How to make art prints

How to Make Art Prints: The Ultimate Giclée Printing Guide

Here you can learn everything you need to know about how to make art prints to a professional standard from your home or studio. You can make prints of artwork that you created in just about any medium on any kind of surface.

It’s possible to take the whole printmaking operation into your own hands. By investing in supplies that have an initial expense and doing everything yourself, you can save money and time in the long run.

In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through what you need in order to make your own prints and how to create professional quality art prints that you can sell.

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How to make art prints: The printing process

How to make art prints

In summary, the printing process involves first creating a digital file of your artwork. To convert an artwork to digital format, you will need to either scan it or photograph it. Make sure you are using a camera that takes photos in RAW format and in high resolution. The higher the resolution of the image, the more leeway you’ll have when it comes to choosing the size of the print.

Using an editing tool like Photoshop, set the dimensions, resolution and colour profile of the artwork. Adjust how the artwork appears—you could add a border, adjust the lighting or edit out any blemishes.

Then you will need to set up your printer and send the print file. It’s a simple process, but you have to make sure you have the correct settings and that you can set the document up in Photoshop properly. I’ll walk you through each step later in this guide.

How to make art prints, what are the options?

There are several ways to create prints yourself. You can choose to outsource steps in the production process. For example, you could hire a photographer to take professional quality photographs. If you have a scanner or DSLR and good lighting in your workspace, hiring a photographer won’t be necessary.

You can also opt to outsource the giclée printing, by working with either a print service or finding a local printer. Some of the larger print services offer printing giclée quality prints, plus the fulfilment of the artwork to your customer. If you want to take the whole process out of your hands, this is a great way to go about it. Saatchi offers this service. Choose to print yourself if you can afford the upfront cost of a fine art printer.

Making your own prints vs outsourcing printing and print on demand

If you’re not sure whether to choose to work with a printing company, or print yourself, first weigh up the pros and cons of each.

There will be options that suit some artists, that wouldn’t suit others. For example, if you’re just getting started on your art selling journey and you haven’t yet amassed a following on social media, it could work for you to use a print fulfilment service like Saatchi. They will print and deliver products and also market your art for you. This way, it would put your art in front of visitors to their website and take the printing process out of your hands. This will give you more time to focus on creating art and growing your own audience.

For more established artists, making a print run with a quality professional printer may work out as a better investment. You would have to pay the initial upfront cost of the prints. It’s better to do it this way if you already have a customer base. This is so that you will make a guaranteed profit from your investment. Having the prints made by a professional and keeping the stock yourself gives you more flexibility with the prints. For example, you could hand over some prints to a gallery or shop. Or you could take them to an art show or fair if you are exhibiting.

On the other hand, if you have the money to invest in an art printer up front and you want full control over the printing process, printing yourself may be the best option. It can work out cheaper in the long run if you sell enough prints. You will also have to learn how to photograph, edit and print the prints to a saleable standard.

Making your own art prints: pros and cons

Pros

  • Complete control over the finished product. You will have control over quality of the print, appearance, packaging etc
  • Control over profit margins (usually higher than if outsourcing printing)
  • Access to customer list (with some fulfilment services, you don’t get to talk to customers)
  • Flexibility to create a unique product (i.e. use a specific paper or custom packaging)
  • Choose what to do with the stock: i.e. selling through a gallery or shop, or selling at an event

Cons

  • High initial set-up cost: you have to buy the printer, scanner (or camera) and editing software
  • High cost of ink and other supplies (although they work out as cheaper than outsourcing as they are bought in bulk)
  • You will have to maintain and fix equipment if it breaks
  • Delivery will be handled yourself which can be time consuming
  • Equipment takes up space
  • It can take time to learn how to use printing equipment

Outsourcing printing and print on demand: pros and cons

There are two kinds of print on demand services. If you want to go down the route of selling limited edition giclée prints, choose a printing service that prints on high quality archival, acid-free paper and uses pigment inks. The cost of this type of printing service will be higher. Then you can find print on demand services that print on posters, canvases and other products. If you use this type of service, you may not be able to advertise your art prints as giclée or fine art, but it’s still a great way to sell reproductions of artworks.

