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Larry Kellogg
21-Jun-2014, 06:30
Hello,

I'm finishing up a portrait course where I photographed a local musician for eight weeks. Out of the images that survive the final critique, I hope to pick about five images to try to sell as prints. I would like to raise a little money to help my musician friend. With that said, I'm trying to figure out how to package and sell the prints. I think the customers will be very price sensitive, so I don't think I will be able to charge a lot. I was thinking of 5x7,8x10, and 11x14 fibre prints, with different prices, dry mounted, without an overlaying mat board. Is this a good idea?

Can you give me any advice on how I can pull this off at a reasonable cost and still make a little money?

Thanks,

Larry

ROL
21-Jun-2014, 08:49
I think the customers will be very price sensitive, so I don't think I will be able to charge a lot. I was thinking of 5x7,8x10, and 11x14 fibre prints, with different prices, dry mounted, without an overlaying mat board. Is this a good idea?

Not if my understanding of "price sensitive" is accurate. Unsophisticated buyers will want/expect a fully framed, ready to hang piece. That's going to knock your prices way up, so keep finished sizes as small as possible and look for cheap frame discounts at places like Aaron Bros. or even Costco. Consider printing and finishing to the size of the thusly acquired frames, so your costs can be established up front. If you don't supply a window mat with the presentation, "price sensitive" buyers will not know where to get, or even why to use, one. The print will likely be smashed up against glass, or simply displayed portfolio style without framing at all. If you are unconcerned about the professionalism and longevity of your work then just package them in print sleeves without window mats, as you say. I'm not being critical here, just practical. You're the one who must be realistic about the decision to make quality fiber prints for the project in the first place.


P.S. …I don't think you'll make any money. In fact, I believe you will be lucky if it doesn't cost you more than just your time. Pre-orders?

Larry Kellogg
21-Jun-2014, 09:19
Hello,
I appreciate all of this candid advice, honestly, I do. The musician seemed to think he could only get $25-50 a print from his audience. Is there any way to make that make sense? As you said, fully framed and matted photographs will drive the prices way up. It seems like a hopeless situation. Should I try a pre-order campaign through KickStarter? This guy managed to raise enough money to buy paper for a project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1465538329/photo-paper-for-schlaflys-art-outside-2014

Larry

Jim Andrada
21-Jun-2014, 22:12
Hi Larry

I just went through the same sort of thing when I had my gallery show at the end of November

What I did was to offer very (VERY) nice professionally framed prints for several hundred dollars in large sizes (less for small ones) and 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 (Full Plate) sized prints mounted and overmatted to 11 x 14 inches so they could fit any Aaron Bros etc standard frame. I was able to get around $45 each for a couple of dozen prints and actually sold a few framed prints for several hundred dollars each. At these prices I barely made a small profit on everything I sold, although in total I lost money on the show - as expected!

I think the only way you could make money or do slightly better than breakeven at $25 would be if you do all the mounting and overmatting yourself.

I agree that at a minimum you should overmatte and put the print in something like a Clear Bag envelope (make sure to get the ones with the adhesive on the back, not the flap where it will inevitably stick to the print.)

One thing to consider is having postcards printed by one of the online services or a local printer if you have one near you. I sold dozens of cards for a few dollars each and they were nice enough that quite a few folks actually put them in inexpensive frames and hung them on the wall! And a couple of the same folks after looking at them for a couple of months ordered prints..

If you get 5 x 7 postcards made up they can be quite nice and you can probably make a nice percentage profit if you can sell more than around 30% - 50% of the minimum print run (20 or so each at the outfit I used - 4by6.com)

Hope this helps

Larry Kellogg
22-Jun-2014, 12:41
Hello Jim,
Yes, that's very helpful, thanks for posting your experience. Perhaps I should just sell the items that are profitable and leave off the ones that lose money. It seems like the cheap postcards and the expensive framed prints are the only things that make money. Of course, it's hard to sell framed prints.

I have a real problem in that I said I would split the money with my subject and nobody wants to split a loss!

