What is Print on Demand?
Print on demand is a method used by manufacturers where a product does not get printed and made until a customer orders it. This eliminates the need for storing and managing inventory and allows individual artists an easy route to getting their artwork in front of large groups of people online without having to invest much besides the time and effort it takes to create the art.
There are a variety of POD websites to choose from and each has its own way of doing business but there are some basic aspects that remain fairly consistent. POD websites offer artists a “storefront” page that is usually customizable to give customers a sense of the artist’s aesthetic and style. The POD website will offer customers a variety of products from paper prints, mugs, T-shirts, duvets, phone cases, and more. As the artist, you will choose which products you want to showcase your artwork on. A piece of art designed for a T-shirt may not translate well onto a duvet cover so you’ll get to decide which products you’d like to include in your shop. Additionally, some of the better POD websites allow you to adjust the specific placement of your designs on the product to ensure a quality finished piece. The POD website handles sales, printing, packaging, shipping, and customer service. As the artist, your job is to create and upload artwork regularly. Additionally, while most POD websites promote their websites in general, it is in your best interest to also promote your own designs online.
What makes this income passive is that once you have uploaded your designs, besides any promotion you may want to do, your job is done. The other side to that coin is that the income you make from a POD website is going to typically be less than if you run your own storefront. POD websites typically pay artists in royalties in the 10%-20% range. Once a product with your design sells, you will receive the previously agreed-upon percentage of the sale price. Some POD websites allow artists to set their own percentage, others have a set percentage.
While the income from strictly passive POD may be less than it would be if you opened your own shop with POD products, the benefits are that it is a very low-risk investment for the artist. Instead of investing hundreds or thousands of dollars in physical products that you then have to store, and hopefully sell, you can just invest the time it takes to create and upload your art. It’s also a quick way to get your art in front of the eyes of thousands of people that may previously be unaware of you as an artist.
How to develop your brand for POD
Before you even start creating art, you need to think about developing your brand. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process but it will be the basis for everything else that you do and ultimately make achieving success easier. If you don’t already have a specific voice or aesthetic, you will need to determine what that is to know to who you will be marketing your products. It’s best to determine something relevant to you and relevant to a group of people in the population. Are you an animal lover? A runner? A musician? All of these niches include a large group of people that are like-minded and have the potential to become your customers. Once you’ve determined your focus, you’ll need to decide on a name that compliments that focus and use that across all platforms for ease and continuity.
Once you’ve determined which POD sites you’d like to sell on, be sure to fill out any avatars, banners, and bios the websites offer you. Customers are more likely to purchase from artists that have a story that resonates with them as well as from a profile that looks fully formed and professional.
Your brand will also be your starting point for developing your artwork. If you’re an animal lover, start drawing images that include cats or dogs. If you’re a musician, start creating art that features instruments.
How to create for POD
One of the best aspects of creating for POD is that you only need to create your original art file once. After that, you can upload that image any number of times to various POD websites and various products. If you want the most flexibility, create your original art at the largest size possible, usually 10k-12k pixels square, with a resolution of at least 300ppi, in RGB (or sRGB) color mode. These aspects will allow your art to work just as well on a coffee mug as on a comforter, making it easier to upload your art to multiple products at once.
Choosing which POD websites to sell on
This part is going to take some research and consideration on your part. There are countless POD websites to choose from and each will have some benefits and some drawbacks. Additionally, each will have a different set of customers and it will be up to your discretion to decide if the average customer of that website is also your customer. If your target market is 18-30-year-old women, it wouldn’t make sense to choose a POD website whose main demographic is 35-60-year-old men. Visit all of the POD websites that interest you to get a sense of who their customers are and determine if those customers are also your customers before setting up a shop and adding your art.
Platforms that I’ve had some success on, but may not be the right fit for everyone include Society 6, Contrado, Vida, Redbubble, Spreadshirt, Merch by Amazon, and Zazzle. Each has differences in royalties, image uploaders, products, and customers but each has proven to be trustworthy and worthwhile.
How to Promote your work?
Each POD website will be running ads and promotions to build its customer base and your art may get featured as well. But if you really want to bring in the sales, it is up to you to promote your own work. How much or how little promotion you do is up to you.
The first step in promoting your own work is carefully filling out the title, description and, if available, the tags for each product. Using keywords in each of these areas will help to drive traffic to your listing so be sure to do your homework when it comes to SEO (search engine optimization) and keywords. Think of the sort of words that you would use to do a search online for your own product and use those words.
Another free way to promote is by using social media. You can use your personal social media to start, but eventually, you’ll want to create a business profile for social media. Depending on where your target customers spend their social media time most, you can promote on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tik Tok, and/or Pinterest. The more places your products exist online, the more potential there is for customers to purchase your products. Just keep in mind that what works on one platform may not work on other platforms, so tailor your content to your audience.
Sometimes POD can be feast or famine. This month, a design of yours may be blowing up and the sales are rolling in like mad. Next month, it may be crickets. This is typical for POD and typical for retail in general so don’t let it discourage you. I had a design that had received almost no attention for months get featured on Popsugar just before Christmas one year. It seemed as if EVERYONE received my mug under their tree that year based on the sales generated from that one promotion. Never lose hope.
Passive doesn’t mean there is no work involved, it just means that once the initial work is done, the money will continue to roll in with much less effort on your part. But if you want your work to remain relevant you’ll need to always be creating new art, paying attention to trends, consistently uploading to POD websites, and posting to social media. The more designs you have on the market, the greater your chance of making a sale. The more consistent you are in your social media, the greater your following of potential customers and therefore potential sales.