Selling Prints Online: A Workflow for Getting Started

Sell Artwork the Easy Way

Imagine a scenario where buyers purchase your art prints online, and you don’t have to do any printing, packaging or shipping. All you do is submit an order to be filled, set a shipping address, checkout and then sit back and let someone else do all the work! That’s how order fulfillment with a drop shipper works.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well it really is in some ways, but without a set workflow that will “get the ball rolling”, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Take the email below as an example:

“I’m looking for someone to help me get started selling my originals as art prints, and I found your website. I have  40 years worth of original paintings that I’d like to start printing to sell. Since posting  photographs of my work on Instagram and Facebook I have had people asking me how they could purchase prints (I have already promised 3 that I need to print right away). I’m also looking into finding a place online like Etsy to start selling, but first I have a few questions.
I understand that you are an approved Etsy seller. Does this mean that if I sell on Etsy you will automatically print and ship my orders?
How much should I charge for my prints and what sizes sell best?
How much should I charge for shipping?
What papers sell most?
Do you provide samples of prints?
I’ll need good photographs of my prints if I am to compete with other artist websites. Do you provide these?
I can’t think of anything else right now to ask but I’m sure you will hear from me again soon. I’m very excited about selling prints of my work I just don’t know where to start.”

The last few lines of her email is extremely telling of the amount of information that one needs to digest before embarking upon a new venture or “business” of this nature.

So where does one begin? Start by establishing all of the players. For a business plan as simple as this, that’s you, the business owner, and whoever you use to handle your fulfillment.

Your Role as a Business Owner

Selling prints online using a drop shipper seems like the ideal way to sell for those who don’t want to worry about a “brick and mortar” or even inventory for that matter. Unlike other business models, you won’t need to worry about stock. You won’t have to invest a lump sum of cash into stocking print inventory (or really anything for that matter) to start filling orders for buyers. Ideally, your buyers pay you for a print, and you use that payment have their order produced and shipped.

But there’s more involved to running a successful business than just producing and shipping a product. So before we can help you with fulfillment, you’ll need to first come up with your own business strategy. This includes but is not limited to:

  • choosing an online venue to list your prints and print products for sale
  • determining the type of product/print you want to offer
  • researching costs of supply
  • testing your product
  • setting price-points for your products and services
  • creating product images and mock-ups of your product for selling online
  • establishing business policies such as shipping, returns, guarantees, etc…
  • instituting a schedule for maintaining your business (time to input orders that need filling, and order maintenance)
  • establishing a mission statement
  • researching the best way to market your products

Our Role as a Drop Shipper

While we can answer questions about our products, printing service and drop shipping and fulfillment service, we cannot offer consultations about your new business. This means that it will be up to you to research, invest and then test your business strategy. And like any other business of this nature, your supply will often come from a vendor. If your supply happens to be “on-demand” prints produced by FinerWorks, then consider us to be your vendor/supplier.

Because of the subjectivity of art, there are no correct answers to questions about the best paper to use, or what are the most popular sizes, or even what price-point to place on your work. It will be up to you, the business owner, to come up with the best business plan you can. The best way to do this is to research and connect with others who are already selling prints.

Workflow for Getting Started

Because “where do I begin?” seems to be the unanimous question among potential sellers, I’ve put together an easy-to-follow model to help you. Before you can list anything for sale,  you’ll need to first decide what products will best suite your artwork. Product research can be the one thing that makes or breaks your success and I’ll illustrate an example of this shortly.

But first, here’s a good example of how your workflow should look:

Digitize your artwork

If you haven’t already done so, either scan or photograph your artwork. Either method will require some research on your end, especially if you contract a professional photographer to photograph your artwork. Not all photographers are considered equal, and the last thing you want is your artwork translated incorrectly.

Calibrate the display on your device

Believe it or not, most displays/screens/monitors are not providing an accurate translation of colors, tones, and contrast. In fact, most of us prefer our screen brightness to be set to max and this alone can reek havoc on print results – or rather, perceived print results. We offer a calibration print, but keep in mind that this by no means offers any type of guarantee that colors on screen will print correctly. What you will really want is a professional calibration tool. A display calibration tool can be purchased used or new and can cost anywhere between $50 to a few hundred dollars. Before purchasing something like this, check with the manufacturer of your display/device to find out whether or not it will be compatible. If not, you’ll have to either change your device to something that offers better color management, or, succumb to the fact that your working “blind” and hope everything turns out okay. We strongly recommend NOT doing that as it may not reflect well on you as an artist.

