Photography Tutorials, Articles and Reviews
There are many websites available where you can sell your photography and artwork. All come standard with a personal page where you can simply upload your images and begin sales, while a few give you a custom store of your own. Some of these store fronts provide options for selling various products and merchandise with your imagery on it, while others are focused solely on selling prints and canvases. Some take a large piece of your profit and others do not. The list of options, pros and cons is long, so which of these Store Fronts are the best for you? I've tried them all. Weeded out the junk sites and found the top players. Here is my take on each.
Let me start off by saying that none of these store fronts would be considered "stock image websites". A stock image site dumps your work into a vast pool of anonymity and then sells your work to publications and media developers (examples of such sites include iStockPhoto.com or Shutterstock.com). The websites we are reviewing here today are focused primarily on the "Fine Art" photographer and client based photographer who wish to sell their work to other individuals via the web (Photoshelter would be the exception in this article - it's focus is squarely on the freelance photographer).
The information below is NOT a summary of information taken from the websites. Even though I only sell my work from one site, I do have a running account on each of these store options so I can keep this review up to date. As such I would appreciate it if you use the "Visit Website" links provided when checking out a site. It costs you nothing and will help me cover a portion of the yearly fees involved with running all these accounts. Thank you.
OK, on with the reviews.
IMPORTANT NOTE: 3/1/13 was the last update to this information. Some major changes have occured in several of the websites reveiwed; however, as an overall rule, most of what you read here is still applicable and will still help you narrow down your choices.
Paid Artist Store Fronts
Free Artist Store Fronts
Sites to Avoid
Paid Artist and Photography Store Fronts
Zen Folio (Visit Website...)
Overview: Zenfolio!!!!!! why do you do this to me? Zenfolio would be my number one pick hands down if it were not for two issues (cropping and shipping - see con's below). From a technical standpoint Zenfolio is awesome. The back end is very advanced, from sorting collections and images to pricing and storefront customization. It has it all and it does it very well. From a printing standpoint, they fail me in that cropping or white borders are forced upon any "non standard" sized images.
- Fantastic front end: Zenfolio combines great looks with exciting Flash galleries to provide you with a truly good look professional website all your own. It even allows for "white label" design so that your Zenfolio site is completely separate from the rest of the community. Nobody can steal your customers. The designs can be customized quickly and easily from within your account. Honestly they look real good right out of the box. Very impressive.
- Comprehensive backend: The Zenfolio account back end is a real powerhouse. It is jammed packed with tools to help you manage your photos, create galleries (private and public) and set pricing structure. Also much of the organizational options are ajax based allowing you to simply "drag and drop".
- Digital downloads: Images can be sold as digital downloads. Zenfolio has a better than average system of licensing in that you can create custom license options. With a little work on your part you can have a thorough licensing option list, but it can't compare with PhotoShelter's system which is full on pro.
- Versatile pricing structure: Pricing profiles can be created which can be applied to different images, categories and galleries. (note that use of this feature is not user friendly, see cons)
- Private galleries: Password protected galleries can be created for display to special clients (great for weddings and such).
- Attentive support Staff: While it takes them a day to get back to you, they do really work to try and solve your problems.
- Plugins: Plugins for image applications like Lightroom and Aperture make sorting, selecting, keywording and upload an absolute breeze.
- Great upload system: By far the best upload system out of all the sites listed. Everything can be done in large batches with automated options and integration with 3rd party apps.
- Sub categories for galleries: Makes organization so much easier for you and your customers.
- Private Galleries: They allow for private galleries which you can share with specific customers (good for weddings, etc).
- Easy to use Cropping system: While I don't care for cropping of my images. Zenfolio's customer cropping is well created and easy for users to understand.
- Comprehensive Print Mediums: You get a very large selection of paper options along with medium options for your prints (paper, canvass, metal, acrylic, floaters, and more)
- Images will resize: "on the fly" depending on the browser resolution of your visitor. (No scrolling. Display the largest image you can for their screen size).
- Blog: They have an integrated blog. Great if you have no other option. I personally would recommend using a WordPress site instead and simply linking to it (like I do). It's just a better system,, and of course you won't loose all your writing if you decide to quite Zen at some point.
- Mobile browser support: ability to view your site from mobile phones while still having a reasonable experience.
- Cropping of artwork: As we know by now. I consider forced cropping of my artwork or photography as a complete deal breaker. And Zenfolio sadly, forces the crop. They have their set of standardized print sizes and aspect ratios and you must force your art to fit those dimensions. If you do not, then the customer is going to receive cropped prints. Yes they have the ability to customize that crop, but it's confusing to the customer and still defiles your artwork. There is also the option to reduce the size of the image until it fits the medium. That however leads to huge borders and far smaller images than the customer was expecting.
- Shipping issues: Zenfolio has a really poor way to deal with overseas shipping. Basically, ZenFolio works with multiple printers. But for contract reasons (I assume) only one of those printers is allowed to do shipping overseas. In return that printer cannot ship to the USA. Well this might not be a huge issue except that each printer provides different options, from paper to product type and print sizes available. It's ridiculous. This makes it very hard to provide any sort of continuity to your product list depending on if your customer is overseas or not. It's just inefficient as all, (nobody else has this issue,, ONLY ZenFolio)
- Complex cart: The shopping cart is a bit confusing for customers when it comes to making certain things clear. However the cart has improved greatly over the past year.
