Amantha Tsaros, The Golden Age of Me, Acrylic On Canvas 36 x 48 in.
As a creative in a digital world, a print-on-demand service can be an important part of your business plan.
“Print-on-demand” is a service that does exactly that—handles the printing, and even shipping, of your artwork when you need it. Print-on-demand services use your artwork image files to print artwork and can then send works directly to you or to your buyers. Some sites will allow you to specify from a menu of dimensions, print material, or inks.
You can use print-on-demand to merchandise your art by printing your artwork on items like shower curtains, socks, magnets, or mugs. You can sell works by hosting them directly through sites and earn a percentage of each sale. Print-on-demand services allow you to create reproductions from your artworks, like giclee prints, that you can sell to clients for a lower price than original works.
If you are looking for an easy way to continue to produce revenue from an already created work, print-on-demand might be for you.
But, with so many options out there, where to even begin? We surveyed and spoke with Artwork Archive artists about how they use print-on-demand services. Here’s what they had to say.
What are the benefits of using print-on-demand services as part of your art business?
Print-on-demand services allow you to offer multiple price points for your artwork. If your originals are expensive, producing prints can help you create a wider network of buyers. A collector who might not be able to purchase your originals may be interested in buying a lower priced print.
“For me, print on demand is the way to go,” said artist Rodney Buxton. “Having a website like Artwork Archive is definitely the way to proceed as an artist. I use Artwork Archive to organize my artwork, exhibitions and shows, and hyperlink to my own online store where clients can purchase one of three sizes of prints.”
Selling prints of your artwork not only opens up a new revenue stream in your career, selling prints through print-on-demand services frees up your time and energy.
Since print-on-demand services take care of responsibilities like shipping and payment processing, artists are left with fewer tasks to earn this passive income.
While using print-on-demand for your art business can be rewarding if done correctly, there are some important questions you will want to ask yourself before you add print on demand to your art business.
Consider these questions and the responses that we got from artists about how to best use print on demand.
[Left] Chloe Wildering, Supposing Truth is a Woman: Question III. Digital print on Moab Entrada Rag, mounted on board, 40 x 3 x 2 in. [Right] Chloe Wildering, Philomela II, Digital embroidery, 4 x 3 in
What are some trusted print-on-demand sites?
Finding the best print-on-demand service option in part depends on where you are in the world.
Before getting started, you need to know if a print site will ship and service your region and if costs for shipping and printing translate well to your used currency.
So, what sites and services are artists using?
The most used service from our survey was Fine Art America. Artists not just used the site, but recommended it for its ease of use and overall quality. Artists wrote in that Fine Art America connected easily to their website, which made ordering straightforward.
Clare Winslow, a painter, printmaker, teacher and designer said her favorite print-on-demand site is Artistic Photo Canvas and recommended Finerworks for paper printing. “Artistic Photo Canvas is reliable, detailed, and an actual person will chat with you after you upload the image and before you have the canvas printed,” she told Artwork Archive.
“I am keen to keep my quality high because I think we should present the best work we can, even when we are having a vendor produce work for us.”
Many artists that responded to the survey, along with Lexington-based artist Amantha Tsaros, included Art of Where among their favorite print-on-demand services for open editions. “Their products and reproductions are of high quality; they have a reasonable turnaround time and excellent communication,” said Tsaros. “I like that they will brand your package with a custom sticker and there is the option to add branded tags or business cards to your orders. Most importantly, my collectors have been pleased.”
With mass production abilities, can come caveats to quality of service or materials. Users commented that Zazzle has longer shipping times and that the paper quality from Pixels was unsatisfactory.
What about local options for producing art prints?
For all the global print-on-demand recommendations that artists recommended, they also wrote in with just as many local options that they love. Smaller art printing businesses can specialize in ways online sites cannot and will often work with artists more closely to do quality printing.
One benefit of working with a local printer is that it’s easy to sign your prints before selling them. Having your signature on your work may increase its value and your credibility as an artist. Signing prints is an expected convention for artists reproducing their work, especially for limited editions where there are only a certain number of prints produced.
Another perk to working with a local print shop is the relationship you will build. You are able to build a relationship more easily with your printer with each print job, and they will remember and note your printing needs. Think of a smaller printing business as a more boutique and personal option. You will have access to wider and more specific material and quality options.
“Have a conversation with the person who is printing your work, especially if you are printing on an unusual material or manipulating the print after printing,” multimedia printmaker Chloe Wilwerding told us.
“If you want to go more local, see if there is an artist in your community who has a large format printer and might be willing to print for you for a price. Most importantly, don’t think about your print as a reproduction of another work of art. In a new medium, it’s a new piece. Let yourself respond to the characteristics specific to digital printing or the substrate you are printing on.”
Does cost equal quality?
Print-on-demand has a range of prices, but you get what you pay for.
Every print-on-demand site has different price points that can correlate to the quality of your prints. This is great, as there is truly something for everyone with print-on-demand. Whether you are creating masks, mugs, or photo reproductions of a mural—print-on-demand makes selling and buying art more accessible.
However, the price of production can correlate to quality.
Local print shops generally will cost more. Users repeatedly advised, “you get what you pay for.” So, while a big online site may work just fine for postcards, having a local option to create high-quality prints to be sold at an elevated price point is worth it.
