When you look at online tools, many of them are for eCommerce or marketing. Many of these tools are usable for artists but not very convenient. People who want to set up an online portfolio often have to take extra steps to get it done.
Format is a website builder that seeks to solve that problem, focusing more on videographers and photographers than online marketers. People who sell online prints or want to monetize their music might prefer Format for these reasons.
But, much like all site-building tools, you wonder if it can live up to those promises. Can it make the award-winning designs it claims to make? Will it propel your artistic career into actually earning money?
Let’s find out in our Format review.
What is Format?
- Alt: Format home page
Format is a creative and design-focused website builder founded in 2010. The company is entirely self-funded and is based out of Canada. The company focuses on helping photographers succeed and thrive.
To do that, Format focuses on giving its employees a good work environment. The company was certified as one of the best places to work in Ontario and Technology in 2020. It was also one of Canada’s 500 fastest-growing companies in 2017.
The company is under the control of the Zenfolio family of products. Zenfolio is another website builder that focuses on providing the same service. So there’s a bit of redundancy between the two services.
Regardless, there’s no mention of the company’s CEO or owner on either site. So the two differ from marketing-focused platforms with known affiliates like ClickFunnels and Russel Brunson.
So, knowing that they emphasize good design over hype marketing means they appeal more to artists.
Who is Format best for?
Format is for business owners and solopreneurs in the creative industry. It’s convenient for photographers or those who rely on visual content. However, music industry members can also benefit from its use.
Because of this, Format isn’t ideal if you want more marketing-focused features or general website features. It provides a simple solution for creatives who might not know how to code a website.
Format Pros & Cons
- Numerous features for photographers and other creative professionals
- Beautiful templates made by designers for designers
- A minimalist design focus makes everything easy to understand
- Blog-building features are simple and focus on writing
- Store-building features make it easy to sell all kinds of products
- You can also sell services from your store
- Built-in mailing list feature
- Spotlight feature lets you have a featured portfolio
- You get a free domain with most plans
- Not built for anyone else
- Pricing feels needlessly complicated
- Lower-cost plans have some significant inconveniences.
- Photo storage is not part of the entry-level plan.
- Email costs an additional $72 per year with most plans
- Format takes a large cut of your profits at the second-tier plan
- Page-building tools are separate from design tools
- Lacks features and integrations other eCommerce tools have
Format Pricing & Plans
- Alt: Factor pricing breakdown after making an account
Format’s pricing is a bit weird for most, but the provider breaks its offer into two different services. Regardless of what service you pick, you get a 14-day free trial, letting you try out Format’s various plans.
Their services are broken down into Portfolio (managing your site) and Workflow (managing your clients).
The Format Portfolio Plans
- Alt: Format Portfolio Plans
Format’s Portfolio plans give you access to the website editor. So, you need to choose one of these three plans to start. Here’s the pricing breakdown between the three:
The Basic Plan
The basic plan costs $8.99 monthly or $42 annually. It is your entry-level option but has some notable limitations:
- Starter themes
- Support for up to 15 website pages
- 100 high-resolution images (that they won’t host)
- CRM software (limited contacts)
- Client contract support
- Password protection for your gallery
- Support for up to 10 galleries
- 2 GB of file transfers (between you and clients)
- One chapter of a photography business masterclass
Their starter package lets you use all features of the builder but has fewer themes. They won’t support your video hosting, offer you a custom domain, or host your photos. You’ll have to find an external service to provide your images. This is a considerable limitation, given how artist-centric they are.
The entry-level plan is also more helpful if you want to show off your art portfolio but not sell it.
The Pro Plan
The Pro Plan costs $20.99 per month or $90 annually. You get a few extra features with this:
- More themes
- Unlimited website pages
- 1500 high-resolution images
- 15 minutes of video hosting
- 100GB of photo storage
- A free custom domain
- You can edit your website code
- Unlimited CRM contacts
- Supports art sales for up to three products (but takes 15% of your profits)
The Pro Plan is also reasonably limited for artists who want to sell their art. Taking 15% is a massive chunk of profits, especially if you don’t make many sales. You also only get to sell three products, which is a big deal.
The Pro Plus Plan
The Pro Plus Plan costs $34.99 per month or $150 annually. This is the best plan for artists who make higher sales volumes. Here’s why:
- Priority customer support
- Unlimited high-resolution images
- 120 minutes of hosted video
- 1TB photo storage
- Access to drag-and-drop website builder
- Email subscriber form
- Website building service (only with annual plan)
- Access to the complete masterclass
- Reduced commission (5%)
- Support for 1000 products
Format pushes you hard to get its most expensive yearly plan, basically making it improbable to pay for anything else. Of course, there are also workflow plans you need to consider.
