Merion Art Blog

Charging for Creative Work Part 2

With diverse work comes diverse business models, and methods that work for one artist may be totally off-base for another. Some artists work mostly in commissions, while others rely on reproductions to make their money. We have designers who work hourly based on their design software, and painters who keep their own creations for themselves and make money painting for hire. We’ll be exploring more of the different ways artists organize things financially and sharing our tips on how to come up with a fair, logical number, how to communicate effectively with clients, and how to avoid underpaying yourself for your hard work.


In part two of this post, we’ll be hearing from Sarah and Cary. Sarah is a multi-media painter/sculptor and textile artist who works mainly in commissions and small creative jobs which she obtains from networking through work and socially. Cary is a graphic designer and digital artist, who finds a lot of his commissions online, through design classifieds and subreddits.


Sarah- Paintings and Mixed-Media Sculpture

“I don’t really sell already-made artwork – I tend towards art-based “side jobs” for companies I am already affiliated with as well as the occasional larger commission piece. In the case of commissions, here is the “equation” I use to figure out what to charge for my work:

sarah pic

I pick a rate, something between $25-$50 an hour depending on the task at hand – and try to price out how much it would cost in a perfect world, where everything goes according to plan and I get everything done in the smallest number of hours possible, encountering no pitfalls, and with only a minimum of planning.

Then I think of the absolute maximum for materials, toss in the cost for some extra last-minute glue or some other varnish-type thing I might not have enough of, and add it all up to come up with a number.  I keep the hours as one number and the materials as another number.

Then I come up with the absolute lowest amount of money that I am willing to accept, per hour, without completely wasting my time and energy on the project, and times that by the truly extravagant version of how long this could possibly take – all the possible extra trips to get more things, set up and clean up for anything complicated that might not get done right the first time, and of course just the general time that any kind of tedious creative thing could take up — absolute maximum time.

A commission where I had to figure out how to sew wood to canvas

Figuring out the minimum pay rate I’ll accept is important to me because I often take on work in somewhat unfamiliar mediums, and may need to learn new skills to properly execute the piece. The incentive to try out a new medium or material is probably one of the main reasons why I take any commission work at all -but it still takes considerably extra time and research. For example – if I estimate it’s going to take me significantly longer to do something like resin casting or textile dying that someone already skilled might be able to do in less time – I’m not going to charge $30 an hour for the overall time I expect to spend.

The last number I look for is the bare minimum of what I could spend on materials – this would include using re-purposed supplies, which I tend to keep a stock of, as well as any ways to substitute less expensive materials when it’s reasonable to do so. In order to increase profit and cut costs for myself and my customers, I tend to hoard old materials, recycle scraps, etc. etc. – anything I can get my hands on, I tear apart old canvases and re-use stretcher bars. As long as it doesn’t affect the longevity of the piece then it’s fair game. I’ll also encourage working in standard sizes, or work directly with a frame they give me that already matches their house and their style.

Now, I see if the MAX hours at MINIMUM payrate plus MAXIMUM material cost is anywhere close to the MINIMUM hours at MAXIMUM pay with the MINIMUM material cost added on. I fuss with the numbers until I can get to a place where the numbers kind of end up similar, and that’s the quote I’m going to give someone. You won’t actually get your project done in the perfect low number of hours with the perfect pay rate with the perfectly LOW material cost — but hopefully, you won’t end up spending the tediously long hours and you won’t have to outlay the maximum materials budget either, which is why I set the high and low numbers against each other when I’m figuring it out. You don’t want to end up giving someone what seems like a “reasonable” quote only to realize that you’re spending 2x as much time as you expected. You also don’t want to come up with an unrealistically high number ahead of time – it’s a price you’re agreeing on with a client, and they might disagree on the number you tell them.

An example of non fine-art commissions – Hand drawn chalk signs for a local company. I’ll be constructing some holiday displays and visually unique on-site storage for upcoming events this holiday season, but I was originally hired as a sales rep who “happened to draw…”

If someone DOES disagree with the price you’ve quoted them, you can work the price down from the cost of materials by giving them the option of less expensive materials, and you can work the price down from the standpoint of how much time you’re willing to spend on it, but do not compromise on the cost of your own labor. Additionally – don’t bother explaining this whole price breakdown to the client. If they act like they’re someone who needs an itemized list of every little thing, kindly point them in another direction and suggest they look elsewhere for someone to do the work – it’s usually a red flag for someone with unrealistic expectations who will try to nickel and dime you.

My exception to this rule is in the case of a business paying an hourly rate for creative side work – since they’re keeping track of the hours and either paying for materials up front or reimbursing me for the invoices I submit, I have no problem having it all plotted out in detail.

Weather happens! A makeshift ventilation system can facilitate that last coat of varnish – in spite of rain

One thing I try to watch out for in either case is that it will always take more time than you think. Always. Always. Something comes up that causes you to lose a studio day. Job schedules collide. The weather is wrong and you can’t varnish. The humidity is too high and something takes longer to dry. The oil paint just decides to laugh in your face and go as slow as molasses. I have found myself locked in a room with space heaters and lamps and fans just hoping things will oxidize in time for another layer, so plan ahead as best as possible and be ready to think up a back up plan.


