What to Bring to the Con

What should you invest in, and what should you bring? The absolute minimum is:

  • your merchandise
  • change
  • a cash box, bag, or other item for holding money
  • your tax certificate or sellers’ permit, if required
  • paper and a pen or pencil to track sales
  • something in which to carry all of the above

A far more extensive list of possibilities from which you can pick and choose, with explanations, follows:

  • Your merchandise -You shouldn’t need me to tell you this.
  • Change – A good rule of thumb is at least $50 in $1, $5, and $10 bills. $100 is better. If you’re charging a price other than a round dollar number, be sure to bring coin change. Be prepared early in the con for people to give you lots of $20 bills from ATMs.
  • A cash box, bag, or other item for holding money – I prefer a box that’s just large enough to hold the cash, but not so large I can’t pick it up and take it with me when I go to the restroom. Locking is not as important for security, because if someone can pick it up and take it, they can always break the lock later. Just make sure it won’t pop open accidentally. Security is based on you not letting that box out of your sight for even a moment. ALWAYS know where it is. Some artists use aprons made for holding cash, with pockets for $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills. They’re convenient at busy times, because you don’t have to hunt for the correct change in a box or bag. Take the money out of the pockets before coming out from behind your table or someone might pick the pockets.
  • A Square or other service’s card reader that attaches to your smartphone to allow you to take credit and debit cards. Do check on the availability of wireless, if you can–you don’t want to have to run over to the window every time you swipe a card if your cell phone doesn’t get signal!
  • Your tax certificate or seller’s permit – I’ve never had anyone ask to see it, but the local tax authority always comes to the Dealers’ Room at my local cons. Cover yourself and bring it in case they decide to hit the artist alley. You don’t want to be shut down at a con you’ve spent six months preparing for, and you could get the con itself in trouble with the local authorities.
  • Paper and a pen or pencil – These are useful for all sorts of things: adding up prices, notes to yourself, keeping track of commissions, playing tic-tac-toe, writing nasty letters about the con funk you’re smelling, etc.
  • Table cover – This is a tablecloth to put on the table so you don’t have an ugly-looking table. And you can hide boxes and bags beneath the table that way. A nice-looking, orderly table attracts more buyers than a messy one.
  • Business cards – Good PR! This allows people to contact you later, to buy art. They’ll also take them home, look at them, and post your info on their blogs. People who run out of money early also collect business cards to contact you later and buy art. Put one of your works on the card and that makes it attractive to buyers. You can also put a stack on the freebie table at the con or on your panel in the Art Show and get more publicity that way. There’s lots of ways to get them inexpensively – make them yourself with business card paper stock from an office supply store or use an online service like VistaPrint.
  • Receipt book or spreadsheet to track sales – Sure, you can count the items before the con, count them after the con, and estimate the number sold from the difference, but that won’t account for those broken, lost, or stolen or for you accidentally miscounting. And it’s always better to have two methods of counting. You will want to know afterwards what was popular and what wasn’t, and your memory WILL NOT be accurate after three days of con. Trust me on this.
  • Extra pens or pencils – These love to hide right when you need them. Bring extras.
  • Sharpie, art pens, or paint marker for signing items – People love it when you sign their stuff! It makes them feel special!
  • Clear plastic bags (and perhaps boards) to protect your items when you sell them – Nobody wants to carry an unprotected print around in their hands all day at the con. You can get plastic bags about the right size for holding prints from several places: comic stores often have protective bags (make sure you look at the measurements!) with backing boards for storing comics, online stores like Bags Unlimited and ClearBags.com sell bags inexpensively, and if all else fails your local office supply store will probably have plastic bags with zipper tops. A hint! If someone buys more than one print from you and you put them in the same bag, place them back-to-back so that they show through both sides. Easy advertising for you as people carry them around the con.
  • Calculator – Even if you’re awesome at math, it’s far too easy to get confused and screw up simple addition and subtraction when you’re tired and four people are trying to buy multiple things from you at once. Especially if you’re charging tax separately.
  • Price signs – Not that many people will read them, or even see them. But they’re handy to have when it’s Saturday afternoon, you’re strung out from lack of sleep and eating Pocky all day, and you open your mouth and the most intelligible thing that comes out is “Fleeble wibble glurp.” You can point to the sign or pick it up and wave it at the person with a self-deprecating laugh.
  • Portfolio to protect display prints – People will set their stuff on top of your art, rub it with greasy fingers, drop their gum, sit on top of your table unasked, or, God forbid, put a can of soda covered in condensation right on top of a piece of original artwork. Once, my alley neighbor accidentally upset his bottle of Ramune over one of my portfolios (SCOTT from VGCATS I am LOOKING AT YOU!). Do yourself a favor and make sure your stuff is protected.
  • Box to hold items not on table – If you decide not to put everything out on the table, bring a box or crate big enough to hold everything. One of those portable file boxes works great if you’re selling flat items like prints. You can sometimes find one with wheels on it.
  • Minions – You can work the table by yourself, but it’s less stressful to have someone with you to answer questions and handle transactions when you’re doing commissions, to watch the table when you’re at a panel or going to the restroom, to help you handle the crowd when several people descend at once upon your table, and to sit and snark at bad cosplay with you during the slow times. Your friends might be willing to sit at the table for you for a couple of hours, but they’ll be really happy if you offer them art, or pay for their registration, or buy them dinner, or something like that. Or go in on a table with another artist and sell both your stuff there.
  • Snacks and drinks for yourself and your minions – A diet of Pocky and Ramune works great when you’re sixteen and on a permanent sugar high, but when you get old and crotchety like me, something that contains nutrition tends to be a bit more welcome, and hotel food prices generally suck. A couple of bottles of water and some granola bars or pieces of fruit will help tide you over. If you want to get fancy, you can get a small rolling cooler with enough space to hold a couple of six-packs or so and fill it with ice in the hotel before you go to the table.
  • Trash bag – Hotels always run out of trash cans at cons, because they never understand the sheer mountains of garbage a convention full of screaming anime fans generates, and the dealers’ room usually gets dibs on the trash cans before the artist alley does.
  • Art supplies if you’re doing commissions – Fairly self-evident. But bring a box or bag to hold them in case you don’t have enough room on your table to spread out your merchandise along with your art supplies.
  • Scotch tape, rubber bands – Somehow these always come in handy. If you sell larger prints and posters, you can roll them up and secure them with rubber bands.
  • If you’re making prints at the con or doing computer commissions, a computer, printer, paper, CD/DVD or flash drive with the files, plus an extension cord and duct tape to tape the cord down – Confirm with the artist alley that you will have electricity available before the con. ALWAYS tape the cord down, because you could damage your computer or hurt someone if the cord is tripped over.
  • Any special setup items, like bins or banners or PVC rigs to clip art to – There’s a never-ending supply of creative ways to set up your table. You’ll see artists with elaborate rigs built of PVC pipe soaring over their table, with prints and other items clipped to them, towers built of wire boxes holding objects for sale, banners on the front of their table or in the air beside or behind them, computer displays, and so on. But by the time you’re at the point of constructing your own artistic castle at the convention, you probably no longer need my advice.
  • Camera – Not just for taking pictures of cosplayers, although you’ll be in a great position to photograph them as they browse your table. If you do commissions, you’ll want to grab some photos of them to have on hand for your own records.
  • Your sense of humor – Don’t leave home without it. Absolutely essential.


