Understanding the Basics of Selling a Print

Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night"
VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

Think about all the time and effort you put into a painting. And then the joy of selling it. Trouble is, when it is gone, it is gone, and you have to start all over again with the next work. Now imagine selling a much-loved piece over and over again, at a reduced price so that many others can share your work, with minimum effort to you and high long-term returns. That is what can happen if you make prints of your paintings. The methods available today are sophisticated and easy, with minimum outlay.

Print vs. Painting

Even though a print might not appreciate in value like an original artwork, only the buyers with the deepest pockets can buy originals, a small market to be sure. Having prints available to buyers allows artists to reach a wider audience, at lower price points. Like when writing a song, the artist sells a recording, not the tune itself. 

If you find a collector would prefer to have an original, if you create prints of the work, you can sell both. The sale of the original can fund the creation of the prints, and the work can keep selling, even after it is out of your hands.

Choosing the Right Prints

You have to be selective about which artworks to make prints of, because of the initial cost involved. Obtaining customer feedback at gallery showings or art fair exhibitions can be very helpful in choosing which to make as prints or even making greeting cards from photographs of your works and tracking which sell the best.

Giclee Printing

In giclee (pronounced gee’clay) printing, the original is scanned on a large drum scanner. If the original is too large or can't be taken off its stretchers, the artist will need to have a professional photographer produce a large-format transparency of the artwork to be scanned.

Giclee prints retain the hues of the original painting, and printers will have artists check color proofs before a print run, which can be as many or as few prints as the artist wishes. The inks used are light-fast and remain true for up to 25 years if they are kept out of the sun. Prints can be done on paper or canvas in whatever size the artist desires. A benefit of canvas prints is that they won't crease when rolled for mailing. A disadvantage of canvas prints is that the printer might have a minimum size of an order.

Product Types and Price Points

Keep in mind frame sizing when deciding what size of prints to have made for your customers. If you have a variety of sizes available (from notecards to wide-sweeping wall art), you might reach even more shoppers' price points than just reproducing the piece in its actual size. Consider also whether you'll sell them framed or without frames (or both). 

When deciding how to price the prints, take into consideration the scan cost, the product cost, and shipping tubes and other supplies. Then double the amount to come to the direct-to-consumers basic price. You'll want to figure out shipping cost in advance as well. After you've paid your initial setup costs through sales, then the cost to you is only the printing and your profit margin increases.

You can sell your prints in a variety of places, from your own website and exhibitions to local shops and galleries. You'll have to determine a wholesale cost to be able to sell them to retailers to mark up.

Creating Limited Editions

If you want to limit an artwork to have a "limited edition" print run, say 500, you don't have to print them all at once, just keep detailed track of how many have sold and order more inventory as needed. You may wish to number and sign them, so people know what number print of the run they have purchased, as lower numbers are perceived to have a higher value than larger numbers. You also may wish to send along or attach to each print a certificate of authenticity.