Cary- Graphic Design and Digital Artexplorerrun

Okay so most/all of the paying work I’ve done has been freelance animation and illustration for the indie games market and my pricing model was very much based on the type of clients I was trying to land. I find most of my clients via message boards and forums online. Using online sources for clients is great for reaching a much wider market- the downside is that the anonymity of the internet makes it easier for people to not take your business relationship seriously.

In a more professional setting, you should definitely be charging more for creative work than I ever did. With that said, I think the way I figured out my pricing is fairly straightforward and probably pretty similar to what most artists do. The basic formula is this: 1. Figure out how much you want to be paid per hour. 2. Figure out how long the job will take you. 3. Multiply hours by wage-per-hour and there’s your price for the job. Now in my particular experience I was charging super super low hourly rates as most of my clients were small teams, sometimes of students or hobbyists, and I had little to no relevant examples in my portfolio. So I started at $10 an hour until I built up some portfolio examples, at which point I started gradually bumping up my rate.

heavyhandronin2Step 2 is the tricky part of this equation because in a freelance situation people often aren’t comfortable giving an artist free reign. I have had jobs that were more long term and clients who were happy to pay my hourly rate for however many hours I logged on their project each week, but these are few and far between. The vast majority of my clients wanted to know what they were getting into up front, which of course means you will have to be able to accurately predict how long a project is going to take you, or else you will end up signing yourself up for unpaid overtime.

I use a super simple work timer for this which you can find here. I recommend starting to time your work now if you have plans to go into freelance work ever, as having an idea of how long certain tasks will take you is invaluable when you get started.

The last, and theoretically optional, step is to factor in any incidentals. This includes things like PayPal fees, shipping charges and supplies. If you are using art materials on a project you should be accounting for their cost (even if they are things you already own.) It’s also probably a good idea to give yourself a bit of a cushion in terms of your time estimate to make sure you don’t do extra unpaid work if something goes wrong. My strategy here was usually to tell clients that the quote I was giving would be the most I would conceivably charge, but that the final invoice might be lower if I finish the project quickly.

mainmenusketchLastly I have known several artists who add what might be called an “inconvenience charge” or an “annoyance tax”. Does this client seem like they are going to be problematic to work for? Are they slow to communicate? Demanding and yet vague? Just generally rude or unpleasant? Tack on a percentage. I’ve seen everything from 10% to 100% suggested as the appropriate percentage, but that’s really up to you. This is not something I ever did personally, but that doesn’t mean I wholly condemn it as a tactic. Things like a client who doesn’t communicate in a timely fashion can really slow down a job and make your life miserable. It can even take up time and energy that you could have spent earning money on other jobs, so there is absolutely nothing wrong with accounting for that in your pricing structure. After you’ve figured out your price you still have a little bit of work to do.

serenshirt3colorThere are two things that in my opinion are absolutely essential in any freelance situation so this is probably the most important advice I’ll give here. First: Sign a contract. There are a ton of generic contracts kicking around the internet, it’s not hard to get something tailored to your purpose and it only takes a minute to get someone’s signature. Honestly if you’re like me, you are in no financial situation to pursue litigation should a client ghost on you, but it’s still nice to have just in case a serious amount of money is involved, and it gives your whole operation a sense of professionalism that’s always an asset.

Second: Ask for a percentage up front. My standard was 20% and I never had a client who had a problem with it. This way if your client does disappear on you (And they will. Seriously. Most of them will.) you won’t be coming away empty handed. I also find that if you have already taken money for a job it helps hold you accountable to finish it (Sometimes you’re the one who disappears, which is just as bad if not worse than the alternative.) Okay I guess that’s pretty much it. Good luck out there artists!”

How to Charge For Creative Work (Part 1)


How do you charge for your artwork?

This is a question that all artists and designers have to address at some point, and it’s a question that sends us, grimacing, to hide behind easels and under desks. We worry about charging too much, about not charging enough, about how to explain fair pay to customers and patrons, and not least of all, we worry about doing the math (artists, by-and-large, are not naturally mathy people). When we at Merion Art started this blog, this was the first topic we thought of, and we’re finally about to delve in! In this two-part post we’ll be asking several of our on-staff artists and designers, with a variety of different business models, pricing structures, and target markets, how they make money from their artwork.

Today’s artists are Jen and Justine. Justine is an illustrator who works in a variety of mediums. Her commissions come mostly through personal networking and through her job at Merion Art.  Jen is an oil pastel artist who primarily sells prints and originals at small community art fairs and on Etsy, and occasionally takes art and design commissions from friends and neighbors.

 Justine- Illustration and Fine Art

“There are so many ways to price artwork that it can get a little crazy, but at the end of the day I just want to make sure I’m not getting ripped off. I want to feel comfortable when I walk away from the job that I got paid what it was worth. I very rarely sell original works of my own making, 99% of my work comes from commissions. The types of commissions I get are mostly private (self-published books, portraits, fine art), but no matter the work I’m doing, my method for pricing stays the same: (professional hourly wage x time) + materials. Simple as that.

in progress

What’s a professional wage? I have a BFA and 12 years of experience so for me it’s around 30-50 dollars per hour depending upon the complexity of the project and the client. For someone who is self-taught and just starting out it will make more sense to charge less. Alternatively, if you’re a big name in the industry with 30 years of experience it will make sense to charge more.

