Where to start in the business of printing and shipping my own poster de
September 27, 2014 8:53 PM   Subscribe

As an illustrator/letterer living in Toronto and I want to start selling my posters, but I need to know how to handle the post-designing aspect of things (type of printing, best standard paper stocks, type of packaging, type of shipping/drop-shipping, pricing, ...). It is an overwhelming endeavor but I have to start somewhere. Any comprehensive, step-by-step resources on this sort of thing out there?

Since I am not going to be printing hundreds of posters from the onset and I don't like the idea of a service like Society6 printing my things for me, I want some sort of an option that'll allow me to monitor the quality firsthand and print and ship it myself... But I don't really know where to start.. For example, assuming I have a small but loyal customer base, is BigCartel the best online option for someone who wants to sell their own posters? How can I make high-quality prints (are there any places in Toronto that you'd recommend)? Should I go for silkscreen printing, inkjet printing, or the expensive Giclee printing? How much should I price the poster to make it worthwhile? Where can I get the protective tubes that posters are shipped in? What service should I use to ship my posters and how can I anticipate costs? Who, from your experience, has done this successfully?
posted by cyrusw8 to Work & Money (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Canada post sells mailing tubes but for bulk sales you may want to order from an outfit such as staples. Their website shows quite a few different sizes and you're able to order in bulk.

As for printing, have you considered silk screening your own? Either at home if space allows or at a printmaking co-op? Print method will dictate paper choice if you're doing it yourself. If not, you'll be going with the print vendor's stock (they'll likely have a range of choices) which they'll know prints well on their equipment.

Have you thought about selling on Etsy?
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl at 12:26 AM on September 28, 2014

This is a difficult question to answer because there are a million ways to do things. No one thing alone is a do or die scenario, but it all has to WORK, all added up together at the end. The specifics of how it works out for you is an evolving process that depends on a lot of particulars.

Maybe the most important business advice is to know your audience, what sort of people would be interested in your work and how much they'd be willing to spend. Other designers and the sort of crowd that reads Dwell and apartment therapy will happily spend, say 30-60+ dollars or so on a limited edition poster print, printed on nice paper stock. But say, a college student or someone just looking for something to decorate their dorm room or first apartment only wants to spend 10-35 dollars -- but they don't care if the paper is thin, non archival, and is going to fall apart in a few years. Obviously how many prints you sell overall and how much they cost to print will determine your profitability. In this vein I'd recommend watching others who are selling similar stuff to you and look at how their stuff circulates around and who is buying it.

Here's a few things I dug up from my bookmarks. They're a bit old but still have good general advice.


ellen million

ursula vernon

And while having an established fan base is important, most art prints I've seen get sold through exposure on art and design blogs. (Like Booom and Swiss Miss). So getting your (relevant!) work featured elsewhere and having your own blog is probably the best first step.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 1:09 AM on September 28, 2014

Oh, a couple places that have made prints into a business that I can think of (and not just artists that sell their stuff on the side, which is everyone):

Mondo, which apparently was a highlight at SDCC this year, with their vintage looking movie memorabilia posters.

Ork Posters, which does typographic map posters, and had their concept copied and ripped by many, many people. (But that's the internet for you I guess)
posted by everyday_naturalist at 1:47 AM on September 28, 2014

It isn't overwhelming. A ton of people less bright than you are have figured this out, so you can too.

Check out Etsy. Not necessarily because you want to sell via Etsy (although that will give you a potential market you won't otherwise have) but because it's a great place to poke around to see what others are doing in terms of pricing, paper size and weight, and print types. You can also poke around various stores to see how many sales each one has. (Example - 2,640 sales.)

What service should I use to ship my posters and how can I anticipate costs?

Roll a poster-sized piece of paper in a mailing tube, and take it to the post office to be weighed. From there you can figure out shipping costs to various postal zones (or ask the person at the post office counter.)
posted by DarlingBri at 3:30 AM on September 28, 2014

Keep in mind that for BigCartel you'll be paying at least $10/month if you have more than 5 products/posters. While it may be less customizable and aesthetically pleasing, Etsy is likely a much cheaper option (ex. about $2 to sell a $50 print) if you're not selling large volumes. If the idea of an Etsy store as your only showcase is unappealing, you could always create a Dropr site (or another similar free portfolio site) and just link each poster to your Etsy store for actual purchases.

I agree with everyday_naturalist that the first step is guesstimating what your audience is willing to pay. That will immediately put a limit on what your cost per poster should be, and will help guide your choices for how you make and ship the posters. Once you figure out your shipping cost, decide on what your minimum profit per poster should be. It's not worth all this effort just to make a couple of bucks per print! Once you subtract profit and shipping, you've got a maximum number for what your paper and print costs can be.

I've had high-quality scans and giclee prints of my artwork done here. This is not the cheap option, but it was for larger prints I knew could sell for $80+. Take a look at the prices etc., but it would also be worth your while to make an appointment just to go in and talk about options (paper, size, volume) to see what advice they give.

For screen printing maybe have a look at Kid Icarus and compare prices based on your expected volume? (disclaimer: I've never had screen prints done). They also have paper options you can look at online. But same thing, go in and talk to them – they'd probably be happy to offer some advice.

Just as a general guide, I usually try to get at least a 50% profit on posters/prints, otherwise I start to feel it's not worth my time getting the printing done, processing orders, packing, and shipping. But we all put a different price on our time, so there's no real wrong answer there (unless you're losing money!).
posted by Kabanos at 3:09 PM on September 29, 2014

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