Best way to print professional photographs for sale?

As a photographer there is nothing more rewarding than seeing one of your prized photographs beautifully framed hanging on a wall or selling fine art prints to admirers of your work.  I find this one of the most rewarding aspects of being a photographer but when I first started selling prints, I found it one of the most difficult and frustrating!

The main question I struggled to find answers too was

What is the best way to print professional photographs for sale?

Producing prints from your photographs can be relatively straight forward and a lot of photographers will be more than happy with the results of their final home prints.  However, I am not talking about creating prints for your own benefit here but instead focusing on prints for sale to the public which is totally different to creating prints for personal use.

You are selling a product which carries your brand name and needs in my opinion to be produced to the highest quality.  This comes at a cost as high-quality items usually do but are the cost really much higher?

What is the best way to print photos for sale?

Once you take into account all of your overheads required to print at home and compare it to a professional photo lab cost you begin to realise that actually the cost is quite close or in fact cheaper.  Remember I am talking about high quality prints here and something that can easily get missed by photographers when they look at overall production costs.  Care needs to be taken to compare like for like rather than apples to oranges.

I now only use Professional Photo Labs to produce my artwork for sale and in my experience,  I find it the best way.

Using Professional Photo Labs do also come with their own set of problems so let me explain why I made the switch from printing at home, the issues I encountered and ultimately give the reasons why I find using Pro Labs the Best way to print my fine art photographs for sale.

In order to find what is the best fit for your photography business you need to ask yourself a number of questions which will help you choose between printing at home or use a Pro Lab.

Quality or Quantity?

If you care about your photography and customers, then you want to provide the optimum service in selling your artwork at the very best quality and cost possible to prospective buyers.  Yes, you can print images on mass relatively cheaply these days which may be fine if you are doing headshots for portfolio work etc. but not what customers will expect if selling limited or open edition fine art prints.  So, the first question to ask yourself is what photography services do you provide and importantly what are your potential customers likely to expect.

If you are a portrait photographer doing school rounds taking annual photographs of children rarely would a parent expect a Giclee Print this is also similar for portfolio head shoots for models etc.  I say rarely but you will get some prospective customers that may well want a top-quality framed print of their child’s first day at school so it certainly doesn’t hurt to offer this in the package.

I am a landscape photographer so my business model is different where I could offer mass printed photographs for sale as many do but this is something I decided against.  I wanted to limit my artwork and add value to the final piece of art and only sell prints as either open edition or limited edition prints.  For this to be successful and my customers to be happy I need to produce prints at the highest quality possibly choosing Quality over Quantity.

What medium types do you want to offer?

It is very easy in this digital age to lose sight of what we are trying to achieve through our photography and if you are a photographer trying to express feeling and mood through your images or create emotion from a beautiful scene then a print can seriously ruin what you are trying portray and the prints you are trying to sell.

Imagine a vibrant colourful scene such as a landscape in autumn with a sky full of bright red and orange hues viewed on a dull matt print.  It doesn’t quite work and possibly if that is the only print paper you have you might think it’s fine, but images come to life once printed on different paper types and should be selected based on the image requirements not because it is what is just available in your section at the time.

One of my personal favourites are rough textured papers used for heavy woodland scenes where trees can come to life or on a minimalistic heavy snow scene where it just adds that something different and finishing touches of originality and quality.

Ask yourself after putting so much time in to create your artwork shouldn’t as much time, care and attention go into the final fine art print?  After all this is what a buyer will see and believe me correct paper selection and top-quality prints make all the difference.

Professional Labs have a huge array of paper types at their disposal where they have perfected the art of creating the perfect print on the paper type of your choice with .ICC profiles ready for soft proofing.  You can of course purchase a selection of various papers for printing at home, but this will come at a heavy price.  There are many different manufactures of fine art papers these days and I have spent a small fortune on purchasing samples not to mention the time carrying out test prints to get things right.

You don’t need to have every paper type at your disposal but don’t limit your final print to just a small range of papers.  Match the correct paper type to the photograph you are trying to print not just use what you have to hand.

One final thing to think about paper choice is your style of photography.  If you have a particular style and want the same look throughout all of your work you can dramatically reduce the paper type variation you need at your disposal.  This is not the case for my work as it varies dependant on the image from Landscapes, Woodland, Seascapes and Nightscapes prints so I like to not be restricted.

Are you just going to sell Giclee Prints or offer other types?

Let me ask a slightly different question, why are you only offering Giclee Fine Art Prints?

Whenever I talk to fellow photographers and ask this question I usually get a very simple answer.

I can only print certain paper types on my printer at home!

By printing at home and not utilising the diversity Pro Labs have at their disposal and you are very restricted to the types of prints you can offer.  I offer a range of print types in my shop including Canvas and Aluminium Dibond prints which offers that something a little different.  It definitely works for me and many of my customers prefer this type of print where they can just unbox it and mount it straight on the wall.

