Artist Websites Review – Print On Demand Update
It’s funny that one of the most perennially visited articles on my site is my now five year old artist websites review. And periodically I get questions from other artists who have read that several year old article and want to know what my take is today versus then. After who knows how many requests, I’m finally going to write a follow up on my take on the print on demand websites available to artists who offer prints online.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. This is just about my experience. If you simply want a really long list of what’s out there, I’ll direct you to a list of sites where artists can sell that is maintained by the folks at Artsy Shark. This is the very list I check out every so often to see if there’s somewhere new I should try.
I think the easiest place to begin with my artist websites review is to say what has changed in the five years since I last touched on this subject. Probably the biggest change is I absolutely eliminated Zenfolio. And that was for a number of reasons. The biggest was that the site was becoming a square peg and round hole situation for me personally. They started making changes to the metadata on the site that emphasized the site owner or business name over any other subject matter. So for instance, if I had a print collection filled with prints from Atlanta, they started the metadata title with Mark E Tisdale Photography – Atlanta Print Collection or something to that affect. I started noticing fewer visitors and dwindling sales in the wake of that. Several requests were made by me and others to make that information able to be customized but up until the point I left at least, nothing was done. I’m not saying this alone is a reason to leave them. If you are a Wedding Photographer in East Bumble, then having every page of your site begin with East Bumble Wedding Photographer would be great for your SEO, but when you’re trying to sell subjects instead of the brand, it’s a problem.
I skated by for a time hoping things would change but as they made more unhelpful changes, I realized that they were focusing on the event type photographer not anyone interested in selling art prints. I thought that was rather ironic considering Art.com bought them!
I made my departure from Zenfolio gradually but deliberately. I had decided at this point that the only way I’d have a site I was genuinely satisfied with was if I built it myself. It was ironic that I had joined Zenfolio so that I could focus on art and not website design. In the end, I realized that for me personally I needed that control. So yes, of the artist websites I currently use, WordPress is now home to my main portfolio. For a short time I linked from my WordPress blog to Zenfolio for purchasing but the final nail in the coffin was coming!
Zenfolio had for years kept a promise not to raise yearly rates on existing customers. Now, maybe that was an unrealistic promise, but it was still a promise. The year finally came where they raised the rates on everyone. With all of my other artist websites out-performing them, it was a no-brainer that it was time to completely pull the plug on Zenfolio. As soon as I was done transitioning to my new site, I closed the door on Zenfolio in 2015.
Artist Websites Of Today
Fine Art America With A Side of WordPress
As things stand today, my primary print fulfillment is handled by Fine Art America AKA Pixels. Note Pixels is the newer site that the owner of Fine Art America has started. Fine Art America is the mother-ship where it all began, but he was interested in having a site with a less geographically specific name and a wider range of products. Old habits die hard for me so I’m going to refer to it mainly as Fine Art America, but they are one and the same for all intents and purposes.
Fine Art America is one of the few if not only Print on Demand marketplaces that offers individual artist websites for premium customers. There is not a lot you can do in the way of customization, but for only $30 a year, it’s a bargain in my eyes. I basically look at my artist website as my own little shopping cart where I can direct customers who are interested in my work. You can see how my shopping cart/portfolio looks by visiting this link.
And I think a shopping cart is the best way of looking at these sites. They are fairly basic and to be fair, they are virtually invisible to Google and other search engines. And it’s for a good reason. When one uploads work to Fine Art America, and gives it a title and hopefully an engaging description, there’s no way to write a separate description and/or title for the same item on the artist website. For SEO purposes, this is identical content and a bad thing. So virtually every page of the artist websites that Fine Art America offers has a little line of metadata that indicates the “canonical” source is Fine Art America. This is a way of informing search engines that this is a copy and not the original item. It’s a necessary evil but it means that most of your traffic is either going to the mother ship or you will have to find your own ways to generate traffic to your individual artist website.
In my case the majority of my artist website sales comes from search engine traffic either here on this blog, my portfolio/collection at Beautiful World Art, or through people finding me on social media. And of course, the beauty of Fine Art America is in addition to the traffic I generate myself, there are people finding me on the mother ship who might never have stumbled over my work otherwise. So there’s passive traffic and sales generated there as well as the ones I generate through having my own sites and social media presence. Virtually all of my link building points toward my print sales through Fine Art America, but they are not the only Artist Websites I use.