- Site Speed: I've always found their site to be a bit slow for my taste.
- Pricing Structure complex: While their pricing is versatile, it is also difficult to work with It will take work to establish multiple pricing structures if your store requires this.
- High commission rates: In my opinion
Misc Features and Notes: - Annual fee $100 for their pro account (cheaper accounts & free accounts also available). Zen images are printed at 250 dpi.
Conclusion: Zenfolio is a top contender if you don't mind cropping your images and artwork,, and a rather complex pricing setup.
Photo Shelter (Visit Website...)
Overview: Photoshelter is a real powerhouse. And for the professional freelance photographer (ie: weddings, journalism, stock, etc) this site is your savior. It has amazing tools for selling and distribution of digital files. Not to say it doesn't offer printing as well, but that's where it starts to fail us. If you are strictly a freelance photographer and tend to make a lot of sales in digital form, this site is for you. If you are a Fine Artist Photographer, then you may want to look elsewhere. And if you are a Fine Artist beyond the camera (meaning paintings and such), then you don't want PhotoShelter at all.
- Integrated Wordpress: If you like Wordpress then Photoshelter has a really cool feature you are going to like. They have teamed with a company called Graph Paper Press to create Wordpress templates made just for photographers which integrate seamlessly with the Photoshelter stores. In this way your website and your store can look identical. Customers will not even know they have left your site. If you don't care for the Graph Paper Press designs or just already have a Wordpress site going, then you are still in luck as they have several great ways to integrate imagery into your blog seamlessly from your Photoshelter account.
- Total white label branding: Photoshelter stays out of your store.
- Customization: The storefronts are very flexible to customize. If you know html and css you can create any look you want.
- SEO: They have gone to great length to make every page of the site SEO friendly and give you an arsenal of tools to modify and customize your SEO settings.
- Upload power: There is a massive collection of upload options from Lightroom plugins to ftp access to server side upload apps. Bulk uploading in force.
- File types: Unlike all the other options, Photoshelter allows you to upload just about any type of image files including PSD's and RAW! This allows you to use PS as a true online backup system (great for when you're on the road).
- Control of galleries: There are many ways to control the visibility and access to all your galleries.
- Flexible pricing: Pricing profiles can be applied from single images to entire galleries. AND they even have an amazing tool to help you decide exactly what your images are worth if you wish to sell them as a "Rights Managed" products.
- Digital downloads: Very extensive and flexible digital download system with incredibly specific pricing structure for you to use based directly on how images are used, where, when, and on what mediums.
- Promotional tools: Large collection of tools to help you promote your work in blogs, emails, Facebook, and more.
- Sub categories for galleries: Makes organization so much easier for you and your customers. They allow infinite "nesting" of folders.
- Good support: They really dig deep to help you find your answers. In addition they have a massive archive of help tools. And finally, if you can belive it, they even have phone support (and they actually answer).
- Lower commission rates than most: Commission rates as low as 9%, that's pretty good. Though some of the other stores have no commissions at all.
- Choice of three print labs: Each lab has different specialties.
- Print from your own print labs: Already have a relationship with a printer? No problem. Take advantage of the PhotoShelter Print Vendor Network and easily send print jobs to your preferred vendors. Basically the order is forwarded to your own vendor with whom you already have an account. The vendor is given access to your online files for download (access controlled by you) so there is no need to even send files to them.
- Coupons: create coupons to use for sales or for special customers.
- Sell in 16 currencies: Price your products for sale anywhere in the world.
- Custom watermarks: Create watermarks that represent your business.
- Full backup systems: Photoshelter allows you to upload just about any type of image files including PSD's and RAW!
- Allows you to do "offline" selling: This means that you can use your store to market and make sales which you will fulfill outside of the Photoshelter system. No commission charges on these sales at all.
- Custom urls: While all the photo/art stores allow you to create a custom name which is attached to their url (ex: www.yourname.website.com) Photoshelter actually lets you use your own custom domain for your store (ie: yourname.com).
- Private Galleries: They allow for private galleries which you can share with specific customers (good for weddings, etc). In fact their gallery permission system is the best of all the store fronts. The permission system allows you a wide variety of who can see what, and who can do what in any given gallery.
- Cropping: Oh no! We are back to the Cropping issue yet again. Yes Photoshelter also will force cropping onto your images if they are not exactly the dimensions of their standardized sizes. This is the sole reason I'm not using PhotoShelter today.
- Basic and un-informative shopping carts: Their carts simply don't give much information about what you are purchasing. The carts are very lacking, especially for the print artist. (for downloads it's pretty good). They have improved it much since I first tried them, but their improvements are so minimal as not to change my verdict about them.
- No product previews: There is no preview of the image with it's customized options (example displaying what it will look like on different canvas wraps).
- update: they now allow preview images to be uploaded for your "custom" self full filled items. It's a start I guess.
- Very limited products: Photoshelter has basic prints, canvas and cards. That's pretty much it. There are some very limited options for basic frame and a calendar but not worth noteing. This is why it's a poor choice for Fine Art Photographers who want to sell their work for people to hang.
