An edition includes all the impressions published at the same time or as part of the same publishing event. A first edition is one that was issued with the first published group of impressions. First edition prints and maps are sometimes pre-dated by a proof edition. Editions of a map or print should be distinguished from states of a map or print. There can be several states of from the same edition, and there can be several editions all with the same state.

A limited edition print is one in which a limit is placed on the number of impressions pulled in order to create a scarcity of the print. Limited editions are usually numbered and are often signed. Limited editions are a relatively recent development, dating from the late nineteenth century. Earlier prints were limited in the number of their impressions solely by market demand or by the maximum number that could be printed by the medium used. The inherent physical limitations of the print media and the relatively small size of the pre-twentieth century print market meant that non-limited edition prints from before the late nineteenth century were in fact quite limited in number even though not intentionally so. German printmaker Adam von Bartsch, in his 1821 Anleitung zur Kupferstichkunde, estimated the maximum number of quality impressions it was possible to pull using different print media as follows:

500 (and about the same number of weaker images)

500 (and about the same number of weaker images)

300 to 400, though the quality suffers after the first 150

Fewer than 200

Wood block:
Up to 10,000

It was only with the development of lithography and of steel facing of metal plates in the nineteenth century that tens of thousands of impressions could be pulled without a loss of quality. These technological developments led to the idea of making limited edition prints, by which printmakers created an appearance of rarity and individuality for multiple-impression art.