I have been burned before by having all of my eggs in one basket. You never know what changes may make that a bad thing. A company can get sold, raise prices, or any number of changes.
Zazzle has been a roller coaster over the past practically decade I’ve used them. Their design tools are a mixture of blessing and curse. Most print on demand companies I’ve worked with over the years, you upload your image, write a description, and choose what products you want to offer. A few let you upload custom images for different products but it’s not a must. On Zazzle each and every product is a separate listing. You don’t have to uplaod the same image over and over, but you do have to write a new description, keywords, title, etc. each time you use the same image on a new product offering. For a time there was a batch tool but that created their own version of a duplicate content problem when industrious designers uploaded the same design hundreds of times with exactly the same description. So, they started asking for individually written descriptions and hiding products that didn’t sell or get visits in a particular window of time. Not for the first time, I watched my Zazzle sales fall off. They’ve recently picked up again. I’m not sure if it’s a seasonal thing or if they have made more changes in my absence.
All I can really say is that for me Zazzle is on life support. I won’t pull the plug as long as I have passive sales income there but I’ve reached a point of being tired of constantly reacting to the latest demands for changes there. I only have so many hours in my day and need to use them wisely.
I’m not sure anymore if I’ve been on Redbubble or Zazzle longest, but I was in on the ground floor at Redbubble. At one point, like Fine Art America, they had their own little artist websites that were basically fancy shopping carts. But that feature was abandoned long ago. I don’t promote my presence there, but I make regular sales there without a lot of effort on my part. Something the folks behind the wheel at Redbubble are doing is good is all I can say! The only real criticism I have about the site is that something about the edit artwork pages always bogs down my browser. If I want to upload or make changes to existing work on Redbubble, I always make a point of not having much else open. As they add more and more products to that one page, it seems to get worse! But that resource hungry upload page is my only real jab at the company. It takes a little patience which might be an issue if you are prolific about uploading work. If, like me, you upload a new piece every week or so, then it’s hardly something to get touchy about! Redbubble remains my little artist website that could.
Society6 wasn’t even a thing when I wrote my last review on artist websites years ago. Or if they were they were mostly unheard of. Anecdotally, I’ve heard the same people fulfill their prints at Society6 as at Fine Art America. And it’s likely there are other print on demand companies using the same small fulfillment pool to be honest.
In the past couple of years, I’ve had some teething pains with Society6. When I first joined, I was mainly interested in listing t-shirts, but at that time, it wasn’t possible to upload just X product. You had to offer prints. And although you could set your own price on paper and framed prints, canvas prints, metal prints, and others were set at a mark-up that was not much better than selling a throw pillow. I am unfazed by offering throw pillows, t-shirts, and such at a set price that I can’t change, but offering actual wall art like that was a bridge too far. I finally figured out that if I didn’t upload full-sized images, I only ended up offering a couple of small print sizes and none of the wall art items like canvas prints. So that was what I did for the first year or so. The irony was I only did that so I could offer t-shirts and I rarely sell those on Society6. What has sold reliably for me there is prints, pillows, and tapestries. In the past year, they re-worked the upload process and now you can set the price for most wall-art items or choose not to offer them for sale. I would love to go back and replace some of my earlier uploads but they have a glitch that I have reported three times that won’t allow that. I can upload new work and replace it no problem. But replacing images from my first year there does not change the print sizes offered. My problem appears to be rare enough that it is very low priority so I’m left with either completely uploading those older works anew or not worrying about it. So far not worrying about it has won out! Remember, I only have so many hours in a day! But if you’re just starting there, it won’t be a problem for you anyway.
That one glitch aside, I have been mostly satisfied with Society6. I get the feeling the market there may be getting saturated but I continue to make what I consider passive income on the prints I’ve uploaded there. I do very little promotion of my presence there but sales continue. If I devoted more time to the site, who knows.
But of all the sites I use, Fine Art America has the strongest set of choices when it comes to wall art which is my main bread winner, so unless something startling happens, they will remain my main focus but it’s nice to have other eggs in other baskets just in case!
I won’t go into great detail but in the past few years I’ve also tried Saatchi’s print on demand service as well as Art Flakes. Each of them met the chopping block fairly quickly for one reason or another. Art Flakes as best I remember was just a pain to use. Possibly it’s grown since then. Saatchi seemed like it was going to need a lot of work to promote it and actually sell prints. I feel like the bread and butter of an artist on the Saatchi site is probably original art sales rather than prints.