- Expensive: A "pro" account will run you over $350/yr plus commission on sales.
Misc Features and Notes: - Annual fee $350 for their pro account (cheaper accounts & free accounts also available). When asked about dpi for their printers I was told "m Durst (Durst are mostly all large format machines) print up to 1500 dpi while standard size prints generally will use Noritsu machines which print somewhere in the range of 300-600dpi"
Conclusion: If you want to freelance in photography (journalism, weddings, portraits, anything with a client). There is no better system out there. Photoshelter is it. If you are a fine art seller, then it's not your best option.
ImageKind (Visit Website...)
Overview: I like ImageKind very much and it nearly knocked out FAA for my top place for Fine Art Photographers and Artists, but lacks a few feature which FAA was providing. ImageKind has a very attractive interface for the community and your "personal page / store". It has a classy, clean, professional appearance. It also has an art preview system which is just as good (maybe even a notch better) than that of Fine Art America. It is definitely a contender and for some people it could well be their favorite. If fine art is your focus than I would take the time to compare ImageKind and FAA head to head.
- Exceptional preview system: When customers are making customization choices to their chosen art piece they will see real time views of their purchase with mattes, frames, paper selections and more clearly displayed as they will look in the final product.
- Easy to use admin: The back end to your store is clean and easy to understand. There is really no learning curve at all with this site.
- Store front: ImageKind does provide you with a fairly customizable storefront which can act as your entire photo websites. This is nice NOTE: however the con below
- High quality product: The printing and framing done by ImageKind is of very high standards. Possibly even the best of all the options.
- No image cropping: IK does not crop your artwork. If your artwork has an aspect ratio of 2x11 they can do it, and frame it.
- No commission fee on sales: That's nice.
- Earn commission on framing: You can actually earn commission on any frame work added to a purchase.
- Private Galleries: They allow for private galleries which you can share with specific customers (good for weddings, etc).
- Store front is not white label: ImageKind is still imposing their own logo and menu system above your store front during the checkout process (with no clear way to return to your gallery). This can entice YOUR visitors to wander off to look at other artists work. To some this may not be a big deal. I am not a fan.
- Support is a drag: They take days to answer your questions, and I've not found their answer to ever be all that useful.
- Poor categorization: Organizing your image is not easy. They do not have sub-categories for galleries.
- Poor upload system: Their upload system is similar to FAA where there is no easy way to upload in bulk while still applying all the settings you want. It is however still better than FAA's. While they are still missing a really good lightroom plugin, you can fudge it by using a Flickr plugin to upload your images to Flickr. You see, you can import images into your ImageKind account directly from a Flickr account.
Misc Features and Notes: Annual Price is $95/yr for pro account (cheaper accounts & free accounts also available). Image Kind purports a whopping 1440 dpi print on all sizes and mediums. That should produce some excellent quality imagery.
Conclusion: ImageKind is a good choice. In the end however I still prefer Fine Art America, mostly because they have shown an active desire to keep improving the site, where IK has been virtually unchanged for the past three years. They seem complacent and are not trying to improve themselves. But if design and front end looks are most important to you, then Image Kind comes out the winner.
SmugMug (Visit Website...)
Overview: SmugMug has been around a while and is probably the most well known of the store front options. It has most of everything you want as a photographer to make sales in both print and digital downloads, and the support is very good. However, it is lacking in a real professional appearance which prevents it from being one of my top picks.
- Very high rankings: It gets a lot of traffic which helps to push your photography through their community store.
- White label stores: They keep their navigation and branding out of your stores.
- Support is attentive: Support will respond promptly and with direct useful information. They're even funny.
- Print and Digital sales: You can make sale both by prints and product AND digital downloads. However their pricing options for digital are limited. Unlike Photoshelter which has a very flexible and incredibly specific pricing structure for you to use based directly on how images are used, where, when, and on what mediums.
- Flash Galleries: SmugMug does have a nice Flash based gallery which is attractive to view image from and easy to navigate.
- Plugins: Nice plugins for use with your 3rd party apps like Lightroom. In fact the Lightroom plugin is the most advanced of any available. You can pretty much control every aspect of your SmugMug store directly through Lightroom, including direct syncing and smart categories.
- Coupons: create coupons to use for sales or for special customers
- Video: SmugMug allows distribution of HD video on your account (at this time there is a 10 minute limit per clip).
- Smart Galleries: allows you to create galleries which automatically "fill" themselves with any photos you upload which meet the criteria of that smart gallery. (example: you create a gallery with a rule that any image with a meta keyword of "automobiles" will be included, but any image with keyword "red" will not. Thus all autos except red ones will show in the gallery).
- Images will resize: "on the fly" depending on the browser resolution of your visitor. (No scrolling. Display the largest image you can for their screen size).
- Ugly store fronts: What can I say? I don't care for the SmugMug store front templates. Yes they can be customized but after a great deal of modifying I found that they were still ugly. They just don't have a clean professional appearance in my eyes. I do like the gallery displays however.
- Image Cropping: Here it is again. Can you believe how many of these sites do this? If your images are not at the specified aspect ratio for their prints, they will force cropping of your images. Always a deal breaker in my book.