Consider your printing price when you price your work. Paying to print can eat into your revenue. Likewise, when you host your works through a print-on-demand site for sale, your profit margin may be smaller.
Clare Winslow, Wayfinder, 4, Screenprint on paper, 14 x 18 x 0.1 in
Can you print at home?
DIY art printing at home is an art in and of itself—and a lot of work!
Some artists wrote in with pride that they embrace all parts of their art process, including creating their own art prints. However, the majority of respondents wrote in to tell us that producing prints at home was time-consuming, expensive, and a headache.
It can be tempting to create art prints at home when reviewing the costs of various print services. Be warned, a home print set-up isn’t cheap! Users told us that multiple attempts, experimenting with high-quality inks and paper, and the printer itself added up.
Not only is DIY printing expensive, but it’s a skill set that requires technical abilities. Many artists had frustrating experiences when they tried home prints. Color matching is difficult on most home printers, and even with top-notch high-tech printers, it is no easy task.
Chloe Wilwerding is one artist that has tried art printing at home. “The biggest challenge for me is scale, since my home printer only prints on letter-sized paper.” However, she has found some ways to work around the size restrictions. ”I recently finished a textiles piece using fabrics I printed on my home printer using Jacquard inkjet fabric sheets and piecing the fabric together.”
There are still challenges. Wilwerding found that she needs to do a certain amount of maintenance on the printer to get high-quality prints. She cleans all the printer nozzles and checks the alignment and paper feed every time she starts printing. Additionally, she stressed the importance of paper quality on the final quality of the print, recommending Moab Entrada Rag and Awagami Factory’s bamboo inkjet paper.
How can you ensure quality?
One of the biggest insights from Artwork Archive users was to take your time finding the right print-on-demand company. Once you find the right fit, continue to communicate with your service and ask for proofs of your work during the ordering process.
Again and again, users recommended working locally for higher value items. Local print shops not only work with artists, it's easier for an artist to find a fit that they feel good about using. One artist wrote it to tell us the value of finding like-minded printers. If you have specific interests, like eco-friendly printing, you can more easily find local solutions with shops that match your beliefs.
Seeing how a print service prints and handles your work is essential, even when you are using a big commercial print site. When you are unable to request a proof, order a print to yourself first before printing for clients so that you can vet the quality and delivery of your artworks. Your buyers will want high-quality art that will last.
“Make sure you order prints yourself so that you can experience how your prints are shipped and so you can make note of the quality of the prints to make sure prints meet your standards, ” Amanda Tsaros advised. “Are they packaged well? Is the package branding acceptable to you? Was the shipping time ok? There is a range in terms of quality and service. You want to make sure that the service you are using meets your expectations.”
How should you prep your files before printing?
“In terms of prepping my print-on-demand reproductions, I love keeping track of which digital images are offered on-demand and I can use the Artwork Archive database to store those customers’ information as well as track which prints are selling best,” said Amanda Tsaros. “I like having all aspects of my studio business in one spot.”
Your prints are only as good as your photographs and scans. If you are interested in printing using print-on-demand services, you will want to invest in getting high-quality images of your work.
Are there any downsides to print-on-demand?
A downside to print-on-demand is that you are giving over some of your control as an artist. It may be difficult to accept that a print site will not have the same investment in your art as you do or that outside factors like shipping and handling may be out of your control.
Cathy Immordino, a multimedia photographer, warns about color management with print-on-demand services, “Color management is not always consistent with print-on-demand services. I prefer to print my own editions and keep them in a flat-file, ready to be shipped.”
“In my honest opinion, I would only recommend these services for someone who wants nothing to do with the process and doesn’t care what the final print looks like.”
Immordino does say, however, that, “print-on-demand will give you more freedom to do something other than keeping track of your printing and shipments.” Printers are large and expensive she continues, “Print on demand could be good for people who don’t want to deal with the maintenance of owning a printer.”
Rodney Buxton, 20 Mule Team Canyon, Near Sunset, Archival Watercolor Pigment Print on Textured Paper, 11 x 17 x 0 in
How can I strategize for success?
While experimenting with different services is all well and good, having a mission for your print sales will help you more efficiently and successfully sell reproductions, prints, or products created from your works.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself while building your own customized strategy.
Do I want a few high-quality prints or a larger amount of lower quality and lower price art prints?
Will I be selling my prints wholesale?
Am I interested in printing on products like t-shirts or strictly on paper?
Is my goal to find a new audience for my artwork?
Another suggestion for art print success? “Choose one or two platforms to work with to make promoting and keeping track of prints easier,” said Clare Winslow. “Decide if you want to make open or limited editions, just 2D prints, or if you are open to other art items. Choose vendors based on quality, customer service, not just price.”
A good management system is an essential part of any print-on-demand strategy. By keeping all of your original print files organized, along with the production details, and sales information, you can turn your prints into a passive income stream for your art business.
Artist Amanda Tsaros stressed the importance of getting a system in place for the print aspect of your art career. “I had searched for years for the right system to keep my art studio, prints and contacts organized,” she told us. “After my first year of using Artwork Archive, I was actually excited to pay for my next year's subscription.”
The bottom line
Print-on-demand services can help you reach buyers and diversify your inventory.
Built a strong strategy for your editions from the start by getting organized with Artwork Archive. The all-in-one art business management platform gives you the tools to track your editions, clients and shows. Plus, create professional reports—like a Certification of Authenticity, that you might send along with a print!