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Creating Limited Edition Posters and Prints

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This post is part of a series called Poster Design.
Interview With Travis Price
Create a Japanese Ukiyo-e Style Print

Have you ever wanted to make your own limited edition prints and posters, but weren't sure where to start? In the following article you will learn about various ways to print your designs and how to package and sell your creations. Let's take a look!

Getting Started

If you want to make posters the first thing you have to think about is your audience. What is your natural drawing style? What kind of audience does your style appeal to? Once you know these two things you'll be able to chose a theme for your posters and prints. It seems fairly straight forward, but it's easier to make a coherent set of designs if you draw in your own style.

Once you know your style and audience, it's time to think about the number of designs you'd like to create. Sketching out a few thumbnails is a great way to plan designs that will work together as a set. Sets of posters look great on walls and in portfolios. In the image below you will see an example of how posters with different designs can be tied together as a set.

Robert Wise Print Set by Phantom City Creative

Method and Medium

There are many different ways to print posters, such as Silk Screening, Giclee Printing, Digital Printing, Photographic Reproduction, Lino Print, Lithography and Letter Press. Two popular ways to make limited edition prints and posters are Screen Printing and Giclée Printing.

Screen Printing

Screen Printing is a technique that uses a mesh screen stencil to make a printed image with ink. Various layers of stencils are used to make a multi coloured image.

Silk Screen Printer - Photo by Arne Meyer

Because Screen Printing uses mixed pigments to make the prints, the range of colours and finishes are almost limitless. Silkscreening has the capability to add metalic, fluro and glow in the dark inks and specialty foil finishes. The drawback to this method of printing is that the more colours and specialty finishes you use, the more expensive the printing becomes. If you have the budget, this is a great way to print posters, especially limited editions and colour variations.

At the end of this post you will find some Vectortuts+ tutorials on how to make Silk Screen seperations using Adobe Illustrator. You can also find information on how to make your own Screen Printer via Instructables. If you plan on making complex designs it's ideal to pay for a professional service to make the screens, this will ensure that all of the layers line up in the print machine.

If you don't have the time for either making the screens or printing them, search for printing services in your local area. This option may cost you some extra money, but if you don't intend to make screen prints in the long term, then this will save money on equipment.


Giclée (zhee-clay) is a form of inkjet printing that uses archival colour pigments. Giclée prints can be made on canvas, cotton and other specialty papers.

Giclée Printer - Photo by Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Giclée prints are archival quality so they're guaranteed to be colourfast for up to 50 years. Before you export your file, check with your printing service to see if they use custom colour profiles. If you're not required to use a colour profile, exporting your file in RGB will ensure that the Giclée Printer will interprit your colours correctly.

Files for print are commonly exported as CMYK, this is for offset printing which uses CMYK inks. A Giclee printer uses up to 12 different inks and converts RGB files via its own colour management software. RGB is ideal as it has a larger color gamut and can produce more vibrant colors than CMYK.

Giclée prints are ideal for complex multi coloured images and reproductions of traditional media and photographs.

Extra Details

The planning doesn't end with the design and medium. If you intend to sell your prints (either online or via local shops) then you need to think about the finishing touches.


Signatures are an important part of limited edition prints, especially if your file is digital. A signature shows that the person who created the design is also the person who created the print. Remember, you don't want to show people how to forge your signature, so making up a special signature for your artwork is a must!


Limited edition prints should be numbered. If you're using Giclee printing, you may wish to print in batches and keep the initial costs down. Always keep a record of your numbering so you can avoid selling "double" numbers. Some designers will reserve the first 5 to 10 prints to be sold framed.


Embossing is perfect for making your prints extra special. It's also a great way to avoid counterfit printing. Although most of us won't have the same trouble with counterfits as big-name artists, there's still a stigma associated with digital printing that some buyers are (often unneccesarily) concerned with.

Embossers will cost a fair amount of money but if you do some research you can find places that will sell them a bit cheaper than others. Etsy and Ebay are good places to start. If you want to purchase an embosser, make sure you find one that will accomodate the paper nicely and allow some extra space for framing. Most cheap embossers are used for envelopes and won't have the space needed for them to be used on prints.

Dive by James Jean

Cellophane Bags and Postage Packs

If you intend to sell your prints online, it's good to invest in some packing materials. Cellophane bags, rigid cardboard envelopes, and postage tubes are all essential for posting prints. You can find them in a variety of sizes and can often get a discount for bulk purchases. Again, try Ebay or Etsy, or look in your local directory for stockists.

Limited Edition Vs' Open Edition

Limited edition is a small number of prints that are signed and numbered by the artists. Open edition prints may also be signed by the artist, but they're not numbered and can be printed as many times as desired. The advantage of a limited edition of prints is that they can be priced a bit higher than open editions because of the print limit, they're also seen as being more valuable than an open edition. Open editions are suited to smaller scale prints, or prints that are part of a large set. I would recommend that you have a mix of open and limited edition prints so that both segments of the market are covered. Open edition prints are also good for the times when the limited edition prints sell out. If you're running an online store, you should always have items in stock.

Storefronts and Commissions

There's two main ways to sell your prints. One is via an online store and the other is in local shops. Online stores will cost you money either by charging a fee for listing a product or via a subscription. You need to factor these costs into the price of your print. Be prepared to market your online store, via email, blogs or social networking, so that you can make enough sales to cover the cost of your online store. If you only sell one or two prints over a three or four month period, you will find it hard to balance the books.

Alternatively, you can approach local retailers and ask if they will sell your prints on commission. Commission is where a retailer will display your products and take a fee from each sale they make. A typical commission is around 20 - 30% of the sale price. Commission is a great way to sell your prints without having to market them, just remember to adjust the retail price to accomodate the commission you pay.

The Renmen Project - Online Poster and Print Shop raising money for UNICEF


Okay Boss

Okay Boss takes advantage of modern printing techniques and illustrates in full color for Giclee printing.

Tara McPherson

Tara McPherson has a signature color palette that is perfect for screen printing.

Alex Trochut

Alex Trochut's brilliant use of illustrative typography shows that not all posters have to be image based.


Scrojo is a professional at poster design and creates posters for a range of bands and events and stays close to the traditional gig poster style.

Cricket Press

Cricket Press use a limited color palette to make eye catching posters with clever themes and a great use of texture.


Lerms takes inspiration from Cubism and blends hand rendered typography with a vibrant color palette.

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