Fine Art Prints - how to make them!

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Original Post

I spent an enormous amount of time and money getting my art print operation off the ground, and optimizing so processing orders doesn't take over my life.

Here is every secret and detail I learned! Let me know if it helps you!

PS. It might be easier to read at my blog:

Posted at 7:01 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT


Modern digital prints are the ultimate printmaking process, particularly when the image is created or digitally enhanced in conjunction with a computer. Why? Traditional offset litho art prints are just a reproduction of a photo. So the print is a compromise of the original art. And with offset photo, you can see the dots! Screenprints are closer to being real art because there's not really an "original." But you are stuck with the limitations of screenprinting. With modern digital inkjet & giclee prints --- you get the best of both worlds! Dotless printing (microscoping inkdots merge & combine in the inkjet paper substrate)! And if done with intention, the resulting print IS the artwork - not a compromised reproduction of an "original." Get it? This is huge - and today these printers put the power of a high-quality PRESS in the hands of ANYONE. Now ANY artist can release small editions of limited edition prints! What else? Today, the ARTISTS THEMSELVES make the prints... Isn't that so much cooler than "some company" making the prints?! We are living in the future - and the future is all about D.I.Y. --- PRINTMAKING IN THE HANDS OF THE ARTIST... And here's how I do it!!! These are my notes, useful for others interested in printmaking:

8.5x11 printer = very affordable
13x19 printer = under 1k
19x24 and 24x36 get more expensive

Modern DYE inks last 75-110 years.
PIGMENT inks last up to 160-210 years.
DYE printers are much more affordable, but PIGMENT is much better. If you want your work to be gallery friendly, PIGMENT ink is a must. I've been selling my dye based mounted prints at a gallery I do group shows at, but they get labeled "digital prints" instead of "giclee prints."
Go PIGMENT if you can. Also, PIGMENT is usually WATERPROOF. Dye is only waterresistant, and only when used on special waterresistant papers.
* If you do use a dye ink, make sure it's a MODERN dye ink like HP Vivera. Old style inkjet prints used to fade after 7 years or less.
* Another bonus of the HP INK printers is - when you replace the ink cartridge, you're replacing the print *head* - so print problems, clogged jets, etc - are rare with HP dye inkjet printers.

Posted at 7:01 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

I use the HP d7260 printer. You can get it for $104. It runs beautifully - I've done hundreds of prints so far without problems. It uses individual inkwells (A MUST.) ONE COMPLAINT - it's hard to get the paper PERFECTLY straight. So I do max size 8x10 and trim the edges which MAKES it perfectly straight and centered. (A printer with a perfect feed would allow me to do true 8.5x11 prints.) This printer uses Vivera DYE inks. It does NOT print on CANVAS well - canvas is too thick.

I'm getting the HP b9180 printer soon. It uses Vivera PIGMENT inks, so it's true archival quality. It's $600 from and got great reviews. It accepts up to 13x19 which is a decent print size. It accepts fairly thick paper, so you can print on handmade papers and canvas!

HP has a "step down" from that coming out - the HP 8750. It's less expensive, probably ~$450 or so -- but I DON'T recommend it. Not worth it - one difference is it can't handle thick papers. Trust me, you WANT thick paper as an option!

EPSON makes pigment printers. They use good industry standard ULTRACHROME pigment inks. You'd have to research these printers - I'm more of an HP guy as I've had good luck with HP so I'm not changing.
* HP pigment printers have user replaceable print heads. Epson does not, and is notorious for having print head problems like clogged jets- but they're good enough to be industry standard... but still, I'm going with HP.

Posted at 7:02 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

Old inkjet printers used just 3 colors! Today, good photo printers use 6 to 9 inks. In general, good "photo printers" make good inkjet fine art printers. Also, you want INDIVIDUAL INKWELLS. In the old days, if you ran out of yellow you had to replace ALL your colors. No more!

When you start printing, learn about EVERY PRINT DRIVER OPTION and what it does. Most printers default to annoying image correction stuff that hoses your colors. I turn all that off. Print with MAXIMUM DPI. Always.

I use QUICKGAMMA and it's FREE! My printer is fairly accurate as to matching my monitor. Know that LCD monitors usually make the dark areas brighter... Definitely calibrate your monitor as best you can and do test prints.

Inkjet paper, whether pigment or dye - is coated with a surface that absorbs the microscopic ink a little so the dots just barely blur together. This is why modern inkjet prints blow away offset lithography dot prints!

My preference is MATTE PHOTO PAPER. It works well for my work because my paintings are fairly detailed and deep color saturation is important. The TEXTURED papers don't seem to get the same level of color saturation, but I do use textured papers for some prints, like flat colors & desaturated/textured/simple art...
Hahnemühle Fine Art Paper is a common standard. I got a print from someone on this and it's decent. Slightly warm toned paper, but it's nice. Kinda pricey though.
INKJET CANVAS is GREAT! Prints on canvas are just gorgeous... You need a printer that can handle thick paper for this.
There are also "velour" and "velvet" papers that have a soft fuzzy finish. They're pretty neat but you have to be careful because dust particles gets trapped in the fuzz.

