Enabling Everyone to Be a Designer with Print-on-Demand
The unexpected, yet beneficial aspects that can fuel our creativity
We’ve all been in a social setting where we’re feeling particularly creative and a great idea for a t-shirt comes to light. Apparently, Harvey Ball spent just 10 minutes in 1963 drawing up a smiling face on yellow paper. Yet this image is immediately recognizable around the world as the symbol for happiness.
Fast-forward to the online world we now live in and recognize that anyone can sell their designs for products like t-shirts, posters, mugs, and backpacks using websites that pay sales commissions to the original designer. The print-on-demand industry continues to grow by double-digits each year, fueled by consumers that strive to be different in the clothing they wear. We are no longer limited to the mass production high-volume manufacturing model where tens of millions of an item are manufactured. With print-on-demand, I can design and sell t-shirts, mugs, bags, and more without the hassle and fuss of inventory management. The final product is outsourced to an e-commerce manufacturer who prints, packages, and ships the order to the customer for me.
Print-on-demand technology offers an easy way to bypass the time, investment, and risk associated with managing inventory and investing in printing equipment. Designers can literally go from creating to selling custom products at a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing models. Print-on-demand websites allow anyone to set up an online shop and sell without ever owning inventory or managing a shipment. Probably the best part is the passive income earned by this method. Because once an online shop is set up, its sales are made and delivered without any direct interaction.
While print-on-demand services might seem similar at first, carefully evaluate them based on the products you want to offer, where they will be shipped, and the retail prices you want to set. A low base-cost for one service provider may make it an obvious choice until you realize it will take 21 days to reach the customer using the most affordable shipping option. Here’s a quick overview of some popular services (commissions earned also vary from one to another):
- RedBubble is an online marketplace where anyone can list and sell their own custom products, and you don’t need to package and ship orders. RedBubble has its own production team that fulfills every order placed on their site. When they do so, they deduct a certain amount from the sale to cover the cost of your merch, fulfilment, and selling fees. Your profit is then transferred to your bank account in the form of a 20% commission. Another perk to being a seller on RedBubble is that you don’t need to market your store because it is a “destination site” that attracts visitors who already have a definitive goal prior to landing on the site.
- TeeSpring (now Spring), like RedBubble, doesn’t reward you with organic traffic. Instead, you’re responsible for driving visitors to your store. This means that, in addition to creating your own designs, you need to find a method of driving traffic to your store—such as paid social ads, social media marketing, or search engine optimization (SEO).
- Shopify is an online platform that allows you to build your own e-commerce website. The biggest benefit of having your own online store (as opposed to being a third-party seller) is that you have complete control of the buyer experience. You create your own domain and website, populate it with your designs and product images, and set your own pricing. Shopify also integrates with Printful, which uses the same fulfillment process for every order. However, a domain on another platform will cost you less than $20 USD per year, while Shopify charges you $29 USD per month to host your website. This is relatively affordable, and practically pays for itself once your store starts to generate consistent sales.
- Printful can be used as a standalone platform or you can sell using Shopify or Etsy. When connecting to Shopify or Etsy, you can leave the printing and shipping to Printful to free up more of your time to focus on creating. For a personalized touch, you can also add a short message on your packing slips to your customers and place a custom sticker of your logo on all your packages.
- Spreadshirt is a great option for beginners because their platform is easy to use and gives you the opportunity to quickly turn a profit. The downside is that you’ll have fewer product options—with shirts limited to a few brands instead of getting to choose between manufacturers on services like Printful. For more control over your products and designs, you can open your own Spreadshop, where your designs are only sold on your site and you make a regular profit on each sale.
- Merch by Amazon works a lot like RedBubble and TeeSpring. When you list a t-shirt and someone places an order, Amazon will print, package, and ship it out to the customer. Because Amazon attracts millions of visitors per day, you don’t have to market your own products outside of the site. Although there aren’t any fees to get started, you first need to apply before you’re eligible to sell. Once accepted, all you need to do is upload a piece of artwork onto their app. You then customize the features of your product, such as the size, price, product title, and description. The process of getting paid is similar to RedBubble.
- If you’re interested in designing fabric, wallpaper, and home décor items, check out Spoonflower—a global marketplace connecting consumers with designers. Spoonflower has a “marketplace” of thousands of designs that are created by creatives all over the world and are available for anyone to purchase by the yard or as a swatch. As a designer, you just upload your design, purchase a proof swatch, and then make it for sale. When someone purchases one of your designs, you get a 10% commission on the sale.
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
Making money online with print-on-demand is very easy, and you don’t have to invest in printing equipment, inventory, manage shipping, or worry about having the right size in stock. But to find success, you must set clear goals, know how much control you want of your brand, and be ready to promote your product. Starting a print-on-demand business has never been easier with many of the services included here being offered for free, and (of course) would not be possible without digital printing.
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