This is my first post of any great length in a while, partly due to the fact that I have struggled over the last couple of months with my Fibromyalgia symptoms.
Selling my work as prints is something I have done before but not for a really long time. In fact it’s probably well over 14 years since I dared to mount and frame a print and put a price tag on it. In that time things have changed dramatically for photographers and artists who want to sell their work. At one time you could make a desperate plea to family and friends to buy your work, and let’s face it they are probably still your biggest fans? You could try and get your work in an art gallery, or you could sell your work through Art and Craft fairs. In more recent years we have been able to join the virtual world to sell our work. However this is not for the faint hearted. Don’t expect to set up shop, sit by and let the cash roll in. You will need to do some serious online marketing through social media. You might want to refer back to my previous blog posts on how to use social media to help you to develop an online presence with your work.
In the last two years I have dipped my toes in and out of various online selling platforms. Some of them are giant names such as Fine Art America and Smug Mug. Processing labs such as Metro Print and Print Space have also developed ways for their clients to create micro sites that can be used in your own website . Please refer back to my previous article for info on these two labs here:
Have I found the magical combination that means sales are pouring in? No! Sorry that’s the bad news. Have I worked out what I like and what I don’t like? Yes! So that’s a start as there is no point in pouring energy (of which I have very little) time and money (don’t have much of those either) in to something that just isn’t going to work. Hopefully the information in this article will help you to work out what is right for you too.
Fine Art America & Pixels.com
I looked at a lot of blog posts about making money from print sales on sites like Smug Mug and Fine Art America; they all make it sound so easy. But in reality you are competing in a very over saturated market. Please note that if you join Pixels.com it is part of Fine Art America so you are basically buying in to using the same system. You can join for free but you are limited to what you can do in that format, and you inevitably feel pushed towards buying the subscription-based service instead. The premium membership is $30 dollars a year and this allows you to embed a shop in to your own website from which to sell. I did do exactly that and made use of the HTML code that generated adverts that I could post on my site in various locations. I have to say that despite all of my efforts Google Analytics data tells me that there was very little traffic between my site and Fine Art America. Once you are set up on Fine Art America you can blog about your work, join groups, sell your work as prints and gifts. I did notice that the blogs in some cases were full of advertising and spam from some dubious members. I did complain about this to Fine Art America and received a zero response. This really turned me off the site, as they clearly aren’t monitoring properly what is being uploaded. My other real dislike of this site, and others like it is that if someone likes your work and clicks on it, the potential buyer is also shown work by other artists from across the site. So you see you really are a little fish swimming in a huge pond.
If you are based in the UK, then Pixels.com and Fine Art America out source the printing to a UK Photo Lab, one of which is Loxley Colour who I have personally used before. So you can be fairly confident that the end buyer will get a reasonable quality print. But the difficulty I find with this service is that you have your name on something that at the end of the day you have very little control over and there is always a middleman to pay a fee too.
Fine Art America pushes you to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote your work and if you set your account to automatically do an update every time you post new work you will very quickly annoy your audience.
If you scroll through the work on Fine Art America it won’t take you long to discover that the success stories are Landscape Photographers and Animal Photographers interspersed amongst a lot of Painters and Graphic Designers. It is also worth noting that a lot of Art Galleries sell reproductions of their collections on these sites and there are also a few people who have clearly breached copyright laws and stolen other people’s artwork in order to make a few pounds. My personal feeling was that this option just didn’t suit me at all. Fine Art America talks about being an Art Community! It’s not really is it? Communities are actual people who come together in a real space not a virtual one.
In the same 12 months I also started to try Smug Mug. Another professional image selling website that offer three tiers of service that it calls Memory Makers, Enthusiasts and Professionals. I bet you can’t guess which one costs the most? Anything with the word ‘Professional’ in likes to hit our pockets hard! The ‘Memory Maker’ level is really just for a home user and works the same way as other online services such as Photobox. The next level ‘Enthusiast’ is designed for serious amateurs and semi professionals who want to create an easy to manage portfolio and sell and promote their work. You can use the system as a stand-alone portfolio or you can embed it in to your own website. I did embed mine in to my site and it looked great but again didn’t really generate much traffic.
I chose this option rather than the professional because firstly the Professional level was too expensive for me to justify on a monthly basis and secondly it had features that I really didn’t need. Check out the different plans here. My plan worked out at about £16.00 pounds after converting the payment from dollars. That is quite a lot of money to invest on a monthly basis, in the hope that you will sell your work. That said I really like the design of the Smug Mug store. Their templates make it really easy to design your own store from and web portfolio and you get to set your own prices. Where I think this service works really well is for Social and Event Photographers where you can do a job and send a link to the event manager or client and they can then order all the prints they need. But if you are solely a fine art photographer this service is definitely not for you.
If you decide the you really don’t want to handle the printing and processing yourself then your other option is to use a professional lab that gives you the ability to embed code in to your website to create your own shop. Both Metro Labs in the UK and Print Space offer these services. The quality of their print services is exceptional and as they regularly service clients in the art market you know that you are likely to get consistent quality product. I have used both services and did find their prints were really excellent quality and using their HTML code to embed a store in to my word press theme did work fine but I felt let down by the fact that neither service really offered any kind of way to promote the work on social media.