As for the time aspect, that comes down to you knowing yourself and how you work. If you’re trying to price a painting you’ve done in the hopes of selling it—you’ll be able to know exactly how much time you spent on it (it’s incredibly important to keep track of time while you work). However, if you’re trying to quote someone for a commission then you’ll have to know your skills enough to give them a fair estimate. If you’re not sure how long it takes you to do your work—you have to produce more work and time yourself! I’ve been in the position many times where I under-estimated the amount of time it would take to make something and came out the other side feeling like I didn’t charge enough. It’s a terrible feeling—do everything you can to avoid it.


By that same token, one thing that gets overlooked often is revisions. If you’re doing commission work it’s wise to have a contract signed by both parties with terms for the project (you can find tons of templates online). Some clients are fickle and will get to the end of the project and want to make all sorts of changes. Well, that wasn’t factored into your original cost so in writing your contract you can specify that no more than one revision is allotted before you add on to the cost of the project.

To price your materials, simply keep the receipts! If the job is huge you can negotiate for an open-ended materials fee to be summed up at the end of the project, but most people will expect one number for the whole deal. I estimate how much paint I’ll use plus the cost of the substrate and anything else that may be purchased just for that job (which is why you should understand the whole scope of the work up front). Will you need to buy a special brush make the piece? Add in that cost. Will you need more tape? Add in that cost. Drop cloth? Mixed media materials? Prints? Add it!

tyrioncommissionKeep an eye out for red flag clients—indecisive people or those who haggle. ALWAYS get a 50% deposit up front and require a signed contract so you have legal recourse if they skip out of the rest.

That’s often enough to keep potentially duplicitous clients on the level, but you never know. And if they won’t sign it…well, you probably don’t want to work with that client.”


Jen- Oil Pastels and Prints

“I start by assigning myself an hourly rate, usually starting at $20, more if it’s a complicated piece. This is pretty low, but that’s okay- most of the time, what I sell are works that I’ve planned for myself, works that I’ve already finished, and reproductions of that work. When I do a commission for someone, it’s a different story: for fine art commissions, I charge more per hour because it’s a problem someone else wants me to solve rather than something for my own satisfaction, and that comes with a specific set of restrictions and can require more effort or skill, or at least more attention. For instance, if I’m working on something for myself and I decide to change it drastically (or start over, or even stop and scrap the whole thing) I have that freedom, but if it’s a project someone has commissioned, I’ll have a set of parameters to stay within, and it will need to get done regardless.

take it easy

Once I’ve got the rate, I estimate how long it will take me to complete the commission, or if it’s a pastel I’ve already completed, I estimate how long it took. I make sure to factor time for planning, research, rough sketches, etc. I always round up a little, for some financial wiggle room- this is where most artists end up undercharging, when they underestimate how long a task will take. Then I add in the cost of materials: the cost of the canvas or panel, as well as a percentage of what a box of pastels and a container of molding paste or gesso costs. (I use a percentage of those since one box/container will last me for several paintings.)

That usually gets me to a pretty decent estimate for how much my finished pastel should cost. I will adjust up or down if it seems logical– for instance, if a customer’s special requests or last-minute changes added extra work for me, I’d adjust up, and if a small commission took me longer than I think it ought to have (if I was distracted, or the delay was my fault), I’ll knock some off the final price.



Regarding prints: I’ve gone over some aspects of this in my post about art fairs, and more in my post about framing for artists, but here are some more tips. I find prints to be a very effective way to maximize my art profits. I’ll often talk to people who like the look of my artwork, but don’t have the cash to spend on buying an original, or simply want some art for decor, not as an investment, and I speak to a surprising amount of people who specifically want my artwork on notecards.


What I do is, I take my pastels, import a high quality digital file into Photoshop, color correct and clean up the file and save, and then digitally paint in a different background and save again. This gives me 3 different versions of my art to sell: the original, the print of the original, and a digitally painted version. I price the original as above, the print of the original can be sold as a signed and numbered print, and the digitally painted one gets sold as greeting cards, magnets, cheap poster-type prints for kids, etc.

This way, the artwork does double duty, and my customers get exactly what they want. I print them on a high-quality inkjet printer on artist grade paper at my home. The printer was expensive, but has long since paid for itself in prints- plus no worrying about misprints, no guessing at sizes, no issues of color correction, and no having to figure out when the print shop closes.

LovebirdsLet me explain what I mean when I talk about a digitally-painted version: My originals usually include text and a subject (usually an animal). The animal represents something which I explore further in the text, depending on the piece. The text is time-consuming, and very important to me and the way people interpret my original artwork. However, I understand that some people just don’t “get” the text, but do like the drawing of the animal. When I alter it, I replace the textual background with just an abstract colored background, which can give the art more mass appeal.

I change the artwork when I’m pricing it lower because I want my customers to understand that they get what they pay for, and my time, and effort, and artistic vision are worth something. If they want original, inspired art that is true to my artistic style, they buy the original, or a high-quality print. (I always make sure these are archivally backed and matted.) If they want a quick picture for a kid’s bedroom, I’m delighted to give it to them, but it’s going to be a bit more commercial, more mainstream, more basic- and that’s okay, sometimes that’s exactly what they want. I change the print, and not the original, so that I can stay true to myself without limiting my customer pool. This way I don’t have to be sad about certain people not “getting” my art, and my customers don’t go home with something conceptual that they don’t understand.