Pros

  • Some services like Saatchi provide exposure for artists. Anyone who uses the Saatchi website could stumble upon your art, it expands the audience of artists
  • Saatchi run weekly featured collections, artists who are featured will have even more eyes over their work. The online gallery also runs Facebook and Google ads, so you could potentially benefit from their marketing campaigns
  • For fine art print on demand services like Saatchi, the printing process and delivery process is handled by the printmaker. This is essentially passive income, as all you will have to do is notify your customer when the artwork has been delivered
  • Artists don’t have to store inventory. Prints should be stored in a clean dry, protected space and interleaved with acid free sheets
  • You’ll have more time to focus on making artwork and growing your collector base, rather than printing and packing orders

Cons

  • Profit margins can be low with some providers. Print on Demand companies charge for printing, shipping and take their own cut
  • Less control over shipping
  • Some print fulfilment services allow artists to customise packaging by adding their own logos but some put their own logos on packaging
  • You may not get access to your client list

The best places to sell prints online: Print fulfilment services

Saatchi Art

As well as being able to sell originals on Saatchi, you can also sell prints. All you need to do is upload the artwork and make open edition or limited edition prints available. They will be printed and shipped by Saatchi. The quality of the prints made by Saatchi is excellent, with vivid colours and thick paper. Saatchi use a giclée printmaking process with pigment inks, so all prints are made to an archival standard and won’t fade over time.

Artists can also opt to print on canvas with Saatchi. This offers an advantage to collectors who want to hang a piece on their walls without having to frame behind glass

Artists can choose to sell open edition or limited edition prints. If you choose limited edition, once the print run has sold out, the product will be set as unavailable and people won’t be able to buy any more. However, the exclusivity of the limited edition increases its inherent value. This means that often artists value limited edition prints higher. They have step by step guides on their website instructing artists how to upload and sell prints on Saatchi.

Saatchi have a minimum print cost for both paper and canvas prints. You can choose how to price them as long as they are higher than the minimum. The prices are on the more luxury end of the fine art scale, with a lot of the listed artwork priced quite highly. But this is reflected in the quality.

Fine Art America

Fine Art America offer a print on demand service and print artworks on various substrates like paper, canvas, metal, tapestries and more. Artists upload images of their artwork, then choose which products they want to sell. When a customer orders, Fine Art America prints and delivers the order straight to the customer’s door.

There are two different account options with Fine Art America, a standard account which is free and a premium account which is $30 per year. With the standard account, you can create a profile with a bio and are given a customisable link on their domain. The standard account comes with other features, such a blog, access to community forums and automatically promoting on social media.

The premium account comes with all of the features from the standard account, as well as your own domain and access to their full catalogue of products. This means you can print on a variety of merchandise, including t-shirts. The great thing about Fine Art America, is that when selling originals, you take the full amount of earnings. For the print on demand products, Fine art America takes a cut. However, they offer good profit margins that vary depending on which products you are printing on.

The prices on Fine Art America are on average much lower than Saatchi, with some prints starting at as little as $20. the quality of the prints isn’t as high as Saatchi. So if fine art giclée prints is something you want to offer to your customers, Saatchi might be the best option for print on demand.

The Print Space

The Print Space is a UK based fine art fulfilment service. They have two print production centres, one in Germany and one in London. Their prints are fine art quality. Made with pigment inks on thick, acid-free paper. The quality of the prints themselves, the service and delivery is excellent. They offer a flat rate for international shipping and delivery is fast. So even if most of your customer base is in the States or elsewhere, prints will arrive quickly and safely to customers.

The Print Space uses an app called Creative Hub that can be integrated with an online shop. Upload the photo files of the artwork, then import them as products to the online store. When a customer buys a print, it’s printed and delivered by The Print Space. The prints will also be delivered with a certificate of authenticity and with your artists’ logo printed on the packaging. This is excellent feature for artists who want to put their own branding on the materials.

