The lead-up

Have you been wondering for a while whether to make your own art prints at home? There are several key factors to decide upon before going ahead, if at all (…more on that in a little bit).

Making my own prints felt like quite a pie-in-the-sky vision for a while. I toyed around with different arrangements for years. There were cost-effective photographic papers used by small, local print houses. There was also a breadth of archival choices offered by leading, behemoth online companies.

When the time came to make the intentional choice to go in-house (at least to the extent made possible by my formatting options), I’d reached the point of simply having had enough of the status quo.

I was on an eternal see-saw. I felt like I could either pay quite a high price per print to “test the water”, or I could avail bulk discounts and commit to full print runs in advance. Nothing in the middle, of course! I’m still licking my wounds 5 years on from a full print run. Dozens of unsold, rather costly prints still remain in a dark corner of one drawer.

Print of "Success" (kingfisher)
(…not this one!)

Around the time of this decision, I was in the throes of a full-time art career. I could only justify outsourced printing for so long, especially as I was creating art all the time.

The pros and cons of making your own art prints


  • You can make test prints first, to fine-tune colour quickly.
  • You can explore different paper options with samples, and see how the ink behaves with each type.
  • The cost per print is lower than when outsourcing.
  • You can print on-demand, so there’s no leftover stock.
  • You have complete control over the process.
  • You’ll have personal pride in having created a product you’re happy with, as are your customers.
  • All you need is ink and paper, which you can buy periodically. The carbon footprint per reproduction is smaller here than if prints are delivered to you a few at a time, then sent on to your customers.


  • The initial outlay for a high quality printer is usually high.
  • Some printers may need a little upkeep.
  • Some inks require a printing schedule, regardless of any lulls in the demand for your work.
  • Mechanical faults could occur over time, which can be costly if not under warranty.
  • You are entirely responsible for the quality of the product you sell. This can be more time-consuming than leaving it to a 3rd party.
Test print demonstrating range of colours

You may look at certain points above and still choose not to commit. This is especially advantageous to anyone not currently creating or selling much art. The space occupied, upkeep and initial outlay perhaps aren’t worth the bother at the moment. Unless/until you’re in a better position to explore it, you’re probably very happy as you are.

I remember talking a much more experienced artist than me around 15 years ago. She advised that I just order a few prints at a time, to straddle the competing headaches of unsold stock and high cost per print. You can still set your edition “limit” in advance for each work. You’re giving yourself the flexibility to feel your way round. Work out what subjects and styles are valued by the market, in a way that’s financially balanced, viable and sensible.

However, you may have taken all the above into consideration, and still want to make your own art prints at home. If so, keep reading for a few of your options…

Which printer should I choose?

Laser printers are not suitable for creating high quality art prints. They’re great for making lots of monochrome copies of text very quickly and cheaply. This is perfect for an office environment. However, you’re serious about making your own art prints, aren’t you! So, it’s imperative to work with an injket printer.

These printers shoot tiny droplets of ink directly onto the paper, from a bank of colour cartridges. One high quality print will take much, much longer to find its way into the output tray than if you were using a laser printer, but if you’re selling more than one print every 10 minutes, your problems are very different to mine!

While a laser printer will likely last longer than inkjet, and the inks are both cheaper and less susceptible to fading over time, the quality of the print simply doesn’t compare to the faithful range and depth of the colours produced by an inkjet printer.

Mine is a Canon Pixma Pro 10S. This is no longer in production, and was replaced by the PROGRAF series a few years ago, but the inks are thankfully still in production.

Canon Pixma Pro 10S, a superb archival choice for making your own art prints

There are many models on the market directed at professional and “prosumer” level, but there are a couple of factors which will further influence which direction to take.

[If you hadn’t noticed already, this is a heavily biased blog post! I don’t know everything there is to know, but I hope these basics are a good starting point. By all means, if I’ve missed anything you feel is crucial on this topic, please let me know in the comments section below.]

Think ink

Aside from the cost and quality of the printer, you should also consider the cost and quality of the ink you intend to use. Yes, by printing by yourself, you are trading one headache for another! Ink type was, in fact, my first consideration.

