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What Is ACEO? Art Cards Editions and Originals

Updated on May 25, 2015

ACEO Watercolour Painting. British Landscape Artist

Devon Streets, watercolour on 300gsm paper. ACEO.
Devon Streets, watercolour on 300gsm paper. ACEO. | Source


Just what the world needs - more acronyms! Was what I thought when I first began to investigate these art themes, but the more I researched, the more interested I became, and now I create my own, because I could see the point of them.

Affordable art without the snobbery factor, by genuine artists. what's not to love?

Miniatures have been around in the art world for centuries and often depicted a loved one or treasured animal. Then came collectible baseball cards, cigarette cards and tea cards, many of which are still traded and collected today, so the first ACEO were based on these ideas.


ACEO stands for Art Cards Editions and Originals. These are small pieces of art that are made to be bought, collected and traded. However, the original idea of these cards was that they should be produced and traded for free, but interest in them grew and they have now have a commercial value.

Back in 1996, the artist M Vinci Stirnemann began producing small works of art that were traded between fellow artists (Artist Trading Cards, or ATC), then Lisa Luree, began to sell ACEO on Ebay and the movement has grown. Online searches for ACEO bring up many galleries and websites trading in these little artworks.

What To Expect From Your Art Trading Card

ACEO that conform to the original guidelines for these trading cards should be 2 1/2 X 3 1/2 inches, although, some artists create larger pieces, called OSWOA. These are postcard sized pieces of art, which give the artist a little more room to work with, and which conform to slightly different guidelines to ACEO, more about OSWOA later.

Whichever style you choose to collect, they are a great way to begin collecting art, as many ACEO artists are known for the larger work they produce. However, the original trading cards are by far the most prevalent and you will have much more art to choose from.

Affordable Original Art

Apart from conforming to the set size, ACEO can be original works or prints. It's important to realize what you are buying. If you buy prints, choose ones that have a limited print run, as these tend to hold their price or increase in value due to their limited number. Both originals and prints should be signed by the artist, and prints should be numbered.

Print numbers are usually expressed as a value over the number of prints in the entire run, for example 2/25 would be the second print in a run of 25. Once 25/25 has been sold no more should be printed and if the work remains in demand, prices will begin to rise.

ACEO Materials

ACEO can be made from any artists' materials, oil paints, acrylics, pastels, pen and ink, the list is endless. The description of the work should state what materials are used and on what support. One word of caution when buying ACEO on paper supports, it's important to know how sturdy that paper is, because if you want to display or trade the work, you need it to be durable. Most reputable artists won't object to a conversation about the materials used and many will state in the description of the work whether the paper is heavyweight or not.

If you wish to create your own trading cards there are lots of pre-made materials on the market to help you get started. You can buy pre cut card or paper stock in exactly the right size, you can buy pre cut mounts to display your work, and ready made poly bags to protect it.

Because you are buying small sized stock, you can afford to buy in bulk relatively cheaply.

Why Paint ACEO

From my point of view, I use the painting of ACEO and OSWOA as a respite from my larger work. Sometimes it's just nice not to have the pressure of trying to complete a big painting. Small art is more portable, I can work at the kitchen table while family life is going on around me, rather than shut away in my studio, so I can join in with the chatter.

Undoubtedly working small is quicker than producing a large piece, but there should be no loss of quality and style. I still use my top quality materials when producing small works and put the same amount of effort in, although I sometimes use smaller pieces to experiment with different genres.

Finally, I just like the idea of producing something that is part of a collection.

How To Display ACEO

Some people like o have their ACEO out for all the world to see, whereas others like to keep their collections private. There are many ways to display these little works of art. The work should arrive with the collector protected by a plastic sleeve in any case, and it's best to leave the work in this wherever possible to protect it. but here are some display ideas:

Display Easels: You can buy tiny table top display easels for ACEO

Albums: You can buy albums with clear sleeves in the right size for ACEO

Mounting/Matting: You can mount and matt your ACEO, but it's best to choose acid-free matt board as this won't discolour and affect the work.

Box File: Some like to keep the work in it's original plastic sleeve and store it in a box-file, waiting to be re-sold or traded.

OSWOA Original Small Works Of Art

Like ACEO, OSWOA are collectible and tradeable small pieces of art. The acronym stands for Original Small Works Of Art. They have to confirm to the set size of 6 x 4", which is postcard size.

Each OSWOA must be an original, print runs are not acceptable with the exception of digital or photographic art, where a one off print is accepted as an OSWOA. Each piece should also be signed by the artist. Other than that, the art can be produced in any medium on any support. Although, as OSWOA are a little more niche, you may have to search a bit harder for stock materials if you wish to create your own pieces.

OSWOA Pastel Landscape. British Artist

Rock pool Unison Pastels on Fisher 400 paper
Rock pool Unison Pastels on Fisher 400 paper | Source

Finding OSWOA

Many artists do not use the acronym for their postcard sized pieces of work, so when you search for OSWOA online there is a bit of a poorer response. Sometimes you need to search on the dimensions 6 x 4" art to call up an artist's work.

However, like ACEO, the work is eminently affordable, collectible and tradeable.

Collecting ACEO and OSWOA

There are many ways to begin building a collection, but I would always suggest starting with pieces that you genuinely enjoy.

You could start collecting by genre, such as landscapes, fairies or Manga, or by artist. One of my favourite artists is Pamela Jones, who sells on Etsy and who produces tiny watercolour landscapes with a 1930s feel. You could collect by materials used, such as watercolour or pastels, or you could theme your collection in a more personal way, maybe only collecting red pieces, or Gothic works. Begin with pieces that make you smile.

Most of these small pieces of art are priced at under £10.00 ($15.00), which is a great price for an original piece of art work. However, expect popular artists to be selling for much more than this, especially as print runs sell out

Happy collecting!

This Artist shows the quality and effort that goes into ACEO

How Do You Rate ACEO?

How do you rate ACEO?

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    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 5 years ago from Dartmoor

      Always good to hear from you loveofnight. I'm planning to paint more ACEO as time goes on!

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 5 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      I feel as if I have been educated once again, I have been collecting ACEO off and on for some time and did not know that it had a name other than it being something that I liked and wanted.Thanks for the info and I will check you out on Etsy.

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 5 years ago from Dartmoor

      I have them on my blog and in my etsy store. This store is new, so how many is difficult to say at present. One of the artists in my 'how artists sell their work' hub seems to only paint ACEO and does pretty well with 5 - 10 sales a month. Hope this helps.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK

      Hi Georgina, I've often thought of painting ACEOs but never got around to it. I've seen them on Etsy and ebay, but I'm not sure how well they do, and how easy they might be to sell. If you don't mind me asking, where do you sell yours?