Pricing Prints

Pricing fine art photographic prints is always a challenge, there’s a lot of costs involved, a lot of competition in the marketplace, and a lot of variation in prices out there in the marketplace.  While I don’t have the One True Way of pricing for photographic prints, I do have a few thoughts on the matter for those of you considering your own print sales.

As a starting point, you first need to figure out your cost of goods. Start with the photographic print itself.  If you own your own printer, that cost will include the cost of the ink, the paper, and the amortized cost of the printer itself, Mark Segal has a nice article explaining how to do this over at the Luminous Landscape.  In my own case, I print through an outside service, so I know up front that the cost of one of my standard-sized prints (16×11 inches image size) is about $25, then I add to that a few bucks for shipping or my time/effort to pick it up.

Next up is framing and matting costs.  While  I’d prefer to not be in the matting and framing business (and I do a lot of education to customers explaining why it might be in their interest to have my images framed somewhere else), a lot of my customers prefer the ease of one-stop shopping, as such it’s important that I provide the option, but it’s brutally expensive.  Framing a standard-sized print with quality materials at a local frame shop can easily run a couple hundred dollars, which is prohibitive, so I largely work with vendors who will custom-cut archival mats, backing boards, metal frames, and glass with UV protection and anti-reflection coatings for me.  By purchasing in quantity via mail order (except for the glass, which I get locally), I can drive the prices down to about $30-$35 for a mat, plus another $70-$80 to finish off the rest of the framing.  My “cost of goods” for my standard-sized framed print is probably something like $140.

As an aside, these easily assembled metal frames are a real benefit for doing exhibitions and such because they’re reusable, while I may not be able to reuse unsold mats and prints, the glass, frames and often even backing boards are often easily reused, which is a real benefit if you consider that a 20-print show might otherwise cost three thousand dollars to simply print and frame.

With a $140 print cost, what should I charge? Well, first, I know I’d like to make money when I sell prints, so I need a margin for myself. And I know as well that there are a lot of costs not reflected here, the costs of travel and camera equipment aren’t included either.

Worse, most places i’m going to exhibit my work or that might market my work want a cut, a cut that can easily be as high as half the gross. That is, a gallery will typically want half of what a customer pays off the top, but the framing and other costs will still be borne by myself. If my standard framed print price is $450, then I’ll receive $225, and at best I’ll be making $85 before the cost of my $8000 camera, or travel to Greenland is included. Not a recipe for getting rich, fine art print sales pretty much never is.

My primary point here is to urge you to be aware of all the costs that go into selling your prints. There are strategies for reducing these costs, but be aware of whatever costs you incur, your first rule should be don’t lose money. The business plan of “lose money on each one, but make it up on volume”  doesn’t pay.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. So agree with this article !
    it not so simple to sell photo art and the price is a HUGE problem…
    i find that canvas prints are really not so expensive and no need in metal or wood frame.. but it depend to the taste of customer.
    anyway – good luck !

  2. Unlike widget sales demand for art is often based on perceived demand. I’ve known a lot of people that sold more when they raised their prices on the same stuff just because it was perceived as better. Obviously no guarantees there, but something to think about if things aren’t selling – maybe go the other direction instead of lowering them to the point of poverty.

  3. Yes. I am finding the same problem on how much to charge.
    I took the cost x 3 for my basis. But, the Gallery that i was working with went from 25% commission to 50%. So it ended up, I made nothing.
    I have pulled all my work. Now I have wonderful photos of Italy waiting for the next place.
    Right now, the market in Northern California for Art is a little flat. I have sold my work, but with the 50% commission- that just doesn’t work. Thank you for your help, David.
    I believe i am in the ballpark of what you do.

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