How to Start Selling Prints Through Your Website for Free

How to Start Selling Prints Through Your Website for Free

If you're like me, you just had a couple of months’ worth of work canceled and are now looking for alternative income streams. If you want to know how to start selling prints online — with no setup costs and no ongoing fees — read on.

If you already sell prints to clients — perhaps you shoot weddings or newborns — this article won't be of much use to you. However, if you want to sell individual prints of your best photographs to people who like your work, this should be useful.

Selling occasional prints via your website is one of those tasks that you keep promising yourself that you’ll sort out during some downtime. Now’s the perfect opportunity.

Signed print

I'd love to sell signed, numbered prints, but I can't afford to hold stock, and the logistics of receiving, signing, repacking, and sending orders is far from ideal.

My goal was to find a convenient, hands-off solution that didn’t require a setup fee or, if possible, any ongoing costs. I wanted a system that would allow me to upload prints, set a few prices, and forget about it. Here were my criteria:

  • Smart, clean gallery for presenting products
  • Integrated into portfolio website
  • Smooth browsing and checkout process for customers
  • Archival quality prints
  • Simple choice of products: luster paper and a basic framed option
  • No setup fee
  • No subscription
  • Secure payments not handled by me
  • Simple pay-out process
  • Worldwide shipping

Starting Close to Home

Given that my portfolio website is with Squarespace, that was my first port of call. Squarespace doesn’t offer its own print solution but it does allow integration with a third party: Printful.

The first problem is that while Printful offers a huge range of products — and I’m sure they’re excellent — there are no archival quality (a.k.a. "fine art") prints available. The second problem is that the integration process is quite painful. Unlike a fully integrated service (more on that shortly), you have to set up products individually, which is laborious and complex.

Squarespace in conjunction with Printful

Trying to get my head around using Squarespace in conjunction with Printful. I soon gave up.

The third problem is that adding a store to my Squarespace site meant upgrading from the lowest “Personal” tier to “Business” — a price hike of about 50%. I did appreciate the fact that Squarespace allowed me to upgrade temporarily to test the "Business" tier features before downgrading again and receiving a refund.

Looking Elsewhere

As my contract with Squarespace expires in a few months, I looked at other portfolio services that have print ordering facilities fully integrated and not through third-party add-ons. If this is of interest, you may wish to check out the likes of SmugMug, Pixpa, Pixieset, Zenfolio, Visual Society, and Photoshelter. If you have recommendations, leave a comment below.

Some are easy to use but have themes and galleries that look and feel dated. Others felt as though the backend was too cumbersome, complex, and slow. Several offer additional services such as cloud storage and creating your own stock library. Of the bunch that I trialed, Pixieset was probably my favorite, though Pixpa has by far the best pricing.

None of these fit my criteria, however — all involved additional costs, plus the hassle of migrating portfolio websites. That said, the backends of both Pixieset and Pixpa are very similar to Squarespace, if not better, and the results are pretty much identical. If you have a plan and the images ready to upload, you can create a portfolio site in a matter of minutes.

More Than I Need Right Now

There are other services such as ShootProof and Pic-Time that are geared towards offering client galleries and print/product ordering (rather than portfolio services). If I wanted to sell a broad range of products, either could be ideal. However, the sheer number of options was a bit overwhelming — choosing formats, papers, and then setting up price lists and sorting out payment systems was tortuous. In time, either of these might prove to be a better option. Both offer free tiers to get you started.

ShootProof screengrab

Both ShootProof (screengrab) and Pic-Time are powerful and versatile, but not quite suited to selling one-off prints and offer far more than I need right now.

The Solution

Eventually, I realized that I would have to compromise. Full integration was proving problematic.

Finally, my solution is a small start-up called Darkroom, a company that came via several recommendations. There’s no upfront cost and no subscription, with the option to upgrade to give you more control over gallery customization. The backend is a little raw (though still manageable), but if you want to get several prints online for customers to buy with the least amount of time and stress, I have yet to find a better option.

Darkroom's backend

Darkroom's backend needs refinement, but it's perfectly functional for my needs at this stage.

Darkroom.tech’s free tier means that it takes 15% commission rather than 5%, but given that I’ve zero customers at this stage, this is perfect. If and when I start selling regularly, I may upgrade, or perhaps look to more tailored solutions such as ShootProof or Pic-Time mentioned above.

