Making professional(ish) quality printed wall art from start to finish.
May 31, 2016 2:21 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is having a housewarming party about a month from now, and I thought of a really fun idea for some wall art. I know some shops on Etsy take commissions, but for my own curiosity, I'd really like to know about the steps, tips/tricks, and overall process that I, as mostly tech-literate but otherwise digital-art-making-and-printing layperson, might take to create a solo or very limited run digital art print that I can frame and give as a gift. Bajillions more questions inside.

I'm curious about what the complete project life cycle looks like, individual processes, useful tools, etc., especially for small run projects. I'm not looking to go into business doing this or anything, but if this goes well and can be done in a cost effective way, it might be nice to know that I could use these methods to make gifts for friends in the future.

I'm going to rattle off a bunch of questions I've always wondered, but don't feel obligated to answer all of them in one response--I'm just musing!

Where do you find fonts? Vector art? Backgrounds/textures/Photoshop brushes, etc.? What is a good going rate for vector art or stock images? What are your favorite websites/resources for finding these items? Are there any other web tools, paid or otherwise, that are especially helpful?

Are there any tricks other than drop shadows you might use to make words stand out against a solid background? Are there ways to make a solid background more dynamic looking without going too hard on the gradient tool? What are the best tools to master? What are some surprisingly useful tools?

What should your canvas size/dimensions/resolution be, assuming you're making a standard sized print? I'm assuming 8x10 or 8.5x11--which of those is most common/preferred? How hard would it be to change things if you decided to bump it up to an 11x17 or something instead? What are the usual "standard" sizes for things like this?

If you want to draw/create your own graphic or vector art, can you use Photoshop tools for this, or is this what Illustrator is primarily for? Are there good resources for Illustrator tutorials? What are the best tablets for this purpose? Is it worth it to invest in one if you're not a heavy user?

Once you're finished making your art, what's the ideal resolution/file type settings you need to save your work as before you send it to the printer? Is there anything special the printer needs in order to proceed?

How does one FIND a printer? Is a local printing company best, or are larger companies better for smaller scale print runs/projects? What is a good going rate for a quality giclee print? Does it depend on the type of paper used, and if so, what is the "industry standard" for paper/ink combo for high quality prints?

Though I plan on framing this, what if I didn't frame it? Is there a good place to find the "thin cardboard and cellophane bag" packaging combo that seems standard with a lot of art prints so I could keep everything safe until it's gifted?

At what point does the "economy of scale" pricing actually make sense for printing projects like this? What is the usual minimum order for getting a reduced rate on a print job? Might it make sense in some cases to print 25 rather than just two, for example, because of reduced cost (plus I might have extras for other uses)?

Tangent: what about screen printing? Is that a whole other kettle of fish, or might it be fun/worth it for a simple enough project to instead find a local place that has a screen printing shop where I could pay $X and go that route instead?

Is there anything else I should know? Is there any common advice I should avoid?

If anyone was curious, the idea I had in mind for this print would probably be a fairly simple words against a plain background sort of situation with a Simpsons quote that has become something of an inside joke between us. :)

posted by helloimjennsco to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
For sizes, go to Michaels and check out their frame selection. Find a matte that will fit inside, and create your art to for that size. 8.5 x 11 or 11x17 will look odd on the wall, in my opinion. A square size or 24 x 36 or 28x 24 are more standard wall hanging sizes. Or look at online shops that will print directly onto canvas for you. That's a nice diy approach.
posted by hydra77 at 2:48 PM on May 31, 2016

Sorry, second size noted above should be 18x24, not 28x24.
posted by hydra77 at 3:21 PM on May 31, 2016

I found Michaels to be rather expensive and found suitable alternatives for 25% the price on Amazon.
posted by zagyzebra at 3:30 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want a small number of these to give as gifts, your best bet is probably to print it yourself or go to somewhere like Kinkos to have it done. For larger numbers, you might want to look at services like Moo or Vistaprint. If you want something more technical or artistic than your bog standard photographic print, you're probably going to have to do a much more formal study of the design and print process beyond the scope of an AskMe question. I wouldn't get too deep into screen printing if you otherwise have no interest in it. Screen printing is a totally different type of process from anything you've asked about here, and has fundamentally different design needs.

I agree with hydra77 that you'll want to start from how to frame it or what you want the finished size to be. 8x10 is what you want, not 8.5x11. 8.5 x 11 is not a standard photo size, which means it's not going to fit in prefab frames, and since it's not possible to print right up to the edge of a sheet of letter sized paper, whoever prints it is going to have to print it on a larger sheet of paper and cut it down.

You should be able to easily find frames for 8x10 where the hole in the matte is 8x10, and the size of the frame itself is larger (often 11x14 if memory serves).

I wouldn't go over 8x10 if this is a fun one-off gift type of thing, since anything bigger will both get more expensive and also be more of a commitment for people to display. Unless you know for sure that people want to completely design their living room around this project.

Design-wise, if all you want is text on a simple background, you don't need even a little bit close to the level of knowledge you're asking about in this question. You don't need brushes or stock images or anything like that. Personally I prefer to use Illustrator for vector art, which is really anything that is infinitely sizable and NOT a photograph which has a specific resolution. Typefaces are vector images, BTW. However, you can also totally do this project in Photoshop, if you have Photoshop and not Illustrator. Just be aware that if you save it out as a jpg, you lose the scalability of any vector assets you used. Also, you will want to make sure you're working in a very high resolution.

