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Choosing Physical Print Sizes For Limited Editions

4th June 2019 Printing, Business & Sales

There are few rules that can't (or shouldn't!) be broken in the art world - if it works for your practice.

That said, after years of printing editions for all manner of artists, we've noticed a few rules of thumb for sizing prints that save time and money for print makers and buyers alike.

N.B. This article is about deciding what physical size to produce your edition prints. For our thoughts on the edition limit (i.e. how many you should create at any given size), see our article here.

Consider Your Artistic Intention

For many artists the only approach is to focus purely on planning edition print sizes that best serve the intentions of the work. For example you may have a still life series predicated on representing objects at their actual scale. Or perhaps an algorithmic art project utilising prime numbers with print sizes that match.

These are great approaches, but also arbitrary from a practical perspective. As we'll see below they may rule out some sales based on what the market actually demands - and cost you more to produce.

Start With The Original Scale

Physical artworks such as paintings or drawings on paper, canvas or other two-dimensional materials are suited perfectly to making print editions via art reproduction. Once you have a print-ready digital capture, a good place to start is with editions at the scale of your original work. The logic is that if people love an original but can't own it, they'll want the next best thing, and certainly we observe demand in this respect.

Of course you don't need to limit your editions there - you can still offer a range of sizes both larger and smaller at the same time.  If the original size of your artwork is intangible (such as with digital illustrations, photographs etc.) then the 'original scale' is irrelevant. The next step is considering what range of physical sizes is appropriate for your editions - and to do that you'll need to consider any technical limitations to the art you produce, who is purchasing your work, and how much it will cost to print.

Consider Technical Limitations

To make fine art print editions you need high quality digital files.

If your artwork is digital in nature, then this means either taking advantage of vectors (that scale up and down to any print size without pixelation), or ensuring you create bitmap/raster files (i.e. regular .psd, .tiff, .jpg etc) of sufficiently high resolution to print at the maximum size you require. For physical artworks you'll need to ensure that the digital capture process is done right to safeguard the quality of your prints (and save a lot of hassle down the line).

See our thoughts on how large you can print your file at fine art quality.

Aside from file quality, there are other limitations to physical print size. Large, finely detailed works for example can only be scaled down so far before the eye starts to lose the features that define the work. Conversely, small physical artworks can suffer from lack of sharpness when enlarged beyond a certain point. Not because of any issue with file resolution - but because optically there is only so much detail there in the physical original to be captured (imagine a pencil line that looks to have sharp edges at the original scale, but the more you 'zoom in' the more the edges become soft).

The bottom line here is that you may need to do some test printing to define how far you're happy to push your reproduction to smaller or larger scales.

Consider Your Market

Everybody loves a high quality print at large scale, but by far the most common edition prints sold range from approximately A4 to A1 in size. That's no coincidence, rather a direct reflection of the space most buyers can find on their walls.  It's also a reflection of what most art buyers in the print market can afford.

Of course it all depends on who your market is. For example if you create large format architectural photographs targeted at corporate foyers - it's unlikely even A1 will be big enough to receive interest. On the other hand if you specialise in portraiture, there's unlikely to be demand for your prints to fill walls from floor to ceiling (unless you're the official state portrait artist for Oh Glorious Leader!).

Consider Your Costs

Papers don't come in an endless variety of sizes to fit any dimension. Excess paper on non-standard sized prints generally require trimming, at either your labour, or expense. So to make cost effective edition print sizes, we recommend creating a comfortable margin within the maximum printable dimensions at standard sizes.

For example a print sized at a little over A3 ($30 per print with us) will have to be printed on an A3+ ($40 per print with us). Scaling that print down, even just a couple of centimetres would shave off $10 from each print, which may not sound like much, but can really add up with even modest print numbers.

At larger sizes the savings are more obvious. A print sized at 61 x 61cm, for example, is just a few centimetres too big to fit within our printable area on a 24inch roll. Scaling it down to 57 x 57cm (allowing for our 2cm border margin) would keep the print price at $72 (our price for a 25inch segment on the 24inch roll). Sticking to 61 x 61cm for the image on the other hand would require using a 25inch segment of the 44inch roll and cost $165. That's $93 more for just a few extra centimetres that make little difference to the visual impact of a print.  It's sensible to factor all this in to your print making practice.

Savings made from sticking to standard sizes also carries over to framing. Framing is pretty much always more expensive than printing, and particularly with custom framing things can get very expensive very quickly.  And of course, the larger the print, the more expensive the cost to frame (which can be a barrier to buyers considering it comes on top of purchasing the artwork itself!). 

The most affordable framing option for print buyers are pre-made frames, which of course come in standard sizes - such as A4, A3, A2 and A1.

So offering your edition print sizes within standard dimensions will not only keep your printing costs down, you can also pass on significant potential savings to your buyers too.

Paper Sizes We Print On

At Image Science we print on the following standard sheet sizes:

  • A4 11.7 by 8.3 inches (29.7 by 21cm)
  • A3 16.5 by 11.7 inches (42 by 29.7cm)
  • A3+ 19 by 13 inches (48.3 by 32.9cm)
  • A2 23.4 by 16.5 inches (59.4 by 42cm)

And the following roll sizes:

  • 24 inches (61cm) fixed width up to (almost) any length.
  • 44 inches (111.7cm) fixed width up to (almost) any length.

Framing With White Space

If you choose to make edition prints at standard paper sizes, you don't necessarily want to fill out the maximum printable area with your image. That's because printing too near to the edge of the page can result in an awkwardly tight fit when your print is then placed in a standard frame (imagine just a sliver of white background poking out between frame and print edge - it looks more like an accident than something done by design).

Generally a border of at least several centimetres looks more professional because it provides visual relief for the eye between the frame and the print. Allowing a comfortable amount of space for signing your works beneath the printed area is good practice too (the market loves visibly signed prints).  Sometimes this means offsetting your image vertically so there's a little more white space on the page underneath the printed area than above or on the sides.

Of course just how much border you leave is up to you as the artist, and can depend on the scale of your works - but we'd suggest at least a few centimetres around your images, even on the smaller sheet sizes.

Another way of thinking about the white space around your print is as a virtual matte.  That is, this white border on your print becomes the matte around the print - instead of using any physical matting board within your frames.

Another benefit of using whitespace as a virtual matte is it means even if your artworks have differing aspect ratios you can standardise the external dimensions of the works.  This results in a more visually appealing and consistent appearance on the wall.  Especially with prints that for a sequence or series (and who doesn't love to sell multiple prints?!) - this is a very effective and simple technique to more effectively present your work.

Using whitespace by design like this means you can ensure a minimum standard of presentation for your work after it's purchased - even with some of the very cheapest of framing options.  And if people are going with custom framing, excess whitespace can just be trimmed off, so there's really no downside to this approach at all.

Travel portfolio print by Cameron Cope framed with a virtual matte (i.e. whitespace border on the page), in a standard A2 frame.
Travel portfolio print by Cameron Cope framed with a virtual matte (i.e. whitespace border on the page), in a standard A2 frame.