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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.