Larry

Jim Jones
22-Jun-2014, 18:59
I rarely try to sell photographs except at a local arts & crafts event in a small town in NW Missouri. In this venue some are in 16x20 matts but unframed, some others matted and framed, and inexpensive unmatted 8.5x11 prints are unmounted. Digital prints require less planning and budgeting of resources than fiber prints. Standardizing on one size window mats makes ordering quantities of precut mats about as economical as cutting my own mats. Designing the art to fit the mat and frame may sound crass, but is practical where economy is essential. I do insist on paper and ink that yield long-life prints and quality acid-free mats. Skimping there saves little money and is insulting to the customer.

Consider splitting the profit, not half of the gross print price.

Harold_4074
23-Jun-2014, 12:35
I don't sell prints, but I give them away from time to time, and I have arrived at an empirical formula that seems to be reliable: the apparent quality of a print doubles at each step of dry-mounting, matting, and framing. Now, I normally do trimming only before mounting, and spotting only after, so that may account for some of the effect, but even an unframed print, mounted to float in the mat window and signed at the bottom, seems to impress people inordinately. Putting one in $15 worth of standard aluminum sectional frame somehow turns it instantly into fine art.

Depending on how much you value your time (mine is pretty much worthless...) you could invest in a Dexter mat cutter and straightedge, learn to do floating mats, and offer something that is basically unobtainable from any other source. (The guy at my local art store was sure that he could mat any picture as well as or better than I could, until I took one in to show him. His computerized mat cutter couldn't do it, but he was sufficiently impressed that he now orders mat board for me, in full boxes for, just a few percent above his cost!)

I suspect that many, many people react positively to craftsmanship, and this affects their appreciation of the work even if they are not aware of it.

ROL
23-Jun-2014, 16:20
Hello,
I appreciate all of this candid advice, honestly, I do...

Not sure where you're going with that comment, but your friend's prices were exactly within the range I would have expected. I think you have competing, and in all likelihood, mutually exclusive goals. Perhaps I should have been more candid and not recognized the admirability of making fine prints: If making a dime is the goal, this is a job for digital reproduction, which may be accomplished even cheaper, depending on volume, from a print shop, if you can establish proper sales upfront. IMO, and given the nature of the work, archival treatments are entirely unnecessary – use cheap mats or none at all – presented as so much luncheon meat.

Randy Moe
23-Jun-2014, 16:40
Go digital print at Costco. Everything under 16x20 is glossy, make multiples on 20x30 lustre at $9 per print. Your cost plummets and you simply cut them out. I prefer the lustre.

The 'customers' will never know the difference.

Don't mat them, just print and bag with plain cardboard.

And still charge $20 even.

This is very difficult to 'win' at. You gotta turn this into a nice dinner for 2.

Harold_4074
23-Jun-2014, 18:40
It seems to me that there may be two very different business models under discussion here.

The original poster mentioned completing a "portrait course"; I took this to mean some sort of educational exercise, but perhaps I misread it. If it was a school project, and the idea is to sell some prints to people who are at least in part motivated by the subject matter rather than a desire to own valuable artwork, then accepting a low margin in order to partially compensate the subject for his help makes sense. Also, offering mounted prints for a reasonable price, and offering to mat and frame them at cost, might widen the market (music fans? fellow students?) somewhat.

If this was a commercial venture done "on spec", then the situation is different; the tradeoffs of price point versus sales volume come into play, and it is possible to make the same amount of money from many, many packages of "luncheon meat" or, at the other extreme, a small handful of artisanal, limited-edition, archivally mounted and custom-framed prints.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the current price for an 11x14 sectional frame of the kind I typically use for 8x10s; with acrylic glazing, but no tax or shipping, it is $17.31; I use the same (non-archival) board for the mount and overmat, which adds about $3.00, and the print and dry mount tissue probably come to another $3.00. So the material costs alone are already pushing $25, including tax and incidentals. ( You could presumably do better than this by catching a sale price on frames or using a less expensive make, or both.) So when I give away a print, I view it as a $25 gift, but if I were trying to sell them I doubt that I could make enough to keep the family cat fed.

