What is the Real Cost of a Canvas Print?

by Nick Friend on December 14, 2010 · 11 comments

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Cost Per Print
By Nick Friend with contribution from Adam Hill

Have you ever taken the time to sit down and analyze the material cost of producing a single canvas print?

Cost Per Print

Hopefully most of you have, but for those who haven’t, allow me walk you through what is sure to be an eye-opening and insightful process to recognize and appreciate a fundamental component of your business. Let me begin by posing a question: would you pay $1 per print to ensure that each would last 100 years without fading or yellowing? What if that same dollar also gave you the opportunity to print the widest possible spectrum of colors, with the greatest amount of density, and the sharpest resolution that an inkjet canvas is capable of producing? How about if that same dollar also gave you the confidence to truthfully tell each of your customers that all of your prints are made using finest and most technologically advanced inkjet canvas available today? The obvious answers to these questions are yes, yes, and yes. Now, let me explain how to make this $1 insurance policy, quality advantage, and marketing tool a reality for your business.

Inspiration

The inspiration for this article comes from several discussions we have had with fine art printmakers who are surprised to learn the true cost difference per print of using a high-quality, archival certified canvas versus an economy grade canvas that contains optical brightener additives and is susceptible to yellowing and fading over time. After doing the math on a 24”x24” print, the cost difference is only a single dollar. Each of these printmakers has admitted that they had only been considering the cost difference on an entire roll of canvas, but after the cost is broken down per print, choosing the higher quality canvas is an easy decision.

Such is the case when you compare our 800M canvas – an economy grade canvas that is very competitive in price, but not designed to excel in print permanence and our Chromata White canvas – a premium, archival certified canvas. The same can also be said (albeit to an even lesser degree) when comparing our Chromata White canvas with our state-of-the-art Lyve Canvas – which delivers 15-20% color gamut, dmax, fine detail/resolution over the Chromata White (a claim widely supported by some of the most well respected photographers and printmakers in this business, as seen on our reviews page) – the difference here is only 36 cents!

The Numbers

Let’s analyze how we arrived at these numbers. Take a look at the data below and notice specifically how your cost per print changes as you move from our cheapest canvas 800M to the mid-priced Chromata White and finally to our state-of-the-art Lyve canvas. I have included a copy of our excel spreadsheet with all the formulas (attached), so you can plug in your own cost for ink, coating, and stretcher bars to customize and run these numbers for your own unique business.

You can download this xcel file here.

You can download this xcel file here.

Lowering Costs

If costs are your greatest concern, this analysis shows that there are better ways to lower costs that won’t require you to compromise print quality or longevity. For example, stretcher bars make up as much as 60% of your overall cost per print. Amazing, isn’t it? Therefore, start by economizing your stretcher bars & the stretching process overall. If you are outsourcing your stretching, bring it in house. If you already do your own stretching and use bars made from pine wood, switch to fir wood. Fir can a little tougher to get used to, but you can save 50% or more in most cases. And when you’re volume grows large enough, don’t buy pre-made bars, use 12’ stretcher sticks and cut/join them in house. You’ll cut at least another 50%. As you grow, each of these actions will significantly drop your stretching costs, and therefore the majority of your cost per print.

After running your own numbers and considering the information presented in this article, you have to ask yourself the following questions: Does it make sense to compromise my print quality and forego 100 year archival certification to save $1? Is $1 per print worth risking my reputation as a printmaker? Would I pay $1 per print for the ability to produce more stunning and accurate canvas prints than my competition?

Let’s take a moment to look at this issue from your customer’s vantage point. Suppose you offered your own customer the option to pay $1 more for these benefits….would they take it? How about an extra 36 cents for an upgrade from a good canvas to a state-of-the-art canvas….would they take that deal? Would you take that deal? Well, that’s precisely what Breathing Color offers our customers. We offer the $1 upgrade and the $.36 upgrade from there. The choice is yours on which canvas you use to represent your business. All we hope to accomplish with this article is that you have the tools to make an informed decision and that you choose wisely.

