Are You Selling Digital Art Paper Yet?
by Kari Anderson
Everyone in the art materials industry knows that the computer has impacted sales of art supplies. Graphic artists who used to come to your store on a regular basis for supplies, now simply have to press the power button on their Macs and start drawing. While computer-generated art and design may have given AM suppliers a blow, it has also spawned a new market: digital printing.
“Digital printing is a $7.5 billion industry that has seen a 27-percent annual growth for the last five years,” said Greg Schern, founder of Moab Paper Company, a division of Legion Paper. He spoke at a session called “The Digital Paper Revolution and How It Relates to Retailers,” presented at the 2007 NAMTA International Convention & Trade Show. Greg teamed up with Paul Christensen and Marc Schotland, both of Legion Paper, to give NAMTA members some of the how-tos of selling this product category.
The three all stressed the point that digital paper is a niche market that art supply retailers should be jumping into. Giclee prints (“giclee” is derived from a French word meaning “to spray or squirt”) produced on inkjet printers are becoming more popular, and the savvy AM retailer will have all the supplies necessary for the digital artists who come to his store. “Digital paper is a consumable, and that keeps customers coming back. As retailers, you should approach it with the mentality that you’re selling a different kind of paint and a different kind of paper,” Greg told attendees.
“This is an opportunity for art supply retailers to get bigger sales, bring in more foot traffic and increase opportunities for cross-marketing,” added Paul.
Marc explained that since most art students take digital illustration and photography courses, carrying digital paper is a natural fit. “Digital illustration is a large and quickly growing field,” he said. “It’s like graphic arts, but it’s entirely digital.” He also added that while similarities exist, “This is not a transition of markets; this is a whole new market.”
In-store versus online
With all the Internet sources out there, why would artists come to your store looking for digital paper? There are three main reasons. First, paper is heavy, which makes it expensive to ship. Second, you can’t see the fine details of paper on a computer screen, and customers will likely want to feel and see your selection of papers before they buy. Last, unlike a tube of paint, paper is much more unforgiving if it comes into contact with bad weather, which could easily happen if an artist orders paper from an Internet site and the package is left on her doorstep for any length of time.
Who’s the customer?
In order to sell digital paper, you need to know who the customer is and what types of products to offer. Greg explained that the average digital-paper customers are 18- to 35-year-olds, users of single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras, and art students. The products these customers are looking for fall into two main categories: fine art papers with digital coatings on them, and traditional photo and fiber products.
“When you find out what a digital-paper customer is doing, you can direct her to the type of product she needs,” continued Greg. Here are five common uses of digital paper.
• The scrapbooker working on family photos requires smaller format papers and less expensive photo-grade papers.
• The serious amateur with an SLR camera is printing photos to hang. You can help him identify what type of surface he wants for his prints.
• The professional fine art photographer needs larger paper, archival ink and paper, and cotton surfaces.
• The digital/fine art crossover market are customers who reproduce traditional artwork using large-format printers.
• Ad agencies, graphic artists and architects want paper for presentation purposes. The desired size is often 13 by 19 inches and the paper does not have to be archival.
As you become more familiar with the different types of digital paper, you will discover that certain papers are recommended for specific types of projects. For example, some papers work better for portraits, landscapes, reproductions, photos, presentation materials, or greeting cards. Manufacturers can clue you in as to what uses are most appropriate for their papers. However, don’t assume that you have to pigeonhole each paper into just one use.
Paper makes a huge difference
Photographer David B. Brooks wrote about the impact that one’s paper choice can have on a finished piece of artwork in his article, “The Lowdown on Inkjet Paper; What You Need to Know, but Probably Never Asked,” published in the September 2007 issue of Shutterbug magazine. “Paper for inkjet printing today offers more latitude for varying the way a print looks than any other options available,” he wrote. “You can do as much to stylize and personalize the look of an inkjet photo print by the selection of the paper it’s printed on as you can individualize your image with Photoshop.
