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  • Giclee Printing and Pricing for Artist Limited Editions

    The giclee-- also known as inkjet or digital-- print revolution offers artists boatloads of new ways to make and sell art at reasonable prices, but seeing as the revolution is still in progress, and the market for giclee limited edition prints and other forms of digital art is still relatively disorganized, perhaps a few guidelines and ground rules are in order. (The terms giclee, digital, and inkjet will be used interchangeably in this article as they basically all define the same process.) Artists, publishers, and galleries currently represent digital art in so many different ways that unless you know your printers and printing processes, figuring out what you're looking at can be, at best, confusing. And when potential buyers get confused, especially if whatever they're looking at is priced expensively, they don't buy. So being clear and direct about what you're selling and how it's priced is an important part of making the selling process work.

    The five basic kinds of digital or inkjet or giclee prints are-- (1) computer-generated images (original giclee prints); (2) digitally printed photographs; (3) reproduction giclee prints of images scanned into computers; (4) digital photographs or scanned images that are then manipulated, enhanced, reworked, or altered by computer (using programs like Photoshop, for example) BEFORE they're printed; (5) and giclee or digital images of any kind that are enhanced, reworked, or altered AFTER they're printed. Digital art of all types is rapidly increasing in popularity, regardless of whether the finished products are reproductions, originals, or some combination of the two. Whatever you want to make is fine, as with all art, there are no rules other not to misrepresent what you're making or selling.

    Most giclee prints are reproductions of works of art in other mediums-- copies of paintings, watercolors, drawings, and so on. If you decide to produce digital copies of your art, remember that no matter what you call them, they are NOT original works of art. They are COPIES of original works of art and should always be represented as such. Even signing or limiting them does not change this fact. Signing a inkjet reproduction is no different than signing an invitation to one of your openings-- it's your signature on a copy of something that was printed by mechanical means; you had nothing to do with creating it.

    Having said that, producing giclee limited edition reproduction prints is a great way for artists to make their art more widely available at lower prices, and increasing their collector bases by offering affordable alternatives to more expensively priced originals. If someone loves a particular image, and the only way they can own it is by buying it in the form of a signed limited inkject print, that's absolutely OK. You can also sell your images as unsigned unlimited editions at even lower prices if you want to make them even more affordable, or you can sign and limit them in various ways in order to market them at different price points. Signing, numbering, adding small drawings in the margins, or whatever else you want to do to personalize or individualize your digital images all make them more attractive to buyers, as well as allow you to price them higher than without these personalizations. The extras or options you offer are entirely up to you.

    Now for the guidelines. If you're printing limited editions, set edition sizes in advance. Once they're set, make them public and NEVER change them. You don't have to print the entire run at once; one of the great advantages of giclee printing is that you only have to print as many prints as people order, thereby saving ink, paper, and storage costs. But keep in mind that people who buy limited edition prints often buy based, at least in part, on the size of the edition. For example, if you limit an edition to ten prints, you sell them out, and then decide to print twenty more because they sold so well, you can be pretty sure that the people who bought the first ten will never buy art from you again (nor will their friends). Always be true to your client base-- don't say one thing and then do another. And don't fudge around when somebody asks you about an edition size just to leave all your options open. As the great sage Ron Popiel once said, "Set it, and forget it."

    With signed limited editions, document every print you sell. This is a great way to make buyers feel confident about what they're buying. Include a detailed original invoice or certificate of authenticity with each image-- not a photocopy-- with the print's title, paper type, printer type, ink type, date printed, edition size, and other particulars. Then sign and date it. Not only do buyers appreciate the documentation, but good documentation also tends to increase a work of art's value (or even an inkjet copy of a work of art). Given the choice between two identical works of art, one with documentation and one without, knowledgeable buyers will choose the one with documentation over the one without approximately 100% of the time.

    Dating digital images is particularly important. Since a digital file prints out exactly the same way every time you print it, no matter when you print it, the quickest and simplest way to differentiate one image from the next is by the date it was printed. Even though a print may be one of a larger edition, a date individualizes it, and makes it just a little bit unique. And buyers like that. In fact, buyers generally like dated art, especially when their dates precede other buyers' dates.

