018. Providing Prints and Products of Your Artwork

Today I'm going to offer some of my own experiences of selling prints and products of my artwork. I'll lay out the facts and let you compare your own experiences. Please leave a comment below if you have any advice or experiences you'd like to share! This is a task many artists face!

Over the last two years, I have spent a lot of time and money trying to work out a good strategy for selling prints and products with my artwork on them. Note: I sell 100% of my work online (not in person at tradeshows or anything).

I'm talking about anything from tshirts to mugs and calendars. All the STUFF that people use daily, but with my artwork on it! I'm also talking about high quality art Prints, providing clients an option for owning my art without the full investment of buying an original piece.

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When I first started out, I did the easiest thing possible: I started a Redbubble account and uploaded all of my artwork. It's a website people can browse through to buy mugs, tshirts, bags, prints, stickers, etc. with any type of artwork from thousands of artists. Pretty cool huh?

I made a decent profit in 2016 on Redbubble (just over $1,000). While it was easy, and affordable to my clients, I quickly learned that the quality of prints in particular was lacking, and that was not OK with me. I also discovered there is little oversight on the website, and people have been caught stealing artwork and uploading it as their own. Yikes! Ok so, done with Redbubble. (Side note: I never deleted that account, and I still sell about 1 product per month through it without any sort of publicity on my end).

I was also getting increased demand for custom SIGNED prints from my clients, which I could not offer by selling through Redbubble.
So I saved up and bought my own printer. Not just any printer, a super duper fancy Canon PIXMA iP8720 Wireless Photo Printer. This thing made beautiful, high quality prints that I was PROUD to sell. Plus I could customize the sizes, charge whatever I wanted, and sign each one.

Preparing a shipment.

Preparing a shipment.

However, despite the amazing quality and bespoke experience my clients were getting, this added a HUGE workload. 
1. Paint something
2. Take a high quality photo
3. Edit/crop image on computer
4. Upload to website shop (hosted through my own website on squarespace)
5. Edit title, descriptions, inventory, etc
6. Advertise
7. Sell print
8. Print the print to custom size
9. Cut out the print to the custom size (I didn't sell them based on paper size, so I had to crop nearly every print myself with an exacto knife)
10. Sign and Package print
11. Go to post office and mail it
12. Enter sale into accounting software, keep track of receipts
13. Keep ink and paper restocked

In comparison I "only" made a few hundred dollars in 2016 through printing and making my own prints. On the plus side, I began offering prints to my Patreons as rewards, and it was very successful (I still do this for now). I'm not one to continuously push my artwork onto people, so I mainly only sold things to very loyal followers who had enough money to spare (let's face it, a lot of our followers love our work but they have rent and groceries to buy. Buying artwork is a luxury). I don't go to conventions or trade shows to sell work, so my options are social media and getting the word out during my live streams.

Just because people beg you to offer prints and products, means NOTHING for sales once you actually do start offering them. You still need to put in the time for advertising and spreading the word (unless you are an extremely well known artist). 

In October 2016, I moved to Scotland. In preparation for the move, I realized I would no longer be able to sell my own prints (unless I buy a printer in Scotland).
I then preprinted about 200 prints with my remaining paper and ink, in order to have 7 months of inventory for my Patreon rewards.
But for selling artwork to other clients, my solution was to once again outsource my prints.

Example of handmade watercolor postcards that I send to my Patreons of $10 tier or higher.

Example of handmade watercolor postcards that I send to my Patreons of $10 tier or higher.

I then checked out Society6, which seemed like a much more professional site than Redbubble and had some really high quality products (I've personally ordered products through it and it's great). So for the last 4 months, this is the site I've been using.
Unlike Redbubble, there seems to be a lack of advertising for Society6, because I have not made a single sale since joining in October 2016! Ok so, that might be partially my fault, but in direct comparison between Redbubble and Society6, that is a drastic difference. Is it the navigation of Society6? Is it lack of advertising? 
I never pushed or advertised my Redbubble site much, yet I still made $1k there. Interesting...

So here I am in Scotland, not selling any prints or products - thinking about my future.
This year I introduced a loyalty program for my Patreons, which means if someone pledges at the $10 tier or higher for an entire year, they receive a signed desk calendar with my artwork (see below). I used Vistaprint to make these products, and I am EXTREMELY happy with the quality. The whole experience has been wonderful.

Some products I ordered from Vistaprint

I'm considering pre-ordering lots of different products from them, then selling through my website or Etsy at a mark-up because they will be limited edition and I can sign them personally. Again... an added workload, but I love the personal touch.

I'm still figuring out what I prefer - to outsource or to print my own. I'd love to print and sign every print that goes out, but with the increased work load, and my living situation in flux, and the increased cost of materials, printing my own is unfeasible right now.

Are you an artist with experience in this realm? I'd love to hear your input!