I don't know how (or whether) you would value the intangibles (your time, personal satisfaction, educational experience, etc.) but in any case you really need to understand your business model and the market before proceeding.

Larry Kellogg
24-Jun-2014, 05:59
Thanks for all the suggestions, it's a fascinating discussion, I must say. Yes, the work was done as part of a project for a class and not "on spec". Harold's discussion of the prices of frames is what I came up with when looking at the options, actually, I priced them out to be more expensive because I picked archival boards.

I suppose it all comes down to what kind of audience the musician can draw for prints of himself. Yes, I could produce hundreds of cheap prints through digital reproduction, but I don't think I'll be able to move a lot of them. Ansel Adams was roundly criticized for all of the posters he had produced, but he had a huge audience of people clamoring for his images who could not afford to buy prints.

I think I'm more of the mind to pick my top five images, and produce the best possible silver prints from the negatives. Then, I'll scan the prints and put them up on my website, offering them for sale, and print them on demand, framing and matting at cost. At least I will be trying to sell some work, the alternative is that everything I've done sits in a box.

Jim Andrada
24-Jun-2014, 09:42
I wouldn't equate digital production with "cheap prints" - certainly not after feeding my printer a gallon or so of Epson ink and a couple hundred sheets of Museo Silver Rag prepping for the show:<))

I tend to not want to sell unmounted prints and have only done it a couple of times when I knew the buyers would have them properly matted and framed. Prints (digital or Silver Gelatin) are fragile and easily damaged
by inexpert handling - If i were going the "unmounted" route I'd go with the "postcard" approach as the cards are tougher than either digital or traditional prints IMHO.

I'm 100% with the "size the prints to fit a standard matte opining" idea mentioned above. That's how I arrived at Full Plate print on 11 x 14 matte. You can get 4 prints per 13 x 19 sheet with relatively little waste. And you can print two across on 17" roll paper with practically no waste (I actually printed 6 1/4 x 8 1/4 which is about the net size of a full plate neg.)

Larry Kellogg
24-Jun-2014, 09:57
I wouldn't equate digital production with "cheap prints" - certainly not after feeding my printer a gallon or so of Epson ink and a couple hundred sheets of Museo Silver Rag prepping for the show:<))

I meant "cheap" in reference to cheap printing from a print service, as mentioned by someone else, not printing the way you described. I don't think I'm going to be able to sell anything in volume, so I don't think a ton of cheap prints makes sense.

By the way, I sold my Epson 3880 to avoid paying those exorbitant Epson ink prices. I know, you can set up your own ink system, but it was too much hassle for me. Funny, I prefer the hassle of the darkroom to the hassle of printing digitally. Part of the reason is that I cannot stand waiting for the print to finish on a printer, listening to that printer head go back and forth, while the print in the darkroom comes up in fifteen seconds and allows me to play with it during development to alter contrast.



I tend to not want to sell unmounted prints and have only done it a couple of times when I knew the buyers would have them properly matted and framed. Prints (digital or Silver Gelatin) are fragile and easily damaged
by inexpert handling - If i were going the "unmounted" route I'd go with the "postcard" approach as the cards are tougher than either digital or traditional prints IMHO.


I agree, prints are fragile, which is why I want to go the route of professionally matting and framing them. It's good practice to take an image from exposure all the way through framing and final presentation. I think I may just run 5x7 silver prints as the "cheap" version of the images. Ilford 5x7 Fibre paper is $0.43 a sheet, not cheap, for sure, but perhaps I can sell them for $10-15.



I'm 100% with the "size the prints to fit a standard matte opining" idea mentioned above. That's how I arrived at Full Plate print on 11 x 14 matte. You can get 4 prints per 13 x 19 sheet with relatively little waste. And you can print two across on 17" roll paper with practically no waste (I actually printed 6 1/4 x 8 1/4 which is about the net size of a full plate neg.)

Yeah, I think I will order a few frames, print to the standard matt openings, and go from there. I have low expectations for this whole venture, something that will keep me from being too disappointed with the outcome.