This is how the math works out for me: I have an original $200 piece where no one has bought the framed original, BUT at every event I do (and occasionally online) I’ll sell one or two $35 prints and one or two $20 prints, plus a couple of $5 notecards. Over time, I will make more money selling prints than the original. Selling different digitally altered prints also allows me to change colors depending on customer preferences, or even add text, as an Etsy customer requested.

I sell my digitally altered prints on basic photo paper for $20 per 8×10, my signed original prints at $35 per matted 8×10 (outside 11×14), and 11×14 matted to 16×20 for $60.  Print prices change depending on whether they are matted or unmatted- matted obviously costs more. The prices for the prints include the cost of the paper, a percent of the ink for the printer, bags, backing, matting, a small percentage of the time it took to make the original, plus the time it takes me to get the print done right- significantly cheaper than an original.

Working in standard sizes helps to save money and maximize profits too: I can swap mats from print to print, easily buy mats and frames in larger quantities, and use premade frames and mats, which are cheaper than custom sizes.

20150711_121811My business model tends to be based on a small-town suburban dynamic. Thematically, my work tends to appeal to suburban people. My rates are based on the costs of living of where I am: I tend to price very transparently, because my customers are also in my community. When I get commissions, it’s usually for someone I know, or someone who knows someone I know, family friends, neighbors, friends-of-friends. I don’t have a lot of people ghost on me; if they change their minds about work, they know I’ll be seeing them in person just by living nearby, so communication is pretty clear. I’ve occasionally gotten commissions from people who recognized my work from repeat showings at local art fairs. Most of my prints are sold at these fairs, selling for holiday gifts, summer craft fairs, and fall festivals: people buy from me, in person, at a booth, as opposed to online or in a professional gallery.

FBCheckInI also end up doing a lot of creative jobs that aren’t fine art commissions- things like quick photoshop edits, and graphic design for small businesses or charity events. This is definitely something that happens to artists when they move in non-art circles- they get a reputation for being the “Art Guy.” (Need a sign painted? Call your Art Guy! Mural in a baby’s room? Art Guy! Photoshop your holiday pics? Art Guy!) These jobs tend to come in the form of paid favors for friends and family members, or after-hours work from one of my day-jobs. For those, I usually charge by the hour (they don’t usually take very long), and if it’s for one of my jobs I just bill it based on my hourly wage.”

Do Art Daily: Why Practice Makes Perfect

davescansbannerThere’s a myriad of things that we are told to do every day for our benefit: Floss, exercise, drink enough water, get 8 hours of sleep, and -if you are in an artistic field- draw. And just like flossing and exercising, drawing or painting daily can be hard to start, and feel near impossible to do consistently.

The reason it’s so hard to motivate ourselves into a daily drawing habit is that the benefits can seem hard to define, elusive, and far-off, but believe me the benefits are there, and they’re closer than you think! Even just a month of daily practice can improve your skills noticeably.

Now is a particularly good time to psych ourselves up to start an every day drawing practice: Inktober starts in just a couple of days! Inktober is a daily drawing challenge started by illustrator and cartoonist Jake Parker in 2009 as a way to improve his drawing/inking skills. Participants draw a new pen and ink drawing every day of October.

At Merion Art, several of our staff members are challenging themselves to do a full month of daily drawing, and we’re excited to share their art with you and the world! Read on for our top reasons to start a daily artistic practice, and join us by posting your Inktober drawings to social media with the hashtag #MerionArtInks


Repetitive drawing improves technique-

Put this in the file marked “Duh”: as we all know, practice makes perfect. Artistically speaking, practice allows you to work out problems in technique that mean the difference between a really basic doodle and a really resolved piece of art.

Drawing the same or similar subjects over and over again helps you to learn the subjects shape, form, and texture. By virtue of simply spending time on it, you’ll learn how lighting and other conditions affect it, and you’ll notice more details, allowing you to better draw it in the future and develop a signature style- think of Monet painting his Japanese bridge, Degas and his ballerinas, or Mary Cassatt and her portraits.


Practicing your art often helps you improve physically

We don’t think of drawing as being physical exertion, but it can be! If you work upright at an easel, your back and shoulders will need practice to build endurance. Your hands need practice too: unless you are used to drawing often, your hands can cramp up during a long session. Think of daily drawing as yoga for your hand.

Drawing on a regular basis promotes muscle memory- it improves your fine motor skills, which helps you better  articulate your vision from your mind to the paper. You’ll draw faster and more accurately. The more you draw, the more your hand eye coordination will improve and the more your muscles will be under your control. Doing art daily will keep you controlled and comfortable. 


Using the same medium helps you to learn the medium intimately

When you spend a lot of time with a specific medium, you get to know limitations and the advantages of that medium. Drawing every day allows you to learn from experience the best ways to play to the medium’s strengths, and see how the medium influences you.  As you get more familiar with your tools, you may find a certain pen works better for fur and feathers, and a different ink works best for drawing outlines for Manga.

Focusing on a medium allows you to begin to see differences in different brands, colors, sizes and shapes of that medium. Think of .08 Micron Pigmas, versus fine fountain pens, versus Pentel ColorBrush pens: they’re all technically pen and black ink, but they will all have drastically different effects and uses. You’ll begin to figure out which combinations of pen and paper will work best for the work you’re interested in doing. 


