Should you provide PDF art catalogs?

Tricia McKellar asks:

How can online pdf exhibition catalogues be used to generate sales? How are they different from printed catalogues and online web images?
I think potential collectors may like that they can download and print the pdf catalogue (often free). This might spur them to purchase a printed catalogue (if available). The advantage for artists may be that while there is development cost for an online pdf catalogue, the cost is much less than for a small run of a paper published exhibition catalogue.
The online pdf catalogues seem very popular in online artists’ communities…

MckellarTricia, I’m all for PDF catalogs! They can be a great viral marketing tool if they’re free. People can download them and forward them easily. RED ALERT: Always, always, keep in mind that people will share things that, as Seth Godin puts it, are "truly remarkable." Only those ideas that really stand out will be shared. And, as Godin says in his books, this is the best way to market these days.

Fabulous design, terrific images, fascinating content=Something people will want to share

At the same time, keep in mind that many people are still on dial-up. I imagine any virtual art catalog would be quite large due to the size of images. So, maybe not a good idea to forward them.

Here’s another thing to think about: If you’re targeting other artists, many aren’t enamored with technology like the e-books you’re talking about. Trust me as a source who sells e-books to artists. However, free e-books might be different. (I’m just thinking out loud here.)

I guess I’m slow, but I haven’t seen a lot of artists’ PDF catalogs. If you have one online, please leave the URL for it below.

Image: Tricia McKellar, Insect Machine #2. Digital collage, 2006. (c) The Artist.

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7 comments to Should you provide PDF art catalogs?

  • I’m not sure that many people realize it, but it is possible to put interactive elements in a PDF file. So not only can a PDF catalog be an electronic version of a print catalog, but it also can include sound, video, animation, links to other web sites, order forms, and all kinds of cool stuff.

  • Casey

    I have often thought about trying to self publish a catalog, or to start with one online. I guess it would be a PDF format, which is Greek to me! The ethical issue is the old saw that one mustn’t print one’s own catalog, or hire someone to write an essay about you. Aren’t we in a new information age, though? Wouldn’t it be an obvious move for the modern artist to take advantage of digital opportunities? Certainly, the old schoolers in the art community will understand that these new efforts are not meant to fool, but are openly self published.

  • Since PDF files are distributed electronically, I think this is a completely legitimate way to promote your work. I’m not sure I’d list them on your resume unless someone other than you is a writer or contributor.

  • I would love to see some examples of artists who have a .pdf catalog on their web site. Does anybody have a URL or two that I could check out? Thanks!

  • I design and create art pdf catalogs. I also work with The Fiberarts Connection Of Southern California, they run fiberart challenges and I design the pdf art exhibition catalogs of the completed challenges for them. If you would like to see some art exhibition pdf catalogs go to If you have any questions you can contact me. Michelle

  • johntunger

    I would suggest providing a good preview of catalogs offered in .pdf format. Because they are likely to be a fairly large download, I usually skip pdfs unless I have a pretty good idea in advance that I really want to see them. On the other hand, it can be a good way to provide a print quality image of works. Most people still prefer paper to reading documents on screen, so .pdf files should definitely be print resolution if you want to recieve much benefit from them.

  • Yes! Great idea! I offer a complete table of contents plus a list of other stuff purchasers get with the Visual Artist’s Kit: An artist couuld show off the cool design, insightful writing.