Print Discussion Pt. 5 – Files

The webmaster here again. Last time I talked about what to print. Now let’s talk about the basics of the files we need to make (sorry, next time we will get to laying them out).


First, we need to look at our original. If the medium is well saturated and not too textured, you can probably print equal sized, or larger. The project that Laura has been working on are done in marker, and have very little variation and texture to the lines and coloring. As such I plan on printing at the same size as the originals. If the medium does not have complete saturation, like colored pencils, you probably want to go equal or smaller than the original. In all honesty, shrinking things will usually give you a better results overall since it smooths out variations.

Having a general idea of how big you want to go, pick the closes standard size and start designing that way. If you don’t know what sizes are standard, go to your local store and find the picture frames. The sizes change from area to area… so make sure you are not making something that will be hard to frame for no real reason. Exceptions exist… but you will have to bridge the gap with custom matting or frames.

Also keep in mind that you will need to allow some space for bleeds and cutting in your final design. As such it is likely you may be trimming off a section of the original, or adding something…. and so far it has always been easier to trim than to add. I will talk about that more about that in the post about layouts.


Next we need to figure out what resolution to scan in. In my personal opinion, if you want to print it, then get as many pixels as you can. After all the hope is the original sells for lots of money and you never can scan it again. Storage is comparatively cheap in all honesty. Anyway we can always downsize it later. Keep in mind that adding pixels later almost always degrades quality.

Speaking of resizing…. When we send it off to be printed, it can be assumed they will be printing around 600 dpi. So I tend to look for finished products around 1200, just in case they can handle a bit extra resolution.


I scan to bitmap. Why such a space wasting format? It is a lossless format. Jpeg always has some compression, so there is some loss in fidelity. Gif has a limited color pallet. Other formats such as png can be lossless, but just don’t have the track record of compatibility. Mostly you can chalk this up to me being a geezer (with files he can still read from  16 year old scanning project) shaking his cane at new-fangled formats. Once I have a working copy, I zip up these bitmaps to get the compression (if not convenience) I would have had in another format. I highly suggest you make some thumbnails at a traditional screen resolution (72dpi) to leave outside the zip, so you don’t have to wonder what was in it… I have yet to find a naming scheme which lasts long enough in my memory.

My working format is Photoshop’s PSD files. It is standard enough that I can expect it to work for a few years, it is a bit smaller, and it works with the application I am using. Since other applications (like Gimp and Krita) can also read it, I don’t feel completely wedded to one application.  This format allows me layers, notes, and anything else I need to make corrections and changes down the line.

Once everything is arranged the way I want it, I export to jpg. This file is useless for making changes since it is flattened and compressed… but it is a compressed format everyone understands. It also allows me to double check the final print in other applications before sending it off to someone along with money.

Color depth:

Well, I ended up with 24-bit color depth. I could do 48, but I saw very poor adoption of that format. Since it doubled my file size (halving the resolutions I could use) 48 was just plain out. I imagine I could live with 16-bit for what I am doing, but I might regret it later.


Well, that is enough of that. Next time, actually laying out a file.

Print Discussion Pt. 4 – What?

The Webmaster here yet again. Last time we talked about finding someone to make prints for you. This time let’s talk about what to print. These are only my opinions, and they are pretty specific to what we are doing, so take it with a grain of salt.

What should I print?

Art. I would say “good art”, but that is very much in the eye of the beholder. So instead I will suggest that it should be art you will hopefully not be ashamed of if you saw it a few years down the road. The quality of the art produced will improve over time, but you should be able to look back and know it was your best effort, even if it does not hold up to your current standards.

No really, what should I print?

Well, that is going to vary greatly depending on what your target audience purchases. You need to look around the places you plan on selling art, and figure out some of the basics. What are people buying? How much are they spending? Does the style of what you have fit in enough to sell, but stand out enough to be unique.

Aren’t you going to actually tell me what to print?