Drawing in volume teaches you not to be too precious with your artwork

When you are making 100 sketches, you don’t have time to obsess over minor issues with just 1. Drawing often can help you get past fear of failure and daunting expectations of greatness. Creativity is not a finite resource- it’s not possible to “waste” it on sub-par drawings! When you’re not worried that every piece will be a disaster, or stressing over making everything a masterpiece, you can relax and try new things. Getting out of your comfort zone gives you the freedom to explore new techniques, new perspectives and different ways of seeing.

Knowing that you drew yesterday, and you’ll draw again tomorrow allows you to get comfortable with failure, and try, and try, and try again. It’s a numbers game: if only 1 out of three drawings comes out the way you intended, you may end the month with 20 mediocre sketches, but you’ll still have 10 good ones! 


Drawing every day gets your mind in gear!

It will boost creativity by bringing your brain back to that artistic state every day. The more you draw, the easier it will be for you to get into a state of creative flow (and flow is where the magic happens!)

Switching from your day-to-day grind to art helps keep your mental flexibility up. You can give your 9-5 logical left brain a rest, and let your creative right brain out to play. Drawing acts as meditation, and those meditative benefits of calmness, flexibility, and creativity will cross over into other aspects of your life. 


We hope reading this has gotten you inspired to try to do your art every day!

If you are ready to start, join us for Inktober and start posting your drawings with the hashtag #MerionArtInks. If you need a little help with thinking of subject matter for Inktober, check out Jake Palmer’s official Inktober 2017 prompt list. It’s a collection of words to spark some ideas for day to day drawings. Too much freedom can be daunting, and sometimes creativity needs some structure to really kick in!

Reprographics: A Virtual Tour



“What does “Repro” mean?” This is a question we at Merion Art and Repro Center have been answering for many years. The short answer is that our Repro department (short for Reprographics) handles elements of graphic design and printing. The long answer is very long, because of the huge array of services our Repro dept offers, so it’s best handled by one of our Repro specialists. This week, Graphic Designer Cary will take you on a virtual tour of Repro and explain all the cool stuff Repro can make and all the things that Repro can do for you! Get to know our printers, our designers, and their capabilities in this deep dive into one of our least-known but most important departments.

“Hello, my name is Cary and, along with my coworker Jack, I run the Repro department here at Merion Art. “Reprographics” isn’t exactly a common-use term these days, so that may not mean anything to you, but worry not, that’s why I’m here. In this blog post we’ll cover a tiny bit of history, both ours and the printing industry in general, but we’re mostly going to focus on all the cool stuff we can do and how you can apply our skills and services to your own life. Let’s get started!

Intro to Repro: What Does “Reprographics” Mean?

Okay let’s begin by establishing what Reprographics means, and what that means specifically within the context of our shop. Get psyched; this is the part of the blog where I quote Wikipedia! “Reprography is the reproduction of graphics through mechanical or electrical means” That’s pretty simple so far- it’s printing! Basically Reprographics involves using machines to reproduce images, which is exactly what we do, but let’s see if we can get a little more specific. Our wiki-friends explain that the Reprographics industry often comprises “businesses serving predominately the large- and wide-format reproduction needs of the legal, architectural, engineering, manufacturing, retail, and advertising industries.” Maybe while we’re at it we can get an idea of what kind of products a typical American Repro shop might produce? “Typical items produced by reprographers include architectural/engineering blueprints and renderings, indoor and outdoor signage, maps, billboards, backlit displays, trade show graphics, legal and medical exhibits, etc.” Perfect. Thanks Wikipedia!


We still see a lot of building industry printing through the Repro Dept.

Okay so now we know that Repro is the reproduction of images using technology and that it typically serves industries like architecture, retail, or advertising, by producing large format graphics and images.

That’s all very true, and that’s actually how Merion Art got started as an organization. We were originally called Merion Whiteprint and we produced blueprints for the building industry (It’s a pretty cool story, and if you want to read more about it check out the “History” tab on our website to find out how we ended up in the art supply industry.)

Though we still serve the building industry by producing large format architectural plans, our Repro capabilities have expanded dramatically since our early days to include a wide range of products and services for everyone from large corporate accounts to individual custom projects. (That seems like the kind of thing that deserves its own heading right?)


Repro and You

In my three-plus years here in the Repro department I have seen a staggering array of prints, projects, paintings and photos come through the door, so while I’m going to do my best to capture the scope of what we’re capable of here, keep in mind that even if you don’t see something listed specifically, chances are we can still help you out. Here is a brief and incomplete list of what we can help you with: printing, graphic design, construction and architectural printing, photo correction and restoration, large scale printing, large volume printing, stationary design, business card design, and marketing material design, artwork reproduction, foamboard stand- ups, point of purchase signage, event display/ presentation, canvas prints and specialty paper printing.

If you’ve got a project in mind just give us a call on any weekday or email us at and we’ll be happy to let you know how we can help.


In my mind the best way to explain what we can do (and how we do it) is to provide a quick overview of our equipment and what kind of jobs we run on each machine, so that’s how we’re going to do it.

We run four printers here in our shop, and each of them has different applications.

oceblack and whiteOur Oce TDS800 is where we run all our large format black and white work. It is a toner-based system and it only uses black toner so it can’t produce any colors or even grey tones. This may seem limiting but the simplicity of this system allows this printer to be a total workhorse, making prints much cheaper and faster than our other large format devices. It’s primarily used by the building industry for printing big sets of plans, but we find other applications for it like creating temporary signs or printing out large charts or calendars.

art paper rolls
Several of our fine art paper options

Next we have our HP Designjet z5200. This is a large format inkjet printer and we use it for all of our high quality large format color work. This is the printer that we end up using for most customers who come to the counter. It uses an 8 ink system to produce a wider range of colors than a standard CMYK printer can, and we only use authentic HP pigment-based inks in it, which are rated for over 100 years of longevity. It can print on a variety of substrates including various photo papers, canvas, even some of the fine art papers we carry in the store.