I also made a brief foray into selling on Etsy. They are not print on demand of course, but they are a popular choice for artist websites these days. I honestly don’t think I had the focus this past year to really figure out the ins-and-outs of Etsy and largely abandoned it for now.
I’ve also glanced at many others but not felt the urge to try any more. I think I probably would have if the past couple of years hadn’t found me preoccupied with family issues. So, maybe I’ll get the time to explore more of what’s out there in the next year or so. I don’t have the time to have a presence on every site out there but I always like to keep my eye out for sites that are a good fit for my work. You never know who might be the next Apple or Microsoft equivalent in the print on demand arena.
I very much want to point out these are my experiences. And for every person out there, you’ll find they have had their own experience. Sometime site X just won’t bear fruit for you even though it has for someone else. Sometimes it may be down to a poor fit like my Zenfolio experience at the end of my time there. If you’re a square peg in a round hole, it may be time to look elsewhere! I think sometimes it’s also down to the audience that a given site may have attracted. And, this last one I think I could write a whole post on and probably will.. But one of the things you need to figure out as an artist selling prints is what and who your market is. For example, I have artist friends who find their work sells mostly on products like greeting cards, pillows, and other textiles. While I generally have exactly the opposite experience that regardless of what I offer my work on, people most seem to be interested in having it as wall art. Not that I’m complaining but realizing that has changed my outlook on offering other print products. But that’s really a separate topic from artist websites, so I shall leave it at that.
I hope those of you out there who have had your own experiences which you’d like to share will sound off in the comments. What sites have worked for you? Maybe one of my duds is one of your successes or vice versa? Feel free to share your experiences whatever they may be.
Mark’s Featured Canvas Prints
I found you when I was hunting for info about FAA vs. Zenfolio.
Your articles on the subject have been very helpful – thank you so much!
And your original art is beautiful!
I’m curious – why did you decide to have a separate site just for your art prints (BeautifulWorldArt.com) instead of keeping everything (blog posts, tips, patron info) all under one site (MarkOnArt.com)?
Thanks for taking the time to read this 🙂
Hi Beth – first thank you, so glad you enjoyed my work! And glad that my articles helped!
My separate site is kind of a hold-over from where this all started. I had a blog before I was ever selling my work anywhere. When I first started using Zenfolio, they didn’t have a blog option. I could have stuck one in a directory or under a subdomain like markonart dot com/blog or blog dot markonart dot com or something like that, but everything I read rightly or wrongly suggested that Top level domains were better if you wanted Google to find you. So I came up with a totally separate domain name for my work on Zenfolio.
When I went a different way from Zenfolio to WordPress/woocommerce, I thought about combining them but figured I was better sticking with the same domain my art had been on before. I still think about merging them together somewhere down the line but the idea of essentially starting over with Google indexing the new URLs does not fill me with enthusiasm!
In other words, there’s no reason to do it this way! It’s like finding a house that got added onto and added onto and no one can tell you why XYZ was built the way it is, but no one wants to change it either. LOL
If I was utterly starting from scratch I’d merge it all together under one of my domains. 🙂
Hi Mark – thank you for the info. I have a fairly new website, and just getting into online marketing and selling. I had a friend suggest FAA, and OMG it was a nightmare for me. First of all there is virtually no support that I could find. I had a page set up, and wanted to set up individual galleries. On one page it was called “collections” and that worked. On the other, it was called “Member Galleries” and the galleries did not display my photos when clicked on them. I wanted to use galleries to organize my photos so people could select by category (landscapes, floral, urban etc) So I reached out to them with screen shots showing what was wrong, but they just kept saying “well on this page it works” the other page is a search page. And I am like, so what? It works on my friend’s search pages, why isnt it working on mine? No answer. I began to suspect that there were 2 different websites involved because the terminology and look of the pages were so different. But no one told me this, or gave me any suggestion how to fix it. I tried to go in to my “Collections” and edit my collection and add another keyword for searching, but it actually DELETED my collection. Final straw. Sure enough I am finding out now that FAA and Pixels are the same company and this is probably where the problems are coming from. But no one helped me, or had any clue. Finally it asked me to resign up, and I found none of my photos were out there. Last straw. I wasted days trying to set up and figure out what was going on. I deleted my account. I really wanted to use them, but they dont have good tech or customer service from what I saw. Ugh. Not sure where to go from here, other than to set up a commerce page on my own website, which I need to do anyway.
