Making Prints and my ROI
As a digital artist, making and selling prints is a no brainer. Figuring out the best way to do that takes a lot of trial and error. So let's explore what I've been doing and why.
First, we'll start with Printers. Many people I follow on TikTok have great printers and are doing high quality prints at home. Would I like to do this? Absolutely. Not just because it ends up being cheaper to make the print itself, but because I wouldn't need to wait for a delivery before an event or order multiple prints at once to make the pricing work out in my favor. The freedom to do one and be done is enticing. So at-home digital inkjet printing is on my to do list, and when that time comes another blog entry would surely follow.
So I outsource my printing. These are the companies I reliably return to:
Shutterfly - There are always a ton of sales and coupon codes floating around, so with some finagling you will get an incredible price. As far as quality goes- it's impeccable. I'm a huge fan of their Pearlescent prints for my larger sizes (11x14). Even though the shimmer makes me happy, it's pretty invisible behind a plastic sleeve or in a glass frame. It's also hard to photograph, but when you see them in person, they are impressive. Their matt prints are also great. Effectively, this is my go-to printer.
Printful - When I want to print large Tarot images, or for Print on Demand services, I use Printful. Their matte posters have a lovely velvety texture and great detail. Prices are more expensive, but the best part is their integration. Orders placed on my online store automatically go to Printful, who prints it, packages it, and ships it out all on my behalf. As far as making prints to sell in person, I use them for larger sizes. Particularly, their 12x18 prints, as that size is not available via Shutterfly and it's a great 4x scale print of my tarot and oracle card illustrations.
MPix - I tried to use them for my Eros Tarot and Goracle prints, but they refused because they are a "family business." I support their freedom to refuse me service, but that's why I haven't tried them again. I was interested in their white labeling (they ship the print to my customer and make it look like it came from me), but Printful already has me covered in that department so it wasn't worth revisiting.
Let's discuss pricing. I feel like there is a general agreement on the prices of prints, as you'll see some consistency any time you walk through artist alley at a convention.
Let's start with an 8x10 (a very common size). You'll usually find it for $15 or $20. What goes into this print? Materials wise, you've got the print ($3), the sleeve ($1) , and the backing board ($1). Please note these prices are generous estimates. This comes to about $5 worth of material for, in my case, a $20 sale. When pricing things, the general rule of thumb is materials x2 equals your wholesale price, and wholesale x2 is your retail price. That's how I end up with $20 for my digital prints.
Back when I first started, I decided that 5x5 and 5x7 was really the way to go. This was a huge mistake. Lowering your retail price does NOT translate to more sales. When it comes to a print, your customers will make their decisions based on the image, not on the price of the image. So pick a size that makes the best sense for you. I noticed that as soon as I added matts to my smaller prints, customers started buying them more readily. This also got factored into my pricing because it really made the small image look more important and bigger. Matting a 5x7 to an 8x10 will have much more presence in your booth and on the customer's wall.
So at this point in my career, here is the pricing structure I use for my Unlimited Digital Prints (all sizes in inches):
- Small: 5x5 or 5x7 (with 8/10 matte): $15
- Medium: 8x8 or 8x10 (with or without 11x14 matte): $20
- Large: 11x14, 12x12, or 12x18: $30
Regarding how sales have been, let's take a look at a report of my market sales over the last 12 months:
- Small: 11
- Medium: 27
- Large: 6
*This data is only based on in person sales at markets. It does not include prints ordered along side Kickstarter projects, from my website, or via consignment from local stores.
Based on these numbers, the medium size is definitely the best selling size. That's not to say the large ones are a waste of time- they are what people see at a distance and bring them into your booth. You'll just need to hold on to them for a bit longer than the other prints.
Let's talk about packaging. I mentioned the pricing of sleeves and backing boards a bit earlier. For each print, you'll want it to be in a sleeve and you'll want it to lay flat. If you show respect to your products, customers will see that and feel like it's a product worthy of respect. If it's flimsy and looks like it's been rolled up and thrown into a bin, people will expect a cheap price. Another vender at a recent Artist Alley had asked if I wanted to do a print swap. To not be rude, I agreed. All of her prints were bigger, but the paper was thin, the quality was spotty, and they had no backing boards. The print immediately curled and got smashed when I tried to put it away. No bueno.
I recommend committing to no more than three sizes at first. Like I did, I have small, medium, and large. Therefore if I buy a 50 pack of 11x14 sleeves, I know I can fit both matted 8x10s and unmatted 11x14s in that same sleeve. It gives you flexibility when deciding which pieces to print. The sleeves and backing boards I buy tend to be from Golden State Art on Amazon.
You also don't want to get more than 5 prints of a single image in the same size at once. It may be the best thing you've ever drawn, but you'll get batter at it as you work on your art and will quickly be making better pieces. I've got a lot of early prints that I should throw away because I no longer consider them to be up to my standards.
It's okay to throw away prints that you are no longer proud of. You can still use the sleeves and backing boards.
For the prints themselves, I slip in a business card and add a label to the bottom left. These sticker labels are printed at home on a thermal printer. I feel that this label, which costs no more than 1 cent to print, adds a level of official-ness and perceived value to the print.
Meanwhile, the price is handwritten on a removable adhesive label. It's not the prettiest, and I really should do better, but I know I often switch out what is in the sleeve so I need to make sure I'm using something removable.
I have the thermal printer, so I'm sure there's a good solution out there for me. I just have so many left from the pack that I'll wait until I start to run low.
I also add an adhesive hang tag to many of the prints. When I'm showing art in public, such as at a brewery or selling at a market, my prints are my biggest items, so hanging them in a way that they can be seen from a distance is paramount. In lieu of original paintings, these are what draw in the customers. These tags allow me to non-destructively hang the prints that are for sale. This tiktok video shows off my display before I added these tags; when I was still using binder clips which, while pretty, did dent the mats.
My smaller prints go in a folding table-top print rack. Customers love flipping through prints, so I make sure to put it at the edge of my booth or table space and within reach of passerbys.
I hope this provided some useful information to some of you. I'm not an expert in all things prints, but I am expert in the path I took to get where I am. Please let me know if you have any questions.
P.S.: Giclee is nothing but a fancy word for any digital print that won't fade over time. Most prints can be called Giclee if it helps your sales.