Harold_4074
24-Jun-2014, 12:18
The idea of printing for a standard mat opening is fine, if the picture was also composed to those proportions. But if it is exactly right for 5x7, it is going to be off at 8x10; not that you can't crop appropriately, but to do that you have to know the exact size and shape of the mat opening. In my limited (and mostly unsatisfactory) experience with "standard" mats, the edge overlap varied from a quarter of an inch to over half an inch, and I tend to compose and crop much closer than that.

A few years back, there was an Edward Weston exhibit at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, California. Given that this is pretty close to Weston's back yard, I expected a superb display. It took about two minutes to realize what was wrong, and another minute to confirm it by looking at a copy of the catalog---the prints were loaned by multiple collectors, and they had apparently all been reframed exactly alike---with most of an inch of mat covering each edge of each picture. The portraits in particular looked strange, indeed.

A personal preference, but one that is seldom encountered wth precut mats, is to offset the image a bit towards the top, and also allow a slightly wider reveal (to accommodate the signature and date) at the bottom. You could do something like this with a non-floating mount if you printed wth wide enough borders and signed the actual priint, but you'd have to have the mats cut to your specificatons (not cheap) or do it yourself, in which case you might as well do a floating mount. (This is the point where the purists normally start to sound off about dry mounting, archivalness and the like. Sorry about that...)

In any case, good luck!

Iluvmyviewcam
24-Jun-2014, 13:03
Hello,

I'm finishing up a portrait course where I photographed a local musician for eight weeks. Out of the images that survive the final critique, I hope to pick about five images to try to sell as prints. I would like to raise a little money to help my musician friend. With that said, I'm trying to figure out how to package and sell the prints. I think the customers will be very price sensitive, so I don't think I will be able to charge a lot. I was thinking of 5x7,8x10, and 11x14 fibre prints, with different prices, dry mounted, without an overlaying mat board. Is this a good idea?

Can you give me any advice on how I can pull this off at a reasonable cost and still make a little money?

Thanks,

Larry

Sell prints cheap, with a wide borders and let them do the grunt work. That is my thoughts.

Larry Kellogg
25-Jun-2014, 05:31
I think I'm going to buy a Dexter matt cutter and straight edge, and do it myself, or, I'll buy from Harold, his time is free. ;-) I might as well learn how to do it myself. Framing shops are incredibly expensive, especially in New York. I'll never earn a dollar of profit getting prints framed through a shop.

I think cheap is not going to get me anywhere, except in a money losing situation.

ic-racer
25-Jun-2014, 06:42
Due to limited resources,high material costs, prolonged time demands, exacting craft needed and multiple other reasons, it is $1000 minimum for anything that comes out of my darkroom hand-printed on fiber paper from film. I don't see how it could be any different in anyone else's darkroom unless one is subsidized by a working spouse :).

ROL
25-Jun-2014, 07:51
Due to limited resources,high material costs, prolonged time demands, exacting craft needed and multiple other reasons, it is $1000 minimum for anything that comes out of my darkroom hand-printed on fiber paper from film. I don't see how it could be any different in anyone else's darkroom unless one is subsidized by a working spouse :).

Whoa! I thought I was pricey at $650 for my smallest unframed 11x14 prints (matted to 16x20). Sure, larger are over $1000+, but I imagine you may be in fairly rarified air here at LFPF.

ROL
25-Jun-2014, 07:55
I think I'm going to buy a Dexter matt cutter and straight edge, and do it myself, or, I'll buy from Harold, his time is free. ;-) I might as well learn how to do it myself. Framing shops are incredibly expensive, especially in New York. I'll never earn a dollar of profit getting prints framed through a shop.

I think cheap is not going to get me anywhere, except in a money losing situation.

Larry, somehow I get the feeling you don't really care for my advice, but if DIY is your route, you may find this (http://www.rangeoflightphotography.com/pages/Fine%20Art%20Print%20Presentation) useful. You are likely to either find out why matting and framing is so expensive (Harold aside), or why you must do it yourself – or both.