- No Best Fit option: So if you do not want your images cropped your only option is to have prints made with white borders around them. In this case you want to have a "best fit" option available so that people don't end up with five inches of border on top and three on the sides (as an example). However SM has no such option.
- Bad Licensing (download): While Smug Mug does offer licensed downloads for sale, it only offers two, un-customizable options (personal, commercial). So in other words someone buy my image for a single image in a small local paper would pay the same as someone using my image for a cover of TIME magazine. It's useless.
- Poor checkout cart: I feel their shopping cart is long and confusing. It is not easy to find the size you want and the list is long. Instead of using simple dropdown menus for each options (one for paper, one for size, etc) they just list the options in a huge long list.
- No product preview: There is no preview of your image in it's customized form. Though with SmugMug's limited print customization options there is not a lot of need for it I suppose.
- High commission's fee: They charge 15% of your sale price (over the printing price),,, in other words, 15% of your profit.
Misc Features and Notes: Annual Price is $150/yr for pro account (cheaper accounts & free accounts also available). When asked what their print quality dpi was I got a pathetic answer as follows: "We do not pay attention to DPI, we simply need lots of pixels to print big beautiful prints." (I was then given a link to a minimum resolution chart for print sizes).
Conclusion: For me SmugMug is pretty good on the technical side of things, but lacking in a general sense of professionalism. I think it works best for photographers who just want to share their images and not so much for those looking to make this a professional store front. It also is more suited for photography only, and not so great for Fine Art.
Fine Art America - (Visit Website...)
Overview: The most important features for a professional artist or fine art photographer were best supported by Fine Art America. This site is very focused on the "artist" and is really not the place for a freelance photographer and defiantly not the place for a stock photographer (for you I recommend PhotoShelter). One of the standout features FAA does provide is a fully functioning artist website for each subscriber. This is your own personal website, completely unbranded by the company.
- Your own website/store: Some of the other store fronts come with a "personal page". I call it that because it's not really your own store. There is branding from the main company and there are menus and promotions for OTHER ARTISTS on your pages. This means that when you send a customer to your store, they may decide to do a search or browse the categories in the main menu. These searches will include results from everyone who is a part of the community. I personally don't like this. Yes I may benefit by getting customers from someone elses store, but I will also be losing customers from my own store. I want direct control and total "white label" status over my store. Fine Art America provides this. In addition to your store it provides you with a basic (very basic) blog, press release page and contact form.
- Real time previews of Artwork: By this I mean that when your customer decides they want to purchase your art as a canvas they see an actual representation of your artwork on a canvas frame. If you select a museum wrap with black sides, you'll see the actual image in a semi 3D preview with black sides. If you choose a gallery wrap you'll see just what part of the image will be on the sides of that frame. It becomes even more important once you go into wall frames and papers and mattes. With FAA's very clean system, your image is shown just as it will look in the finished product. The customer can choose frames, multiple mattes with different colors, different paper types and the preview will reflect all of this. I believe this is a HUGE advantage in getting customers to upgrade to bigger and better addon's.
- Crop free printing: I can not emphasis this one enough! It is my humble opinion that no artist or photographer wants to have their work cropped to fit some standardized print size. I know that I spend a great deal of time creating a work, and that work has a specific look and feel. Often the very aspect ratio itself plays a big role in that "feel". Let's just think about any wide landscape shot to make my point (example: 7 x 20 ). In FAA the customer gets a print that looks exactly like the original work. In those printers without this option the image will be cropped down to fit the next closest standard size, which is nearly half the width. My customer ends up with a print that is missing nearly 50% of the image due to it's very short/wide nature.
- Very healthy community: While all of these sites have fairly active communities, I have found that Fine Art America's is particularly active. I think this is a big positive because it allows you to share your work with lots of other artists and get feedback and hopefully some free word of mouth publicity.
- Unlimited keywords: You can add as many keywords as you wish to an image. Even better those keywords can be read directly from your image META data during upload relieving you of the burden of retyping all those keywords you spent so much time tagging in Lightroom or Bridge or Aperture.
- Very attentive support: While the support is slow, it is attentive. In fact the META feature mentioned above was a request I sent in to FAA and it was implemented on the site within a week. (note: that this statement has lost some credibility over time. They seem to be les attentive the past year)
- Relatively high rankings: While getting customers to YOUR store is up to you, all your artwork is also being presented on the main site store. And this store has some very good traffic. In addition compared to the very high number of accounts on many of the other store front option, FAA only has about 45,000 members at the moment. (this of course will change fast since they have a very good system which will attract more accounts in the future).
- Great product options: The main products are Prints, Stretched Canvas, Greeting Cards and Framed Prints (Newly added 8/8/12 Metal Prints). Compared to some others this is not much, but it's the important ones. Where the products really shine is in the options. A large variety of archival papers, canvas, mattes and frames allows your customers thousands of variations. And just as important is the quality of the prints. They're good.
- Inexpensive: FAA is the cheapest of the paid photo and art stores. Only $30/yr and NO commission!!! can you believe that. I'll say it again. NO Commissions! Charge as much as you like and the base price remains the same.