If (or I hope since) you’ve chosen an inkjet printer, there are two main ink options, which will influence your choice of printer.

Dye-based ink consists of colour particles dissolved in liquid, absorbed easily by the paper medium. Pigment-based ink is a “suspension” of colour particles in liquid (no dissolved particles). This throws up a few differences between each type, and again, there are advantages to each:

Ink cartridges in the Canon Pixma Pro 10S

Advantages of dye-based ink

  • The ink prints and dries quickly.
  • There are very bright colours and a wide colour gamut in the output, working great with glossy paper.
  • This ink is relatively inexpensive.
  • The printer requires little maintenance.

Advantages of pigment-based ink

  • It lasts much longer on the print than dye-based ink before fading.
  • There is more accurate detail and resolution, which is especially crucial for larger format prints.
  • It works with a wide variety of specialty papers.

One thing that makes pigment ink even more expensive and time-consuming than dye-based is the need to print something once every few days. This is because the print nozzles will dry up if the ink doesn’t run through them for a while, which can result in a costly burning out of the print head. I’d strongly urge you to consider this ahead of time, in case you can’t stick to a print schedule, you’re away for periods at a time, or may not afford the ink.

Regardless of its down sides, I chose to print with pigment ink. I’m serious about the quality of my prints, and made the archival choice. This is not to denigrate dye-based ink; it has plenty positives and can be the right choice for many. I just want to be happy with my prints, and that involves them being as sharp and accurate as possible, while lasting a very long time, honouring my commitment to quality and to greener choices (more on this shortly).

My only real hurdle with pigment-based ink was the report of its relative lack of vibrancy. However, I’ve found no issues here. No matter how well calibrated my monitor is, my first test prints almost always come out a little dark, but once I adjust saturation and brightness as necessary, I don’t have trouble getting a near-perfect match.

Above all, if you’re truly serious about the quality of your prints, only buy OEM ink (Original Equipment Manufacturer). It’s tempting to go for “compatible” inks as they’re usually much less expensive. The next best thing is still an imitation of the ink designed for your printer, though, and may not guarantee the longevity of either your printer or the prints themselves. For me, any alternatives to OEM are decidedly out of the question.

Tip: make test prints in the form of greetings cards! This way you can fine-tune your colours on something disposable, but not wasted.

Which medium should I choose?

This could be a blog section as long as my arm, as there are myriad papers from which to choose. Glossy, satin, matte, smooth, textured, found among mainstream and speciality media, all with their own merits.

My best advice is to buy two or three A4 samples of a few papers spanning the gamut of qualities that may suit your work. Make swatches of colour, or small prints of an artwork demonstrating a range of colours and values, so you can compare each paper easily. Which feels and looks right? Which one showcases your art faithfully? Can you see differences in clarity, accuracy, vibrancy and depth of colour? All of this is worth your consideration.

I’ve always worked with Hahnemühle papers, starting with Photo Rag Pearl, which brought out the deep blacks of my early charcoal pieces. I then moved on to German Etching paper, with a lovely matte and textured finish, which really held its own as an all-rounder for my colour wildlife works.

These days, I use Hahnemühle Bamboo paper. While more expensive than other papers in a similar range, it upholds the same archival standards, and is a paper I’m especially proud to use, as it has a much lower carbon footprint, making it the sustainable choice when making my own art prints now and in the future.

Hahnemuhle Bamboo paper, a sustainable paper for making your own art prints

Each paper comes with its own ICC profile, which is a little information file you must download and install to your printer software, as it instructs the printer how to apply the ink to the related paper.

That’s it! I’ve not covered everything, but I hope some of this has helped. There is a more detailed run-through of the printing process here. If there’s anything you’d like me to add to this blog, or cover in a future one, feel free to leave a suggestion in the comment section below. Otherwise, if you’ve made up your mind and are excited about making your own art prints, good luck, enjoy the process and I’m always available if you have questions. Thanks 🙂

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