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What is Print on Demand?

As an artist who wants to sell art prints, you may consider going down the print on demand route. In this blog post we’ll look at what is print on demand, how to start selling art this way, and is print on demand right for you?

Firstly, what is print on demand?

The traditional route of prints would be to go to a printer, have a bulk run of prints, printed off, pay for them upfront and store them in your house or studio. As they sell, you get some of that money back. It’s a high risk strategy, meaning you’ve got money tied up in stock, which isn’t ideal for a lot of artists.

How Does Print on Demand Work?

Print on demand is exactly what it says on the tin basically. You list prints on a website and the customer buys the print. You receive the money for the sale, then the order goes through to the print on demand company. They print it and ship it direct to the customer if you need them to. They take their small percentage of the sale price, and you get the balance. By using a print on demand service you get paid when things sell, and there’s no upfront investment. It’s a much more lean business strategy for many artists.

Which Print on Demand Companies Are Best?

There are a couple of ways to do print on demand. You will have seen art marketplaces, and there’s a few of them around with different levels and different products that would fit different brands. Some of them are for low cost items such as phone cases, T shirts and things like that which you can have your artwork on. Some print on demand companies can ship paper prints as well, sometimes fine art prints. You put your add on to those products. The third party site on marketplace sells it for you.

Examples of that are sites like RedBubble, and Society6. If you go onto their website, you’ll see loads and loads of different artists and loads of different products, with products ranging from towels, to mugs, to phone covers to T shirts, to baseball caps, to actual prints for the wall. These sites are essentially an art marketplace where there are thousands of artists uploading their art onto this big range of products. Consumers then go on there to browse and buy the products. That’s one way to get started with print on demand.

There are also art online galleries like Saatchi Art that basically offer a print on demand service. If a customer buys a fine art print through Saatchi Art, they will deal with the fulfilment and the shipping, etc.

There’s all sorts of different opportunities, according to your brand.

What I mean by that is your positioning – are you high volume, lower cost, or are you more of the fine art? When you have gallery representation, you may be just doing limited edition prints. You have to think carefully, whether going for those kinds of sites fits and aligns with the rest of your brand as an artist, because you don’t want to devalue anything that you do.

A piece of abstract art in a white room with a white chair and table from a blog post What is Print on Demand by Thriving Artists Business School

Print on Demand On Your Own Website

The other way of selling print on demand is via your own website. If you have a website, and it’s an E commerce site, which means you can sell things online and it has a fully functioning shop, then you can plug in a print on demand company. There are several of these and I go into these in more detail in my Art Business Programme Passion into Profit, outlining which ones are best and why it’s best to use certain ones over others for different products.

Essentially you add the plug in for the print on demand company to your website. When your customer goes to the website, they don’t know there is a print on demand plug in working in the background. They go to your site, they have a look around, they see a print or a set of prints they like and they click to buy. The order then gets processed, the payment is taken, the order gets sent to the print on demand company. The print on demand company then either send it to your customer direct, so you don’t touch anything at all, or you can intervene and have it sent to you so you can even wrap it, put a label in there, a nice little handwritten note etc.

So there’s different ways of doing it, and there are pros and cons of each.

The Pros and Cons of Print on Demand

One of the major pros of the online art marketplaces is their audience size. We’re talking thousands, millions maybe, and they have a big marketing budget so they do a lot of the marketing for you and they reach more of your potential customers.

The downside of that is is very very saturated. It’s difficult to stand out among the thousands of other artists who are selling their work on there. Another downside is that they’re going to charge a fee for that because they’re working for it and they they deserve it. That fee can vary widely. I’ve seen some of those sites offer the artists as little as 6%, and then the marketplace gets the balance of that. Some of them have much more reasonable costs eg a 50:50 split – I think Saatchi at the minute is around that rate. Ultimately though they do the marketing for you, they find the customers, they do all the fulfilment and the shipping, and then you hand over (just as you would with a physical gallery) 50% of the cost. Before you decide to market your art with one of these companies, you need to check out the margins. Make sure you’re happy with the amount of profit that’s in there for you, and figure out is it worth it.

Another option is print on demand via your own website, and one of the major pros of this is much, much bigger profits. That can range anything from upwards of 70-80% profit, as opposed to those 10-30% profits on online marketplaces. It’s a big difference to your business. Another pro is that you decide what products you want to promote and what products you want to list your items on. If you want to do limited edition prints, some print on demand companies can fulfil that service as well with digital signatures or numbering them and send them sending them out with certificates

I’m a big advocate of keeping control of your business as long as possible. The downsides of doing it yourself and plugging a print on demand company into your website is firstly, you have to set it up yourself. If you are not tech savvy, during that initial setup, you can need some help with it. And obviously, I do that with the students in the Passion Into Profit Course. But it does take you to set it up.

You also have to drive your own traffic to the website. You have to figure out how you’re going to get eyes on your website because there isn’t a big marketing agency and marketplace to do that for you.

It’s important to weigh it up and decide what approach is right for you.

A Blended Approach

You can have a blended approach, for example you could have gallery representation, you could be doing your art shows and you can have your online art sales. You might also offer (if you were at this kind of more exclusive level), some limited edition print runs with a print on demand company.

The beauty of a print on demand company is you can scale to any level you like (obviously not with limited edition prints – it’s harder because it has to be a set number). If you did open edition print runs and you’re not touching the prints physically, the print on demand company get an order from your website, the products get shipped out direct to the customer meaning you can process 1000 orders in a week, which you can’t do that if you are physically having to go to the printers.

However, it’s really lovely to support local printers and local businesses. As mentioned above, you could offer a blended approach and offer Limited Edition print runs with a local printer as well as the option of doing open edition print runs using a slightly lesser quality paper (although there are some fantastic quality papers with a print on demand companies). If you had your open edition runs as print on demand that you can scale to you know, 1000 plus sales a week or a month and then your more exclusive limited edition print service by your local printer, then you have the best of both worlds. You can choose

Make sure it fits with your personality, what your goals are and your art. Make sure that you know if you do have gallery representation, you’re not then going to go and sell low value keychains and mobile phone covers because it just doesn’t sit with the look and feel that your gallery will expect from your art.

So hopefully that gave you a few pointers with regards to print on demand and the possibilities for your business. If you’d like more information be sure to sign up for my free masterclass where I go into the four simple stages to selling more art consistently and also some of the common pitfalls to avoid as an artist.

Until next time!

BUSINESS TIPS, SELLING ART, START AN ART BUSINESS

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