- Good image security: You have the option to use watermarks on your "medium" preview image if you want (server side applied), however the watermarks are not customizable which is too bad. You also have a unique method by which a customer can view a full size version of your image, but only in pieces such that nobody can actually save the image. It does allow the customer to see the quality of the image at full size.
- Full Facebook integration: FAA has a very unique feature which allows you to easily (like in one minute) integrate an entire functioning store into your Facebook personal page and/or fan page. It could not be easier to implement and it's actually a very good store, with categories, previews, navigation and more. FAA is the ONLY site to have such a fully featured for FaceBook.
- Earn commission on framing: You can actually earn commission on any frame work added to a purchase.
- Promotional Tools: Fine Art America comes with a relatively nice selection of included promotional tools. Things like slide show galleries which you can easily insert into other websites (copy and paste code) showing your latest uploads.
- Password Protected Folders: as the title implies. You can place images into passworded folders for display to your clients or family.
- No sub categories for galleries: I don't understand why this is the case. It seems absurd to me that we are expected to manage all our art into only "top level" gallery topics. Note, as of this date there has been talk from the owner to add this feature, but no exact date given.
- Very clumsy organizational tools: Trying to organize your galleries, your images and the order in which these will display in your store is really weak. Very time consuming and just plane bad.
- Very poor upload system: It is painfully time consuming to use. You have no option but to upload images one at a time (even with their ten file "bulk loader") and set all the selling and display options one by one as you go. It's truly bad planning. I really hope this will improve over time, but I think it most likely will not. They're thinking seems to be that it will help to dissuade amateur photographers from "dumping" large amounts of images onto the site. This is a deal breaker for anyone who wants to put up hundreds of photos every month.
- No plugins: I believe that any major player in photo hosting and art hosting online should have plugins to work with Lightroom and Aperture. FAA does not. Which is a real shame since it's such a huge time saver.
- No Digital Downloads: No method to sell your work as a digital file.
Misc Features and Notes: - Annual fee $30 for their pro account (cheaper accounts & free accounts also available). Printer resolution set at 1440x720 dpi
Conclusion: While Fine Art America has some real issues when it comes to productivity using their system, I feel it is made up by the quality of the shopping experience for the customer and the quality of the product itself. For me the issue of cropping and previews are the most important considerations when choosing a store front (for my purposes). These two issues gave FAA extra points. The brand free private store is also a real nice touch.
FAA has many drawbacks if you plan to sell large amounts of product. If you can deal with the issue of cropping then you are better off with Zenfolio (if you want framing) or Photoshelter (if you are more into stock and freelance).
PhotoMerchant: (visit website)
- Reporting System: They have report tools which allow you to track income from different galleries and view sales throughout the year in graph and chart form.
- Customer Management: You can manage your Customers and Customer Groups. You can add Customers individually, or view and manage Customers who've added themselves.
- Easy Admin: Very intuitive admin compared to the rest of the pack.
- Useful Pricing Tools: Manual and "auto fill" pricing. So you can set prices by markup % or margin %, plus you can make "clean" pricing (round up to next 5, 50, 95, 99, etc)
- Tax Tools: Includes a tax setup allowing you to create tax profiles for different states.
- Nice Front End: The system has attractive and versatile designs with easy to use modifiers. You can even give your site custom looks by uploading certain graphics like backgrounds and logos.
- Packages: Allows for easy to assemble "packages" which is great for weddings and events.
- Gallery Access Control: Password protected and private access galleries.
- Order Management: The backend has a very impressive order management system with sales, stats, sold, photo in que/hold, and more.
- Watermarks: You have highly versatile watermarking abilities, nice touch.
- Lightroom Plugin: They do have a LR uploader; however i have not worked with it so cannot comment on it's features.
- Additional Pages: You have the ability to add additional custom pages. This makes your gallery more of a "real website" than some of the other options out there.
- Image Viewing: The front end does not dynamically resize image based on browser resolution (thus images are cut off on low resolution screens). This is a very big deal as today so many people are running around viewing on netbooks and mobile devices. It's hard to sell an image when people have to scroll the image to view it.
- Slow: interface can become slow or stalled at times when switching from one section of the admin to another. Very annoying annoying animations just to make simple input boxes appear.
- Expensive: Very overpriced for their premium account. To get what Zenfolio, Smugmug and Photoshelter already give you, they want nearly $600/hr. That's nearly twice PS (which provides much more features), four times SM and six times ZF. Their next level down is much more reasonable but does not allow you to use a custom domain (which all the above three give you for much less money).
- Digital Downloads: This is half pro, half con. Their setup has more features and is more versatile then nearly all the competition; however it still pales in comparison to Photoshelter's amazing pricing and distribution system.
- Transaction Fees: Extremely high transaction fees for their "standard" accounts (20%)… At that rate it should be free. They do provide reasonable fees for the premium account (7%) (but very high monthly price),, so no matter how you look at it they are expensive compared to the competition. If they provided features that the other did not, maybe this would fly… however they do not (other than a more intuitive admin interface).
- Shipping: based in Australia, and so too is the printing. So I imagine longer shipping times for orders compared to more local options. (I've not tested this, but it's a fair assumption unless you are ordering from that end of the world).