Not as such. Sorry. Instead I think you should start out by printing the format others are using. If people sell posters, sell some posters. If people sell stickers, sell some stickers. Certainly if no one seems to be selling wallet-sized prints, there might be a reason. Until you get a feeling for your market, it is probably worth playing it safe. The hardest thing to figure out is what you should not print.

So what shouldn’t I print?

Well, lets start off with the basic. Don’t print things which you know have a really small targeted audience. You are talking about mass production.  If there is one person out there who would love it, sell them an original and move on. Instead try to make at least a passing stab at appealing to a wider audience.

Next, don’t print things in odd sizes. Honestly this is a pet peeve of mine. What good does it do for me to buy a $50 print if it costs me $200+ to mat and frame it. Either make the art to a conventional size, or tastefully mat it to a standard size. If it costs more to frame than to print, the chance anyone will keep it, let alone hang it, for long is pretty minimal. My collection of art which may never be framed is a bit too large in all honesty.

Finally, at least when starting, don’t print in something you can’t carry enough varied stock of. You want to be able to carry a dozen pieces or more with you. Otherwise you are placing all your eggs in one basket. It is not to say that one thing is not great, but there is always the chance the people who would buy it are not there today.

Taking chances

Now, that said… you will have to branch out eventually. If you are selling exactly what other people sell, you can only compete on price. Trust me that someone can always sell things cheaper than you. It may just be some online site ripping off artists… but not everyone cares. So you will have to look at being the best artist you can, and providing what people want.

So I highly suggest listening when people say something like “This would be awesome as X” or “I wish this was Y size”. Now I am not saying you make everything people want either… but there might be trends brewing, or a new line of product with enough of a margin to give it a chance.

Keep an eye on the bottom line

This needs a post on it’s own. However, before you run off a bunch of prints, make sure that you can make a profit doing it. It would be really easy to invest a bunch of money in something you can’t sell at the price the market will bear. No really… trust me.

Next time, I will talk a bit about what started me on this whole series… preparing files so you have something to print to print.


Print Discussion Pt. 3 – Who?

The webmaster here again. Last time I talked about how to print things (albeit at a 10,000 ft. level). This time I am going to talk about letting someone else do the heavy work. Once again, my opinions, your mileage may vary.

Questions to answer:

  • Are they trustworthy?
    • You are sending something off for duplication. You want it only duplicated for you… not for their own purposes.
  • Do they make what you want?
    • Are the papers and inks up to the standards you need?
      • They should be very up front about the papers and inks to be used
      • They should be able to tell you about lightfastness and any moisture resistance issues.
    • After all that is why they are going to get our money.
  • Do they make it in the sizes you want?
    • You will probably have to be somewhat flexible about being in a standard paper size, but you should be able to come up with a few options.
  • Do they work in a quantity you can work with?
    • Some places do small batches at reasonable costs
    • I love the art Laura puts out, but I know there is not enough of a market to be ordering prints by the pallet.
  • Are they competitive on price?
    • Now, I am not saying go cheap. I am saying you should make sure their price is neither too high, or too low. After all if you are paying so much less, how are they actually making money?
  • Are there any hidden costs?
    • Check your shipping and handling costs
    • Are there additional design costs?
  • Do they work in a format you can deal with?
    • I found a few sites which can not take popular formats or images of sufficient size.
  • Can they provide material when you need it?
    • Some shops have very long waits for smaller orders as they are lower  priority items done when the press would otherwise be idle.

Going Local

Unfortunately I don’t have much advice on this subject at the moment. There are many places where you might run across a convenient local printer who can do your work at a reasonable cost.  from my experience, if you find one, go with them. Over time they could become great partners for you, providing advice and helping solve problems. When I had a local shop, they were great. Sadly these shops tend to be replaced by larger chains like Kinkos.

The internet
In this age of the internet it is amazing the services available to a small business. There was a time when there were large minimum quantities for an order. It would mean that the minimum sunk costs for anything were reasonably high. Now, not so much. There is certainly an economy of scale available if you make larger quantities, but a single copy doesn’t have to break the bank.