These styles of prints do not come cheap and the Lab I use is certainly not the cheapest, but the quality is outstanding, and the finished piece of artwork truly comes to life on a premium medium such as these.

Best way to print images

What print size are you going to offer?

This is a very big decision to make when deciding to dip your toe into producing artwork for sale.  There are many limiting factors which you have to take into account before you can make your final decision.

First of all is what is the sensor size of your camera or pixel image size?  You need to know your limitations with regards to raw image size before you can decide on how big you want to offer your prints.  There are many examples online on what is the maximum size you can print your images from a set sensor size so I won’t go into detail here.

But as an example lets say you are using a full frame sensor which has a pixel size of 6016 x 4016 and you are printing at 300dpi then the maximum size area you can print is

(6016/300) by (4016/300) = 20.05 x 13.39 Inches.

Now there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration here before deciding on the maximum size such as the ISO the image was taken at and how much noise is in the final image.

I am just making you aware that the limitations of your camera equipment will initially dictate the size of the print.  Also the final print medium also has an impact for instance printing on a canvas then this is more forgiving so you can get away with a smaller DPI and create larger images.

Large images will also be viewed at a distance so my advice would be to carry out some test prints first to find out what are the limitations of your camera equipment.  This is a plus point for printing at home as it is easier to experiment, but most decent pro labs will offer cost effective test prints.

That brings us onto the next limiting factor on size of your prints and that is the printer you are going to print it on.  This choice is endless and pretty much limited by how much money you are willing to spend and how much free space you have in your spare room.  Don’t underestimate the space as some of these high-end pro printers are huge.

The best printer I have used at home is the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 – inkjet printer which is an absolute beast.  The print quality is amazing but you need a sturdy large surface to keep it on.  My problem with this printer is that it cannot take paper on a roll which is annoying for a printer costing around £900 to limit me to not be able to print large panorama photographs.  There are alternatives that can take rolls, but I have found they come at a cost or don’t quite match the canon for quality.

Costs for printing at home

Professional labs are so expensive it is cheaper to print at home!

Well let’s explore the cost for printing at home excluding the obvious of electric as we will take this as minimal.

best way to print photographs canon

The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 is a fantastic printer and one I used myself for my artwork. Let’s look at a breakdown of typical running costs.

Estimated costs for printing at home
Canon Pro-1000 Printer£900.00
Ink - 12 cartridges Package£470.00
25 sheets A2 Baryta fine art paper£130.00
Cost per print after 25 prints£60.00

That excludes all the test prints that you will be doing and limited to just one paper type.  Now yes I know there are different printers and yes the printer will originally come with some ink but this just gives you an idea of very rough costs to bare in mind.

Then on top of all these costs there is one that is very often overlooked and that is packaging.  You need to add on costs for your packing tubes and internal protective packaging which is going to cost in the region of £5 each.  Then finally there is the cost of shipment which is also not cheap and although passed onto the buyer adds to the final price.

If you compare this with a Pro Lab again prices can vary but on average you can buy a A2 Giclee print at around £30 @ 1440dpi quality or £60 @ 2880dpi plus £5 postage and packaging and all of a sudden you can see that the prices are pretty close.

Costs for Pro Lab Prints
1 off A2 1440 dpi quality£30.00
1 off A2 2880 dpi quality£60.00

There are 2 added bonuses with a Pro Lab and they are you can recycle the packaging and secondly many offer a white label facility where they will ship it direct to your customer on your behalf reducing you shipping costs overall.

Don’t forget the cost comparison was based on a very optimistic sales figure of 50 sales unless you are already well established.  Obviously if you already have an adequate printer that can cater for your needs then this is an outlay you won’t need to pay fore which will bring down the cost per print.

Disadvantages of using a Professional Lab

Using Professional Photo Labs do come with a few issues.  The biggest problem I had was finding a good one!

I must have tried over a dozen before settling on the ones I use all the time now with the majority of issues coming down to print quality and or packaging quality.  Sometimes I ended up with the print not being at the standard I would expect with slight defects in the print or they would ship it in envelopes just for the post man to bend and put a lovely crease across the image.

I will say on every occasion I got a full refund or replacement print but this is not what you want when a customer has placed an order and eagerly awaiting to take receipt his beautiful print.

If you are fortunate to live close enough to a reputable pro lab who can provide the service you are looking for then I would definitely pay them a visit.  It is nice to be able to build a relationship with these people and will only enhance your business going forward.  It is trial and error but research and due diligence on pro labs will pay dividends in the long run.

Over the years I have spent fortunes on trying to find the best way to print my photographs until I finally settled on only using Professional Photo Labs to reproduce my artwork. I hope I have given you some good points to think about if you are considering selling your photographs.

You can see all may photographs available in print as Giclee, Canvas and Aluminium Dibond Prints for sale here.

What are your experiences and thoughts on the Best way to print professional photos for sale?  Let me know below.