I use this printer for pretty much anything the customer plans on keeping around. This includes art prints, photos, sign-in boards, posters, and anything else that needs to stand the test of time.


ocecolorwaveOur most recent large format acquisition is the Oce Colorwave 700. This printer has been in our shop less than a year and it is super cool. It uses a new wax-based toner system that was developed specifically for this line of printers. This system gives the machine enormous flexibility and allows it to produce color prints much faster and cheaper than the HP, but it also imposes some limitations. Because the toner is essentially a very thin layer of wax it is waterproof and capable of producing a wide range of consistent vibrant color, but it also means that the prints are heat sensitive, we can’t put them through the heat press we use to mount on foam core for example, and they are not light fast, meaning that they fade in direct sunlight, usually in about a month. The Colorwave is also capable of printing on a crazy variety of substrates including many different types of paper as well as thin plastics like polypropylene, waterproof materials, static cling vinyls, self-adhesive papers and vinyls, fabrics, etc. Because the prints are very affordable the Colorwave is perfect for any temporary application. It particularly shines when put to use in advertisement, presentations, or events where a wide variety of materials can be showcased, but there is almost no project where the Colorwave can’t chip in. It can create floor graphics, life-sized temporary wall stickers, removable custom wallpaper, backlit display graphics, stickers and labels, the list goes on and on. This printer is pretty much only limited by your imagination and I would love to try running some weird stuff on it so even if we don’t have a particular substrate in stock, just ask and we’ll be happy to help figure out how to make your project happen.

canonOur final printer is our brand new Canon Imagepress C750. This is another toner printer which we use to run all of our small format work. We use it for documents, flyers, small posters, photos, and basically anything else smaller than 13×19 inches. This machine recently replaced our old copier, and allows for a wider variety of papers, including thicker papers and coated stock that most copiers can’t feed. It can also print up to 13×19 inches, allowing us for the first time to create 11×17 prints where the color extends all the way to the edges (known as “full-bleed” in the printing industry.)


Three of our machines, both Oce printers and the Canon, have their own built in scanners, but we mostly use our independent large format scanner, a Contex HD Ultra. This is a sheet-fed scanner, meaning that the object being scanned rolls through the machine rather than being placed on top of a pane of glass. It can scan pieces up to 42 inches wide and can open to accommodate materials up to 3/16 of an inch thick (standard foam-core board thickness.) It is fantastic for both color and detail and capable of generating images of an absurdly high quality, making it ideal for digital archiving. This machine is a beauty and there is not much more to say about it. It’s just really, really good at what it does.

For pieces that can’t roll through the Contex for whatever reason we generally use the scanner on the Canon Imagepress, which is a flatbed scanner that can accomodate pieces up to 11×17 inches. Even if we can’t fit your whole piece on our flatbed scanner there are still workarounds we can use to get your image scanned so don’t despair, just ask and we’ll be happy to help.

Graphic Design and Photo Editing:

A poster design from a recent event

In recent years we have also added full-service photo editing, typesetting, copywriting and graphic design to the Repro department. This is primarily what my job as our in-house graphic designer is concerned with. I create all of Merion Art’s print ads, flyers, posters, window graphics, banners and other event displays. I also designed most of our current branding, including our logo, letterhead, and many of the visual elements of our website. Almost all customer requests regarding these areas also come through me, and during my time here I’ve designed logos, stationary, posters, presentations and all manner of print collateral, as well as handling all our photo editing, from simple red eye removal to the significantly more complicated removal of unwanted family members. I also frequently restore old or damaged photos, which can be a great way to breathe life into family memorabilia that would otherwise probably just stay filed away. This is another area of the Repro department that is pretty much only limited by your imagination. Chances are if you can dream it, I can make it, so don’t hesitate to contact me if you have an unusual project in mind and can’t figure out how to get started.

Other Services:

As I mentioned earlier, it’s going to be difficult to cover the whole scope of our department in a blog post, so I’m using this section as a catch-all to list things we can do that don’t quite fit in the other sections.

print on acrylic
Printing on acrylic, mounted to our counter
  • We can bind documents in a couple different ways: stapling, GBC binding, prong fasteners that attach through the outer two holes in three-hole-punched paper.
  • We can laminate and encapsulate.
  • We can mount prints onto pretty much any of the various boards we carry in the store, including foam core and gator board (an extra durable foam core product.)
  • We also have a working relationship with a couple of trade printers who we can tap to produce anything we can’t print in-house, such as decorative prints on acrylic plexi-glass.

Congratulations: You made it to the end!

I want to thank you for sticking with me through this, and hopefully I’ve impressed upon you the range and flexibility of the Repro department. I know I’ve said it a couple times now, but its super important so I’m going to say it again: If you’re not sure if we’re capable of doing something, just ask! We’re happy to help and chances are no matter how creative your project is we can work together to figure out how to make it happen.

