Art, Marketing

Selling Art Merchandise

Selling Art

I know there are not a lot of us who are working at art and writing. I probably wouldn’t have gotten into it, the art is sort of my sanity valve when school gets intense, except… I kept getting asked to sell pieces, print, coffee mugs (looks hard at a certain person). So I started looking into how to sell pieces without too much effort on my part. I’m frankly too busy (or too lazy, take your pick) to try and get out and do physical shows with my artwork. So it had to be online-only. Ebay is right out, I’ve always thought of it as an online flea market and these days, a chancy way to buy anything. And I’ve had an Etsy shop (actually more than one) in the past, but that’s a whole lot of work to set up properly and keep it going, not to mention listing fees and FREE always sounds better anyway.


I have a DeviantArt account and use it, including setting up to sell prints and files through it, but after a negative comment on the quality of a print, I knew I had to look elsewhere. My first thought was to look at buying a printer to create giclee prints, because having them done as one-offs by a printer was going to put the price through the roof. This is doable for less than two hundred dollars initial cost, the printer can handle up to 13×19″ prints, and I may still do this down the road, but it was still a chunk of money that I wasn’t sure would pay off since I’m not doing shows (see above, lazy, busy… but if you’re interested, read James Young’s excellent posts on the topic).

And the coffee mug, well, that one was a stumper. I looked at what it would cost to have a run printed, and I thought about what I would do with 72 mugs that might never sell, evn though they would be affordable to my customers that way. And it would limit me to one design. Hrmph… Ok, CafePress or Zazzle?

I set up a CafePress shop. It’s pretty plain jane, but it is free to set up for the artist, and it does give you a fairly large audience (in theory) of people who actually shop the Cafepress shop. But their algorithms push best selling items to the top (as they should) and unless you’re selling a lot, you make 5%. Take a look at CafePress pricing sometime, and keep in mind the artist doesn’t get much of that… it’s as bad as traditional publishing.

Fortunately, you aren’t locked into selling with them, because I was able to find the ideal solution for me with WooCommerce and Printful. Printful, to tie it to the industry most of us are familiar with, is like Createspace. They are a POD company but rather than books, you can use them to order tee shirts, mugs (aha!), prints, and other things I haven’t even considered like ballcaps and leggings. The best things for me are that I can tie them right into my website, since they use my woocommerce portal, and they are free to the artist during set-up.

Here’s how it works. You sign up with Printful, setting up an API code to link your WooCommerce store with them, and then you can upload print-ready files. They are very good about making sure that you know if there is a problem, as in uploading a file that will not print cleanly. I have had good reviews from the folks who ordered tee shirts through them, and I have seen myself that their quality is high. But it all depends on that original file, so be sure you understand how to do that before proceeding.

Once you have a file (or more) uploaded, you will be able to create ‘mock-ups’ where your image is superimposed on the item you want to sell. You can do this yourself, but so far I’ve let Printful handle it, and most of the time it looks great (prints that are landscape orientation is the primary exception to this).

Here's a few things from my shop, on Printful mock-ups.

Here’s a few things from my shop, on Printful mock-ups.

Once you’re happy with the positioning and size of your art, you can turn your attention to the fun part, at least for me. Picking colors. While the mugs and posters come in one color, the tee shirts are available in many colors, shapes, and sizes. I’ve had a lot of fun with that. So much better than the standard geeky tee color: black and more black. If you’re lucky, grey.

Moving on…

Setting pricing is fairly easy. You will be paying Printful when an order comes in, for the printing, product, and shipping. On top of that is your profit, and you get to pick your amount, although you will want to keep paypal fees and taxes in mind, so don’t set it too low. I usually tweak mine to be in the ‘makes a little money’ and ‘customer can afford this’ range. Once you’re done, you can either sync with your shop, or order a proof. Yes, you can order proofs to see what their work looks like – Cafepress doesn’t offer this option, and I’ve been very happy with it from Printful. It let me see their quality in person, and they offer a discount to artists who are doing this, so you won’t break the bank to handle the goods. This isn’t a way to get a lot of stuff to sell at a show – they cap how many and how often you can order.

And that’s pretty much it. When the customer orders an item from your stop, the order goes to Printful, the item is printed, packed, and shipped from their facility (it’s in California). You don’t have to pack it up, run to the post office, and worry about a thing. It’s done.

And so am I on this post. I’ll be around for comments, though, and happy to answer questions.