Should Artists Put Their Art on Greeting Cards? | Collective Wisdom

I recently received this question from a RedDotBlog reader:

I have been earning a living solely from my art for more than 25 years and much of my income before that was from my art. I own an art gallery, the success of which depends mainly on the paintings and prints sold. For many years, people have asked me to put my paintings on gift cards. That might seem like a good idea on the surface (good advertising, spreading the messages the paintings were created to spread), but the followup to that question is often “I want to frame them.”Production costs of quality cards isn’t inexpensive, packaging and signage must be added to that, and labor is intense. You’d need a marketing rep for cards to make card sales pay anything to make it worth your while. Then take into account that the sales of cards, which might earn you a dollar each if you do them yourself, replaces the sales of prints. After the recession hit, some people were buying canvas bookmarks I made from some of my paintings to sells “stocking stuffers”, but they wound up being main gifts. They framed bookmarks. This happened at my biggest studio event of the year, which normally brought in a substantial amount of money, enough to get through the long winter off-season at the beach. That year we brought in about 20% of my lowest year, about 10% of my highest. The recession had a lot to do with that, but the less is better for gifts mentality seems to remain.

Taking all this into consideration, do you have an opinion about offering cards of artwork? In my case, all of my prints are gicle’es and I care about the quality of color reproduction to the extent that I do the gicle’es myself. Cards would probably misrepresent the work in addition to replacing print sales. Someone very nice approached me for a card of one of my most important works today and I had to turn her down. I could see she wasn’t pleased, so I’ve been going around in circles thinking about this again.

Should artists put their paintings’ images on gift cards?

Ellen

My Response

It sounds to me like you already have a pretty strong sense that you would be better off not creating the cards. I can’t make an argument that is strong enough to counter any of the points you’ve made.

I know that many artists are creating these kinds of cards and either selling them or using them for promotional purposes, but I’m not sure that those efforts are having a strong impact on their total sales.

I personally don’t have strong opinions one way or the other – I don’t feel that creating cards is either going to destroy your career or make you fabulously wealthy. With that said, I look at cards as a good potential way to increase the visibility of your work and a potential way to convert non-buyers into buyers.

On the Pro Side of the Question

I like the idea of using these cards for thank you notes and to send out updates of newly available work. If you are going to be using them to this end, it makes sense to think about packaging them for sale as well.

If you are in an area that has a heavy volume of traffic but a large percentage of that traffic doesn’t buy either originals or prints, it may be that having a lower priced item like a pack of cards could help turn non-buyers into buyers. While the sale of one pack of cards probably isn’t going to have much impact on your bottom line, if you can convert a decent percentage of walk-ins who like your work but wouldn’t buy an original or reproduction to buy cards, it can have an impact over the course of a year.

On the Con Side

You are right to be concerned that you might have some buyers who would have bought a giclee who end up buying cards instead, but you might also have some who buy cards who eventually move upmarket and buy reproductions or originals. Someone who is going to frame a card probably isn’t your best target audience for more expensive work anyway.

You are also right that the quality and color isn’t going to be perfect. You certainly couldn’t expect the same quality in terms of printing. I think that’s okay for cards though. As long as the quality of the card is good and the imagery looks good, the fidelity to the original isn’t as critical.

There is certainly also time and energy that will be put into creating the cards, and the cards probably aren’t going to generate enough revenue to make them wildly profitable.

What Do You Think?

Do you reproduce your work on cards or other promotional/gift items? Why or why not? If you do, has it been good for your business? Can you add to my list of pros and cons? Share your thoughts, experiences, and insights in the comments below.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

25 Comments

  1. A friend of mine has quite a collection of art works. Each year, she chooses one to be made into her “official card”. On the back she is careful to list the artist and details of the art work. I think that is such a nice thing to do, but she’s not the artist- she’s the collector.

    Like community bake sales, it seems so popular and lucrative until you start counting the cost. If you are in business, counting the cost is a big part of what you do.

