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Creating prints from your art work is a great way to open up your sales. But once you decided to go for it, an avalanche of options appear and you might well give up before you got started.

Printing Yourself

I have toyed with the idea of offering prints from my artworks on and off over the years. Once I even invested in a fantastic printer, a library of books on the subject and started selling my own fine art prints. I learned a lot. I also learned that it wasn't for me. I now leave any fine art printing to professional companies. Not that my prints were no good, in fact I was quite pleased with them. But the amount of work involved took me away from my easel and in the end it just wasn't worth it.

Use Print-As-You-Go Companies

But besides doing it yourself there are lots of options for artists that want to sell prints of their work. There are cheap and cheerful print-as-you-go companies that produce very affordable prints, often of 'good enough' quality. There are high-end fine art printing companies that do amazing bespoke work. And there is lots in between.

Is Your Gallery Happy With You Selling Prints?

Some artists (or galleries!) do not want to go down the print route. They figure, and they might have a point, that it devalues the original. Few owners of high end art will want to know that lots of cheap prints are going round. But others feel the opposite and feel proud that the art work they own is popular but only they own the original. So whatever you decide, perhaps check with your gallery, clients, and think about who you want to sell to.

Limited and Open Editions

Do you want to offer high end limited editions or affordable unlimited editions?

A limited edition is simply a print from an original art work that will only be printed so many times. A limited edition of 20 means that there will only ever be 20 prints made. Each print will be numbered like this 1/20, 2/20, etc and once they are all sold, that's it. The fact that there are only so many of it out there makes the print more valuable and so limited editions are usually more expensive.

Some prints of my work at the National Portrait Gallery in London

Top Printing Tips for Artists

I am no print expert, you know that. But I have learned a lot when I did my own prints and I have since used various printers for prints of my own work, seen prints from fellow artists and spoken to many artists about this. So these tips below are based on that. Do add your tips in the comments!

Photography

  • Hire a photographer/scanner, or, if you are confident with your camera and software, use a good digital camera that can provide a huge and sharp photo.
  • Ask your printing company how large a print you can get with your largest file size. Double check with other printers and your own experience. Generally, a 4000 pixel file will not print well above 80cm
  • Try to keep your file lossless: every time you save it as a jpg, it will be compressed. So only save it once, or better still, use a raw, Tiff or Photoshop format.

Editing

  • If you are photographing and editing yourself: use good photo editing software like Photoshop or Affinity Photo to edit the picture. Ask your printer what colour format/profile he prefers but most prefer simple sRGB. Check how the colours look compared to the original painting.
  • Be aware of the limitations of your own monitor. What your monitor shows might not be what the printer will produce. It might look good on your monitor, but your printing company will have a different monitor. It helps to either calibrate your monitor according to your printer's settings, or for the less technically minded, keep your monitor on its standard settings. If possible, check your image file on other computers to see how they look.
  • Always get a proof done. Order a print from your printing company, or perhaps try out a few printing companies, but keep size and cost sensible. If the colours are off, talk to your printer and see if they or you can adjust the file. Once you've got it right, the printer will often keep the file and its adjustments safe for future use.
  • If you use a ready-to-print company (like Fine Art America) make sure you check your image on different computer monitors and make sure you follows their instructions for file size, format, etc.

Pricing/Cost

  • Consider creating a limited edition: it will make the print more 'rare' and therefore worth more. Research how to set up limited editions and make sure you stick to the planned number of prints, sign and number each of them. Limited editions, however, require top quality printing from professional printing companies so be prepared to pay more.
  • Keep the value of the original painting in mind: if your painting sold (or is for sale) at $100, then there is little point in offering prints for $80. If your art sells for many thousands then a print for $10 makes little sense.
  • Consider keeping the original painting unique and one of a kind by offering only much smaller prints or a limited edition.
  • For many fans, prints are a much more affordable way to own some of your art. But don't forget the collectors of your originals!

Copyright

  • Your painting is your creation, you own the copyright. Only you can create or order prints, unless you give specific permission to others.
  • Do not change your painting in the image file: do not remove your signature or edit out a brush mark you don't like. Do not push up the contrast, or colours. Make sure the print is an exact replica of the original.
  • Sign prints outside the printed area, just under the image on the white edge. Use pencil (for some reason, this is common practice)
  • If you use a print-on-demand service who can send your prints straight the customer, you might not be able to sign. A unsigned print is not a problem, it's just that some people value a signed prints more.

Printing Companies

  • Consider using a print-on-command company, or a commercial printer as well as a fine art print specialist. If using a commercial printer see whether you can order single prints whenever an order comes in, or whether you need to buy stock. Unless you know you will be able to sell the stock, it is always wiser (but more expensive) to buy single prints per order. This way you won't end up with lots of unsold stock.
  • Use good quality matt paper: Most printers will give you a similar choice of professional photo papers. Hahnemuhle Photo Rag is a ver popular choice. Make sure it is archival, PH neutral and enhances your art work. Stay away from canvas paper unless you want your art work to look like a tacky cheap print from the supermarket.
  • Make sure your printer uses quality, archival ink. Double check whether it is waterproof and lightfast or not and pass this info on to your clients.
  • A giclee print is simply an inkjet print. A reproduction is a copy of an image. A fine art print is a good quality reproduction of an art work. Don't use words that you cannot back up. Be honest about what you are selling, which paper you are using and perhaps even what print technology and ink your printer is using.
  • Do not sell homemade prints from normal desktop printers as if they are fine art prints comparable to professional print products. Be honest in what you are selling and consider sharing the printer and the inks that are used. Many desktop printers can produce amazing quality prints, by the way!

Framing

  • Framing prints can be done in various ways, depending on taste and budget. Note that drymounting involves glueing the print to a backing board. It might not be so easy to undo this without damaging the print. Use framing hinging tape to safely secure prints to an archival backing board. Always make sure that an art work is framed in such a way that it can be undone and reframed if required.
  • A print should be framed behind glass to protect it from dirt, damp and light damage. Use a mount or spacers to keep it away from the glass. A little bit of space between the glass and the artwork helps to avoid mould growth.
 

Do You Sell Prints of Your Work?

I have created a survey for aritsts that do offer prints/reproductions of their work in order to learn what the common practices are. If you offer reproductions to your customers, please help us all by filling it in. The survey is completely anonymous.

So far the results are roughly like this:

  • Nearly half of respondents sell paintings in the $0 - $1000 price range
  • 70% creates prints on demand and do not have prints in stock
  • The majority offer either very low priced prints ($10-$50) or very high priced prints (>$500)
  • Almost half say the size of the print does not matter
  • The majority gets their prints done from online printers
  • 30% sells the prints on their own website. Others use galleries, print websites, gallery website, etc.
  • The majority sells limited edition prints
  • Most but by far not all photograph their paintings themselves
  • The majority signs their prints

I hope these tips will help you decide whether to offer prints or not. Or, if you are offering prints to your customers, perhaps you can add some of your own tips? Do leave them in the comments below.

About the author

Sophie is an artist, art historian, tutor, author and blogger. She writes on oil and pastel painting, art history and the life of an artist. She paints portraits and still life and specialises in painting drapery and lace.

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