Back around the end of February, I wrote about my experiences getting started with Fine Art America. Two months have gone by, so it’s time for the update I promised in Part One. Certain negative aspects have been corrected, so that’s good news. There remain some things I’d like to see changed, but overall I would highly recommend FAA to artists looking for an online presence, especially if they need a print-on-demand (POD) provider.
For $30 a year, FAA gives you unlimited gallery space on their main site, as well as a distinct website that has no FAA branding. Customers can order framed prints through either venue. However, when customers order through your personal website, the customer sees only that you have a professional ecommerce site, allowing them to order prints, framed and unframed, prints on canvas, and greeting cards.
From a marketing standpoint, this is more impressive than a customized Zazzle or Redbubble gallery, since it appears to be a stand-alone business site. Even better is the ease with which you can create your professional-looking site using FAA’s tools. Customization on other POD sites is difficult, to say the least, and often requires a solid understanding of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). FAA, on the other hand, is very easy to use. I created the customized header (above) in Photoshop, which really helps the site look unique.
Sean Broihier, the owner of FAA, seems to be very focused on the needs of his artist customers, as well as the buying public who visit FAA. Knowing that customers will want to take a close look at artwork before buying, Broihier created a high-resolution zoom tool. This helps increase buyer confidence. The only other place I’ve seen this sort of thing is on a stock photo site. Other POD sites don’t seem to realize the importance of such a tool.
Broihier provides artists with a neat slideshow widget, which you can see over on the right here on my blog. When I add artwork to my gallery, the slideshow automatically picks it up. The slideshow’s movement attract the visitor’s attention, and shows off my work at the same time. I think it’s really useful.
FAA also automatically provides buyers with color swatches based on the main colors in a piece of artwork. Again, I can’t think of a similar site that does that. Along with visitor counts, there are visitor comments. These help build buyer confidence.
When you upload artwork, it appears automatically in the huge gallery on FAA, as well as on your own website. No need to do dual maintenance of two sites.
The buying experience is very professional. I ordered an unframed and a framed print from FAA, in order to check out the printing and framing quality, as well as delivery time and packaging. My order arrived in about ten days, and was packed very securely in a big box. The framed print looked just great. The colors seemed to be an exact match, and the framing quality was excellent. I used to work in a frame shop, and I’ve framed dozens of my own pieces, so I know what to look for. I couldn’t have done a better job myself. The back was covered nicely with kraft paper, and wired ready to hang.
I should step back and mention that the online process for ordering a frame is intelligently designed. You pick a frame color and you’re presented with all frames that match that color. You can then order a mat, and the viewer shows what your work will look like in that frame with that mat. The color of the displayed mat didn’t seem to match the color I picked, always, so that may be a little bug.
As an artist, you determine the minimum and maximum print sizes available for ordering. The site lets you know what the biggest size printable is for your given file, so that’s helpful. Other sites don’t address this sort of thing well, if at all.
Buyers can choose from a range of papers. If you know that your work will not look good on the default matte archival paper, you can’t stop buyers from ordering it, unfortunately. You can, however, add a note in the piece description, recommending the proper paper. The unframed print I ordered was printed on the matte paper, which is the cheapest available. The dark blacks didn’t look as dark as they should have, due to the paper. The Somerset paper I used in the framed print showed accurate and rich colors, though it was a bit more expensive.
Normally, an unframed print comes rolled in a tube. Since I was also ordering a framed print, FAA used a large flat box, and packed the unframed print flat in the box, which was a pleasant surprise. I was quite pleased with my purchasing experience on FAA, and feel confident that my customers will be getting a quality product when they order. FAA also has an unconditional guarantee.
Back in Part One of this review, I mentioned that you can’t pick your own domain name for your FAA website. What I failed to explain is how easy it is to work around that. If you own your own domain name (such as www.bobnolin.com, you can tell your domain registrar (the company that you pay each year to maintain your URL) to “point” to your FAA site. If you roll your mouse over the slideshow on the right, you’ll notice, down at the bottom of your browser, that it says “www.bobnolin.com.” When you click on it, it takes you to the FAA site, which is really www.bob-nolin.artistwebsites.com. Here’s how you make that happen:
You select “Forward Your Domain” and then tell it where to forward to. Each registrar has a way to do this, I believe. It is free, too. Also, I tell it what title I want to appear up top in the visitor’s browser (”The Art of Bob Nolin”). Choosing “Frame Redirect” causes the URL to say “www.bobnolin.com”, which keeps the visitor from getting confused by seeing www.bob-nolin.artistwebsites.com. I’ve had some questions about how I did this, so forgive me if I got too techie there!
As I mentioned in Part One, the FAA website was not working very well when I was trying to sign up. Sean Broihier assures me this was due to heavy maintenance to the search engine, and that the server should be up all the time now. In two months, I’ve never again experienced a problem. So that’s a relief. Also, FAA employs several full-time customer service people, which was another issue in Part One.
I need to wrap up here, but I do want to mention the community on FAA. My works are frequently commented on by other FAA’ers, and they’re all very nice and supportive. There are groups and an online forum, you can create a blog, an email newsletter, and so forth. These things all add to the feeling of a community, and they’re free. The $30 fee is only if you want to use the POD service and/or have your own website. From what I’ve seen so far, this was $30 well-spent. If you have questions I didn’t answer here, please leave a comment below. Also, I’d love to hear about your own experience with FAA.
Thanks for reading!
Review of Fine Art America Part One