Since you are not working with a local place, you are assuming some of the risks. If the site in question has samples, order them. Often they are a couple bucks, or have a refund on the first order. If you like them, great you have a possible place to get your prints! If you hate them, hold on to them so you know not to send things to them. It is amazing how good a price can look before you realize the quality it bought you.

I want to avoid any actual service reviews in this article since I should be generic. I imagine I will come up with some reviews in good time.

Next time: What to print.

Print Discussion Pt. 2 – How?

So the webmaster here again to talk some more about prints. Last time we talked about the why, now let’s talk about the how. These are my thoughts, your experience may differ.

How are you going to print the images?

There are two basic options. Print it yourself, or outsource it.

Should I print it myself?

Many people would say their home printer is perfectly acceptable, after all it printed that photo fine a few years ago. And in all honesty, you might be right. Depending on your printer it may be just fine for some small-run jobs.

You need to make sure that what you are selling is going to be around for a bit, so you need reasonable quality materials. Plenty of desktop printers are using lightfast ink, and it is not hard to find a good acid-free paper heavy enough to keep from looking too cheap. I would suggest if you plan on printing from home you look up how lightfast the ink you are using supposedly is (Epson and Canon tend to brag about it), or do a lightfastness test by printing a test pattern and cutting it in half, putting part in direct sun and leaving the other in a drawer or other dark place.

In the end, if the print holds up, and you are happy with the results, feel free to start there. If you are not happy, well then you need to upgrade or outsource. I think I will leave printer shopping for another post though.

So what about outsourcing?

If you can’t do it yourself you need to find someone to do it for you. The question of course is who. Before you get too deep into it, you need to do a little research on the people you want to do business with, and what they can/will do for you.

You will need to find someone you can trust with your images, and who will make what you want.

Either way

Determine your actual costs of production. Printing at home is convenient. The downside is that printer ink is one of the most expensive liquids on earth. So have a good feeling for how often you need to buy more, how much the paper is going to cost you, and how much of your time is spent printing. Sometimes it is cheaper to print in-house, sometimes it is cheaper to let someone else do the work. Either way you have to make sure there is profit being made.


Next time, I will talk about outsourcing your prints.

Print Discussion pt.1 – Why?

The artist is off doing martial arts today, so you will have to put up with a post from me today. I know, it is a shame, but hang in there with me. Today, I am going to talk about getting things ready for printing. Looking at the length of this post, I guess it is going to be a couple parts long…

So let’s start at the beginning.

Why not just sell originals?

Don’t get me wrong, owning original art has something to it that often feels different from owning a print. The issue comes down to price points. As someone trying to make a living on art, if you are only selling originals, you are only going to be able to make money while your hand is physically creating art. Since there are only so many hours in a day, there is a hard limit on how much can be created even under optimal conditions.

This means the cost of an original piece of art is going to be high for the consumer. There is just no way around that. Not only does the sale need to pay for the time to make that bit of art, it also has to pay for the materials, rough sketches, inks, and all the failed attempts that came before. It may not seem fair that you are paying costs on things you don’t get to keep… but there would be no finished art without them.

Trust me, artists want to be fed every now and then. It also tends to keep the quality up if their hands are not shaking from malnutrition.

Who wants a print?

Not everyone can/should/would afford to buy original art that is properly priced. For them a print is the best option. Certainly most of the art around my house is a print of some kind, so feel no shame in going for the less costly alternative.

Doesn’t a print devalue the work?

Is a solid gold ring devalued by being next to a plated ring? Not if everyone is honest about it. They are two separate markets. The person paying a premium for an original want to know it genuine. The person buying the print obviously would be fine either way. As such things should be clearly marked, and certificates of authenticity might be wise.

Now, I won’t say there is no one who would not buy an original because it was not the only one in existence… these people need to commission a piece and pay a little extra for the lost income that is going to be lost by not selling the work

Next time, we will talk about how to make prints.