which could be fine art paper, glossy photo paper, or canvas. The variety of options available to the collector depends on the online art gallery from which the open edition print is purchased.
Availability. Because there is not a cap on the number of prints created, availability is not an issue as it is with limited edition prints
Price For someone who is simply interested in the artwork as a visual image and is not interested in either resale value, the print's provenance, or the status of owning a limited edition print, the open edition print offers the buyer the most economical/affordable pricing option.
In the past I have purchased open edition prints when that was either the only way to acquire that art or the alternative original/limited edition was too expensive. I have also purchased limited edition prints and original art when able.
With respect to my own art, I prefer to offer limited edition as opposed to open edition prints. While I do gain by being able to sell these prints at a higher price, I also lose by placing a tight limit on how many prints I can earn income from for each work of art. I've decided that it is better to have small-edition-size limited editions and rely on creating more originals than the opposite. I believe that this course of action is in the best long term interests of those who collect my art.