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What Size Should You Print
By James M. Theopistos


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A few weeks ago I was meeting with some artists and photographers and the topic came up as how to choose print sizes. What is better, printing your images large or small and how do you know what sizes are in demand by your customers. One young lady there was an artist who initially wasn’t selling her work at shows in the numbers she had expected. She had printed almost everything as an 8x10 or slightly smaller. Many of the other artists at the show were successful at selling smaller sizes so she knew it had to be something she was doing wrong. After trying a larger size instead of what she was offering she found buyers were purchasing prints at a higher rate. When she asked some of the other artists at the show what they thought about this she was told very frankly that the style of the artwork needed to sync up with the sizes she was printing. Unfortunately she had done her initial sizes based on what a friend who was not an experienced artist had suggested rather than what her work called for. Her artwork had so much more appeal and interest than what the small 8x10s could reflect.

Don’t Rely on the Average Person's Opinion

Let’s talk about why you should be careful in basing what size you print solely on what the person who is neither a photographer or artist might suggest. In this case the lady had told her friend she wanted to sell large prints of her work and they responded she should make 8x10s. Obviously there was a disconnect as to what they thought was a large print. When asking someone this you might get a wide range of answers but in general you will find a lot of people think an 8x10 is a big print. Why is that? When it comes to printing pictures most people are printing photographs. These are usually things like vacation photos and snapshots. If they are getting prints from a professional photography studio they are probably part of a print package. Many times the largest they look at ordering is an 8x10. The rest are usually wallets, 4x5’s and 5x7. Most people are not thinking above that 8x10 size even if their local photographer or photo lab offers something larger. And if they do happen to order something larger (i.e., the bridal or family portrait) it’s not likely they will be getting those very often. Primarily the recipient of those pictures are thinking about all those 4x5s and perhaps those few 8x10s they included in their print package.

Photographers and Digital Artists

Photographers and digital artists from hobbyists to professionals tend to see size in a different light because they usually have some experience in printing at home. Your average desktop inkjet printer typically prints on 8 ½ x 11 inch sheets. That size is ideal for easily producing 8x10s. Most people into digital photography now days can’t wait to see that perfect shot and probably are going to print it as an 8x10. Digital artists who want to see that work they created in actual print are the same way. You see details and notice elements in the picture that you just don’t see in a smaller size. And there is nothing like seeing an image in print. It gives the image more appeal, value and feels tangible versus just some color dots on a computer screen. Many of these people come to FinerWorks to print larger sizes with a frame of reference being that 8x10 they may have tried at home. So anything larger they order from FinerWorks is going to be considered a big print.

Traditional Artists

What about artists? Artists (I consider photographers artists but here I am talking about the non-photographer who creates original work on paper and canvas). There are a wide range of artist types from digital, pen and ink, etc. They tend to view large prints based on what their original was sized at. They don’t think in terms of enlargements like photographers. Typically they are going to try to keep the original scale or go smaller. Artists who are into sketching and pen and ink might be using a sketch pad around 11x14 inches, while artists with paints and bush average in the range of a 16x20 to 20x30.

Do Sizes I Choose Sync Up with My Work

Consider your subject matter, style and technique as one of the determining factors for your print size.

If you are producing photo portraits or capturing expansive landscapes for friends, family, clients, etc. are you offering them in large format? What if you are not and they want to fill a space over the fireplace mantle? Maybe they don’t want something that big but it does not hurt to offer it.

I also have seen artists who paint very impressionistic images but have never ordered anything above an 8x10 when their original works are much larger. If that is you that may be okay if you do not want the texture of the paints and underlying canvas to be perceived. The same goes with artists who paint big with lot’s of details and colors. Don’t shortchange your viewers if you don’t have to by going too small.

At the same time I have seen artists who create really simple but whimsical style images that look like something from children stories. We print these all day long by more artists than I can count so obviously they sell well. But once in awhile I see a new artist’s work who will print those type of images printed as a huge gallery wrapped canvas print. Not to say you shouldn’t do this but what if you find it removes your work from consideration by a potential buyer like mom’s just wanting to decorate a child’s room with a certain collection of pictures?

As you can see the content should not be mismatched with what you are printing. The examples I cited might be extreme but don’t let your desire for a certain size in print overshadow what size it should be printed. Get some opinions if the size you are printing works with your target audience.

Category: Selling and Self Promotion
Created: Tuesday, July 30, 2013, Last Updated: Tuesday, July 30, 2013


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About James Theopistos Aside from being an enthusaistic promoter of the visual arts field as it relates to individual artists' success, he also serves as the acting Chief Development Officer for FinerWorks.com, an online color print lab for artists and photographers.
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