At this point I’d like to thank you for reading all about the Repro department by offering 40% off your next Repro order, between now and the end of the year: Mention this blog when you place your order between 9/21 and 12/31/17 and we’ll take 40% off your Repro total! We hope to see you soon.

Thanks Again!


Susan Rains Design and Merion Art have partnered to offer Shop at Home Custom Framing.

This week, we have a guest post from designer Susan Rains, who has a long history with Merion Art. Susan is excited to introduce a new service that takes her design expertise and Merion Arts’ skilled framing into your home!

boss at counter

“Hi, My name is Susan Rains, from Susan Rains Design in Havertown, and I am a mindful residential Interior Designer helping guide homeowners through the process of designing a home that is beautiful and supportive of your wellness. To serve our clients better all around, Merion Art and I have partnered to offer the convenience and unsurpassed design experience of shop at home custom framing.

Custom picture framing was my first career. During my thirteen years as a framer, I moved around a bit and worked at several shops in different states and towns. I started as a salesperson and worked my way through all aspects of production to eventually work at Merion Art for eight years and become the studio manager. During my last three years at Merion Art, I studied Interior Design at Drexel University and went on to open my own residential Interior Design practice. I maintained a close business relationship with Merion Art, and continue to work there on the weekend. I’ve helped so many of Merion Art’s new and loyal customers; maybe I’ve helped you?


My experience working with customers has shown me several problems people have when trying to choose their framing.

1. Second guessing the matting and frame because you’re unsure of the wall, furniture and accent colors in the room.
2. Taking the piece home only to find it’s too big, has too much reflection to see clearly, or it doesn’t work well in the room you want to hang it. Then incurring the additional cost to correct the mistake.
3. Transporting your art when it is big or fragile. Large Artwork and precious objects can be cumbersome and stressful to move without damaging them or requiring a particular vehicle.
4. Your busy schedule does not mesh well with our regular business hours, and there are a lot more fun things to do on a weekend afternoon than waiting in line for framing.
5. You’re unsure what will look best where you want to hang your art, you’re unsure where to hang it altogether or want ideas for grouping that someone can only provide by standing in your space.


Our new shop at home custom framing resolves all of these issues. You can make decisions with total confidence, while picking my brain for ideas that will enhance, accentuate and add the finishing touch that brings a room together.



I’m offering a $75 credit towards your purchase of the custom framing solutions I present to you!


  • Up to 2 hours of consultation time in your home or office. Additional time is available.
  • Upon booking this service, I will send you my insightful Custom Framing Questionnaire. I want to learn the story of your art, where you might hang it, what you want to achieve, and details about your home décor.
  • I arrive prepared with a wide selection of mat board and curated frame samples specially chosen for you. Along with all the tools of the trade to illustrate the framing process and answer your questions.
  • I will give you home decor ideas for where to hang your art, how to create a gallery wall, where your home could use additional artwork and where you can find it.


  • I come to you. You won’t have to run another errand or work around inconvenient business hours.
  • Nothing compares to the certainty you’ll feel when making framing selections in your home. You’ll know for sure the matting will not clash with your walls and that the frame finish will coordinate with your decor.
  • Large or fragile art can stay safely in your home until it’s time to be framed.
  • I use my combined framing and Interior Design experience to curate a selection of frames for you from over 5,000 choices. I always keep your decor style, colors, materials and the best way to preserve your art at the top of my mind.
  • We offer volume pricing for residential and contract framing needs.
  • Repeat and referral discounts.


  • Within 48 hours I will provide you with a price quote.
  • If you like the price quote, you’ll drop off your art, or you can request our pick up service. If we pick it up, we’ll take care of packing your art and transporting it carefully to and from the studio.
  • You’ll receive a call when your artwork is ready for pick up, or you can request our delivery service.  Delivery services mean no more worrying that the SUV will be wide enough or accidentally banging your beautiful new framed art into the door.
  • I can also recommend a professional picture hanger if you need assistance with hanging.



DON’T FORGET TO MENTION THIS BLOG FOR THE INTRODUCTORY SPECIAL: A $75 credit towards your purchase of the shop at home custom framing solution I present to you. 

Are you ready to get started or want to learn more? Then click here!

To find out more about Susan Rains Design go to I look forward to helping you make the most of your beautiful artwork.”


Priming: A Primer

Gesso, GAC 100, rabbit skin glue, priming, sanding, absorbent grounds! Some kind of primer will be the first layer of product on practically any painting and several kinds of drawings, but for something so basic it can become a complicated subject! Additionally, because it is so fundamental, it can often be overlooked. We often talk to customers who don’t know whether or not the canvas they are using is gessoed, or what kinds of grounds they will need to try for different kinds of artwork. Here’s a brief overview of some of our preferred kinds of grounds and primers, and how and why you might want to try them out!

