The Art Of The Limited Edition

Limited Edition Vinyl

The art of the perfect Limited Edition in music packaging.

I will cover some of the basic tricks bands/record companies do to make collectable items – and in these times where people are buying less physical music, releasing a Limited Edition is always a good trick to entice people in.

Some of these items on the list might not be too useful if you’re a small band (due to the amount of items you would have to press) and most musical success is coverage and promotion. If you can get your record into a shop, then that’s great – and from there you can use some of these tricks. There are lots of independent stores that might give you shop space – like Fopp used to (pre HMV takeover). It all comes down to who is in charge and the cut they can make on your music. If you are an up-and-coming band – local to the store and with well-attended gigs – they are more likely to help. But nothing beats the triangle of manager, promoter and distributor.

The simple tricks of the Limited Edition are
a mix and match of the following elements

Exclusive Content
For a lot of famous bands this is an option to make a limited record, putting B-side collections, demos and remixes together on a numbered edition of records. But for a band that’s starting out it is really watering down your brand. You would hope to spend the money promoting the best tracks you have – rather than sinking into the trap of trying to make every recording you have precious to your public – when really people just want to know they are getting value for money on great tracks.

Bjork Homogenic (Japan) - click image to zoom in new window

The Bonus Tracks
Ever since the record industry has faced digital downloads, the bonus track has been important. To me, it’s a rather comic affair post-2002. Before then, you would have a 12-track album: now it would be a 10-track album + 2 bonus tracks. It’s now a typical thing you’ll see on any record heading for the top ten. Pre-2002 however, Japan always used to do this by adding one more track than the rest of the world’s editions. It would routinely be the first B-side from the album’s lead single. For example, the B-side of Madonna’s single Ray of Light was Has to Be, and so it became the bonus track for the Japanese album release. Post-2002 in Japan, there have had to be more bonus tracks in order to keep up: these may be further B-sides, remixes or live tracks.

Numbered Editions
A lot of editions that are supposedly “limited” don’t mention how many issues these are numbered from – so yours could be 193 of 20,000. However it’s a simple way to make people feel they have something that others might not. Usually limited editions are under 5,000 copies. But if you look at the world of visual art, typically the high end prints made by artists don’t go more then 250 – which means they raise more money. It’s always good in those cases to mention the edition numbers, eg 143/300.

Coloured Vinyl
This was the quickest form to make your product more attractive and interesting – and has been used for as long as vinyl records have existed (I had red children’s records when I was young).  But these days I think coloured vinyl is really so easy to make that the market has been swamped. For myself, I think transparent vinyl is more interesting, but still there is a lot of that about too. Ultimately this depends on your fanbase. It is normally the hipster and indie bands that this covers. The best way to be sure is to look at comparable famous bands and see what they sell in their online store.

Morning Runner Limited Editions - click image to zoom in new window

Shaped or Picture Discs
The shaped record and the picture disc can easily turn into a disgusting design disaster if you’re not careful. Luckily I have some beautiful examples. The first is The Great Escape by Morning Runner. The illustration is by Kam Tang and the record is square so it also looked interesting: it’s a fantastic use of a bold design. Cased in a plastic wallet and then stickered with the record details. it’s very easy on the eye – especially for something in black and white. Shaped records really come in any way you can think of but they are expensive to die-cut. I have never thought of them becoming design classics. This is really an important part of any limited edition: make it beautiful.

Goldfrapp Limited Edition - click image to zoom in new window

This Goldfrapp record almost ticks every box on how to make something a Limited Edition. It has a sticky seal over the top with the record, with the track details on. You have to cut and break / void it to get to the record – so in the future the resale value of ‘opened’ – versus ‘sealed’ – editions will be affected. The record also contains a track on the B-side that hasn’t been pressed onto a Goldfrapp CD [other than one promotional disc]. Adding to this, it’s also a picture disc – and the postcard artwork is Alison Goldfrapp’s own design. Topping it off, the release is numbered in an edition of 3000 – so if you just want to shift the stock and don’t care about the charts, then this is a good way forward. However if your market is smaller, you might prefer to do an edition of 300.

