I’ve been printing my photography for years. But, up until this year I’ve always sent out my photos to be printed by a big printing house. Having recently purchased a beautiful Canon Pro-2100 for our gallery here in Portugal, I have now had the opportunity to do my own printing. I have to say, it’s so rewarding.
I want to walk you through my entire process for printing my travel and landscape photography. I also want to talk about some of the products I have to make it all happen.
We’ll get into the business side of things a bit too.
New Print for Sale!
Before we get into the process, there’s a new print for sale!
This actually might be my favourite image of 2020. I caught this surfer on a long exposure while panning in the low light at sunset. It’s purposefully not sharp to bring it to life. And, I absolutely love the mood that resulted.
This image is available in 8×11″ (limited to 50), 16×24″(limited to 15), and 24×32″ (limited to 5).
It seems like step 1 should be printing, but it’s not. In fact – spoiler – it’s not even step 2.
Once you’ve got an image ready to send to the printers you need to export it. How you export it will definitely affect the quality and look of the image.
There are really 2 things to consider.
The first is that you ideally want to print a Tiff file. You can print a Jpeg, but it will be compressed. You can also print the RAW file directly via things like Lightroom.
The second thing is that you likely want to print ProPhoto RGB. This is the colour profile which is the most broad. Essentially, it has the widest range of colour. You wouldn’t export photos in ProPhoto RGB for viewing on a laptop or phone, though. Most phones, for example, read sRGB so exporting in ProPhoto can lead to the colours looking weird. This is basically just for printing purposes.
Step 2 – Choosing the Paper
The type of paper you use to print your photography will likely depend on your photography style itself. If you tend to take a lot of low contrast black and white images, for example, the paper you use will likely be much different than if you were doing punchy landscape photography.
For my process, I use Hahnemühle Satin PhotoRag 310gsm paper.
The brand is Hahnemühle – they make plenty of other types of fine art and photography paper as well. The paper style of the Satin is a textured finish rather than a really glossy one. To me, if feels like it helps jump the image off the page a little bit.
Step 3 – Organizing Your Pages
This will, of course, vary wildly depending on what type of printer you have. If you have a smaller printer at home, chances are that you’re using cut sheets of paper. But if you’re using a big printer like the Pro-2100 like me, you’ll have the option for cut sheets or rolls.
If you’re using cut sheets, there isn’t much planning needed here. You can print via Lightroom or the Canon printing program which is called “Professional Print and Layout”.
If you’re using rolls, you don’t want to waste paper. For example, my roll is 24″ wide. So, it doesn’t make sense to make 20×20″ prints. That would waste paper. I make 8×10″ prints; I can do 3 on a 24×10″ piece. Or I do 12×18″, 16×24″, or 24×32″. This way I’m not wasting any paper.
Just a bit of advice when printing is to print for the frame, not the photo. So if you have an 8×10″ frame, make the print size 8×10″, but leave white borders around the edges. I think it looks better in the frame that way.
Step 4 – Print It!
There’s no real explanation needed here. Hit that “print” button and watch it roll out!
Step 5 – Cut, Sign, and Number
If you’re using cut paper, there’s likely no need to cut. But, if you’re using a roll like I am, cutting is important. Personally, I use a precision cutting board. But, you can also cut using a really good level and an exacto-knife. This is the one that I use.
Once you’ve cut the print, you can sign and number it if you’d like.
Obviously, this is optional. But, in my opinion everyone should do it. This adds a personal touch to your art. And even if you’re early in your photography days, it’s nice to have this touch added. I also think that for the long term, it’s important to limit the amount you print and sell of each image. It helps with value.
Personally, I have the following limits on my photos:
8×10″ = Limited to 50 Copies
12×18″ = Limited to 15 Copies
24×32″ = Limited to 5 Copies
I should also point out that just because you have a “1/50” attached to an image doesn’t mean that you need to print all 50 images right away. You just need to keep track. I keep a google sheet of all the pieces I print and number on a google sheet so I don’t go over.
Step 6 – Protect and Ship
I have a protective spray coating that is made by Hahnemühle that I use to give almost a varnish finish to my images. This isn’t totally necessary as most papers will hold the ink pretty well as it is. I add it as an extra bit of protection.
Then, if you’re shipping I’d slip the photo into a sealable plastic sleeve to keep dust off. Then, add a paper foam layer to both sides of the print. If you’re sending a small image like an 8×10″ print, I’d send them in the type of packing that they send old record labels. It’ll keep the prints from bending. Or, if they’re bigger, I’d send them in a paper tube.
