Print-on-Demand (POD) is usually related to books and other written stuff but it is not limited to this. With POD, you prepare your manuscript, or design, upload it to a POD service and when somebody wants to buy it, it is printed for them. Simple as that. Unlike traditional publishing, with POD you don’t print thousands of copies that might not sell – you print only when there is demand.
With the improvements in print technology and the ability to print (relatively) cheap on textile, ceramics, and other surfaces, emerged the POD services that offer custom printed T-shirts (and other apparel), mugs, phone cases, posters, cards, all sorts of invitations, etc. Some of the veteran POD services are more than a decade old and they are getting stronger and stronger.
POD is a huge market for designers. You might have to learn some new tricks and adapt your designs to the specifics of the media but you can make money there, so it is worth the trouble. Additionally, designing for POD sites is so much fun – no angry clients to tell you what to do. Just you, your designs and your customers.
Tips for Success on POD Sites
POD sites can be very rewarding, if you know how to make the most of them. Here are some basic tips to help you get started:
- Don’t give up, you need hundreds of designs till you start making some money. POD sites are certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme. You need a serious portfolio of hundreds of designs before you start seeing sales on a regular basis. So, if you expect a quick turnaround, I am afraid this is not for you.
- It’s quality not quantity. When I say you need hundreds of designs, don’t get it that it is just a matter of numbers. As with many other markets, it’s quality that matters. So, if you planned to throw in dozens of quick and dirty designs and become a top seller, this isn’t very likely to happen.
- Be quick and release designs for popular current events. The topic of your designs is as important as its quality. There are topics that sell well and topics that no matter how good your design is, are just dead in terms of sales. Popular current events are one of the gold mines. They might have a short lifespan but if you manage to become popular, you can sell a lot. Right now iPhone 5, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama and the elections as a whole are the most popular topics on Zazzle.
- Don’t be lazy but write great descriptions for your products. I know you will hardly like it but you need to do it. It is common for a great design to go unnoticed because it can’t be found. Product descriptions are one of the ways to attract and keep users, so you can’t do without great product descriptions.
- Actively promote your designs. A great description is just the first step in getting to the user. The second, bigger step is to actively promote your designs. You can put links to them on your sites, include your store in your signature, run ad campaigns, etc. POD sites are full of great designs, so without active promotion, you might not be able to sell much, especially in the beginning, even if your designs are out of this world.
- Take the specifics of the material/product into account. When creating your designs, don’t forget the way the product will be used. Art masterpieces are for posters, post cards, and the like while for other products, for instance clothes, this won’t do. T-shirts will be washed and even with the best printing technology, colors will fade, even if the user isn’t absent-minded enough not to notice the ‘Do Not Bleach’ warning sign. Keychains and magnets are small in size, so not too much detail or large images. These are some examples of the limitations of the media. This means that you’d better avoid too complicated designs, images that don’t scale well, etc. Some of the sites have design guides for the separate products, so do bother to read them before you start.
- Reuse the same design as much as possible. In order to save time and reach a wider audience, you can reuse your designs. The first way to do it is to use the same design on multiple products with the necessary modifications, of course. You can also reuse the description. The second approach is to upload the same design at multiple sites (most of them don’t demand the exclusive rights to your designs, so it’s legal to do it) and see where what sells the best.
These tips aren’t all you need to know about selling on POD sites – they are just the beginning. I could write much more but this article will soon become a book instead, so I need to stop somewhere.
Next, I will be very brief about the 6 POD services worth taking a look at:
6 Print-on-Demand Services Worth Taking a Look at
There are dozens of POD sites – if you have all the time in the world, you can check them out one by one. But since I believe this isn’t so, here are 6 really good and popular ones to start with:
Currently this must be the most popular POD site. It offers dozens of categories and it attracts many millions of visitors a month. The best is that you can set your own commission. Some of the product categories on Zazzle are overpriced and this inevitably affects sales volumes but if your stuff is pure quality, you can sell even at those prices.
CafePress is one of the oldest POD sites and it used to be the indisputable leader till the moment when they made some very unpopular changes to their pricing structure and general terms a couple of years ago that put off many of its top designers. Still, it is a good place to sell. CafePress also has many, many categories, so it is a must try.
I think this site needs no introduction to designers. DeviantArt is a place where you can find all sorts of resources and browse through stunning portfolios However, probably not all of you know that it is a POD store as well. It doesn’t have as many product categories as the rest but it is great for artful stuff.
Red Bubble is another artistic community. It might neither have the many millions of visitors of Zazzle and CafePress, nor their rich category assortment but it beats them in terms of quality of designs. If you want to sell artful designs that might not be appreciated by the masses at CafePress and Zazzle, Red Bubble is the place to try.
Spreadshirt is similar to Zazzle and CafePress with the differences being it is smaller and its prices are lower. The choice of product categories and models isn’t very big but with its lower prices per item, it is likely to make higher volumes.
Printfection is a good option if you plan to sell your designs on your site and you just need somebody to print the goods, process payment, and handle delivery. You can make your shop look like a part of your site because everything in the design is highly customizable. The bad thing is that some of its product categories have absolutely inadequate prices and this inevitably makes it harder to sell.
I hope this introduction to POD was useful to those who didn’t know about this option. I bet that among our readers there are some experienced PODders, so if you want to share your experience in the comments below, that would be great.