    Are artist made cards “loss leaders”? Where is the up scaling? When I was in retail, we used items we considered “throw away” to get the customers in the store to see the rest of the merchandise. When I read the blog, I kept thinking of that.

    Lastly- as the receiver of a greeting card, life after opening the envelope is brief except in one case. My former professor and life long friend designed and printed the cards he sent- as greetings and miniatures all at once. They were never reprints. His cards were occasions and we kept every one. This will be the first Holiday with no “Charlie” card. Greeting cards are not normally like that.

    1. I am an Artist, curator and educator. I have done holiday cards and birthday cards with some of my work. However, it is my work so I can do it. It has nothing to do with the sale of the work, which is always being printed as one of a kind and signed. The issue is that; the artworks belong to the artist that has the only copy right, under international law. It is ignored many times because people are not aware of the law and artists have no money to sue. But as a collector, they don’t have the right to copy the work for a card even if you they the work, you do not buy that right!!!!!!!

  2. Hello, Jason
    I have been working with cards off and on, but I rarely reproduce a work of mine, I just sketch and paint cards themselves…watercolor or acrylics…then reproduce them in a limited amount and have them in some galleries and art centers.
    I figure that might get buyers to know my name and maybe look at my real paintings. Plus it gives me something to work on when sales are slow and I don’t want to create a large backlog.
    It might not be the ideal thing to do, but I have a storage problem, so it works for me.
    Have a wonderful holiday season
    Joan

  3. Almost all artists have a web site and post pictures of their work. Most pictures are of good enough quality to be printed and framed as long as they remain card size.
    Therefore, I believe that this outbalances most the negative aspects of the cards made by artists.
    As a collector, I believe that the visibility provided by the framed cards is finally quite positve. I don’t think that any collector would take a card instead of the real painting unless they collect cards only.

  4. As a photographer, I think it is an easier decision to make and sell cards. I can control the quality of the images by using a good printing service and I do the work myself in my spare time, attaching the photo to card stock, hand signing them, stamping the back with a specially designed stamp with my contact info (ala Hallmark) and packaging them as single cards in plastic sleeves or in plastic boxes in sets of 4. I sell them in several places and while the price point is low compared to framed or matted prints, it is a steady stream of moderate income. I have followers who like my cards and say they regularly look to see when I have new collections available, which I do often. They are mainly meant to be used as Thank You cards or hostess gifts. I don’t worry about anyone framing a card and hanging it above their sofa. I do think they are two types of buyers and don’t recall anyone contacting me from the info on the back of a card and wanting a full size framed print of the same image. But I just enjoy creating images and having them appreciated.

  5. I have been having cards printed with my artwork for years. I used to make and sell boxed sets but it’s not much of a money maker (just like calendars) so I just order them for my own use. I use Vista Print and Shutterfly and people can also go to Fine Art America and order their own cards with my artwork.
    I also make my own cards by glueing photos of my paintings onto card stock.
    I use these various cards for friends, family, clients, and galleries. Some are blank and some are already printed with “Thank You from Laurie DeVault Fine Art.”

  6. I have cards available from a print-on-demand website (they also sell prints on a variety of goods), which I use to raise awareness of my artistic work, among friends and family. Some people buy these cards from me to give to their friends, some people I don’t know buy items directly from the website. I just see it as a way for me to have cards to give, at the same time as raising awareness of my work.

  7. Hi,
    I have done greeting cards before and freshly drawn or painted. But only to family members and friends.

    But because me reading this..haha it has given me an idea! 😊 to send them out to former clients. Which will keep them coming back to see what I have.
    Thank you for posting this! God Bless you and all of you who read this!

    As Tiny Tim said, God Bless us everyone.

