How to Start an Online Print Shop
Today we are going to talk about how to sell your photography prints online. I hope that this is helpful for you guys!
It is so cool that we are able to sell what we are passionate about to the entire world from our couches. We can create digital shops and art galleries so easily, with a minimal amount of overhead, investment, and inventory. One of my favorite aspects of my business is the print shop, and it’s where my photography business first began.
I’ve told my story before, but I think it would be fun to mention that I had no idea what I was doing when I first started out. Photography had been a hobby for me, and like most of us, I had never printed one of my photos. I didn’t train for any of this, and am entirely self-taught. One day someone messaged me on Instagram to see if they could purchase a print. My response was a big HELL YES, and so my research began.
You know nothing, Lindsay Havlicek Bell (sorry I literally cannot wait for Game of Thrones to pick back up).
So here is the deal. When it comes to how to actually run online shop, you can use a third party platform which acts as a gallery, orders prints from labs to be printed, handles and processes secure payments, and drop ships to your clients. The alternative is you have your own platform where you handle everything. I’ll talk about both, as I’ve gone both routes.
Third party platforms designed for selling prints
There are amazing platforms designed for photographers such as Darkroom, Smugmug, or Pic-Time which allow you to easily create and sell beautiful galleries. You price out your images, choose the exact types of print, paper types, sizes, and so forth that you want to offer. You can link the gallery to your website so clients can seamlessly shop. These platforms then directly place an order with the print lab, and the print drop ships to your customer. These platforms get a cut of your cost, so make sure you mark up your prices to cover all of that. You can also rest easily knowing that once you’ve set up your shop you don’t have to do any more work! This is awesome if you travel a lot or want it to run itself.
Your Own Gallery + Shop
The other option is that you have a shop through your website using Woocommerce (for WordPress) or Squarespace. You can also use a platform like Shopify. These options are not all the same though so you have to do your research. I personally struggled with Woocommerce, and felt like I needed someone who knew what they were doing to help me. Squarespace is much easier for a shop for someone not as tech savvy. And while I’ve never used Shopify I’ve heard it is simple and seamless. The major thing about going this route is that you are responsible for order fulfillment.
I personally handle all of my order fulfillment. It’s a lot more work; however, I chose this option because I’m a bit of a control freak and knew exactly what I wanted to offer. I partnered with Simply Framed because I loved their fine art printing, paper choices, quality of work, and amazing framing options. When a client places an order, I have to log into the Simply Framed portal, order the print/frame etc, and then can either drop ship or have it shipped back to me to go out. Like I said, more work, but I’m OBSESSED with the way my prints turn out.
The Bottom Line
If you’re new to a print shop, or if you’re traveling and on the road a lot, using a platform designed for selling prints is probably the easiest way to go.
Do you hate pricing your work, too? It’s been by far the most challenging part of entrepreneurship for me. You’re always fearful of pricing your work too high, and you feel like you are not worthy of your pricing.
If you can relate to that above paragraph, it’s important to work on your money mindset. Let all of that go because it isn’t going to get you anywhere. This is a business.
I remember doing market comparisons, and actually couldn’t believe how low some people price their prints out there. I mean, so low that I think they may be losing money on each sale. Or maybe the quality of their product is just so low that it costs them nothing to have them made.
I’m not going to tell you how much to charge, but I’m going to tell you to believe in your work and your pricing. If someone doesn’t want to buy your print because they’re that cheap, then they don’t like your work. No one would balk over an extra $25 on an 11×14 print if they value your artwork. Don’t price yourself for the masses. Your work is special, and the amount you charge should reflect that. There is someone out there who would spend a lot of money, I mean a LOT of money, on your work. Believe in yourself.
Think about shipping
I offer free domestic shipping, and have that cost factored into my pricing. Not everyone does this. Shipping can be very expensive, so make sure you know exactly what the costs are before someone orders a large framed print!
Lastly, make sure that you’ll still make money when you offer discount codes. If you know you’ll have codes in the future for percentages off make sure you’ve got your bases covered so you don’t lose money (doh! I learned this the hard way at first).
Take your time when creating a shop. I recommend ordering paper samples initially, and then ordering sample prints. Check out their framing as well. You need to really know what you’re working with. Figure out exactly how you process payment, and what fees you’ll be hit with (I use PayPal), and come up with a game plan for how you’ll advertise. Add into your social media bio that you have a print shop, and show your prints in your stories. Do giveaways! This worked really well for me, and I love doing them. People are so happy when they win. It feels awesome. Ask your customers to share photos of your work on their walls, and then show those photos on your stories. Put together pairings, and help your clients. Ordering prints shouldn’t be stressful for anyone.
And don’t forget about sales tax!! Do your research. Register your business.
You do you.
Remember that just because other people offer a product doesn’t mean you have to. For example, don’t like the way your work looks on metal? Don’t offer metal prints. I know this may sound ridiculous and obvious, but all of the options with online platforms can feel really overwhelming at first. Just because the service you are using offers prints on mugs doesn’t mean you need to, you know? Only offer what you LOVE, as if this were a really gallery people were visiting… because it is. Don’t overwhelm your customers with too many choices.
How Big Can I Go?
This concept completely freaked me out when I first started up which is why I’m going to talk about it here. It may be very obvious to some, BUT, your camera and your camera settings will determine a large part of this. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need a $5000 mirrorless camera with 50 megapixels to sell big prints. You don’t. But, you also need to make sure your equipment is quality.
I shoot with a Nikon D750 which is a full frame camera with 24 megapixels, and I try to always shoot with the lowest ISO possible. This makes a huge difference. Also, don’t crop your images in post as much as possible. Clean them up, but you cannot zoom in 4x and then expect to blow that up.
Some of my prints can easily be 30×40 and look awesome. Others I would never go over 11×14 because of the ISO I used when I shot it. My print Lovers being a prime example of this. It is one of my absolute favorite prints that I offer, but I shot it 30 minutes after the sun set and had my ISO cranked up. There’s more grain in the image, which again, I love, but that would not look good if the print was too large.
My recommendation: print your work and study your prints. It is too easy to be lazy, and not check when you have an online shop without inventory.
Embrace learning on the fly
You won’t know how to run a print shop until you run a print shop. Like everything in life, you just have to jump in, experience, and learn. Stay curious. Ask questions. Chat with other photographers.
And there you have it. Have a question? Drop me a comment. And if you have a shop and do something different than what I talked about, I’d love to hear about it below!
Happy print shopping,