There are various aspects that I’d like to see improved (the backend needs refining, and shipping to the U.K. is quite expensive) but it works. Ideally, I'd like viewers to have a better idea of what a product will look like (especially the metal prints), and a larger preview of the chosen image would be preferable.

But for little work and no cost, this is pretty good. I created a "Prints" page on my Squarespace site that links through to my Darkroom shopfront — for now, this will be sufficient.

Considerations

In this excellent video, Evan Ranft offers a series of tips for selling your art online. Ranft is an advocate of signing every print that goes to a client and I would love to be able to do the same. Unfortunately, I’m in the midst of renovating a house, so receiving prints is far from ideal, plus many of my clients will be buying from different countries, adding significantly to the cost of shipping. Instead, to give clients a bit more of a personal touch, I plan to send each customer a handwritten postcard, thanking them for their custom.

What's Your Solution?

No doubt, there are other options out there and both I and other readers in a similar situation will be grateful for further suggestions, so please leave a comment below.

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8 Comments

I am offering a deal right now near cost printing on orders of 10 plus of the same image. https://evfineart.com

Jeff McCollough's picture

All really interesting. Some of the pro printers do drop shipping.

Actually I think Even said in a recent video to not use those services as if you ship yourself then you can sign the prints or something like that.

My big question is about sales tax. In many states in the US we don't have to collect sales tax for digital products but for physical products yes. If we use one of the services mentioned in the article who has to be collecting sales tax? One of those sites or us?

I personally haven't seen any photographer selling prints online in India. Have you? My website is mostly informational and portfolio related(https://weddingskntos.com) do you think it will be a good idea to add printing service on it?

Your criteria for selecting hosting service is backwards. You are looking for something cheep or free forgetting that if you sell your prints you can afford to pay the fee and if you don't it does not matter if hosting is free.
You need to look for service that provides you maximum exposure regardless of cost and you need to be sure that somebody wants your prints as appose to millions of others available on hosting services.

Kepano 808's picture

I've been going through this process for 3-6 months so far. I really have not found my "ideal" company. That said, right now, I'm using Pixieset. What I like about Pixieset is their free easy to set up website that integrated into their client delivery platform. However, I'm thinking of moving my website to something like SquareSpace (as it's more customizable). I will lose the client gallery; so Darkroom looks like an option (that I wasn't aware of). What's important though are the printers that they use - do you know who they are?

Andy Day's picture

Hey Kepano,

I reached out to Darkroom when writing this article and this was the answer when I asked about labs:

"This space is so competitive that we don't put our partnered labs out in the open, I hope that's understandable on your end. However, what I can say is that we work with some of the top labs in the country and around the world. With those partners we have bulk distributor deals when it comes to pricing and those savings get passed onto the artist on a per order basis. Essentially they get the pricing that a larger print on demand service would get directly. We see so many printing platforms that say they are 'free' but heavily bump up the cost of the prints from the distributor. Artists can test the print quality of our vendors through the 'samples' tab on our website and if they were ever disappointed with the quality of the prints, we would absolutely cover it on our end."

Kepano 808's picture

Andy - I do feel that's a vague answer. If you do further research, most client delivery platforms will list the vendors they work with - because this is a selling point! I feel that photographers selling prints (mind you, I shoot portraits so I do not sell much vs landscape photographers) would want to know the quality of the printers that they are using (i.e. I use Bayphoto when I buy personally, but Pixieset has one of their POD vendors as MPix - which Bayphoto owns/merged - their quality & service is top notch). Pixieset lists all the POD vendors https://help.pixieset.com/hc/en-us/articles/115003792872-What-are-my-ful...

Andy Day's picture

Yep, I think that's a fair criticism. If this were a full review of Darkroom's services, that's definitely something that I would have mentioned. I'm waiting to test their services further so I may write that article.

I think if I were offering a product that was in greater demand and commanding a higher price, i'd want to know the labs and I'd be doing a lot more research and prep. I'd also be signing and numbering prints myself before shipping them to my clients, rather than letting the lab ship them directly. I'm not in that situation, so Darkroom fits quite nicely for the time being, if that makes sense.