How To Be A Successful Print On Demand Store Owner

Print-on-Demand stores are online stores where artists can sell their work as prints and other merchandise.  Zazzle, CafePress, Redbubble, ImageKind, Society6, FineArtAmerica (also known as, and TeePublic are examples of these. There are so many great things about these stores, but they all have their shortcomings as well.  I would like to share some information about print-on-demand stores in general.  In this article, I will explain what is a print-on-demand store and how to make them work for you, the artist. You can see a detailed list of places to sell your art online in this article: Places to Sell Your Art Online.

What is a Print-On-Demand Store?

Art Prints

Art Prints

A Print-On-Demand store, or POD, is an online retailer where you can sell products with your images (photos, artwork, designs) on them.  They offer you a storefront online as well as the products to sell.

The way they work is you sign up for an account, upload a high resolution image (usually a JPG or PNG), and select which products you want your design to go on. Most of these stores offer prints, clothing, tote bags, mugs, and the like. The product with your design on it is then entered into their marketplace, which is searchable to the public. Someone finds a product with your design on it and buys it, and you get a percentage of sales, usually called royalty or commission. This percentage can vary by the store, and some will let you completely customize your percentage. The way it works is that each product has a base price, and the royalty percentage is the percent markup, which you get when a product sells.

It is a great way for amateur and professional artists, photographers and designers to sell products, such as art prints, with their images without all the hassle of setting up a physical shop or buying an expensive print machine. The POD store takes care of actually creating and shipping your product, as well as merchandising and advertising. Most also offer a much larger selection of products than any one individual person could handle.  There is no transfer of copyright; you retain all the rights to your artwork or photos.  

However, the downside is that you usually will get less income per sale this way, since royalty percentages are typically in the range of 10-20%.  If you do your own art prints and sell them online, your profit most likely will be in the range of 80-90%.  However, you have to be in charge of taking orders, fulfilling them (making the prints) and shipping them out to your customers.  This can be extremely time consuming.  In addition, most consumer printers do not print with the quality and size that professional print services provide.  Some people choose to outsource their printing to a third party company and have that company drop ship.  You still have to take the orders and process them yourself.   However, the benefits can significantly outweigh the negatives.  Most people use POD’s as a way to make extra money on the side, but still work outside of the home.  Having a POD allows you to have a job and still be able to make money from your art or photography in a more time-friendly manner.

Which Store or Products to Choose

Although my experience is limited to the above stores, there are several others out there as well.  A quick search online for “print on demand stores” will give you millions of results, and it can be overwhelming and daunting to choose a place to sell your designs. You must chose one that goes with your business model.

If your designs are fine art (paintings, drawings, etc), then it is best to stick with sites that offer fine art prints and other print media such as greeting cards, post cards, and similar products.  If your designs are graphic art, then t-shirts are best.  If your designs are abstract patterns, home decor is ideal, such as pillows and shower curtains.  Sticking with a popular well known store is to your advantage, although you have to do your fair share of promotion through your own website and social media.

Tips on How To Make a Successful Store

How can you make money with a POD store? Some people claim that they can make thousands of dollars a month from their stores. While this has not been my personal experience, I have made a decent amount of sales, although it is not at the point where I can rely solely on the income from these stores. However, I can see how it can be that successful. I can offer the following advice to anyone considering setting up a POD store or to those who already have one and want to improve it.

Patience is Key

It is very possible to make money selling on print-on-demand stores.  But one thing to keep in mind is that it takes a lot of patience, time, and dedication to make your store profitable.  It takes a while to generate sales.  It can take months to get your first sale.  Unless you have a very popular and well-established brand, it can take a few years for your store to get traction and really start generating sales regularly. Having a POD store is certainly not a get rich quick scheme.

