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Hand-Made versus Digital in Illustration

Posted by Cat How, February 28, 2018

In our old design shop, a common question customers would ask — quizzically, brows furrowed, holding up two prints in either hand — would be “why are these prints the same size but this one is double the price?”. We’d have to explain that one was a screenprint — hand-pulled and in a limited run of just 10, while the other was a standard digital “giclée” print, pumped out in a limitless run on an industrial printer.

Some customers would understand this distinction — opting for the screen-print as an investment piece — others would shrug, think the price gap ludicrous and go for the value option, preferring the image itself over the exclusivity of the other.

Each decision is a valid one from the point of view of the customer, but as the creator it is important to know this distinction if you want your work to sell. The key is understanding your market — who do you want to sell to? Can they afford the prices you want to charge and would they understand why you are charging those prices in the first place? Once you know this then that can help you decide where to sell.

With a screenprint — hand-made, signed, titled and dated by you in a small run — you can, and should, charge a premium price. But this only makes sense if it’s somewhere people can understand the quality and skill it took to create it. Galleries and design shops are ideal as people can see and feel the quality and expect it to be that price because of the environment. We sold a lot of screen prints in Howkapow’s physical shop.

In contrast we’ve found digital prints sell better online — attracting an audience who are less fussy about provenance and skill, and more interested in a nice image for their wall at an affordable price. Market stalls are good selling grounds too, as lower value products tend to sell best here. Saying that, there might also be an expectation that you have made your piece yourself so be prepared to explain the differences to customers.

Digital printing might be considered a sell-out by some but it is a great way of expanding your work onto other products like homewares and ceramics, and reaching a different audience. Hand-printing work, on the other hand, elevates it to ‘art’ status.

Quality versus quantity come into question here — with digital you can sell your work at a lower, more competitive price by printing large runs but you lose the ‘one-off’ uniqueness a screenprint has and control over stock and colour matching. Saying that, I’ve seen some superb quality digital prints that walk all over a screen print.

Ultimately, it is the customer who decides — and buys! Figure out which process works best for you and you’re already half way there.

Cat How is a Creative Director and Co-Founder of Pollen Place — a unique workspace and event space based in central Bristol designed to nurture creativity and spark productivity. She is also Creative Director of branding and graphic design agency, Polleni. Cat studied at the University of Bristol and Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. She has worked as a journalist and graphic designer for newspapers such as MetroThe Guardian and The Observer. Most recently, she was creative director of the e-commerce design business, Howkapow, she founded and ran with her husband Rog How. Howkapow was sold in February 2017. In that time Cat and Rog were running it, Howkapow was given accolades such as the “Best Online Shop for Stylish Homewares” (The Guardian); one of the “Top Ten Online Design Shops” (The Sunday Times) and their pop-up “The Best Shop To Visit In Bristol” (The Guardian).

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