The customer base is predominantly from the UK, for those in the US it might be a better idea to find a more local printer or print with Saatchi.

Printful

Printful is a print on demand service that offers decent quality products, such as canvas prints, posters, mugs to print art on. The quality of the prints isn’t ultra high end, as it is with Saatchi or The Print Space. If you want to offer open editions, or sell things like t-shirts, Printful offers some great benefits, like high profit margins. Integrate Printful for free with your website or Etsy shop. Printful will add your logo to the packaging, so customers won’t know that it’s being sent from a Printful distribution centre.

For artists looking to sell great quality prints at lower price points, Printful would be a good option. Canvas prints are acid free and look wonderful, with vibrant colours. Paper prints are giclée printed on acid-free paper. They have a good range of sizes available, with prints going up to 24×36″.

Society6

Society6 will print, deliver the artwork and handle all the customer service. So you can take a completely hands free approach to selling the art prints. Society6 uses their own logo on the packaging of prints and they don’t offer anything in the way of certificates of authenticity, so the service can feel less customisable. The profit margins are also smaller on Society6 compared to other sites.

Redbubble

Redbubble is a leading print on demand marketplace, similar to Society6. They handle the full printing, delivering and customer service processes. The default margin is 20%, but you can change that at any time within your dashboard.

Redbubble has 5.4 million customers across the globe, this is a huge audience to be potentially viewing your listings. This means that you don’t need to promote your store to your network in order to start generating sales.

Where to sell prints if you’re printing yourself

There are a number of options for artists who want to handle the printing and fulfilment process themselves, but still want to establish an online presence.

Printing yourself might be a good option for you if you want to work with a local printmaker that you know and trust. Or if you have your own printer, if you want to sign and number each print edition yourself, or if you want to use an alternative printmaking process like silkscreen.

Artfinder

Artfinder is an online gallery that many talented emerging artists use. It has a large customer base and is a brilliant platform with a great user experience. To add prints to your store, select the ‘add prints’ option then specify the number of editions you’re selling and whether the print is on paper or canvas. All prints will have to be printed and fulfilled by you or a third party you outsource yourself. Artfinder deducts a 33% to 40% commission from every order that covers the running cost of the site and artist promotion.

Etsy

Etsy is a popular marketplace that features and abundance of different talented crafters’ and artists’ work. To sell prints on Etsy, you will have to manage print production yourself unless you use it with an app integration like Printful.

Create your own website

Many artists will opt to take the full operation of selling prints into their own hands by setting up their own website. This way, artists can opt to handle the production process of the prints, the fulfilment process, customer service, marketing and all the other admin tasks that come with running and maintaining a website.

Of course, there are multiple platforms that can help artists set up a website. Use Shopify to help you build a site with a beautiful theme, clean looking product listings and handle payments. Choose from a number of plugins like Printful or The Print Space’s app Creative Hub to create a print on demand online print store. Selling prints through WordPress and a Shopify integration app is a cheaper option.

There are many benefits to owning your own website. There’s more flexibility in the way you present your artwork, you have full control and ownership over marketing campaigns and email lists if you choose to run them. The monthly fees for Shopify start at $29. This would be a good option for an artist that already has an audience on social media that can drive traffic to their own website, instead of relying on a gallery or marketplace to generate traffic for them.

How to make art prints: what supplies do you need?

You will need:

  1. A camera, or scanner, or to hire a photographer
  2. A photo editing programme like Photoshop
  3. An art printer, or to outsource printing

How to ensure you create quality art prints

The quality of your print, will be partly down to the materials you choose to use. You need a photo scanner or camera that takes high resolution images in a RAW format. Then you need image editing software to get the digital document ready to send to the printer. To print, you will need a professional art printer that prints with pigment inks. All your physical materials should be archival quality (like thick acid-free paper).

