How to make fine art prints

Fine art prints are high-quality, long-lasting reproductions of your art. Here’s what to keep in mind as you create your fine art prints.

If you’re an artist, there’s no doubt you’ve thought about offering limited edition, fine art prints of your work. But in order to offer a fine art print, there are some minimum requirements if you would like for your prints to be of high-quality.

Fine art prints are created with a type of inkjet printing – but, not all inkjet prints will meet the requirements for what is to be considered a fine art print. Fine art prints have a longer lifespan than a standard, inkjet print from a home printer.

There are three basic criteria that must be met in order for a print to be considered a “fine-art print”.

01. Image resolution

Any image that is to be printed as a fine art print needs to be created at a resolution of 300 dots per inch (DPI). Which means the camera or scanner you use to capture the image or scan the art must be capable to do so at 300 DPI.

When setting up a digital file that you will use to make a fine art print, make sure it is at least 300 DPI. This will make sure your fine art print has the sharpest image quality without any of the blurriness. Which commonly can occur with images of a lower resolution.

02. Paper choice

For fine art printing, ideal paper choices will say “archival” quality, “acid free”, and consists of a 100% cotton or rag base.

Hahnemühle paper is one of the best paper brands in the world. Perfect for longevity and color reproduction.

Paper suitable for fine art prints is more expensive than regular printing paper, so be sure to do your research on any paper you are looking to purchase. There are many different types of professional paper out there.

If you are selling (or even buying a fine art print), double check the paper it is printed on. Make sure to include the paper quality in your description when you’re selling them.

03. Printer and ink

A fine art print is typically created on a large format printer that uses pigment-based inks

The last element in a true fine art print is the type of ink and printer used. The biggest difference between a standard inkjet print and a fine art print is that fine art prints are made using pigment-based inks rather than the dye-based inks found in your typical, everyday printer.

Pigment-based inks last longer. We’re talking upwards of 100-200 years without much fading. With these types of printers, each color is in it’s own ink cartridge and there are typically 8-12 separate colors.

You’ll want to us ink with names like UltraChrome K3 from Epson and LUCIA from Canon as these are some of the most popular pigment-based inks.

The three criteria listed here are the most widely accepted standards for fine art printing:

  1. Document resolution. A fine art print must be a minimum of 300 DPI resolution.
  2. Choice of paper. Look for key terms on the box, such as archival, 100% cotton or rag, and acid free.
  3. Use the right ink and printer. A fine art print is typically created on a large format printer that uses pigment-based inks.

The advantages of making your own fine art prints is that you can create ‘on-demand’. Because the process is so simple, it can be a good way for you to produce your own prints rather than requiring a second party printer. Where you would face large upfront costs or having to purchase a minimum order without any guarantee you’ll sell all of the prints.

Knowing all these details can help you establish solid ways to earn from your art, while making sure you follow some best practices.

Size of prints

There’s no specific print size that sells more than the other. The only main consideration to make is to offer common print sizes. This way it’s it’s easier for your collectors to frame it.

These are the most common fine art print sizes:

  • 5”×7”
  • 8”×10”
  • 8.5”×11”
  • 11”×14”
  • 16”×20”
  • 24”×36”

Determining your print sizes is really up to you, the type of work you make, and who your collectors are.

As the creator of the work, you probably have a good idea if your work looks better smaller or larger. Of course, the aspect ratio will determine the overall size of your fine art prints as well.

Image size

While the paper sizes above are common sizes easy to print – we have to talk about images size. It’s best to include white space around the border of the print. This protects the image and also gives you room to sign the print. While also making it easier for your collectors to frame. (More on signing the print below).

Edition sizes

You may choose to have a few different sized limited edition runs for the same artwork.

For example, you may decide to print a total of 100 editions of a work that are 8×11 in size, 25 editions of the same work that are 11”×14”, and 10 that are 16”×20”. Offering each edition at a different price point.

Signing your prints

In the collector’s perspective, having the artist’s signature on a print can increase the value of the print.

An ‘edition’ of a print is a limited set of identical prints. Each edition in a print must be identical. If there is a discrepancy in quality, ink color, or even the paper quality these prints shouldn’t be included in the the edition.

Editions should be labeled with the specific print number followed by a slash / then the number of total prints in the edition.

  • 1/100 print number 1 from a total of 100 prints
  • 25/50 print number 25 from a total of 50 prints

Here are some best practices for signing your fine art prints:

  • Always sign your prints using a pencil not a pen. As strange as this seems, pen and ink make your print more vulnerable to fraud as signatures can be printed. Pencil can’t.
  • Sign your name, initials, or monogram on your prints below the bottom right edge of the image.
  • Mark the edition number below the bottom edge of the image on the left hand side .
  • If you want, add the title of the image in the middle between the signature and the edition number. Titles are often written between inverted commas – ‘Title’.

Also, to keep the quality and value of your limited edition fine art prints consistent:

  • Do NOT sign an unlimited/open edition prints.
  • Do NOT sign any art prints you are not happy with.

Hand embellishing prints

Hand embellishing a print is a great way to make each of your limited edition fine art prints unique.

A hand embellished print just means you go over certain areas with paint.

Typically, you don’t want to use oil paint for this. You’re better off using acrylic paint or a watercolor wash. This really depends on the medium the original work was made in.

The sky is the limit for your creativity with hand embellishing. Just make sure whatever you’re doing for your hand embellishments, it’ll stay archival and last a long time.

What about open edition prints? 

They’re simply a run of prints you offer on an ongoing basis.

Either in person at art fairs and conventions or on your website.

What separates open edition prints from limited edition prints is exclusivity and quality of the product.

Open edition prints are more of an affordable, small poster of your work.

They aren’t signed, have any hand embellishments, or come in an exclusive amount.

Should you offer open edition prints?

It’s really up to you.

If you’re offering limited editions prints and open edition prints make sure you’re distinguishing the differences between the two in your marketing.

Making sure people know about the exclusivity, limited amount, and other factors like quality that goes into your limited editions.

While also communicating that your open editions aren’t signed and may be printed on a less archival paper.

Usually, open edition prints are more affordable – under the $40 price point.

However, tasks such as printing, shipping, and dealing with customer support – you may find yourself developing a few headaches.

So before you think about offering open edition prints, really think about how you’re going to offer open edition prints to your audience.

If you’re primarily going to sell them in person at conventions and art fairs, you’ll have less headaches. Mainly because you aren’t shipping and packing each print individually.

If you’re offering open edition prints on your website, I highly recommend using a service that prints and ships your orders for you when you make a sale on your website.

There are many options which automate the printing and shipping aspect of open editions prints for you. But most of them have a few drawbacks:

  • the transactions happen off of your art website
  • they put their branding on the shipping packages
  • they don’t give you your customers info so you can stay in touch

The only print-on-demand drop shipper I’ve found for artists that can seamlessly integrate with your art website – is Printful.

So if your art website store manages transactions with any of the following you can use Printful:

  • WooCommerce
  • SquareSpace
  • Square (Weebly)
  • BigCartel
  • and yes, even Etsy.

…plus, many many others…

What’s cool is that you can also upload a sticker label design of your own that they’ll put on the outside of the package when they ship to your customers.

Before you link Printful to your website or online store I suggest getting some test prints made by them so you know what the quality of their prints are like.

Offering open edition prints aren’t a requirement in your art business at all. But if your audience is asking you for them. This is a great way to get started without any crazy costs to get started.

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