If you want to make nice quality prints at a low cost, STAPLES actually makes a nice Matte paper and it's very affordable. (Like $10 for 100 8x11, and they make it in 13x19 too.) Make sure you get the ULTRA or ADVANCED or whatever --- the highest end they have whatever it's called --- it's the one that is most archival. (That paper will last longer than the best pigment ink.) It's very nice paper and it's pretty much equal to the photo papers of HP & EPSON. STRATHMORE makes inkjet papers, but be careful because they're always changing their lineup. They made some neat inkjet paper and then discontinued a few lines so I ran out. So if you do a print edition, get enough of the same paper to do the run...

Posted at 7:02 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

There are UV coatings that will extend the life of your print. KRYLON makes one explicitly for this purpose called "Preserve It!" That's all you need. Keep the spray pretty light - this stuff builds up quickly and blows out the dark areas of your print. These days I just do a couple of real light coats.

If you are MOUNTING your print on wood or something like I do, you'll need to seal the ink - particularly if you are using dye based non-waterproof ink. I use a PLAID or Krylon brand clear UV acrylic coating. I use Plaid mod-podge to mount my prints on wood or canvas panels. Plaid makes an acid-free modpodge for paper, too. (Sealant is required when mounting so when you brush decoupage medium over the print - it doesn't smudge or blur or bleed.)

A REAL cool woodmount is THIS method:
I *believe* that's what PCP/ uses, and his work looks amazing in galleries. You can hardly tell it's a print. (He also does additional paint detailing on top of his pigment giclee prints, further making each print unique.)

"Paper cutters" aren't very accurate. You want your prints to be precisely sized so they are easy to frame. I use a RULER and a nice BOXCUTTER. I change the blade frequently, so get one with a quick one-button blade change. If you use this method get a nice $10 ergonomic boxcutter. It's worth every penny, as cutting is a lot of work. Include a fine 1 pixel line on your image so you have a print border. (So you know where to cut.) And BE CAREFUL. I nearly cut the tip of my thumb off and that hand was out of commission for 10 days! (TIP: Just SLIGHTLY angle the blade toward the ruler. SLIGHTLY. That prevents the cut from running off in its own direction.) Also, use a METAL RULER obviously! And a "SELF HEALING CUTTING BOARD" - the self-healing is an ABSOLUTE MUST HAVE.

If you want to sell affordable prints, make them easy to frame. Use standard frame sizes with enough border so people can frame them easily. I do 4x6, 5x7, 8x10. Soon I'll do 13x19. These are all standard readymade frame sizes, etc. To get this right, I simply make my art 1 inch smaller in each direction. For example, on an 8x10 I keep my art within 7x9. You can always do a full bleed, which I'm doing more and more of now... Ink is expensive, but it's nice to have art that looks nice in a readymade frame without even a mat. TIP: even if your art doesn't go to the border, put it on a full-bleed (ink to the edge of the paper) colored background. Then it's going to look good with or without a mat, and no white border to detract from the art!

*** Also, do keep in mind WHITE SPACE is much more affordable to print than ink covered space. And INK is going to be your most expensive consumable. AND NEVER ATTEMPT TO REUSE INK CARTRIDGES. You might get away with that on a low end consumer printer, but you'll just make a mess for your art printer. (Plus you void warranties. Ink cartridges are actually designed to fail if you attempt this, so don't bother. I learned the hard way with an old printer long ago...)

Posted at 7:03 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

Most people use TUBES for larger prints. Imagekind ships flat with a cardboard backing. So keep these shipping materials on hand!
I use a fiberboard mailer enclosed in a Tyvek envelope. The Tyvek envelope makes it reasonably water resistant. is a good deal. Get 9x12 cardboard mailers for 8x10s.
IMPORTANT: Put a DO NOT BEND sticker on the FRONT AND BACK. Some postal workers will BEND the cardboard mailer to fit it in a box!!! I learned the hardway, ALWAYS use the DO NOT BEND sticker... I haven't had a problem since using them.

After I print, I use a wedge-shaped paper clip to grip the paper and then I have an entire room of nails on the wall to hang the prints. The wedge clip hangs the print perfectly on the wall. Then I have several 6 feet tall half inch wide boards with nails down them according to your print size. (I do 8x10s max so mine are like 13 inches apart.) Then I just take the 3 boards outside and spray them all at once!!! Make sure it's not HUMID outside!! And WIND is bad as it will blow your prints around. Also, I hyperventilate myself with fresh air so I can hold my breath for a couple of minutes while I do the spraying! That way I don't breath that spray in, which is probably cancerous!
* TIP: I put a LINE with a red sharpie after I UV spray a print. That way if I have some sprayed and some unsprayed on my walls, I know which are ready to ship.
* TIP: SPRAY *BEFORE* you trim your prints!!!!!!!!! This way the wedge paperclip never comes into contact with the print surface.