Drew Wiley
25-Jun-2014, 11:45
After you've ruined a pile of expensive sheets of matboard, you'll discover that buying the cheapest matcutter out there ain't really cheap. But if you have a steady hand, you can try. At least the learning curve will begin. Pricing is anyone's personal option. Running a business a different story. I know a fellow who was bragging
to me that he sold twenty prints in one show. His secret? The lab didn't charge for the space that weekend (yeah, one of those lab "gallery" gigs), his prints were
all framed - he did have his own $1200 Fletcher matcutter, and he didn't ask much per print, maybe around $250 each. So that equated to losing two hundred bucks on each, by the time his overhead was tallied. But it was good for his morale as a wannabee nature photographer. So if he could afford it, why not? But if he had gotten into LF instead of 35mm, he would have ended up out on the sidewalk with a scrawled cardboard sign: "Will work for Film".

Thom Bennett
25-Jun-2014, 11:53
Larry, check out Frame Destinations http://www.framedestination.com/. They will custom cut the window and, the more of the same cut you buy, the cheaper it is.

Harold_4074
25-Jun-2014, 12:11
or, I'll buy from Harold, his time is free. ;-)

Larry, I said my time was worthless, not free. :) There's a difference: if you are stranded on a desert island, a cooler washes up with a candy bar inside, and you also find the remains of a treaure chest containing gold bars---the candy bar is free, and the gold bars are, in that situation, worthless!

The real point is that if you are not in a position to convert your time into money, it doesn't make much sense to talk about how much it "costs". I am on salary at work, so the more hours I put in, the less I make per hour; even a decent raise is cut nearly in half by taxes and other deductions, but if I can avoid spending a dollar of what is left, I can spend that whole dollar on something else. The pros charge as much as they do in part because they have to carry considerable overhead; if you don't believe this, think about how much a wedding photographer costs per second of time the shutter is open. So if, as a student, you can sell a framed print that cost you $3 in materials to make for $20 (matting and framing at cost only) and write off the half hour or so of presentation work to experience, you are doing pretty well because your overhead is already covered.


ROL: I took a look at your mounting and matting presentation; it is very well done and differs from what I do in only a few details.

I prefer ivory linen mat board for both the mount and mat, because I prefer that the print highlights be brighter than the surround. Strictly personal, but I'm an amateur so I don't have to apologize for not keeping the conventions :)

My borders are typically much narrower than yours (1/4" for 8x10 and smaller, 5/16" for 11x14 in a 14x17 frame, but 3/8" for an 11x14 matted to 16x10). When i trim, it is for composition and not framing convenience, so I may have a print that ends up 4-7/8" tall and 6-5/32" wide. Centering is not a problem because I use a folded paper strip to bisect the lateral space, not a scale.

The first trim cut is done with a knife and draftsman's triangle to remove errors introduced by my shabby enlarging easel or clumsy contact printing technique. The other edges are trimmed and the whole print cropped if necessary by means of a Rotatrim but despite my best efforts the "squared" print may be as much as 1/32" out of true. This is easily visible when the reveal starts at 1/4" and bevels inward from there, but with a Dexter is not a problem---I transfer the adtual dimensions of the print to the mat using the upper right corner as a reference, so after offseting them and cutting, the opening has a uniform border even if there has been a tiny error in either trimming or mounting.

I actually have a Logan 750 mat cutter, but the scales have only 1/16" precision, so it is mostly used for cutting down sheets of mat board (and even then slight squareness errors sometime creep in; they would be fatal if I referenced the mat opening to the edges of the board rather than the location of the print).

All this would probably be prohibitively expensive for a working professional (it usually takes a half hour or so per print, once everything is ready to go) but especially with 4x5 and 5x7 prints the end result has a sort of "jewel box" quality that my friends seem to find appealing.