Also, note that none of these plans come with getting a professional email. That costs an extra $72 per year.
- Alt: Format workflow plans and pricing
Workflow plans break down the need for additional client management tools. You automatically get the free version of the plans above, which you’ll note when looking at your CRM options and file transfer limitations.
The paid workflow plans give you more features on how you manage clients and are broken down into their own Pro and Pro Plus variants. They cost $20.99 (or $90 annually) and $34.99 (or $150), respectively. They aren’t included with the other set of plans.
Here’s what you get with either plan:
The Other Pro Plan
- 5GB file transfers
- 50 client galleries
- free custom domain
The Other Pro Plus Plan
- 10GB of file transfers
- 250 client galleries
- free custom domain
Of course, a third category bundles these two plan types together, offering you the most features.
The Professional Bundle Plan
- Alt: Professional plan pricing of Format
The last plan you can choose is the professional plan, which combines features from both plans. It costs $55.99 monthly or $240 annually.
It comes with everything with the top workflow and portfolio plans above. It also bundles a professional email and gives you access to 250 client galleries. All other features remain the same.
Email is a fundamental requirement of online business, so having to go through this much pricing to get to it feels frustrating. The one saving grace is that the annual plans are still very cost-effective. Alternatively, paying for a monthly plan when you have long-term goals as an artist is like throwing money into the ocean.
Let’s hope the convenience features are worth it.
Navigating the dashboard
- Alt: Factor dashboard tutorial view
After going through the cost gauntlet, we get to the dashboard, starting with a short tutorial on where you want to start. It begins by asking you a bit about your business, which I said I was a writer (which is what I’m currently doing).
Format starts by providing you with a website based on your business type. Your choice dictates your basic design for the website. From the site settings, you can also change not numerous modern, mobile-friendly templates.
- Alt: Format’s selection of gallery-style templates
Ignoring their request to upload photographs to my writing gallery, I started to scroll down the dashboard. Here, you’ll find a nice breakdown of features:
- The portfolio contains your dashboard, pages, design, storefront, blogging, and marketing tools.
- The workflow will contain information about your inbox, clients, client galleries (the ones you sell to customers), and documents.
- Storage (usually for you uploaded professional photography)
- The prints marketplace is your print-on-demand tool section for selling your art on canvases, shirts, and other items.
The integrated print-on-demand service and storage features are very interesting. This allows artists without a physical warehouse or existing business partnerships to start selling items.
I’m not going to take too close of a look at these items. But they are still neat features worth considering when shopping for a portfolio website builder. Instead, we will focus more on the portfolio builder itself.
Creating pages using the portfolio creation tools
- Alt: Using format’s portfolio website builder, building your first page
When you click on the pages tab, Format’s tools let you start by choosing different page types. These include gallery, store, blog, and workflow (client portal) pages.
Most items under the pages include external links, submenus, and collections. They are solid ways to organize your site, giving you control over user navigation.
However, creating gallery pages is very different from what you might expect from other builders.
Unlike other page builders, the screen you get for adding content to pages doesn’t actively show the page. So, you’ll be disappointed if you are one of those customers who prefer to have a visual editor.
- Alt: Format page-building tools
The gallery page focuses on adding photography items. Different page elements you can add include your standard images and text. Captions and descriptions let you add descriptions for your photos, while settings allow you to set up how your page appears on Google through search engine optimization.
The last tab, design, let you edit different design elements of the page. This is similar to the design link under the dashboard navigation on the left, only page specific. Much like the page-building tools, everything is effortless.
Adding a blog also follows the same rules. However, instead of it being a detriment, this is a benefit. The minimalist blog editor means you can focus on writing.
So there are fewer distractions than you get through other website-building tools (like WordPress). This makes building your blog posts relatively easy. You can also add images and videos, but not much else if you seek more advanced tools.
- Alt: Blog building on Format
Creating an online store
Format’s eCommerce features are why artists pursue them. After all, it is an artist’s dream to make art that people buy. Adding a storefront makes sense, as fans won’t have to look too hard.
Select “store” from the same page menu to start creating an online store. From there, you’ll be able to name your store page and create a product.
- Alt: Product creation page on Format
The product page is where you can make use of those print-on-demand services. However, you might also choose to sell other product types.
Format supports both digital and physical products. You might also use the service option to take work by commission. Additional tools include setting a product image, setting a price, changing the currency (done in store settings), setting inventory limitations, and establishing shipping rates.
Format will send digital products for you. But these products are meant for bulk sales, which differ from the client gallery sections we will feature later.
These store options aren’t as deep as alternative eCommerce platforms like Shopify. However, they are often enough for those who already have some way of sending out inventory.