Sue – sorry you had a bad experience with them. I’ve used them for over a decade and it’s possible I’ve gotten used to some of the foibles of the site.
Did you try posting about your problems in their forum? I was just in the forum and saw others reporting problems with galleries/collections and that some bug was fixed and they were restoring the missing collection of at least one member (the one who posted in the forum. This is a link to their forum: https://fineartamerica.com/discussions.html
And yes, there are several sites actually connected. Fine Art America, Pixels, Designer Prints. I think that is all but I may be missing something.
I’m not a cheerleader for Fine Art America but for my purposes there’s currently not anyone who I could easily replace them with. Most of the other places I’ve looked at have one issue or another. It comes down to finding the issues you can live with whether that’s Fine Art America or another site altogether. We all have our individual pain points.
I’ve looked at several other print on demand outfits in the past year and almost all of them crop your work to standard sizes. Some are fine with that. For me there are some prints I don’t mind a little cropping to make standard sizes out of them but for the most part it ends up changing the original composition too much for me to live with.
Hi Mark, I finally decided to foray into the POD area, have heard about FAA from others and now you, but would really love to hear any experiences re SMUGMUG and whether there’s any hope of selling anything there. I’ve used them or ages for portfolio organization because there are so many nesting structures but have yet to figure out how to sell anything there.
I’m going to try FAA. What happened with Shopify? Maybe you can direct me to what your insights were as to that combo you referred to in an earlier post. Man thanks!
Carol – I’ve no personal experience with Smugmug, so there’s not a lot I can say about them. I tried them probably a decade ago and went with using Zenfolio. I honestly don’t remember why anymore. But unless things have changed, it’s pretty much along the same lines as Zenfolio, Shopify, etc. They don’t have separate marketplaces so you’re going to have to generate your own traffic either with SEO, social networking, advertising, or some combination of those things.
I like Fine Art America’s products which is what has kept me there. I haven’t tried any new POD outfits in ages because I’ve been more focused on building up my own business rather than someone else’s. That’s the thing ultimately with Print On Demand. I think it’s a wonderful thing to use but I hesitate making it my sole income stream because you then are at the mercy of them making changes down the road that might not benefit you. I’ve experienced and I’ve seen it happen to others.
I am still using Shopify. If Fine Art America had a WordPress integration, I probably would not use Shopify. It does have some nice bells and whistles but ultimately I’m paying someone to host a store that I could host on my WordPress site if there was a POD who was integrated with WordPress whose prints I liked. That’s not the case so far so I’m about to start year three using Shopify as my middleman to sell prints. I have intended to write up a longer blog post about that, but suffice to say I would not be starting year three if I felt like there was no benefit. There are of course minuses. If something goes wrong, I’m the one that has to handle it and make it right for the customer. Luckily that’s been rare but it’s still a position that some artists may not want to be in. If so, it might be better to just upload on multiple PODs and send your customers to them and let the POD handle it if things go wrong.
I think in the end, you have to figure out what works best for you. There’s no one size fits all solution. I have uploaded on piles of PODs and let nature take it’s course. And I made sales but I didn’t have repeat customers (or at least I didn’t know if I did). When you let the POD handle it, you also don’t know much information about who is buying your work, how they are finding it, etc. But if you don’t want to be involved in those things then why drive yourself crazy with it? And there’s no best platform. If you can sell on Shopify, you could sell on Smugmug, etc. Those are just sales channels. They give your customer a place to put X item in their cart and then you fulfill it. I wanted that part to be automated so I went with Shopify because FAA is integrated there. If you like whoever is integrated with Smugmug, then you could use them, or insert XYZ other sales channel. There are others of course, like Etsy (which I tried and had no success with but I have friends who sell there). So some of it is also, I hate to say, simply trial and error.
I’m not sure if that helps at all but after all these years all I’m confident about is that you have to find what works for you even if it means trying things that don’t work. My personal solution is selling with my Shopify store and using FAA to fulfill those orders automatically. Yours might be Etsy and either drop shipping it from a favorite printer or printing it yourself. Or it might be loading all your work up on a few of your favorite PODs and letting them do all the work of selling. Figure out what doesn’t make you crazy and go for it!
If reading this leaves you with other questions, just ask. I hope I’ve helped a little.