Prints are probably the single item most commonly bought/sold in the artist’s alley, but they can be surprisingly tough to get right. This may seem pretty basic to Artist’s Alley veterans but it can be bamboozling for the unitiated. The questions I run into most often from AA newcomers all have to do with prints; "What size prints should I sell?" "What DPI should I draw at?" "How do I keep the colours from printing out muddy?" These are all really good questions! Lets try to answer them, shall we?
What size prints should I sell?
There are a lot of paper sizes to choose from and sometimes making a decision on this front can get kind of intimidating. Most print shops are more geared towards photographer than illustration, so the paper sizes they offer are going to follow photographic and frame-related standards. The most common sizes are, in ascending order (Metric sizes in mm in parenthesis): 2.5”x3.5”(63.5x89), 4”x6”(102x152), 5”x7”(127x178), 6”x8”(152x203), 8”x10”(203x254), 8”x12”(203x305), 10”x12”(254x305), 10”x15”(254x381), 11”x14”(279x356), 11”x17”(279x432), 12”x15”(305x381), and 12”x18”(305x457). Anything larger than that and you’re getting into poster sizes, which I’ll cover later. 4”x6” is probably the smallest print most people are going to be interested in purchasing, and it is usually very easy to find good deals on 4x6s so it’s a good starting point. 4”x6” has the added benefit of having a very common aspect ratio - 4x6, 8x12, 10x15, and 12x18 all have a 2:3 aspect ratio. This means that if you have a 12”x18” image, you can easily make prints prints of any of those other sizes. If you want to offer the same image in a multitude of sizes, a 2:3 aspect ratio is probably the way to go.
If you’re less concerned about having - or even specifically don’t want to have - the same image in different sizes, you’re probably just best off using whatever size you feel suits the image best. Play around with the canvas sizes a bit and see what sort of aspect ratio you like composing pictures in best. Finally, if you’re new to the world of prints and don’t really feel like diving in to all of this nonsense quite yet you can always use good old 8.5”x11”. Honestly, most of your customers won’t terribly mind.
What DPI should I draw at?
This one comes up a lot with people who have done a bit of research on printing and gotten themselves a bit confused. DPI stands for Dots Per Inch, and is a term referring to the number of tiny dots of ink a printer will place per inch of paper. A printer typically has a range of DPI it is capable of, with lower DPIs often consuming less ink. (A home inkjet printer, for instance, is usually capable of 300-600 DPI max.) The higher the DPI, the crisper the image will look. (Up to a point, that is. Eventually the human eye really can’t tell the difference.) The DPI an image is printed at, however, has nothing to do with the image itself or with your drawing it. What you want to be concerned about is PPI. (For a period of time, DPI was used to refer to both printing and screen, but it caused quite a lot of confusion.)
PPI stands for Pixels Per Inch, and it pretty self explanatory. It is the number of pixels displayed on your screen that represent one inch of length in print. So at regular web resolution of 72 PPI, a single row of 72 pixels would print as one inch across. (Note that the number represents the number of pixels in a flat inch, not a square inch. So a square inch at 72 PPI would contain 5,184 pixels!) The larger your PPI is, the larger of a picture you’ll actually have to draw. An 8”x12” print at 300 PPI is a lot easier to draw than an 8”x12” print at 600 PPI. On the other hand, 600 PPI will be able to have a lot more detail packed into it, assuming you have a printer that can handle it.
Typically you want a lower PPI than DPI. This is because a single pixel can be any colour, but tiny dots of ink can only be one of four colours. So you want a bunch of dots of ink in a single pixel in order to replicate the colour you’re looking for! 72 PPI is the default most art programs and scanners are set to, but it is completely useless for print. The resolution is so low you’ll actually be able to /see/ the pixels in the print version. 150 PPI is the bare minimum I’ve seen anyone work at, but the print usually turns out pretty fuzzy. 300 PPI is a good standard. Prints at 300 PPI usually turn out pretty cleanly and it isn’t too difficult of a size to work at. 600 PPI is another common standard. It takes a lot of effort to draw at this size, but if you are getting your pictures professionally printed it can be well worth it. (It has the added benefit of allowing you to print a picture twice as large at 300 PPI if you wind up wanting to sell a larger size of it!)
How do I keep my colours from printing out all muddy?
So you have this super-amazing print with vivid colours everywhere. Beautiful rainbows, bright reds…. but when you receive your prints, everything looks dull and grey! What gives?
The reason this happens has to do with the difference between how your screen makes colours and how the printer makes colours. Your screen is made up of lots of little lights emitting either red, blue, or green light at you. Because it is creating these colours with light directly, it is working on what is known as an additive colour model. You’ve probably read about this when studying light in school, so I won’t go too far into it. In an additive colour model, the primary colours combine to make other, brighter colours. If you combine them all together, you’ll get white light! (Interestingly, this is entirely do to with how the eye sees colour rather than a property of light itself. Red and Green lights will combine to make a light your eye sees as yellow, even though no actual yellow light is being emitted!) Every colour that your screen produces is created by combining those three colours of light.