(2006 UK strictly limited edition 2-track 7” vinyl PICTURE DISC including Flaming Lips remix of ‘Satin Chic’ which, in typical Lips psychedelic fashion, is named the ‘Through The Mystic Mix, Dimension, plus Alison & Will’s extraordinary version of The Ordinary Boys’ ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ as performed during their recent classic Live Lounge session on Jo Whiley’s BBC Radio 1 show, complete with Bonus Artwork Sticker!) **Limited to 3000 Copies Only** **Non-Chart Eligible**

Shaped Discs

Shaped & 3″ CDs
To anyone with a slot-loading iMac or car stereo these are useless – as they won’t load into the CD player – but for everyone with a normal tray-based CD player they are fine. They are certainly different – but for me, there’s something about shaped CDs, as with shaped vinyl, that lacks seriousness. The 3” CD is perfect for a design statement – and in Japan during the 90s they were the standard limited edition in ‘Snap-Pack’ form. But when it comes to shaped CDs I’m still at sea.

It’s also worth looking at Tom Robinson’s blog about sending promotional CDs to radio. If you are on a budget and will use your CDs to sell at gigs – as well as promotion items for press and radio DJs – then he suggests card cases with standard 5” CDs, plus bold cover artwork and tracklisting – with contact details on a sticker to the back. The sticker with the contact details mean you don’t have to print a batch of exclusive promotional cds and can keep costs down.

Portishead Etched Vinyl

Etched Vinyl
Another revival for the vinyl market comes from etching. With bands shifting back to vinyl – and all the additional ways of making something a Limited Edition – it turms a record into an artwork. In my view the more like a drawing your etching is, the more successfully it comes across. The best examples I have seen come from hand-drawn punk artworks etched onto discs – with cartoons of skulls, people, zombies etc.  It is a great way to really bring comic-magazine style punk artwork line drawings to life.

From Engraving/Etching to Embossed
Embossing can be expensive – like engraving – but done well it can look great. Some nice examples below:

Embossed Sleeves

Emiliana Torrini’s limited release for Lifesaver was a 7” record in a bag with sleeve. She also added dried pressed leaves and hand-signed each record. I forget how many of these she said there were but her autograph was getting more simple as they went on. However the sleeves were printed professionally. There are other ways I’ve seen this done – like bands printing artwork in black and white, then painting blobs of colour over the top.

LoAF Records CD Release

Additional Items / Adding Artwork
LoAF records add posters or artwork to their releases. Postcards used to be the thing to give away with CDs but these days when you order a physical record online you also get a digital download code – also included on a card inside the sleeve, for those who buy the vinyl at gigs.

The Freebie
In a limited edition of 20,000, Björk gave a CD away to the members of the Björk fan club as soon as they subscribed. It was a simple promotional tool to get people to sign up – in the same way many bands offer a free MP3 for people who join their mailing lists. Now you can do the same thing with “Pay With A Like/Tweet” offers on Facebook and Twitter. Giving away “exclusive music” normally means a demo or remix that isn’t part of the commercial release so that bands don’t lose a sale on iTunes.

Bjork 1997 Fan Club Release - click image to zoom in new window

A lot of numbered edition releases that are intended to become collectable have a paper seal over the edge of the sleeve – which you have to break in order to get to the music. Since there will be fewer unbroken copies in the future, these will then be worth more.

Things Done Well – LoAF Records
LoAF Records have been releasing 12” packages with a twist. There is a cardboard 12” square backing inside a plastic cover. Attached to the front of that bag is another ‘sticky back bag’ with a cd or vinyl inside. Then – screenprinted over the top of the plastic and card – is the name of the release with the tracklisting. The posters are also very interesting and they are normally of rather good artists, bringing a good combination of art and music together.

LoAF Records 12" packaging - click image to zoom in new window

A suggestion of order amounts and suggested charges for vinyl
Source: Jan 2014
Price List - click to zoom image in new window
click price list to zoom in a new window


Robjn is a musician and artist who resides in Cambridge. The thoughts are his alone and are moderated.


  1. Tom

    Robjn, what is your surname so I can reference part of this article in my dissertation please?

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