Properly prepping your surface is an important step if you’re intending to think about the longevity of a piece of art. The first step to prepping surfaces is sizing. Sizing is used to protect the art from itself: it keeps the paints and pigments from damaging the substrate. Without sizing and primer, the chemicals in paint, especially oil paint,  can over time begin to eat away and degrade canvas and raw wood. “Oil painters must size their canvases to stop the acidic oil from penetrating into the support, which can cause the fibers to rot. Traditionally, a hide glue (typically rabbit-skin) was applied directly to canvas or linen to stiffen the fabric and protect the support from the acidic oils.” These days, there are chemical substitutes for hide glue that have a number of advantages. For one, they’re easier to obtain and don’t include dead animal bits, and for another they don’t re-absorb moisture in a way that hide glue can (ironically the properties of the hide glue itself can lead to art degrading over time). One of these modern substitutes is GAC 100. (GAC stands for Golden Artist Colors)


GAC 100: When you lay your colors down, you want to be sure the stay the way you want them for years to come. Sadly, if you don’t protect against the acids and other harmful substances and impurities inherent in your substrates, your painting can succumb to Support Induced Discoloration. “Support Induced Discoloration (SID) is a phenomenon that occurs in acrylic paints and mediums. Many common artist supports have impurities that can discolor a translucent acrylic gel layer or color glaze, and a size must be applied before gessoing to ensure the products stay clear as the films dry. As a paint film cures, the water exits two ways: through the surface of the paint and through the back of the support, if porous enough. Canvas, linen, wood and masonite are all porous enough to allow water to absorb into them. […]The water extracts water-soluble impurities such as dirt, sap, starches, etc., from the support and deposits them into the acrylic film. The result is a discolored (typically amber) film […] SID can transform the appearance of an Ultramarine Blue glaze into a lower chroma, greenish color. Gesso alone will not stop SID, and different gels and mediums have varying degrees of blocking capabilities.” GAC 100 is Golden’s answer to SID. GAC 100 acts as a barrier between the substrate and your artwork. It is also “useful for diluting and extending colors, especially when film flexibility and integrity are important characteristics.”

Gesso Product Shot

Gesso: Pronounced “JESS-o”. Traditionally a blend of rabbit-skin glue, chalk, and white pigment used to prep rigid surfaces like wood panels and masonite. In modern times we (again) often ditch the rabbit-skin glue, and widely used acrylic gessoes are a combination of calcium carbonate and an acrylic medium, plus pigment and other chemicals for greater flexibility, allowing modern gesso to be used on less rigid substrates like canvas. (For most applications, acrylic gesso works fine, but for working in traditional mediums like egg tempera or silverpoint, a traditional gesso will work best. Rabbits beware!)


Gesso gives paint a surface that it can adhere to, and can also be used to give a surface a uniform color to start from. Usually this is white or black, but pigments can be mixed with gesso to create different colored backgrounds. There is also the option of clear gesso, see below.

If you are buying a pre-stretched canvas, generally gesso will already have been applied. If the canvas is white instead of beige canvas colored, it has been primed with gesso. Conversely, a cradled wood panel almost never has any gesso or sizing on it, and you’ll need to apply this yourself. Watch out when using low-end student grade canvases- they’re perfectly acceptable cheap alternatives (especially for practice pieces), but they are sometimes not gessoed thoroughly enough. Try holding it up to the light- if you can see light through it at all, it’s best to give it another coat of gesso, just to be safe. If this is a concern for you, upgrade to artist-quality canvases like Masterpiece.

Gesso can be applied with any kind of brush or paint knife, or even thinned down and applied through an airbrush (a favorite technique of Purchasing Manager Justine). Krylon even makes a spray Gesso that can be applied like spray paint in thin, even layers. Gesso can be used to build up textures, add areas of relief to paintings, and can be applied and sanded in many layers to provide a smooth surface for painting. Most painters will use gesso a LOT, and consequently, it’s one of the cheapest art supplies, and one of the few you can buy in a gallon bucket without it breaking the bank or seeming like a completely unreasonable amount of material.

Molding paste and Modeling Paste: Gesso is not the be-all and end-all of grounds. Different artwork will call for different kinds of grounds that can be applied on top of gesso. Paint companies manufacture a huge range of grounds and primers that have varying textures and absorbancies. One of Marketing Manager Jen’s favorite grounds is Golden Molding paste. Pastes are more commonly used to build up raised areas in paintings and add texture, but they can make excellent grounds.

molding pastes

“Pastes are opaque because they contain Marble Dust or other fillers that create a white or clay-tone finish,” and the Marble Dust is what gives it enough of a tooth for things like graphite and oil pastel to then be used (gesso on its own can be slick and non-porous, difficult for dry media to stick to). Molding paste and Liquitex Modeling paste work as the missing link that allows artists to mix certain kinds of media together on one panel, allowing a transition between acrylic paint, decoupage, graphite, oil pastel, pen and ink, and more.

Absorbent Ground “is a fluid acrylic medium that dries to a porous, paper-like surface. Applied over gessoed canvas, it facilitates raw canvas-like staining and watercolor effects.” This allows experimentation with thinner paints that don’t stick well to a slicker gessoed surface. You can get watercolor effects on canvas without unfortunate pooling or adhesion problems. goldenabsorbant

Clear Gesso allows you to prime the surface without obscuring the color of the substrate- for instance if you want the wood grain of a panel to show through your artwork. Many brands of art materials make a clear acrylic gesso. It tends to have a coarse, grainier texture than the smooth chalky finish of regular gesso. You can also use a layer of GAC 100 and gel mediums, matte or gloss, as a clear gesso substitute. There should always be some kind of primer used, for protection and adhesion.

(Note: much of the historical and technical info from this post was obtained from the Golden Artist Colors website. For more info and an in-depth and historical look at how to prep a surface for art, check out Golden’s overview here.)

Do you use a different method, technique, or product to prep and prime your work? Let us know in the comments what we’ve missed!