- No centralized store: By this I mean there is no single location for random customers to find you. All other stores listed here have some sort of venue to attract customers and possibly bring them to your store (again Photoshelter comes out ahead with this). I have found no such interface with Photomerchant.
- No community: Meaning a means by which photographers interact directly with each other in a community. (this is not a big deal, but doesn't hurt to have around either as they can be useful for promotional purposes).
FREE Artist and Photography Store Fronts
Zazzle (Visit Website...)
Overview: Zazzle is really more of "designers" community in my opinion, but it can still provide a good venue for Fine art and photography. The main point to note with Zazzle is that it sell tons of gift items. The focus is on merchandise not prints... from mugs to aprons, to skateboards and even shoes. Designers can create artwork and apply it to any of dozens of merchandise products. But it's not an attractive venue and it's easy to get lost among the Billions (yes billions) of products which have been produced by it's members.
- Lots of products: This is a "pro" only if you want to put your artwork onto things other than prints and canvas. You will not find another site anywhere that gives you as many product options nor as many variations on those products.
- Lots of promotional options: Zazzle has a lot of ways to promote your products. Besides the main site of course, you have your personal page which can be customized quite thoroughly (if you have some html/css skills). In addition Zazzle provides a ton of scripts and banners and api type display objects which you can integrate into your blogs, Facebook and other websites.
- Very good preview system: Just like FAA, Zazzle has a wonderful preview system which allows customers to view their product selection, with their own customizations, just the way it should look in the final product. The interface for this however is not as easy to use nor as attractive as that of Fine Art America's nor ImageKind.
- VERY high ranking: With an Alexa ranking of just over 1,000 - Zazzle is definitely getting a LOT of traffic. However, keep in mind that much of that traffic is probably coming from it's enormous community of publishers.
- No cropping of images: The customer gets the work as you produced it. No cropping of the artwork to fit standardized print sizes.
- It's free: Can't beat that. No annual fee and No commissions. You create your own pricing and they simply deduct the base costs from that price.
- White Label Store: A store front is provided which can be integrated into your own website, but be forwarned... It's not impressive.
- Support is too complex and "canned": I find that support from their team is always canned information and does not directly address what you asked them. It is also very complex. I have over ten years back ground in web development and I still get confused trying to figure out the endless options when it comes to producing products.
- Your artwork can get lost: While it is true you do not have to produce every product they give you, it is difficult not to start adding some of this and some of that. If you are a "purist" and don't want to drop your fine art to the level of coffee mugs and hats, then this really is not the venue for you.
- Ugly personal pages: Unless you have good html/css skills the default options for your personal page is really ugly.
- Poor store navigation: This is just my opinion, but I do not care for the way Zazzle presents your images within your store.
- Poor image upload system: Just like FAA, the images are uploaded in such a way as to force you to make settings to each image one by one. There is no efficient batch upload which can cover pricing, keywords, descriptions and more. You can create templates which allow you to "batch create" to some degree, but you will still have to tweak each product unless every image you upload is identical in size and dimensions. Also note that creating the templates is not an easy thing to do. There is little in the way of clear instructions so you can expect to spend at least an entire day of trial and error getting the templates the way you want them.
- Poor preview image quality: Why Zazzle can't get this right is a mystery. No other site has this issue. Zazzle's thumbnails and previews are always just a tad blurry. It's very very bothersome to someone trying to show off Fine Art or Photography. You want people to realize the quality of your work, not to think that its' flat or blurry.
- Censorship: Zazzle is EXTREMELY conservative about what they will allow on their site. I've had lots of images banned from publication there an NONE of them were even remotely "obscene" or controversial. They are scared to death of offending anyone ,, even if those someones are twisting the meaning of your image beyond what any reasonable person would think. Example: This image of a boy in a bathing suite (taken on a small village island in Honduras) was deemed "inappropriate" and "sexually suggestive". Unbelievable! In another instance, a photo of a religious statue from Hindu folk lore was banned. Yes it has boobies.. but so what, it's a statue. Makes more sense than the kid, but it's still absurd. If you plan to take photos or make art with any artistic freedom, then Zazzle is not your venue.
- No profit on framing: You can only make a profit on the sale of your actual photo. If the customer orders framing of your piece, you don't share in this profit (note: this is new.. they used to give you 15%).
Misc Features and Notes:
- Product quality: I've gotten mixed reviews from people receiving artwork from Zazzle about the product quality. Some say it's very good while others feel the print paper is flimsy and not of the high quality that they claim. I think the only way to decide for yourself is to make some purchases to see.
- You can almost get a brand free store from Zazzle under some circumstances. Here is how it works. If a visitor arrives at your store through the Zazzle site, then your store will still have a full Zazzle banner up top with all the navigation to other stores. If however, you send customers directly to your store via a special link, you can have all that removed except for a small Zazzle logo in the corner. For example - Follow this link to my store http://www.zazzle.com/bigsun (see the Zazzle header?) . Now follow this special link - Great Gift Ideas and Fine Art Prints (see, no header).