How to create your own art prints

Create the digital file

There are two ways to create a digital file, I’ll explain below how these methods suit different types of art practices, so you can decide which one to go with.

Before you create your digital file, ensure your artwork is ready to be captured digitally. It sounds obvious, but make sure all the paint is completely touch dry and solid and the surface is free of dust.

I’d also advise against varnishing your painting before scanning or photographing it. This is because you can unintentionally capture light reflecting off the glossy surface. Varnish after creating your digital file, which will deepen the colour contrasts and unify the painting surface to change the overall appearance of your artwork. Luckily, however, you can replicate this enhanced appearance in Photoshop. Make some small adjustments to the colour profile, colour contrasts and shadows to alter the digital piece. This way it will look just like the final varnished piece.

When to use a scanner to create a digital file of your artwork

Arguably, scanning is the easiest way to create a digital file of your artwork. 

The only restraint is that your original artwork needs to fit on the glass plate of the scanner. As most art scanners are A4 sized (8×10”), this does come as a bit of a limitation for artists who like to work on a large scale. 

There are ways around this though, you can either get a scanner that scans originals up to A3 size (although this will come at a heftier price tag), or you can scan in sections of your artwork and stitch the images together in Photoshop. Some scanners come with their own image editing software, however. 

What supplies do you need to scan your artwork?
  • This Epson Perfection Flatbed Scanner is the best scanner for scanning artwork to a professional standard. It scans pieces up to A4 in a resolution up to 4800dpi. It’s compatible with Mac and has an amazing colour range with a dual lens scanning mechanism.
  • The Epson Expression Flatbed Scanner scans images up to A3. It scans images with a resolution of 4800dpi. It’s on the expensive side due to its size, but it’s top of the range and best value for money with A3 scanning capabilities.
How to use a scanner to create a digital file of your artwork

Firstly, make sure your artwork is clean. Just look for any small pieces of dust or dirt that you can easily wipe off. Most scanners have DIGITAL ICE (image correction and enhancement) technology which will automatically clean up your image, but try and remove it manually just in case!

Put your artwork face down on the glass screen, ensuring that the edges line up with the edges of the glass screen. If your artwork is a little larger than the glass screen, you will have to make multiple scans. Make sure they’re lined up with the screen so that you can merge them easily in Photoshop.

When scanning, cover the top with a cloth or blanket. This will eliminate any dark edges that might have otherwise appeared on your scanned file.

Scanner settings

Ensure the scanner’s settings are set to photo and the resolution is set at 300spi (this might be called dpi in your printer settings). If you want to increase the size of the print compared to the original artwork, scan at a higher samples per inch (spi) setting. For example, if your artwork was 8×10″, but you wanted to create 16×20″ prints, scan at 600spi to be able to print at 300dpi in this larger size. The human eye cannot perceive the differences between 300dpi and higher resolutions, which is why it is the printing standard.

The other settings you can control to optimise the process for art printing is setting the colour profile. You’ll want to set the colour profile to CMYK. This is because your printer will print with cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) inks.

When you scan to your computer, don’t scan it as a JPEG. A JPEG is a compressed file and every time you edit a JPEG, it reduces in resolution and clarity. The subtle colour transitions will be lost and it will become blurry with every save. Instead, save the file as a TIFF. You can edit a TIFF file repeatedly without it losing quality and it’s compatible with photo manipulation software like Photoshop.

Using a camera to create a digital file of your artwork

If your artwork is very large, has three dimensional elements to it, or you already have a DSLR that you’d rather use than a scanner, you can take a photo of your artwork to print. 

You’ll need tools to stabilise your artwork and camera, adjust the lighting of the room that you are taking the photo in and ensure your camera has the correct settings.