Since I did my research on these two services a couple of years ago the service run by Print Space has changed a little. They have retired the creation of microsites using Print Hub and instead have teamed up with Shopify to help users reach a wider audience. I personally haven’t tried this version yet but it sounds like a tempting offer. When someone buys one of your prints from Shopify, Print Space print the work and send it out. If it is a limited edition they also provide the purchaser with an edition certificate. See this video link for more info about the service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lznUAtfTSss#action=share
The downside however is that you have to spend $29 a month on a Shopify store which roughly works out as £20 a month if you are based in the UK. With only a 14-day free trial there isn’t really much time to get anything established before being hit with shop fees. I personally feel that I would need to be generating regular monthly sales from a range of sources before investing in this offer.
Art Fairs & Etsy
My final research has taken me along the route of combining a virtual store with meeting customers in the real world. I recently joined an art community in my county with coffee mornings, exhibitions and recently a monthly art market has been established which I am going to be part of. I decided that for me being sociable and connecting with people is my preferred method. I also did some research and discovered that some artists and photographers find that by giving out business cards at art fairs with their Etsy Store details on the two methods cross fertilize. Art market visitors who don’t want to buy on the day might purchase later on and Etsy store visitors will look at your Etsy shop page for art markets you are attending on a regular basis and visit you in person to buy your work. This way also gives you the ability to connect with art buyers who are looking to buy your work to sell on in galleries and gift stores. I have personally decided this is where I want to put my energy. I have made a few sales in the short time I have been on Etsy and I feel that the art market will give me a chance to find out what people like and I can adjust my style and size of prints offered according to demand. I have also found that when I use links on Instagram and Twitter to my work the web traffic to my products on Etsy definitely increases.
Printing Your Own Work
The last time I invested any money in printing my own work was back in 2004 when I purchased an Epson A3+ printer. It was a huge and difficult beast and I can’t say I ever enjoyed printing from it. When I took some of my work in to be mounted recently by a local picture framer, he persuaded me that it might be worth revisiting the idea of printing my own work again. Thankfully technology has moved on since my old printer and A3+ printers are now smaller, cheaper and easier to use.
I weighed up the pros and cons of printing my own work and realized that if I could find the right papers for printing to a high standard then it would actually work out quite cost effective to print my own work rather than sending it to a print lab.
I recently invested in a Canon iP8700. It is an A3+ printer that is designed more for offices and home users than professionals but the price at just under £250 fitted my budget and with 6 colours I figured it was worth trying for fine art printing. I did some research on the Internet and found a few references to people using this particular model for their prints. Canon currently recommends the PIXMA Pro 10-s but this retails at around £525.00 and has a 10-ink system. I can see that this would be the most beneficial because of the 10 inks rather than 6 but I can honestly say that for now I am really pleased with the results from the iP8700. Check out the detail in the video and you will see that combined with the Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl Paper the blacks look really deep and the colours are pretty true to my original images.
While printing your own work can seem like a great way to keep quality control tight there is inevitably a high level of wastage at the beginning with a new printer while you sort out colour profiles and the right paper for your work. Initially I tried all of my work on matt papers but found that some images just didn’t work. In particular those images that I have used some high contrast effects on really did look better on the smooth pearl paper.
I did some research on papers and chose to buy some paper to test from a local company based in Leicestershire. Paper Spectrum makes a range of Photo Papers under the name Pinnacle. They suggest that their Cotton Rag paper for example can easily match some of their leading competitors but at a much more competitive price and I am inclined to agree. I compared the Pinnacle cotton rag t0 paper from Hahnemuhle and the difference between the two was very little. The Pinnacle Cotton Rag 310gsm 25 A3 sheets cost £47.99 compared to the Hahnemuhle Cotton Rag 308gsm at £71.94 for the same amount of sheets. I think that you will agree that it is a huge difference on price.
What I really like about Paper Spectrum is that they are really approachable on the phone and explained that they could create a colour profile for me if I couldn’t find the right ones on their site, but to be honest the profiles they have seem to be working fine with my printer. I have ordered from them three times so far and I have liked every product I have tested. I initially bought a sample set of papers from them so that I could try the whole range of Pinnacle Papers and I also recently purchased their cotton rag greeting cards and premium matt. In my last order I also bought some of their mounts and they were cut really well and work out great value. The combination of papers, cards and mounts from them is an ideal set up for producing fine art prints for Art Fairs and Exhibitions.
If you are planning on selling your work as both Prints and Cards there is so much to consider. Do check out the links below to previous articles on here that could help you.
Final advice! Cost everything out really carefully. Remember you need to work out your final sale price by adding everything up that it costs to make the print and the time taken to produce it. So for example it might cost you £1.50 for a piece of A3 paper, £1.85 for a photo mount, £0.30p for ink, £0.20p for a clear sleeve. Then you need to factor in the costs of retailing your work for example it might cost £30.00 for a stall at an art market, or if you are selling online you need to factor in the fees you pay to a service such as Etsy or Shopify.
Many of the products I have spoken about are available through Amazon or direct from the supplier. Please note that any comments I make about individual suppliers are my own independent reviews I am not paid by anyone to promote their products.
Contacts for Suppliers:
Paper Spectrum (Pinnacle Papers) https://www.paperspectrum.co.uk
Ilford Galerie Inkjet Papers (can also be purchased through Paper Spectrum) Manufacturer data here
Biodegradable Clear Bags can be purchased through Eco-Craft