Conclusion: As noted earlier. I believe Zazzle is really the best choice for graphic designers, but not for Fine Artists and Photographers. Its front end does not have a professional feel to it and it is really too complex to work with if you are only going to use it for a single product type. In addition you do not get a brand free store (they have a brand free option that integrates into your own site, but it's not very impressive - I would not use it). This site is for people who create and purchase "gift items" not Fine Art. As such you might want to use it as a second store to produce gift items separate from your more professional artwork store (this is how I use it).
Red Bubble (Visit Website...)
Overview: Red Bubble had my favor for quite a while in the early stages of this research. It has some issues which I did not like, but all in all it had an acceptable interface, good community, adequate support and even a few features that were useful and unique. I would compare RedBubble with ImageKind and Fine Art America, as they are similar in many respects.
- No cropping of images: The customer gets the work as you produced it. No cropping of the artwork to fit standardized print sizes.
- Very active community: In fact I'd have to give Red Bubble first place when it comes to their community of artists. The forums, clubs and fan groups are alive with conversation and information. It's worth joining red bubble just for the community even if you choose not to sell there.
- Relatively attractive: The main community store is pretty nice looking. Though note that if you use their "white label" store option it gets quite basic.
- Product preview: They do have the product preview for the customer but it is not nearly as advanced as FFA, ImageKind or even Zazzles'.
- It's free: No annual fees and you can charge what you like.
- White label site: Red Bubble does have a white label site which you can put together and run from any domain. Even integrate it into your existing website. This is wonderful. The downside is that it is so bland and ugly that I have no interest in presenting my imagery in this way.
- Integration with Facebook: It's not as robust as the FAA integration, but it will automatically insert a post with title and thumbnail into your Facebook Wall each time you add a new piece of art.
- Beyond images: RedBubble does something that none of the others do. That is allow you to present and sell writings as well.
- Calendars: You can create and sell calendars using twelve of your images. I believe this is a real good seller for those who have focused subject matter.
- Slow shipping: This could have been a fluke, but a friend of mine made several orders and waiting longer than acceptable to receive them. I believe RB is out of Australia, so maybe that's part of the issue.
- Small selection of products: While generally I am only interested in prints and canvas, I still want my customers to have lots of options for paper, canvas, and frames. Red Bubble has a VERY limited selection to choose from. For instance when selecting a frame you have only five frame color choices and two styles (and two mattes). Not impressive.
- Sub Categories - I have this listed under cons only because they used to not have categories at all (until march 2011) and with the introduction of their new "collectioins" they are still missing the concept of "sub-categories". At least now you can create all the categories you want, but in my opinion most peoples artwork and photography require at least a 2nd level of folders to properly organize your material for your customers (example: Travel > Thailand OR Animals > Birds). Well it's a big improvement, but still fairly weak. I can't really imagine how categories took this many years to hit their feature list to begin with. Seems to be that is a given for any basic store.
- Meta Data - From what I can tell, the meta data (ie: keywords and description) from your photograph does not get applied to your upload, therefore you have to re-enter all those keywords for every image you upload. Not acceptable if you have a lot of imagery.
Conclusion: Red Bubble is a very attractive solution for those who are not trying to put on a professional appearance. It's easy to work with and relatively attractive (and Free). But the quality issues cannot be ignored for a professional and the general vibe of the site to me is not that of a professional. Oh yea, and that nagging category issue.
Overview: I would consider Deviant Art more of a community for amateurs and hobbyists. That's not to say there is not some very good work there, but the entire setup is not for the professional and does not make a great impression to customers. If you are selling to friends and family, then sure. I only spent about a week on this site because I knew straight out that it was not going to suite my needs. As such I don't have a lot of information to discuss below.
- It's free: so that's always good.
- Community: It seems to have a thriving community.
- High Rankings: It gets a lot of traffic from the engines. In fact it ranks higher than any of the other store fronts. How much of that traffic is customers verses members I do not know.
- Ugly: The whole site is this awful puke green look. You do not have any customization abilities to give your store it's own look.
- No private store: DA doesn't give you a personal store front of any kind. You have your "personal page" and that's pretty much it.
- Poor categorization: I don't care for the pre-defined categories they use in the community store.
- Limited print options: Small selection of frames and print options. Not really acceptable for a professional level store.
Conclusion: If you are looking for a free community to show off your work, get reviews, maybe sell some to friends. This can work for you, though I personally would still go with Red Bubble over Deviant Art.
NOTICE: the following review of FotoMoto is as of September 2012. They are in the process of making major changes to their service and client structure. It is changing to a pay based system. Once I have all the information I will revise this review with the new information; however, you can still gleen an idea of how it works with the information below.
Overview: FotoMoto is unique among all the other website options here in that it integrates directly into your existing website. No need to send people away from your website just to view your available artwork, they can view it on your domain, within your design and make the purchase from your site. This is done by adding a small bit of code to your web pages which then scans the page for photos and integrates them into a shopping cart system. The shopping cart is not Actually on your website, but visually it will appear to be.
The code adds either hot text or a cart icon beside/below/above (you're choice) each image shown on your pages or gallery. When someone clicks "buy print" an overlay cart will appear overtop of your page (it looks to the user as if it's part of your own domain). The system then pulls the image from your site and integrates it seamlessly into the shopping cart's display. It's all quite slick actually. The cart will automatically calculate the available sizes for sale based on the dimensions of your image. Images are shown in an illustrated "room" to give buyers perspective on size (a nice touch when you see it).