  8. I make up cards and prints of my paintings because where I am, it’s mostly tourists who can’t take larger framed originals or traveling on budgeted money. Cards make up about 60% of my sales, prints (2 sizes) 38% and the rest is original paintings. There is another artist in our group who will not make prints or cards until the original artwork is sold. I would have to suggest you need to evaluate your marketplace and customers, print a small quantity of any given item so not left holding something that wasn’t as popular as hoped, don’t be afraid of doing a detail shot if you do large work (I sell cards and prints of a schooner in a painting I need to finish the shoreline on) and check to see if displayed to best advantage.

  9. I send inexpensive a blank card(s) of my work to my buyers at the end of the year as a thank you for their business. My big collectors receive a small calendar of the year’s collection. I sell the calendars and giclée prints on my website as an option. I see cards as necessary marketing collateral to keep my name in front of my customers.

  10. Decide which well known artist is your inspiration and ask “What would (Picasso) do”?
    I personally would not send an art image in miniature but would send a photo of multiple artwork (several pieces) on the wall, in my studio or a a gallery, to inspire past and future collectors/buyers to come and buy.

    List on the back of the card where they can see the art, what the hours are, what website they can visit and what phone numbers they can call. Prices? No. People who are really interested will keep this card around until they get another card from the artist with updated information such as any exhibitions scheduled with dates.

    Adding a personal note to the card is really important, shows that you remember them, what they bought or what they liked.

    Just my opinion. Don’t give your work away but do keep in touch with future customers with visual stimulants.

  11. The up-sale possibilities of cards is real. Years ago, while vacationing on Kaua’i, my wife and I saw a stunning painting of a detail of a palm tree against a cad-red sky. It was a giclee on canvas with touches of oil paint on top and, for us at the time, fairly pricey. The artist had a greeting card of it as well, though, so I bought that.

    When we got back to where we were staying, I put the card on the dining room table. Every time I walked past it I’d stop to soak it in and each time the feeling that I had to have the painting itself grew. My anxiety that somebody else might buy it also grew, and two days later we went back and bought the giclee.

  12. When we had a storefront art gallery, we observed that processing a very small sale of a consignor’s greeting cards not only wasn’t worth much to us for all the effort and display and stock space, but worse would take us away from promoting the artists and original art. That might not be a concern if a store had many salespersons or a separate cashier. But it would be worse in an open studios situation with 30 or more people at a time to greet and attend to. We found it better, to entertain the come-along-with visitors who wouldn’t consider the original art, to offer a print bin of vintage prints such as Corot, old Western artists such as Charles Russell, and framable pages of Harper’s Weekly illustrations. At least any sale would be more lucrative, and the entertainment value made their gallery visit a positive experience for them.

  13. An appropriate topic for the holiday season. Both my wife and I have been doing hand painted Christmas cards for the past several years. She is a water colourist and I a oil painter. My cards are either done in pen and ink, wash or acrylic. I end up doing somewhere between ten and twenty original works on cards every year. These are not reproductions of other work that I’ve done. They are specific for the season. As my list has grown I have also started printing some copies off of my digital photos. Yes, I do know that some do mini frame them and most hang on to them. While I’ve thought about producing cards just for fun and I suppose as a small marketing venue, I do them primarily for friends and close associates.

  14. My artist friend calls greeting cards “milk money” – not a big sale but enough to help with the groceries. I see them as where the buyer pays me for my marketing.

    Greeting cards typically are seen by 2 potential buyers; the sender and the receiver. Calendars put your art where it is seen daily. You make the choice if it is worth your time.

    The cost of groceries keeps rising, so I’ll take a little “milk money” over no money.

  15. I loved all of the above comments. My home studio and gallery is in a popular tourist area in the mountains of Alberta, Canada. So when the weather is nice in summer, I set up my paintings outdoors in my back yard on the river path, along with my art cards. These are printed in 5 x 7 inch format from a local stationery supply store and you can’t tell the difference from the original paintings. I order coordinating beautiful metallic envelopes (on sale) from http://www.paper-garden.ca. Although I won’t get rich from these art cards, I do make almost $5 a card (charging $7) – Canadian dollars.

