You're ready to start selling your artwork as prints? YAY YOU! Let me help you get the right tools to set up shop ... you are going to rock this.
I’ve already covered some of this in my post about how I design and sell greeting cards on Etsy.
Plenty of people have asked me this question, so I thought I’d better get into the gritty technical details to help you choose a scanner + printer for your paper goods business.
When I bought a printer for my business (formerly Ruby & Pearl Press), I knew I needed these things:
Scanner + printer combo
Ability to print on thick paper for cards
Ability to print different sizes of paper
I did a tonne of research before I finally decided on the printer I wanted.
Some printers ticked all the boxes but were way too expensive. You do NOT need to drop $1k on a printer for your start up business! Mine cost less than $200, INCLUDING the first lot of ink.
Let’s get into the technical stuff.
If you are going to be scanning original artworks, you want to make sure you have a high resolution scanner. This is measured by DPI (dots per inch) or PPI (pixles per inch).
Spoiler alert: THEY ARE THE SAME THING. Don’t worry about which they call it.
Standard print resolution is 300dpi. Anything lower than that looks blurry when printed.
I’m a serial over-achiever, so I chose my printer + scanner because it could scan at up to 600DPI.
Here is the major benefit of getting something with a higher resolution… If I scan a design that takes up a quarter of an A4 (8x10) page, I might want to reproduce it in a larger size as an art print. If I’ve scanned it at 300dpi, I can directly duplicate it without any problems. But if I try to enlarge it, the design will start to look blurry when printed.
However if I scan it at 600dpi, I have a flexibility to play with the size of the reproduction so it can be reprinted on a larger scale. This is particularly important if you are creating work to be printed on a variety of products through a site like Society6.
Some more expensive scanners (usually standalone scanners rather than one integrated with a printer) will go up to 1200dpi… One day I hope to get one of these, but until then I can settle for 600dpi.
AFTER SCANNING... I ALWAYS edit my work after scanning. It is by no means ready to use once scanned. They need the levels tweaked to strengthen the colours to look more like the original, and I use Photoshop to remove the background paper.
I knew I wanted to print greeting cards and art prints on a nice, thick stock. Heavy paper automatically makes us feel like things are nicer and more expensive.
Paper weight is measured in gsm (grams per square metre). Standard photocopy paper is usually 80gsm. The higher the gsm, the thicker / heavier the paper.
Most standard printers will go up to 300gsm thickness, which is what I print my greeting cards on. Make sure you check this in the specs of the printer you are buying. if you try to use paper that is too thick, it will jam up the printer and be a pain in the butt to fix. Not to mention you will ruin the beautiful paper.
I struggled to find good quality paper at my local office supply stores, and eventually found what I was looking for on eBay.
Most printers these days can handle multiple paper sizes (both international sizes and US sizes).
Still, it’s best you don’t assume your printer will be able to use the paper size you want. The specs on these are usually quite clear on the manufacturers websites (or a quick google search will tell you).
One thing I failed to realise the significance of when I was doing my research is that Canon printers can’t do borderless printing for A5 sized card. No one really knows why, because it is technically possible and other printer brands do it.
What this means for me is that I cannot do borderless printing on my greeting cards. This is why so many of them have white backgrounds. I can’t do full colour backgrounds because there will be a white border around them. It’s a bit of a pain… at the time I knew it was an issue with these printers, I just didn’t think it would affect me. Hindsight is 20/20!
An extra awesome thing
Wireless printers are MAGICAL. Once you sync it to your wifi, you can print directly from your laptop. When you scan a document, it’ll go directly to the “Documents” folder on your laptop… no ferrying images on a USB required. See? Magic.
The printer I use
I have a Canon Pixma MX925, and it’s been going strong for two years now. The ink costs about AU$100 each time I need to order a new set. I’ve needed to do this every 6 months or so – which I’m happy with, given that most of my printing is full colour.
I’ve also been very happy with the quality of the printing. I can hold the original up next a copy and there is no noticeable difference, which is saying something, because watercolours are notoriously difficult to scan and reproduce accurately.
EDITED TO ADD - My Canon printer died at the end of 2018. I chose not to replace it because I have a fantastic local print store where I can get my prints and greeting cards printed in small quantities for a good price.
I also rarely scan work any more, since I now have an iPad and do 99% of my designing digitally.
As a general rule, big laser printers will always print a better quality image than little at-home printers. That said... I managed with an at-home printer for years and never had any complaints from customers!