What supplies do you need to photograph your artwork
  • Lighting: here is a professional lighting kit, which provides a naturally softened light stream to direct at your artwork. This gives bright natural light that won’t obscure the colour or detail of the art. It will also diminish unwanted shadows caused by light pouring in from arbitrary directions 
  • Tripod to photograph your artwork in an upright position
  • DSLR or camera that can take high resolution images in a RAW format
  • Easel to stabilise your artwork. Alternatively, stabilise your artwork by laying it flat on a table
How to photograph your artwork to create digital files for print

A camera will take a photo that has a RAW image size. For example if your camera is 24 megapixels, that file size may have the dimensions of 6000x4000px. 

Working from this example, you will be able to make a print with the dimensions 20×13.3” with a resolution of 300ppi. 

Set up your artwork

Next you’ll want to spend some time setting up your artwork, finding the right light and position so you can capture your artwork so that it looks true to form in the image.

The key to this is perfect lighting that isn’t overexposed or too dark. The lamps need to be positioned so that shadows aren’t cast across the artwork. If you imagine your artwork at a 12 o’clock position, you will have two lamps, one at 4 o’clock and the other at 8 o’clock. 

A larger artwork should be supported at a 90° angle with an easel. A smaller artwork might be better photographed flat on a table.

If you don’t have an easel that will prop your artwork up at 90° you can put your painting up on the wall. Put it up with a nail, and make sure it’s completely parallel to the wall. 

The alignment of the camera and artwork is crucial to taking a successful image, make sure there is no distortion and that the artwork fits into view so no parts are cut out.

Attach your camera to a tripod so that it remains in the same place. It will reduce any shakiness from your hand that could make the image blurry and once you’ve found the perfect spot that captures your artwork at the right angle in the optimum light, you won’t want it to move from there.

Adjust your camera settings

Next, you want to adjust your camera settings to capture the art. The camera should be shooting in its RAW format. 

Then you will need to adjust the exposure and colour balance on your camera. It will be a case of pointing the camera at your artwork and altering the settings until the image that appears on the screen looks true to form.

A good place to start with the manual settings is a relatively high f-stop value. Try shooting with f8 aperture and gradually increasing or decreasing if you need to. This gives the image a wide depth of field. Then you can set your camera to having a high shutter speed. Then scroll through your white balance presets to adjust the colour of the image, again this will be a case of trial and error. The settings on every camera are different, so just look to see which setting actually represents the art in front of you the best.

A good trick is to put your camera on a timer, which could be 2 seconds. This will give your camera time to stabilise from any movement caused by your finger pressing the shutter release button.

Upload and edit the digital file on your computer

When you upload the file to your computer, it will either be in a TIFF format (if you used a scanner) or a raw format (if you took a photograph). The file size will be large, but you’re going to edit the photo so that it’s the optimum size and resolution that you want to print at. 

What supplies do you need to edit a digital file?

  • Your computer
  • Photoshop or free alternative like GIMP

How to edit a digital file for printing

First, set your sizes

When you create your file in Photoshop, the first thing you’ll do is specify the size and digital resolution of your file. You can stipulate this in the presets dialogue box that pops up when you create a new document. 

Consider your buyers when sizing a print—what sizes will they find easiest to get framed? 

A good tip is to make your print a standard framing size so that your client can buy a pre-made frame instead of having to get one custom made if they choose.

Other preset details

Set your resolution to 300ppi. Any lower than this and your image will start to look blurry and pixelated.

Set the colour mode to CMYK, as your printer prints. Keep it at ‘8-bit’, as very few print drivers can send 16-bits per colour to the printer. There are exceptions, some Epson printers with Mac can accommodate for the printed output of a 16-bit file. Images with smooth tonal transitions and very subtle colour gradients will benefit from 16-bit printing, other than that you won’t notice a difference. Check your printer settings, if it accommodates inputs in 16-bits, then you can print it, otherwise keep it to 8-bits. 

For the colour profile, keep it at CMYK US Web Coated.

Create the border, crop it and edit the image’s perspective

When you’re done toggling the presets, hit the ‘create’ button and you’ll be greeted with a blank artboard. 

Next you’ll create your border, so go to preferences>units and rulers and change the measurements to inches.

Then drag four guide lines around the edges to create a one inch border. Lock the guides so they don’t move anywhere.