- It's Free! There is no annual fee of any kind. Just open an account and get rolling.
- No need to upload, tag, label, etc your images in a 3rd party store. The act of adding images to your own website automatically adds them to your store. (No other option does this)
- No cropping! (if you've read the entire review you know I can't tolerate cropping of images. FotoMoto actually gives you the option to sell your images cropped (using standard sizes which will be cheaper) OR to allow their system to automatically upsize the paper (which they will trim to the exact size of your images) to eliminate all cropping. This of course is more expensive since you are essentially purchasing a larger size.
- Support is stellar. All my questions have been answered quickly and thoroughly. They have actively responded to my suggestions.
- Ability to create multiple stores and profiles. This allows you to run all your artwork through one account even if the art is on different domains. It also lets you create varying pricing and product offerings dependent on the domain or subjects matter, etc. (No other option does this)
- They offer high and low quality prints. I guess I should Archival and Non-archival quality. This is a nice touch as it allows you to offer cheaper print option if you want.
- Nice selection of products (and even more products in the pipeline, like metal prints). At the time of this writeup they offer (greeting cards, downloads, stretched canvass, prints - in two qualities, framed prints).
- Clean easy to understand interface for your account.
- FREE e-cards. You can offer ecards free to anyone. This is a great way to promote your artwork. People can just click an "e-card" button and send one of your images to friends and family with personalized text and a nice display. But the card also self promotes with links back to that image in case the recipient wants to buy the photo.
- They offer download/licensing in addition to prints and products. That's cool (but see con below)
- The system does not work on all types of websites and has some issues with offering images on your site for sale that are not for sale, like ad images or photos used in page content (if you are not paying attention to how you structure the store and pages).
- Since the system runs off your own site and pulls images for the cart from your pages, that means FotoMoto does not actually have access to your high resolution files. So when an order comes in they will let you know by email and you must upload the high res. image to your account. You only have to do this once for each image, from then on they have it, but some may not like this. Note: that they do offer a way for you to grant FotoMoto access to a "file bank" you would set up on your own server which would avoid this situation.
- Prices for product are a little higher than some. Though not much (very in in line with FAA and IK and Zazzle). And their very reasonable shipping prices actually might make them cheaper (so maybe it's not a con at all). Just depends whom your comparing them with.
- They're commission on sales is relatively high (15% + a 3% fee for processing,, so 18% - that's pretty steep). That along with their base prices being right of average makes the products to your customer a bit pricey.
- The download/licensing options are so limited as to be useless in my opinion. It's just a simple flat rate no matter what the scope of the use is. However, they do offer the option to "contact seller" for licensing, which of course gives you control, but also turns the process into an ordeal instead of being automated (like for instance the fantastic licensing options available with PhotoShelter).
- Overall this is the best option if you wish to integrate your store directly within an existing website. There are still some kinks to be fixed, but considering FotoMoto is fairly new to the scene, I think they are off to a nice start. I have not yet seen any prints so I cannot attest to print quality (hopefully somebody can chime in on that).
- Want to see this in action? I'm currently using the FotoMoto system on my own gallery. Check it out (www.bigsunphotography.com/galleries)
Vendors Who Failed to Make the Cut:
Saatchi Online: www.saatchionline.com
- This site at first seemed like a good possible addition to our collection of online art vendors. It was well ranked with good traffic and a nice clean buyer's interface. However once I signed up and could inspect their system closer I found that it is extremely focused on Artwork rather than photography. Meaning paintings, sculpture, etc.
- In addition, even if it had been the best photography setup I'd ever seen I still would have turned around on a dime after seeing their 30% commission on sales. That alone is enough to make Saatchi Online a dud for me.
- Sorry I am not including more details but with the above points made, there is really nothing more that need be said.
- Photoreflect's service lost me before I even got started with my testing. Why? Price! They take a piece of the sales prices (ok,, nearly all do that, so what?) Yes, but they also require you to purchase their "special software" to run your store. While they do have a "free" option, it limits your features to what I would say in an unreasonable level. So that leaves you with the two paid plans (core and pro editions). These go for $495 and $1,395 respectively. OUCH!!!! and it doesn't end there. You still have to pay 18% "transaction fees" on each sale. Are we done? Hell no! Lastly you will be billed a tidy $9/month for the privileage of being bent over with the previous fees.
- So with all this money to invest, are you getting a better service? Well, if you are going with one of the paid plans, it might be better than most, but still far from being the Master of All Sales Sites. Their site traffic is far less than most of the above competition, they still (at the time of this writeup) cannot provide unique image sizes without cropping, and their blatent BS about "cheap pricing" and "world's largest collection of photographers" turns me off.
- My recommendation would be to go with Photoshelter which has all the same features (as far as I can tell they are nearly identical), but offers these features for far less money.
I update this information every few months for the more popular sites, others maybe only once a year so changes may have occured since I last reviewed them..
- If you have any other comments to make about any of these store fronts. Please drop a line in the comments boxes below.
- If you spot outdated information please let me know.
- If you have suggestions for other photography store fronts that I should investigate please let me know.