    The real coup was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I reversed the image and duplicated it quite precisely. But with a twist. Where VG’s mountains are, I put in our very own 3 Sisters mountains. I wish I could show a photo to you. People adore it and it makes a darling memento of the area. Can be framed or sent as a card. I give a lot away. Happy happy.

    1. I was able to see a pic of VK’s Three Sisters and a few of her other Canadian themed scenes on her website. Cheers, Sally

  16. Hi Jason,

    I systematically have all my paintings scanned and ready to make prints, cards, pillows or totes. At first I was somewhat hesitant to have my works on products but the reality is that everyone runs out of walls. So, cards, pillows, totes, etc from POD digital printers is another income stream. Some folks are print customers, some cards and others want a gift. Those that buy cards may or may not be the same client that buys originals. Each product is usually a completely different market. The majority of my clients come to my shop for custom framing (I have a frame shop & gallery) unaware, sometimes, that I am a painter. Framing has been my, “day job” for many many years.

    I have my front room covered with my framed paintings, framed and unframed prints, cards, pillows, totes all with my images on them. The client that wants originals rarely wants anything but originals. The ones that buy prints are more often just looking for an more affordable decoration for a space. it’s just a much different mind set.
    My Grandfather used to do hand painted cards for Christmas. They were little one of a kind treasures that we looked forward to each year. It was a different world then. He was a cartoonist. I know, a little more commercial for that but he had to do all the hustling, self promotion, etc. Just a different market.

  17. I do not use reproductions of other artwork, but instead, design the art specifically for the card, e.g., Christmas, and I use a message inside that relates to the art subject. Recipients seem to cherish them.

  18. I have done cards. given away sets of 6 to friends. I did have some at the Co Op I was in but that was all that sold! Now I have some printed with a nicely contrasted “Thank You” across the front of the image and the painting and website info in tiny letters on the back of the blank inside cards. This was easily done on an online company. I make holiday cards out of pieces of old paintings and I use a contrasting lettering with a holiday greeting on the front. My feeling is one can frame it if they want but with the sentiment across the front it is not really frame worthy. I have never made an art sale of an original by printing cards of any of my work. I only do some now for use personally as birthday or event cards.

  19. My experience is that cards with artwork on them are always a welcome gift, whether it is my own art work or that of others and adds to art appreciation. Not every artist may want to do the work and take on the extra costs involved in making cards but I feel a collection of favourites at a show or in a store (or even online) is like a mini show that can benefit both the viewers/buyers and artists. I sell my prints and cards on a separate site from my original artworks which has a different website: janeappleby.com

  20. My images printed as greeting cards have been a continuous source of interested buyers and students for over twenty years. Each card has title, size, medium and my details for contact. I have these cards printed by a professional business ensuring good colour and detail with every image. I consider them a business card with a little more interest and some financial return. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s responses, thankyou.

  21. For a number of years now I choose a painting to be my Christmas card and it reminds my friends to look at my website. Two people have told me that they save and frame these cards each year, but as they are both collectors who have bought two or three original paintings from me in the past, I don’t complain.
    I have just started getting my paintings professionally printed as blank greetings cards again, and they have been very popular, and successful in spreading my name. As they are a completely different price point, I don’t think they compete with my artwork, though I would hesitate producing larger giclée prints as I once did. A lot people can’t distinguish between a print and the original and I’m left wondering if they would have bought the oil painting if the print hadn’t been available . . . .

    1. Hi Lesley,
      I agree with you that the people who buy my printed cards are not necessarily the same people who would buy my paintings so I am not concerned with printing them. I print a yearly card for friends and family and I will sometimes include a thank you card for a painting buyer if I have their address. (gallery sales limit that somewhat). I did print some cards for a specific charity to earn money for them. I used to paint little watercolour cards but they tended to sell at a lower price point than a small framed watercolour so I stopped that practice. I too avoid giclee now, but that could change in the future. I am somewhat nervous about POD companies because they would have my images in their database. Still a bit too scary I think.

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