    Many artists don't pay enough attention to dating their work, digital or otherwise, but the more art you make and the longer you make it for, the more important dates become-- especially on your early work, especially if you have a long and productive career. Dates come in mighty handy when retrospective time rolls around too. And once again, given the choice between two identical works of art, one that's dated and one that's not, knowledgeable buyers will choose the dated one over the undated one approximately 100% of the time. Keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to date the art on the front if you don't want to, but date it somewhere.

    Those of you who make original works of art that incorporate digital methods should follow basically the same basic procedures as artists making straight reproduction prints. Set edition sizes as applicable (don't change them once they're set), include documentation, and since your art is some combination of digital and original work (like hand-embellished with paint, for example), briefly describe your medium and/or production techniques. The ratio of digital to original content in your art is up to you; everything is OK. The important thing is that you state that ratio with some degree of accuracy so that anyone interested in buying, showing, or representing your work knows what he or she is getting ahead of time. For example, if you add ten brush strokes to a digital print, you're basically offering a reproduction; if you add hundreds of brush strokes, your giclee becomes progressively more original. Whatever you do, say so.

    Never try to obscure the fact that your art has digital components (as some artists do). For example, if you print a digital print and then paint over it in any way, call it "acrylic over giclee image," "enhanced giclee print," "hand-embellished inkjet print," "giclee print with hand highlighting," "hand painted digital print," or "inkjet and acrylic." Don't simply call it "mixed media." Not only does that confuse buyers; it's also disingenuous because it traditionally refers to a work of art that is 100% original and created entirely by hand. Digital art is created with computers, printers, scanners, and/or cameras; no handwork is involved in certain stages of that process. You don't want someone to buy your "mixed media" art believing that you made it entirely by hand, only to find out later that you didn't.

    Artists sometimes think about keeping all of their originals and selling only digital reproductions-- signed limited editions. Maybe this is OK if you're Thomas Kinkade, and you sell tens of thousands of prints of every work of art you create, but when you're just starting out or you make significantly more art than you sell, be generous. Don't hoard all the originals and sell only copies. Short-sheeting collectors is not a good habit to get into. Make sure your buyers get their money's worth; happy buyers buy more art. Artists who sell more art eventually have more opportunities to produce and sell more giclees.

    If you plan on producing lots of inkjet prints, think seriously about buying your own equipment, or perhaps buying it together with several other artists. Printer prices have plummeted in recent years to the point where they can pay for themselves in relatively short periods of time. Hiring publishers or fine art printers to print your prints is rapidly becoming a thing of the past (except for specialized artisan or print publishing workshops known for producing exceptionally high quality images). Keep in mind, though, that when you buy your own equipment, you have to learn to use it.

    Additional pointers:

    ► Shop around and compare prices before contracting work out. Get references from other artists who use the same publishers to be sure you get good value, good service, and quality images for your money.

    ► Make sure your image files are large enough to produce superior quality prints, and use printers capable of printing in high resolution (high dpi). You don't want dot matrix patterns to be visible on your prints (unless showing dot patterns is an intended characteristic of your art). Color fields should be crisp and clean with no overlap or fuzzy edges.

    ► Know the characteristics of your inks. Under what conditions will they fade? Are they water-resistant? Should they be protected with finishes? Should they be displayed only in low light? If you want your art to last, it's important to use the best inks, papers, and protective coatings available.

    ► Use pigmented inks only. Dye-based inks fade substantially over time. By the way, the last time I checked, Iris printers still can't use pigmented inks, so avoid Iris prints.

    ► Make sure you know what equipment is being used to print your images, as well as what inks, papers, and dpi (resolution). See samples of exactly what you're contracting for before you sign any dotted lines, and be sure the quality of those samples meets with your approval.

    ► Think about offering a little extra for early buyers of your latest editions-- maybe a little larger size, special paper, a personal statement, or other add-ons. Showing consideration to your first few buyers encourages them to buy first again, and might encourage other buyers to get in line quicker the next time.

    ► The nature of digital art is such that even though you print the same file over and over again, you can make each image unique with relatively minor changes. So experiment with different options-- you may end up pioneering techniques that digital artists will follow for years to come.

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