Asset-wise, here's what you need:

1. The background. The easiest way to do this is just to draw an 8x10 rectangle in Illustrator, pick a color, done and done. The most complicated way to do this is either to create a custom piece of art to be the background, or to buy a stock photograph. What you choose is going to depend a lot on your aesthetic and what you want the finished piece to look like. Without knowing that, we can't possibly advise you further.

2. The words. Find a typeface. If this is a one-off fun project, download something from one of those free font websites. Or use something like Helvetica that came packaged with your computer.

I personally have a special hate for drop shadow, and I think for something like this which is all about the words, the answer is to pick a background that works organically with your text layout so that you don't have to fudge and fight and use a million stupid photoshop tools to force it to work.

In terms of file type, if you made it in Illustrator, save it as a pdf. This will retain the vector aspect of the project, which means resolution isn't a factor and you can print it as large as you want/your printer can handle. If you made it in Photoshop, save it as a jpg. A tiff might also be a good idea, but since you're probably printing this at Kinko's a jpg will make life a lot easier. There's no real reason, at this scale and for this project, to pick the more obscure file type and chance the teenager at the print shop not being able to open your file because nobody ever brings them an svg or whatever.

Most likely, if you go the Kinko's route, they will print your 8x10 image on an 8.5x11 paper, and you'll need to cut it down yourself with a rotary trimmer. Something like Vistaprint will be able to send you just a straight up 8x10 final product, but you will have to make sure the artwork you send them adheres to their guidelines in terms of bleed and the like.
posted by Sara C. at 3:31 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you put it on a jpg and download onto a thumb drive, many places will print one copy -- not too expensive. I walked into Rocket Photo Lab in L.A. with my thumb drive and frame, and they figured out the size and printed 3 copies (black and white) for the price of 1. If you're not sure where to go, use Yelp.
posted by zagyzebra at 3:40 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having done the decoration for a gaming themed cafe and other stuff, this is what I've learned:

1) first, know what frame sizes are available. a number of designs were left out because the place we bought had run out of that particular frame.
2) use vectorial images (PDF always worked) or something above 300dpi to export to raster (generally PNG or sky-high quality JPG), just to be sure.
3) there was a huge cost difference between printing in A3 (~11x17) and A2 (~16x23), as it moves from laser to inkjet plotter. Generally speaking, any heavy paper will do fine. matte or gloss depend on intended result.
4) not all printshops are suited for quality graphics work. I had something printed on a shop closer to a school that was absolutely miserable - although the text documents were fine. Usually, the ones with more in-house services also have better equipment (one that does sublimation printing, wood carving, etc is better than one that does just flex printing and large format, and that one is better than one that just prints small size and photos, etc).
5) if something has to be cut to fit in a frame, you have to remind them that print size is as-is, without adjustments. If it will be outside bleed and get cropped, they'll tell you.
6) expect some color differences from what you did to the end result. I here, I usually have to turn up the brightness of the project in darker stuff so it doesn't turn almost black.

There's some other stuff I'm probably missing, but should have been covered by previous replies.
posted by lmfsilva at 4:15 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

GraphicsFairy has tons of free vintage clip art set to 300dpi that I have used successfully in print materials. If that's not your style, try poking around Pinterest - there's TONS of themed clip art packages for sale. Make sure they're 300dpi for printing, and not meant for web use only.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:26 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can't give advice on the digital side, but if you want a simple printing option, I've had really good service from Canvas Pop. We have some travel photos on our wall. This is a great idea; it's really special to have custom art on your walls!
posted by Gor-ella at 7:25 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

When you do decide on an image to print, go to Posterjack! They will take care of the resolution, printing and framing part of your question. It's a fairly easy process online and the site walks you through the steps.

When you upload your image, the site will automatically let you know how the resolution of your picture will be when blown up. Then it gives you the choice of printing your artwork on different mediums such as acrylic/glass, metal or wood - not just canvas! The final step is framing. They don't have a wide selection, but if you're okay with a simple frame, then it's fine.

The price is also great for the quality and amount of work that they do to print your image. Look for a coupon or promo code online if you can, there's always some sort of promo going on!
posted by ThatSox at 7:46 AM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

>>Are there ways to make a solid background more dynamic looking without going too hard on the gradient tool?
Print on metallic, fluorescent, or other specialty paper
posted by Sophont at 12:18 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Photoshop is the main tool for collaging and tweaking pictures. Illustrator is best for vector art. Drawing with vectors is a tricky skill to learn, but there are plenty of Youtube tutorials. A pen tablet is pretty necessary for good work on Illustrator, though you can get away with a mouse. The Wacom Bambu is a good beginner tablet. FWIW, I do a lot of digital collage and painting, and I use Photoshop exclusively.

Fonts: is the best place for free fonts
Backgrounds: here is a huge amount of hi rez textures and backgrounds, and you can download 20 per day for free
Images: You don't really need to buy clip art or stock photos unless you want to sell your work or you really can't find a good high rez image on google -- set the image search to 'larger than 8 megapixels' (under 'search tools')

A fun trick: layering several background textures or colors and setting the blending modes to different things (like screen or multiply) can have interesting effects. You can do this under or over your main images as well.

Screenprinting *is* a whole other kettle of fish. You can do 4 color process to print photos (or non color separated art), which is pricey and doesn't always look that great. Traditional screen printing generally involves having one screen for each color (usually shops charge per screen), and gradients and shading are done using halftone color separations that are not easy to do correctly as a beginner. The shop will do this for you, but it will be pricey.
posted by ananci at 7:07 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

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