Archival certificates

How providing your customers with archival certificates can have a big impact on the perceived quality of your work.

Many readers of Breathing Color’s blog sell prints to make their living or augment their incomes. This blog entry is part of a series looking at the business side of print selling.

Setting Yourself Apart

Customers seeking print providers have an incredible set of choices. Office stores, big box stores, sign shops, mail order—sometimes it seems everyone wants to make prints. How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? One way is to show yourself as a best provider of top quality, making your products more desirable. Breathing Color’s archival certificates can be very useful in this effort, in several different ways.

You already know some of the ways you set yourself apart from competitors. You keep hours that are convenient for your customers, and accommodate special requests. You’re friendly, both in person and on the phone— with good reason; people who are crotchety don’t get as much repeat business as people who are pleasant (and competent). You manage your color perfectly.

These are good first steps, but they’re not enough. They mostly benefit people with whom you already have contact. You haven’t scared any customers away, but what positive steps are you taking to bring them in?

Educate your potential market

Archival certificates

People need to know what you offer, why they need it, and specifically why they need it from YOU. Not every person ordering prints needs certified archival output—for example, the client ordering a banner for her daughter’s high school graduation party wants bold bright colors, correct spelling of her daughter’s name, and the lowest price possible. You might offer these banners at a special price to attract new people into your store, and it’s unlikely you’ll make those banners on certified archival paper. However, it’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself to new customers, and every new customer should leave knowing you offer this high quality option. Each first visit to buy a short term use print is a great opportunity to establish you in their minds as the quality provider in the area and bring them back to print again.

To make sure they know you offer top quality, always be sure to offer two prices on your price list. The first price is for the archivally-certified print, noting that each of these prints comes with a certificate of archival quality. You have to actually print the certificates for them if you say this, of course. The second, lower price is not that much lower, but the print provided is made on a non-certified paper. You’ll be surprised how often customers will opt for the higher-priced output, especially when your price list and store displays clearly state the benefits of archival paper.

Put a small display at your customer counter, positioned so it’s hard to miss, both when taking orders and delivering them to the customer. This display should include a Breathing Color certificate, a header saying you offer output on archivally-certified paper, and a brief explanation of what that means. A sample layout design is attached to this article for you to download, in both InDesign and PDF formats. Use it to inspire your own design, customizing it to include your own company’s name and logo, as well as other info that sets you apart from the mad printing crowd.

Archival certificatesSpeaking of delivery, when you handle an archival print, are you using white gloves to do so? “White glove treatment” has been a hallmark of quality for a long time, and using those gloves, both in front of the customer and when creating their order, underscores your commitment to quality and honorable work. There’s no honor in printing on archival paper if you’re going to put acid-laden finger oils all over the print you sold for a premium price.

Once the archival sale is made, underscore the great value your customer is receiving to bring them back again. With every print, tuck in a certificate of archival quality, reminding the customer of the value they’ve just received. If you’re a business that offers framing services along with output, you can put this certificate on the back of the frame, in a clear plastic pouch. It’s an elegant professional touch.

A customer already in the store is a precious asset to be nurtured and cherished. Although there are exceptions to this rule, it’s usually quicker and easier to get new business from existing customers than to get new customers and then sell them on new sales. To do this, making sure they always know the great value they’ve received from you is key to retaining their business.

Reaching New Customers

Archival certificates

Opportunities abound to bring in new customers and new business by making your quality stand out in other parts of your marketing. Here are some ways to build your brand and bring in quality-conscious new blood.

Donate a print to a local non-profit’s charity auction, and in so doing, make sure the certificate is displayed at the auction, next to or (better yet) part of the gift certificate you donate for display. Be sure the description of your donation includes the words “archivally-certified” notation. This adds cachet to the donation, and should raise the amount bid for it while enhancing your image.

In any press release you write (you are writing press releases, aren’t you?) describing your donations and good works for specific causes, always describe the archival quality of your gift, and mention the certificate that accompanies your work. You might even think about sponsoring a photo contest with a local charity or other organization with wide visibility in your community.

Archival Certificate

Archival certification is noted prominently on the store

Reach out to local photographers’ groups, both professional and enthusiast. Invite them to come see what you have to offer, including the certificate with the invitation. Many groups, are looking for door prizes for their meetings, and a gift certificate for an archival-quality print gets the attention of every attendee. Don’t scorn “amateur” photo groups. The root of the word “amateur” is love, and the fact that these people do photography for love often means they have more disposable income to spend with you than professionals.

At a time when Apple is showing beautifully printed billboards displaying photos shot with an iPhone, anyone with a smart phone is a potential customer. Don’t limit your outreach solely to photographic groups. The urge to display beautiful photos and treasured memories is not limited to people with the highest-end cameras.

Archival Certificate

Digital archival certificates can be found on the BC store directly below the product

Make sure your website mentions archival quality, and consider amending your business cards to have a tag line saying “offering archival quality output”. Discerning customers will know immediately that you’re set apart, and as your educational efforts continue, more and more people will become discerning customers.

Your overall approach is to set yourself apart by guaranteeing that your quality is the best available. It’s not about the paper, per se. It’s about making sure people know you’re the best, and you use the best products and tools to provide your customers’ needs. You’re promoting your reputation.

Why Bother with All This Stuff?

It’s easy to neglect marketing your business, when the tyranny of immediate needs overshadows the important work of building your business. The history of business is littered with the wreckage of great products and services no one bought because they didn’t know these products existed. Failure to market is planning to fail.

Optical brighteners in prints

To recap, here’s a list of steps you can take to use archival certificates to build your business.

  1. Don’t look back; your competition may be gaining on you! Look forward and build the future.
  2. Set yourself apart consistently as the best choice for quality and service.
  3. Present a certificate to go with every archival paper print you sell to a customer.
  4. Raise your visibility by strategically placing donations of certified archival output where it will build your reputation the most.
  5. Market your quality; in your shop, with each order, on your pricelists, in your donations, on your website; every place your name appears, reinforce that you offer archivally-certified paper for best results.
  6. Reach out to camera clubs, professional photographers, advertising agencies, hospitals, interior decorators—anyone who deals with photos (aka everyone with a smart phone) is a potential client.
  7. Continue to educate existing customers as well as potential customers. When you offer new papers and other services, create samples and share them far and wide.



It may seem like overkill at first, this constantly mentioning and using the archival certificates. Of course, you want to include these mentions with subtlety and finesse. However—at a time when even pharmacies are selling print output, you need to set yourself apart in the most positive ways possible, reinforcing your message of quality over and over.

Memories are short, so repetition is key to making sure that when someone needs print output, YOU are the quality provider of choice. You’re not selling certification, per se; you’re selling yourself, your reputation and your promise to your customers that you are the best choice for best quality and best service. Happy selling.

Kevin O’Connor helps design and test software, is a graphic designer and photographer for multiple clients and companies, and fixes people’s (and companies’) color.

He has consulted to multiple companies, including Apple, Sony, Fujifilm USA, and X-Rite. He loves teaching good color practices to enthusiastic learners.

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