How to Buy Art Online

Follow these seven essential online shopping tips, whether you're shopping for art online at Etsy, eBay or a fine art gallery.

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1. Measure first, browse second.

It sounds remedial, but to make sure your chosen artwork will fit above the fireplace mantel, write down the space's dimensions. Even better, make a paper template the size of your piece of art, and see how it looks/fits in its future home.

2. Scrutinize your source.

Some art websites offer only juried artwork chosen by art experts (Guild.com); some offer anything anyone wants to sell (eBay); and some sites are run by one person out of their home (Etsy). For lesser known websites, you can't always tell credibility at first glance, so look for affiliations and check customer satisfaction ratings.

3. Don't buy if the seller has a "no returns" policy.

A return policy is essential when buying anything online — especially expensive art. No matter what the problem, the seller should be willing to take it back. That's how it works at Guild.com, says founder Toni Sikes: "We realize that we're asking people to make a huge leap of faith when they're buying art online. We want everyone to feel comfortable returning it for any reason."

4. View the image of the artwork at high resolution.

No matter what the item is that you've fallen in love with — a painting, photograph or a sculpture — always view it on a high-resolution monitor and expand all thumbnails (if possible). Know that colors on computer screens aren't true-to-life, but fairly close. If only thumbnails are provided, contact the seller for better pictures. Most will provide them if they want to make a sale.

5. Read item descriptions carefully.

The painting that seems about 11" x 17" to your eye, may really be 3" x 5". If there aren't dimensions or clear details about the item, query the art seller. You'll want to know if you're buying a print vs. a painting; a reproduction vs. an original; or a garden-sized sculpture vs. a paperweight.

6. Look for package deals on framing.

After you've found the art print you want, don't forget about the frame. Some sites will sweeten your deal by offering reduced prices on matting and framing. Take them if they're more convenient and better for your budget than a local frame shop. If you like to choose mats and frames yourself — or see them in person — simply pass on the deal.

7. Review shipping methods and charges.

If you're investing in art online, it's important to consider everything from how it's protected and packaged, to delivery time and insurance coverage for damages. Good sellers will offer options to protect your piece for the trip to your house.

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