The terms 'Limited Edition Print', 'Original Print' and 'Reproduction Print' are often confusing. Printing has always been associated with the mass production of the written word or image and so the phrase 'original print' seems a contradiction in terms. Limiting something which can be mass produced also attracts a certain amount of suspicion. So, why do artists produce limited edition prints?
In printmaking, an edition is a number of prints struck from one plate, usually at the same time. This may be a limited edition, with a fixed number of impressions produced on the understanding that no further impressions (copies) will be produced later, or an open edition limited only by the number that can be sold or produced before the plate wears. Most modern artists produce only limited editions, normally signed by the artist in pencil, and numbered as say 67/100 to show the unique number of that impression and the total edition size.
In the early day of printing artists gratefully adopted various printing techniques to produce multiple images of their work, publicize their efforts and increase their income. These techniques developed separately from the technology of mass production printing. Engraving, etching, woodcuts, lithography and screen printing were originally cutting-edge technology but are now almost solely the preserve of artists who have become known as "printmakers". Durer and Rembrandt probably would not have recognized the distinction between "printer" and "printmaker". They produced multiple images the best way they could - using the best technology of the day.
These early techniques by their very nature limited the quantity of images which it was possible to produce. The physical constraints of the media used, the patience of the individuals involved and the amount of time required to print each image were all reflected in the price. Technology however moved on - and with the development of photography came the ability to reproduce images accurately and with relatively little need for the intervention of the "artist's hand". At the same time the industrial revolution, the blossoming of Capitalism and the appetite for mass produced goods left the individual artist and antiquated technology behind. Within the lifetime of the Impressionists (mid 1800's) the art world had changed dramatically.
'Printmaking' as a means of expression for the artist became distinctly separate from 'printing' . The term limited edition print became synonymous with hand crafted, labor intensive artworks of consequently of greater value.