Misconceptions About Art Prints

Okay. So one of the biggest things that has bothered me as a full-time artist is general reaction to prints. Fine art collectors don’t see them and non-illustrator artisans see them as disposable “press print” products. The only people that seem to have a positive opinion of them are those that [really] want the original, but can’t afford it – or other artists that produce with them.

This is unfair. Here’s why:

First, to help explain my point, let’s look at the usual mentality behind making and selling something:

I’ve seen recommendation that a crafter pay themselves $10/hour + material costs for their work. Okay. I can get behind that.

So let’s just say that this item is a plushy. The artist is selling it for $40 (I’ve spent that on a handmaid plushy before – which is how I came to this price).

The most expensive fleece I found in a quick search was $11/yard. Sometimes a yard just doesnt go that far, so we’ll argue that this plushy requires a yard of fleece. All I could find for stuffing costs were outlandishly huge quantities, so let’s say that maybe $5 of stuffing went into this plushy. Misc material costs might be at another $5. So we’re looking at $21 in materials.

Assuming the artist is good to go from there,  they spend 2 hours on assembling it and they arrive at the price of $41 according to the preceeding logic (guess they ate that dollar to have a round number).

Alright, let’s take this logic and apply it to illustration (digital illustration in particular):

This picture…


… took me exactly 100 hours to illustrate. It’s digital, so (aside from the equipment/program costs, which are considered negligible in the long run) I don’t have any material costs.

According to the formula above I should charge $1000 for this image.

But wait!

Who is going to pay for that? I don’t even have an original to offer! It’s digital! It also wasn’t a commission. It is straight up, $1k of wasted time.

Unless I sell prints of it.

That seems logical, right? I have the benefit of having sold art prints for a long while, so I have an idea of the costs for printing:

With bags and boards for presentation and protection, I managed to get the cost of prints down to $3. Experience in selling these things has taught me that the average they sell for is $20.

$20 – $3 = $17

That seems like some crazy profit right there, but we haven’t taken into consideration my time working on the image yet. Let’s do that.

$1000 ÷ $17 = 58.8235294118

What?! Seriously?! I need to sell 59 prints before I start to see profit?! You have got to be kidding me!

@[email protected]

I’ve been selling prints of that image up above since 2009. It’s one of my more popular images, but it does compete against my other works and has maybe only just reached the half-way point to seeing profit.

Sadly, this is common for illustrators or “2D artists” and most of the time,  we’re simply throwing away our production time when we sell prints (digital artists especially).

Please be respectful when considering  an artists print. It isn’t just a sheet of paper. It’s the time we spent on a creation, manifested in a physical form.

Leave a Reply

  • Tirri Vee says:

    Crafter here. I do value 2d artist’s work. I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life. But I think you are leaving some things out for what a crafter has to do. Your plushie example is good but a crafter must also buy a pattern or create one themselves, embroider facial features(embrodery machines are hella expensive), and add various accoutrements. I’m not saying this to start anything. I’m just trying to point out that on both sides there are processes that go on to make our art whether it be 2d or 3d that many people don’t realize. And that we need to value all art no matter how it is made. I do want to leave you with this, which has personally happened to me. I don’t have any crafts that if I sell out I can create a large number within 24 hours. I have walked with my 2d illustrator friend to a Staples where she got 50 more prints made because she sold out on the first day at the con we were both selling at. I love her work, I value her as a friend, and yes, I will admit I am a little jealous with the ease she can restock her product. Do I think I deserve to table at a con and she doesn’t? Hell no. I want all my artist peeps to be successful. I just think we all need a little more understanding on both sides.

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    H. Gorlitz Scott

    Illustrator and Graphic Artist
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