You need some kind of flatfile storage for your prints. As an afforable solution I got plastic drawers from Staples. They are crappy, but fine for the prints. You want THIN drawers so you can basically have lots of stacks of paper. Most people are doing print-on-demand these days. I do, too, but when you get orders - it sure is nice to have the prints already made... It's cool to do your full run of prints all at once, but if you're like most Etsy artists for example, you'll probably print on demand so you can have more available for purchase. I have like 36 drawers. You can never have enough for a big print shop, though you can get away with fewer if you're "print on demand" and just make them as they sell.

Posted at 7:03 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

(order supplies online from or and
Inkjet paper
Inkjet ink (always have more than you need, but don't overbuy because inkjet ink has an expiration date.) Sometimes you can get GREAT deals on ink at COSTCO or SAMS
Razor Blades for cutting
Exacto blade for fixes
KRYLON Preserve It spray
ACID FREE TYPING PAPER (use this when shipping to separate prints from each other and make sure they don't come in contact with the fiberboard mailer!)
Tyvek Envelopes
Tubes if you ship large envelopes
Business cards
Freebies to include with each mailing

self healing cutting board
nice ergonomic boxcutter - get the QUICKCHANGE kind. The ONE BUTTON BLADE CHANGE. Very important!!!
paper clips - not flat "paperclips" but the wedge shaped ones for clipping a stack of paper together.
paper cutter for things besides prints
Sharpie markers for labeling your packages
packaging tape for closing packages & taping on "do not bend" stickers if you print your own like I do
pens to sign your prints (use something that won't get on the print above if you stack two together)
trash bin nearby so you can clear out your paper scraps after cutting
Stationery - people like handwritten thank yous/notes. It's a nice touch to have your own. You can print your own.
Canned compressed air - useful for dust situations

You probably already know this, but you gotta stay organized with this. Track all your sales and be sure to pay your taxes!
SUPER IMPORTANT. All your supplies are write-off tax deductible, and that way you don't pay taxes on your sales until you make back your investment. Keep all your receipts, etc...

Print on your printer at least once or twice a week. Don't let the print heads dry out. Most printers are meant to stay on permanently. The printer will run its own ink cycling and stuff to keep it in order. Don't turn the printer off.

Making CERTIFICATES OF AUTHENTICITY is cool, and if you print-on-demand, it's a good way to keep track of your print #s. (You should always do all your certificates at once even if you don't do your prints at once.)
Oh, and I *DO* use a PAPER CUTTER for things like my stationery and the DO NOT BEND stickers I make, and for the certificates. It's hard to store & organize the certificates if you do a lot of prints! I use "slider" sealing quart size freezer bags and alphabetize them to find them easily for shipments.

If you sign your print in pencil like I do, sign it BEFORE you use a UV coating. This will prevent the pencil from getting on a print's backing if you stack them.

Save an OLD COMPUTER to be your print station! I have a computer that is basically my "press." That way I can set it to do print runs and just let it go!

This is common knowledge, but make BACKUPS of your prints!!! Harddrives fail. Don't learn the hard way.

Consider having a line of BLACK & WHITE prints in addition to your color work. If you print in color and buy multipacks of ink - you'll end up with a lot of spare black ink. It's nice to use it up! (NOTE: you usually have to check a box in your printer driver to "only use black ink" or else when you print black it will use all the colors for better gradations. If your goal is you use your black ink, be sure to check that box.)

When printing things like your own do-not-bend stickers or stationery - you don't need to have a line border for cutting. Just put them close enough together that cutting them down the middle is all you need. Also, set up prints to maximize page size. Using an 8.5x11? You can get two 4x6 prints out of that. (common sense.)

Beware of sRGB and AdobeRGB. I don't understand these colormodes, but apparently AdobeRGB lets you maximize your colorspace and get more color out of your printer than sRGB. I just work in sRGB though, but it's something to explore... **make sure your printer driver matches whatever your photoshop setting is**

Stuff like cutting & packaging can take a lot of time. Get your work area real organized, and work it into your relaxation time. A good time to get that stuff done is when you don't feel like doing anything else. Make use of time that would otherwise be wasted.

Buy supplies in BULK and ONLINE. Get your cost per print down!

On a last note - GET ORGANIZED, STAY ORGANIZED. When you start getting a lot of print orders, it can become insanely time consuming. If everything is in its place, it's MUCH easier to process orders.

Posted at 7:03 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

Whew, that was a long post. There's obviously no right way to get setup, so no doubt there will be disagreements with this --- but this is how I did it, and there's bound to be some useful info or tips for all printmakers in here.

Posted at 7:05 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

melbamc says

I found this very helpful ~ Thank you!

Posted at 7:25 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

Meowstro says

wow thanks for all the tips!

Posted at 8:16 pm Mar 20, 2008 EDT

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