“The selection in brands and kinds of fiber-based inkjet paper is enormous. Although I make a concerted effort to try as many as possible, I’ve barely scratched the surface and am constantly surprised by a new brand and type popping up from a company I’ve never heard of before. In fact, I think the worst disservice a photographer can do to one’s print output is to relegate all images, whether a portrait or a landscape, color or black-and-white, to just one brand and type of paper.
“However, making a selection can be confusing, and the paper companies and sellers don’t help a lot by providing scant information about the products and virtually no support in understanding how and why papers differ.” This may be just one person’s opinion, but it points to a dearth in good help surrounding the selection of digital papers. That’s where your store can fill the void.
Tips for selling
Greg Schern suggests designating one employee to specialize in digital printing. That person can be a resource for customers as well as other staff members. Here are some other helpful tips.
Know your papers.
Digital paper can range from 150 to 500 grams per square meter (gsm), but most fall between 180 to 300 gsm, says Marc Schotland. All paper for use in inkjet printers is coated so that the ink won’t soak into the paper. The coatings are clay-based or made from a cocktail of many different ingredients. How can you tell which side has the coating? Lick your finger and touch the paper; the coated side will stick. Tape will remove this coating and the ink, so be careful when framing digital prints.
For customers who want to use non-digital paper in their inkjet printers, they can apply a coating themselves using inkAID, a water-based solution that can be used on paper, film, plastic, canvas, metal, wood veneer, and fabric. This enables artists to use all manner of substrates in their printers.
The digital paper customer consumes a large amount of paper, and a common mistake is not having enough paper in stock. While a regular artist may buy five to 10 sheets at a time, the digital customer buys by the hundreds.
Price it right.
Digital papers have a 20- to 50-percent margin. “You have to have the price point set so people can purchase in high volumes, and that squeezes the margin,” said Greg. The flipside is that although you get smaller margins, customers purchase the papers in higher volumes.
Read photography magazines.
This is a great way to learn the lingo of digital printing. “They’re daunting because of the photo-geek stuff, but you learn the terms you need to know,” explained Greg. Magazines to try include Photo District News (PDN), Shutterbug, Popular Photography & Imaging, American Photo, PCPhoto, Outdoor Photographer, and Digital Photo Pro.
Create a glossary.
As you read these magazines and become more familiar with the digital printing vocabulary, keep a running list of terms to know along with their definitions. It will help your staff members if they can refer back to this list when they have questions.
Know the printers.
“All inkjet printers are not created equal,” said Greg. “There’s a difference between printers purchased at Office Depot and those from a photo store. There are only five or six models on the market that you’ll be dealing with, and you have to understand what inks and papers work with them.”
Marc explained that none of the digital papers will work in a laser printer because the printers get too hot. He also estimated that 90 percent of your customers will be using Epson, Canon and Hewlett-Packard (HP) printers.
Promote add-on sales.
In addition to presentation materials, frames and pens, other add-on sales for digital printers include sprays, books and profiles. Profiles are computer files that help different electrical devices communicate. They’re important for color-matching from screen to paper, or from the original piece of artwork to the printed reproduction. Marc explained that while many companies offer canned profiles, higher-end studios create their own, and there is opportunity for an AM retailer to upsell with profiling equipment.
Sprays can help protect a digital print from ultraviolet rays, water damage and scratches. Specific products include Moab Desert Varnish, Krylon UV-Resistant Clear Coatings, and Golden Varnishes.
Books are obvious add-on sales. Some titles that will help your customers and your staff are: Digital Printing Start-Up Guide (formerly known as Mastering Digital Printing) by Harald Johnson, published by O’Reilly; and Digital Art Studio: Techniques for Combining Inkjet Printing With Traditional Art Materials by Karin Schminke, Dorothy Simpson Krause and Bonny Pierce Lhotka, published by Watson-Guptill.
A new opportunity
“The art materials industry is looking for opportunities,” said Paul Christensen. Digital printing is a whole new area for retailers to explore. If you can identify your customers, know their buying habits, and stock what they want, you’ll be on your way to profiting from this emerging product category.