Larry Kellogg
26-Jun-2014, 04:59
Great site, ROL! I'll try to digest all of this information and figure out what to do. Thanks, Thom, maybe Frame Destinations is the easiest way to go.

jnanian
26-Jun-2014, 09:57
hi larry

sometimes having a lab print the work ( i sometimes used to use whitehouse custom color because they were easy, and inexpensive
and 2 days away but now i use the person down the street from me and she is easy, the same quality ( if not better ) + cost ). i have been using an alto's ez mat cutter
for ages, it is simple to use cuts 4+8ply if you like that too. in 25+ years i think i screwed up 1 mat with it .. mainly because it was 3am and i measured wrong
not because the cutter didn't work. matted+ framed is nice, you could have a few small sizes as "samples" to show what they look like
take orders and have someone else do the work if you nervous about time, cost &c. you can also set up a FREE account at someplace like
imagekind, and have them do all the printing, and framing, their costs are extremely reasonable and from what people who have bought my stuff
there, have told me the images look very nice ... its not being sold at the whitney, or printed by me or elevatorlabs, but that's ok, my ego can take it.
you can certainly print and mat and frame everything yourself and because you are helping out a friend, run at a loss but if you can
actually have someone else print frame &c the images sounds reasonable to me, and if the customer wants hand printed, hand matted hand framed
you can have a 2nd tier of service ( and charge for it ) .

good luck with your project ( and sales ! )
john

Jim Andrada
26-Jun-2014, 12:10
When I had a large dedicated work space I used to do my own matting and with a big enough work surface to plunk down the matte for cutting and weights to hold it etc.you can do it quite nicely - after you've practiced on 10 or 20 or thereabouts

By the way, there's a mechanical trick to decide the optimal photo placement on the mount that I wish I remembered - it's usually not good to be dead center vertically. Moving the print around on the matte let's you figure it out by eye.

ROL
26-Jun-2014, 16:38
My borders are typically much narrower than yours (1/4" for 8x10 and smaller, 5/16" for 11x14 in a 14x17 frame, but 3/8" for an 11x14 matted to 16x10). When i trim, it is for composition and not framing convenience, so I may have a print that ends up 4-7/8" tall and 6-5/32" wide. Centering is not a problem because I use a folded paper strip to bisect the lateral space, not a scale.

Mount borders are without question, a matter of taste. That said, there are at least, conventional, or at most expected, aesthetics. I think however, you may actually be referring to the 'well' – the area of the mount revealed by the window mat. I assume by centered, you mean to say in the lateral direction only. Custom demands that work is raised in the vertical by some small amount, in order that they appear centered to the eye.

Harold_4074
26-Jun-2014, 19:11
ROL: Yes, the "reveal" in cabinetmaker's terms; the space between the print edge and the edge of the mat opening. One of the reasons that I prefer the look of dry-mounted rather than hinge-mounted pictures is that the edge of the dry-mounted print catches the light, giving the whole thing more of a three-dimensional look. Centering is lateral only; vertical offset depends on the image, so it is purely subjective.


Jim Andrada: An old book (that I should still have somewhere) describes this positioning algorithm:

Place the print on the mount flush with the bottom and left sides, and mark the top right corner's location. Draw a faint line from the bottom left corner, through this mark, and on to the top or right side. Using a strip of paper, bisect the distance between the mark and the right mount edge, slide the print to the right so that it is centered, and then vertically until the top right corner is on the line. Mount the print, and then erase the guide line.

This works, sort of, sometimes, and only if the proportions of the mount and print are fairly close. If the proportions are exactly the same, it centers the print in both directions (not usually desirable) and if they are really different (5x7 on an 8x10 mount, for example) the the result is rather strange-looking.

Erik Larsen
26-Jun-2014, 19:23
Here is a very quick way to arrive at the optical print center. Punch in a few numbers and it does the rest. http://www.russellcottrell.com/photo/centering.htm

Harold_4074
26-Jun-2014, 22:11
That last method looks somehow more plausible than the one I remembered, but both of them will place a square print dead center on a square mount, not something that I would do very often. Imagine a nearly black thunderstorm sky above a fully lit white sand beach which takes up the bottom third of the print--square print on a square mount. It might need to be placed below center to make it look "right".