Many automated responses you get from stores, like order confirmations and shipping messages, are found under settings. You can also connect your PayPal, the sole payment option Format supports. So you can’t integrate other payment portals like Stripe.
The remainder of the store creation dashboard lets you track your current orders, their status, and the email they provided. You can also establish discounts quickly from the same dashboard.
- Alt: creating a store dashboard
When comparing Format to other eCommerce platforms, they lack some significant integrations. For example, an abandoned cart email is a necessity nowadays in email marketing, which Format doesn’t have.
Adding custom pages to your site
- Alt: Adding custom pages to Format – resume page example
For a few more page options, Format lets you add some custom pages. These include your contact page, about page, and landing page (title page).
Two more interesting site options are the resume page (for job seekers) and the story page (for those who want to add stories to their galleries).
Selecting any of these templates will pre-fill the pages for you, providing content placeholders that include images and text. After this, the page-building tools are identical.
Marketing tools you get with format
- Alt: Marketing features with Format
Format isn’t entirely devoid of marketing content. It has a marketing menu that helps you build your email list and integrate your platform with Google services.
The first tool you get from this tab is the pop-up builder. The pop-up builder allows you to link customers to an external URL or add their email to your mailing list. There are a few design options, but nothing too detailed.
The mailing list lets you send email and blog updates to your target audience. You can find this information in the inbox under the Workflow tab.
The only weakness when using the pop-up builder is that there are no email building or automated features. To get that, you’ll need to use that external URL feature to bring them to another landing page.
You can also link your Google Analytics by providing your unique tracking code. This data can help you better understand your website traffic, helping you make better marketing decisions.
Finally, you can connect your website to Google My Business, allowing customers to leave reviews behind and find you. GMB is excellent for managing your reputation, especially if you have a physical location located on Google Maps.
Managing clients from the workflow menu
Despite there not being any way to make an email list, you can create a client list. Creating a client gives them access to a gallery and the images they pay for.
This workflow menu differs from the store page because it works with clients who request regular or bulk work from you. So, a client gallery is handy if you have a series of photographs that you make exclusively for them.
To get started, you’ll need to create a client, which lets you track recent activity, notes, and add contacts from your list. Only the contacts you add will have access to these galleries, allowing them to download anything found under the file transfers menu.
- Alt: The client creation page on Format
Adding the client gallery creates a unique page for your client that only they can access. This page contains text or images, following a format and design similar to the page builder. The consistency between different platform areas makes this tool pretty simple to use.
One more exciting aspect geared more toward creators is the ability to create contracts and have them signed. This lets you establish the terms of your agreement, including defining the scope of work, basically client-proofing yourself from high-paying jobs that like to cut and run.
The problem with this is that Format has no contract templates to choose from. So you’ll still have to put in the footwork. But having the additional e-signing feature saves you time.
Format applications and integrations
The bottom navigation bar provides settings, the masterclass, and more apps. The “more apps” section reveals their mobile app support and a few more powerful integrations.
First, Format has an iOS app that works for both iPad and iPhone. The app lets you manage your portfolio on the go. Format does not have an Android app.
The more interesting integration is connected to Adobe Lightroom. You can publish and update your portfolio and galleries directly from the Lightroom application with an additional plugin. Lightroom is a fantastic program for photo editing, making it an excellent feature.
Format also supports Capture One, another well-known photo editing program. This affirms Format’s preference for the Apple line of products, which makes sense given that Apple is ideal for creative professions.
What do users say about Format?
When you look across G2 and Capterra, the results are mostly positive. Both give it above 4.5 stars, nearly giving it a perfect score across both platforms. Trustpilot, which only has three reviews for Format, drops the average by giving it a 3.5 out of 5.
As you might expect, the most positive reviews of this software come from photographers. Photographers love the creation of gorgeous portfolios, letting them make beautiful websites. Simplicity is what makes Format so popular.
Its most critical reviews mention how its terms of service can discourage edgier artists. Some of them also found the eCommerce functions to be a bit weak.
Most of the customers who use Format can’t get enough of it.
So, is Format worth your money?
Format is worth your money if you are a photographer without much need for advanced marketing tools.
But I’m going to be honest, going through Format felt pretty uncomfortable.
As someone who has looked at numerous site builders, I like my visual editors. Building your pages without looking at your pages felt weird. Nothing was ever complicated, but it was sometimes hard to visualize.
There are fewer website elements and pages than most other builders. And most of the visual elements you can contribute need to come from you (after all, you provide the images).
Eventually, I overcame this feeling, but the lack of features made me think of other, more robust site builders. WordPress was easier (and more powerful) to use in many ways.
But, if you are a photographer, I can see how you might like this tool. The gallery-building features are pretty handy, making it easy to make something beautiful to feature your beautiful art. For non-creatives, this is not the site builder for you.