And, that’s it!
Products I Use for Printing
This is a fairly quick list of the various products I use in my printing process.
This is a question I find we don’t really ask enough in photography. I think part of it is that anyone can buy a camera. And, there’s this dopamine buzz you get when you see your work. The honest, hard-to-hear truth is that no matter how good you think your photo is, it’s not as good as you think. That’s just the reality of creating something. You almost always overvalue things you create.
So deciding whether your art is ready to show off to the world is hard.
It can have a lasting legacy and tarnish a reputation if you do it too soon. I mean, you don’t really hear of people selling the terrible early work of Rembrandt, because I’m guessing he didn’t sell until it was to a certain standard.
Seek out professional advice and critiques before you start trying to sell your prints.
What’s Your Market?
Another thought that seems to allude many people (including myself – when I started) is “what’s my market?”
It doesn’t matter if you make world-class photography if no one sees it or knows it exists. You need to understand your market – and simply have one, before you start printing your photography.
As I stated in the video attached to this article, you wouldn’t brew a pot of coffee and then try to sell it randomly online, would you? Even if it’s the best pot of coffee in history. You need a market before you start selling. Or, at least a plan on how to reach the market.
How Much Does it Cost to Print Photos?
Printing for yourself isn’t expensive when you discount the cost of the printer. But, of course, that’s a cost you have to consider because, obviously, you want to recover the cost of the printer.
The smaller Canon Pro printer which is the pro-1100 costs about 1000€. The larger pro-2100 is about 2100€.
Paper is the next cost. For a sheet of 8×11″ (A4) Hahnemühle Satin photo paper it’s about 2€ as cut sheet. Using a 24″ roll, it’s about 1.6€ to print each 8×11″ print.
Ink is extremely expensive – and how much you use is extremely hard to gauge. There are printer accounting programs which estimate it. They can be helpful. My estimate on Ink is that the cost is almost exactly the same as the paper. So, whatever your paper cost, match it for ink.
Of course, you also need to account for electricity, labour, etc.
There’s also a good chance that you’re shipping. So even if you don’t include shipping in your costs, you have to include the packing. Basically I calculate 2€ in packaging per sale.
How Much Should You Sell Photo Prints For?
Based on the previous heading, I’ve come up with the following costs:
8×11″ = 6€
24×32″ = 26€
If you’re selling your photography in bulk on a site like Etsy, you might only be concerned with volume. If that’s the case, your pricing will likely reflect that. I think you can likely work with mark ups of 100% meaning your prices would be 12€, 24€, and 52€ respectively.
However, if you’re adding things like limited, signed, and certification of authenticity to your product, the price will go up.
How much? Honestly, that all depends on how much both you and your market value your work.
The prints in my gallery sell for:
8×11″ = 35€
24×32″ = 300€
The reason for the big mark up is because I limit the amount of the art I print. The 24×32″ prints, for example only get 5 of each printed. Moreover, I really value my time. Though the actual printing process is relatively quick, I spend countless hours searching for photos in the field. On an annual basis, I only create 3-5 print-worthy images. You need to value that time as well.
Is Printing Yourself Worth It?
There are so many answers to this question. And the answers about both logical and emotional.
Personally, I’ve found printing my images extremely valuable – beyond the print sale profit. For one, it’s incredibly empowering seeing your images printed. It’s taking that dopamine drive from creating an image in your camera to a whole new level. Every time I print I feel more inspired to go out and take more photos.
Secondly, I feel like I’m learning a lot about photography from printing. When I print my images, I get such a clear look at what works in a photograph and what doesn’t.
Economically though, I’m not sure it makes that much sense.
Before I got my own printer, I used an amazing printing company in Belfast. They would print a 20×30″ image for €40 including packing. And, sure that’s an extra €10-ish than it cost me to print on my own. But, you don’t need your own printer or spend the time printing and packing.
So unless you’re printing a really high volume of prints, it likely makes the most sense to buy a small printer for things like 8×11″s and leave the large format printing to the print shops.
Don’t Listen to Me…
At the end of the day, whether you print your photography or not is totally up to you. As much advice as I can give you, it’s all useless without knowing you and your situation. What works for some people doesn’t for others, and vice-versa.
My biggest piece of advice is to try your best to follow your head rather than your heart – which is opposite the advice I give for most things. Printing is something that’s really exciting to do on your own, but it doesn’t make sense for most photographers. So, come up with a business plan before you start printing your own images for commercial purposes.
And, don’t forget to have fun with it. Because what’s the point of photography if you’re not loving it?