Inspect the image files of your digitized artwork

There are a few reasons for this. Let’s say your originals were photographed. If you photographer knew his stuff, he set the white balance properly, shot with manual focus, and used the proper lighting to capture your art in the truest light possible (pardon the pun!). But if he didn’t get it juuust right, you’ll either have to follow up with him to have the image file adjusted or possibly even have the artwork re-shot.

Establish the optimal print size(s)

This is really important (as you’ll read later) because print sizes are based on aspect ratios. An 8×10 printed as a 10×12 will not look the same. An equal increase for width and height proportions does NOT guarantee a perfect fit.

If you are unsure about aspect ratios, simply do a mock order on our website to test whether or not your image will fit the print size you wish to offer. Our real-time preview window will update to illustrate your image as well as any potential cropping at whatever size you select. Just keep in mind that enlarging image files will require it’s own study session if you aren’t familiar with how re-sizing affects your image and ultimately your print quality.

 Choose your paper/canvas/print product type

Once you are clear on the sizes you can produce, it’s time to pick out the type of print product you will be selling. We offer starter kits that can help with this. Metal prints, Acrylic prints, framing, matting, and acrylic glazing is not something you can get samples of, so for these types of products, we strongly recommend ordering a test print before going live.

Keep in mind that some products are limited to standard sizes such as Metal and Acrylic prints. If cropping is a concern, be sure you are offering products which correspond with the size of your images.

Calculate your cost to have each print produced and shipped

Before you can set a price for your prints, you’ll need to research your cost. When you view our product pages, you’ll find access to prices and details for each paper, canvas or print product. You’ll also be responsible for the shipping cost, so get familiar with our Shipping Rates page. If you are going to offer international shipping options, take into account the higher shipping rates that will apply.

Set prices for your products

While there aren’t any designated “formulas” for determining what your up-charge should be, the best recommendation we can offer is not to under-charge and not to over-charge.  Trying to under-bid all of the other sellers will only cheapen your work, and over-charging will scare potential buyers away. Shoot for somewhere in the middle.

Create product shots for your online shop

We do not offer graphics for your shops, or mock-ups, but there are firms that do this for small fees, as well as a huge amount of resources available to teach you how to do it yourself. Just search online and you’ll find them. I’d recommend that if possible. There’s so much to say about this topic. I truly hope you put a huge amount of effort into this part because it can be both your beginning and your end, depending upon how seriously you take it. Well-composed and professional presentations of your products will be your best asset when it comes to selling online. This is something that ALL of our successful print sellers have in common – without exception.

First Impressions are Everything

I covered that in the last step, I know. But honestly this cannot be stressed enough.  First impressions are everything, so if you don’t have the know-how to create your own product graphics you may want to start educating yourself. There are tons of resources available online – some paid and some free (requiring effort on your part of course). Make sure the graphics of the products you feature online are  accurate portrayals of the prints or print products your buyers will receive to avoid potential customer complaints. Don’t phone this in, whatever you do. Literally, for every 50 Etsy sellers there’s a mother of 5 out there in her mid 30’s  whose product images rival those of high-end department stores’ websites. It’s just too easy to create amazing product shots these days to get away with pitiful ones.

Oh and for those who still don’t know, the majority of merchandise we see online is not captured with a camera. Due to technology and readily-available graphics software there’s little need to take actual photographs. With all your artwork in digital format already, it will be much easier build your own product graphics. Still if you insist on actual photos for your listings, you’ll need to invest in prints for your photos and also hire a photographer. Don’t ever hire a photographer for this unless they can provide samples of similar work and/or references.


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3 Replies to “Selling Prints Online: A Workflow for Getting Started”

  1. Wow, OMG this article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m currently developing my website and have been wondering who and how I was going to address the items you have listed here in your article. I have been using a printer who also handles drop shipping for some of his clients however I haven’t made up my mind about how I will produce my prints for the public to purchase. Your selection of materials is wonderful although your prices are higher that my current supplier but not too much higher and the diversity of products you have is far superior. Anyway thank you for this article I will be saving this for reference and probably contacting you once I establish my workflow.
    Ron Hurst
    Digital Artist

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