Conclusions

The one thing you can never forget as a printmaker is that you have one product that makes or breaks you – the print. Each print forever bears your signature (in a figurative sense), and how your prints perform for your customers – against your competition and throughout time – will define you and your reputation. Before you compromise or cut corners on quality, it’s best to understand what the real costs are of doing so, and to weigh these costs with the benefits and risks associated with these decisions. I sincerely hope that this article is thought-provoking and causes introspection within your own business and the decisions you are making every day, which could have a greater impact than previously realized.

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  • Adam Hill

    To figure out your ink cost per print, first you must find out how many milliliters per square foot your printer uses when printing (this will vary depending upon the substrate you are printing on). Then you need to do a little math. Divide your price per cartridge of ink by the amount of milliliters in that cartridge; this will give you your cost per milliliter of ink. Then multiply your cost per milliliter by the milliliter per square foot ratio of your printer to arrive at your total ink cost per square foot.
    Example:

    Canon iPF8300 prints at .8ml/sq.ft. (approximately)
    300ml Cartridge of Ink = $173.00

    $173.00 / 300ml = $.58 (Ink cost per ml)
    $.58 x .8ml = $.46 (total ink cost per square foot)

    Note: Some new printers such as the Canon iPF series have software capabilities that will make these calculations for you and export to an excel document for further analysis.

  • http://www.canvasdeluxe.com/ Print on canvas

    Hi guys,

    It’s really very useful article for knowing the Real Cost of a Canvas Print.

    Thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/finecanvasprints Matthew H. Owens

    Also if you are using a RIP, check and see if you have cost analysis as part of the feature set. I use Ergosoft Texprint, it has a very nice way of tracking job costs for both ink and media use.

  • http://twitter.com/bulzak Sebastian Bulzak

    Your calculation is flawed. You must count canvas scraps. The best you could do is 32 prints of 24″x24″ on a 60″x40′ roll. If you need to mix print sizes because of clients’ needs, you might end up scrapping more canvas than that. So you should consider you sell only 50 to 60% of your printable canvas area as printed canvas area.

    If you wish to make 24″x24″ canvas prints, you might need 30″x30″ of canvas so you can stretch that image. This suddenly increases your canvas cost by 56%, since 30″x30″ is 6.25 sqf vs 4 sqf. Furthermore, your price for Lyra assumes your client buys at least 3 rolls of 60″x40′. And it doesn’t include the shipping of the rolls.

    Same goes for ink, if you want to have gallery wraps. You might print 28″x28″, which increases your ink cost by 36%.

    In any case, I could not find any info about the newest microporous canvas anywhere on your site.

    • Nick

      Thanks for your comments Sebastian. If the goal is to be exact, one should take your advice and also consider other expenses such as the amortization of labor costs for printing, stretching, and shipping. Naturally these will vary as labor costs will vary business to business. While any printmaking business owner should find these important to quantify, it’s really not the point of our article.

      In order to simplify our article, we intentionally excluded costs that are relatively “fixed” in the sense of what canvas you are using. For example, the exact same labor is required to print on Lyve Canvas as it does Chromata White Canvas. It’s also the exact same shipping cost.

      By looking at the main drivers of cost, this article keeps the focus on the most important decisions facing printmakers. i.e. which canvas should I use and why, and how am I approaching the stretching process to minimize costs, etc.

      • http://twitter.com/bulzak Sebastian Bulzak

        My goal was not to perform a complete cost evaluation of a canvas printing business. I just wanted to point out you cannot consider that a 60″X40′ roll makes 200 sqf of printed product, but rather 120.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vince-Weathermon/500081064 Vince Weathermon

    Nick this is awesome; I had been beating my head trying to come up with a cost calculator and you have done it for me…glad I came upon this.  Very helpful…thanks!

    • Nick Friend

      No problem Vince. Glad this is going to help you!

  • John Fuller

    Great article, but I think there’s an error in your spreadsheet.  When I downloaded the spreadsheet and looked at the formulas it looks like you assumed 4 linear feet of stretcher bar for the 24 x 24 print.  That number should be 8 linear feet (4 sides at 24″ each).  It doesn’t change the point you’re making about how upgrading your media changes the cost of the print very little, but if someone was basing their pricing on the total cost calculated by the spreadsheet, they’d be off by half on the stretcher bar cost.  Thanks for posting these articles.

    • Orlando Castillo

      you are rigth !!

  • Sameer Alve

    Amazing analysis…its a very practical calculation…..something which should be considered while we do our costing …..

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