Next, drag your Raw camera or TIFF file onto the artboard. The file should sit within the one inch border guides.

Start by cutting off any excess parts of the image you don’t need so that only your artwork is showing. 

If you notice that your artwork is dimensionally warped, i.e. the camera was at a different angle to the artwork when the picture was taken, you can change this by going to edit>transform>perspective. 

The whole image should look straight, with no sight of the paper or canvas’ edges.

If the RAW image file is much smaller than the artboard, don’t stretch or increase the size too much. This can cause it to look blurry. Instead, think about create a smaller sized print.

Edit the image

There are several ways you can edit your image, it really depends on the effects you want to get with your print; I’ll run through a few.

First adjust the levels of your image. Go to Image>Adjustments. Here you’ll see you can increase the brightness, contrast and saturation. 

If there is a lot of black in your image and you want to make the black look deeper and more intense, you can do this by selecting Image>Adjustments>Replace colour. Then with the picker tool select the area of black you want to make darker. Adjust the hue to ‘rich black’ which has a CMYK code of C-40 M-40 Y-40 K-100.

Another thing you can do to enhance the appearance of your print is neaten up lines, or remove imperfections with the brush tool. You can sample colours with the colour picker and then draw over the image. Make these edits subtle by blending the sections you’ve digitally drawn in with tools such as the blur tool, or you can create brushes that mimic the medium you’ve used, such as watercolour or oil.

Save your artwork as a TIFF file. PNG or PDF would work as well, but a TIFF is an industry standard for printing high resolution imagery.

Print your artwork

You’ve put in all the hard work, followed this guide and set everything up in a way to ensure that when the print comes out, it will look as good as it possibly can. The actual printing part is easy. Of course, if you’re outsourcing the printing, all you will have to do is send them your print file. Print on demand services like Saatchi will specify the file format artwork should be in.

What supplies do you need to print your artwork yourself?

  • A wide format inkjet printer.
  • Archival inks: You’ll need ink cartridges to fit with the printer you have, but the colours you’ll need are cyan, magenta, yellow, key (black) and the inks should be solid powdery pigments that create indelible marks on your printing surface.
  • Archival paper: As archival means that the materials won’t degrade in condition over time, when you’re getting paper make sure it’s acid-free. Other than that, you can choose paper to suit your tastes. You can get paper that’s smooth or more textured. I’d recommend hahnemühle photo rag paper, as the quality is superb. It has an ultra-matte finish, almost cotton-like.

How to print your artwork yourself

Open the file in Preview if you’re using a Mac. You can use whatever programme you want, however.

Select print and toggle your printing presets. Make sure you’ve selected the printer you’re using and the paper you want to print on. Select the size you will be printing at. 

I would advise to select the ‘border’ option. This gives your buyer a bit of space when they come to frame the artwork, as none of the details will get cut off. It also means that you don’t have to create a ‘bleed’ in Photoshop. Bleed is where an image is designed to go beyond the edge of where the paper cuts off. By creating a bleed area, you avoid having irregular borders on your print, as it’s very difficult for a printer to print exactly up to the edge of a piece of paper. Plus, with a border you will have room at the bottom to number your prints, if you’re creating limited editions and to sign it too. If you’ve already created a border in Photoshop, you don’t need an extra one.

Load your paper into the printer, adjust the settings on the printer to correspond with the presets on your computer, then hit print. 

When you have your print, review it to see if there are any edits you need to make, or marks on the paper. There shouldn’t be, but it’s always good to check as these are details that a buyer may be displeased about seeing when they receive it.

Sell your prints

Now it’s time to sell your prints. Upload the products to your online gallery, shop or marketplace. Start promoting on social media or to your email list. Instagram and Pinterest are especially helpful tools for growing and connecting with potential collectors.

Before you make your products live on whatever channel you choose, it’s always good to evaluate the quality of each print by getting a print proof. That way, you can be sure that your artworks look as awesome in print version as they do as originals!


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