Now, anyone who has played around with paint knows that this isn’t at /all/ how physical mediums work. Mixing red, green, and blue paints would create a disgusting green-brown mud. This is true for your printer as well! Physical mediums work on a subtractive colour model. Rather than emitting light at you, a print is merely reflecting light at your eyes. All of the colours created in a subtractive colour model are created by putting pigments down that absorb all of the light except for the colour that you want to be seen. So unlike in an additive model, where adding more colours results in more light getting to your eye, adding colours in a subtractive model results in less light getting in because it is all being absorbed. The end result of all of this is that there are colours that can be created on a screen that can never be created on paper, and there are colours that can be painted or printed that actually cannot be displayed on a screen.
Most printers specifically work with a set of four colours of ink that are combined to create every colour you see on the page. The colours are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. While inks can be made in a lot of different colours, this colour model generally allows for the widest range without spending a lot on money. Sticking to four colours of ink further limits the sort of colours that can be printed. For instance, as we noted above Red is considered a primary colour of light. This basically means that multiple colours of light cannot be easily mixed to produce something our eyes would perceive as true red. As red ink is not present in the CMYK colour model, the closest we can do is mix magenta and yellow. But Magenta and Yellow inks both absorb some of the red light, resulting in less red light being reflected into your eye and a less vibrant colour being perceived on the page. Additionally, translating colours from an RBG colour model to a CMYK colour model is a tricky process, so sometimes a colour will just happen to print very differently than it appears on the screen. (This is much less of a problem now than it was in the early days of digital printing!)
So how do you get around all of this? Well, there are a few tricks you can use. Because artists have had to deal with this issue for decades, most art programs allow you to create your image using a CMYK colour model rather than an RBG one. (In photoshop this is image->mode->CMYK colour) If you draw a picture in this mode, the program will not allow you to use colours that cannot be created by a printer. Drawing in CMYK will pretty much guarantee that what you get on paper will look a lot like what you have on the screen. That’s the safe, easy option. On the other hand, the CMYK pallette is pretty limiting. In fact, I’ve personally found it to be more limiting than CMYK printing actually is at this point. So your other option is just to be careful, and familiarise yourself with what your printer is capable of doing. Be careful when using reds, as they have the widest variance between screen and print, and stay clear of bright, fluorescent colours. Try to order a single proof print before getting your prints done to be sure that it’s printing the way you want it to. (This is a good thing to do even if you are using the CMYK model, honestly.)
So, that’s that! If you have questions, comments, or corrections feel free to post them to our ask box! Hopefully someone finds this helpful. :)
If I may add: Moo is also having free shipping on all $30+ orders until this Sunday :) I order business cards from them and the quality is amazing. One thing to be careful of is that they print pictures a bit dark, so be mindful of that when preparing images!
MOO is great for business cards and little sticker books - you can have every card/ sticker as a diffrent design - they are highly recomended in my art college =D i would give you a link but tumblr dosn't allow it through the Ask page - but if you google it they do come up
You love conventions, and you love art. You’ve heard about/seen this neat thing called the “Artist’s Alley”, where you can combine these two loves into an awesome money-making* venture! Just one problem: Where the hell do you start?
Selling in an Artist’s Alley can be a fun and rewarding experience, where you can make friends and share your work with the world. But it isn’t something to be undertaken lightly. It requires a commitment of a lot of time, effort, and (usually) money. So before you do anything else, ask yourself “Am I willing to put a lot of effort into this?” At minimum you will need to be able to dedicate the majority of the time spent at the convention to sitting behind a table and watching people walk by. If you haven’t been going to cons for very long and still find a lot of events/panels you want to attend then the Artist’s Alley probably isn’t for you. (At the very least you’ll want someone you trust to share the table with. Someone who won’t want to be at the same panels as you!) Likewise, if this is your first time attending a specific convention I would recommend holding off until next year and spending your first year just scoping out the con. If this is your first time attending a convention at all, stop worrying about the AA and go have fun.
Once you’re certain that you want to sell in an Artist’s Alley it is time to go about actually getting a table. Check out the website of the con you want to sell at - there should be a specific page dedicated to the Artist’s Alley. (You may find it under the “Exhibitors” or “Registration” sections as well.) Ideally this page will have all the information you need - the cost of a table, the date the tables become available, the rules for selling in the alley… Unfortunately, more often than not there is a placeholder message that says “Artist’s Alley Registration coming soon!” Bookmark this page and check it once a week or so in case any information has changed (or, in the case of the latter example, been provided). Check the convention’s forums and facebook page (if it has either) to see if more information has been posted, and if an email address is available send an email to ask if there is an Artist’s Alley mailing list. After that, it is time to wait.
Conventions typically handle AA registration either online or by a mail-in application. If the con is doing mail-in registration, keep an eye out and try to get your application in the mail the day tables open. If the con is doing online registration be prepared to watch the site like a hawk. If you want to be sure you’ll get a table, you’ll need to be present the very minute tables become available. Don’t reload the page obsessively; you’ll just tax the servers. (I’ve seen a couple of con’s websites get taken down by the traffic of anxious artists - it’s not pretty!) Have your information present and arranged beforehand if possible as it will speed up the registration process. After you’ve put in your application, by mail or online, it is back to playing the waiting game. What to do when you get a table, and how to handle things if you don’t, will be covered in part two.