What to Bring to the Con — 5 Comments

  1. Hello!
    You really do have a wonderful guide here. I was just wondering, how big is the table that they usually give you? Could you survive without any special setup items? Thanks!

  2. Thank you!

    The typical size I’ve seen is 6′ x 3′, as I think that’s a fairly standard size table hotels have for conference setups, but I’ve seen them as small as 4′ long and 18″ wide. The artist alley people at the convention should put the size in their packet info, or tell you if they don’t have it (sometimes they don’t know what the hotel is going to give them if it’s too long before the con).

    And yes, it’s possible to survive without special setup items. My first time selling at a con, all I had were my prints (not even in plastic bags! They got fingerprints all over them!) and my art supplies to do commissions. The advantage to rigs that get your art and/or other items into the air is that they can be seen from across the room, and be seen if there are people in front of your table blocking it, and attract people from afar. I wouldn’t advise dropping too much money on a rig if it’s your first artist ally, just because you won’t know what works best, but if you’re nervous you can always get 1 or 2 sets of those wire storage cubes, because you can put those together in all sorts of ways to hold 3D items, books, or clip prints to.

  3. This is an excellent site, looks like it’s a couple years old, but I would also recommend a square card reader. It’s free and easy to set up, and allows you to get those customers who don’t have cash.

  4. Hi, another thing I’d suggest adding is a portable phone charger. One of those little chargeable power banks that you can plug your phone (or anything else that plugs into usb) into to recharge it during the day. This would be especially relevant if you’re using a card reader, since that would run the phone flat faster, and you don’t want to only be able to offer card payment in the first half of the day because your phone has gone flat. Plus a flat phone just sucks anyway.

    I’m really enjoying the guide though! A friend and I have toyed with the idea of sharing an art table somewhere for a while and are looking into it again, so this is really helpful!

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