It is also important to keep in mind you are making a royalty on sales.  This means you get a percentage of each sale.  If you sell a tote bag for $20, with a 20% royalty, your earning is $4.00.  You would have to sell a lot of tote bags everyday to make a living wage! While it is theoretically possible to earn a decent income off of royalty sales alone, for most artists this is not the reality.  For the majority of sellers, the sales will generate a passive supplemental income.  If you are making $100 or more a month in royalties, you are doing pretty good!

Never rely solely on one shop. Open up accounts on as many POD stores as you feel comfortable managing. This will increase your exposure and also increase your chance of sales. The more stores you have the more money you make. Don’t worry, your stores will not compete with each other. Most customers who purchase from print-on-demand stores find the products through the store’s search function.

Wild Felines Gallery

Wild Felines Gallery

Maintain A Diverse Portfolio

Have a lot of designs. A diverse portfolio will give you more sales, obviously, then if you only have a few designs. It will also mean you will have more products in the store and statistically increase your chance of someone finding it. Adding new designs regularly will keep your storefront fresh and updated.

Only sell your best work. Only put finished designs on your products, never upload sketches or “learning pieces”.  Only use high quality photographs that have good technique, are well focused, have good color and contrast, good composition, and interesting subject matter.  There is a world of difference between a “snapshot” and a good photograph.  Also, if you are using a cutout of your design with a transparent background, make sure there is no unintentional “border” around the outside edge.  Would you buy your own art?

Put your designs on all the products that they look good on and will fit. Limit digitally resizing images in Photoshop, or a similar program, to be much larger than their original. This is called resampling, and it will result in a blurry and pixelated image that will look bad when it is printed out. If you have a photo that is only 2000 x 3000 pixels, and a throw blanket requires an image that is 8000 x 9000 pixels, then don’t put the image on the blanket, find smaller products to put the image on. If you have a scan of an artwork that is too small, try rescanning it at a higher DPI to get a larger image to work with. Avoid putting rectangular photos on shirts, it does not look good. If you want to put a photograph on a shirt, modify it first either by cutting out the subject or creating a fancy border around the outer edge of the photo. Don’t put your designs on every single product just because you can, think about if that would be appropriate and if the design will fit the product without too much cropping.

Purge designs that do not sell, and promote those that do. If you have your store for long enough, you will notice some of your designs will be more popular. If you find a design that becomes popular, roll with it. Put that design on as many of the products as you can, and try to make that prominent in your store. You will also find that some of your designs do not sell well or at all. Purging your store of designs that are not selling is a good thing to do every now and then. Just don’t overdo it, since you need to maintain a large portfolio. Keep any design that has sold even once, and only get rid of the designs that are not selling at all, since they are cluttering your shop. Remember, you still want a large variety of designs in your store.

Know what is popular, but don’t necessarily follow trends. Following trends will net you a lot of profit in the short term, but will do nothing for you in the long term.  Instead, create what you love.  Find your own niche, and fulfill it.  It may take more time, but be more fulfilling in the long term.  If you love drawing armadillos, then focus on that.  Your audience will find you. In many cases if you focus on something that is less popular, you will get more steady sales because you have less competition.  However, there are some exceptions that can be useful.  For example, holidays and seasons offer an opportunity to create targeted designs related to those subjects.  You can create lots of designs focused on various holidays, and promote those products at those times. You can also focus your efforts on a specific event, such as making wedding invitations or designing business cards. These are things that never go out of fashion and are always in demand.

Keep Organized

Organize Your Store and Keep Up With Change

Keep track of your sales. Every online store has a page where you can see your sales. Every month, I copy this data into an excel spreadsheet, and total the number of products sold and the dollar amount of sales for each month, for each store. That way I can compare month to month, and year to year in each of my stores. It can also help you keep a record for tax purposes, since not all stores will provide end of the year tax forms.   You can use this to keep track of which of your  designs are selling as well. You don’t have to put all the information in the table in your spreadsheet. I usually will only keep the following columns: Date, Product, Quantity Sold, and Commission. Each store should have its own Excel spreadsheet, with each year having its own tab.

Keep up with the store changes and updates. The websites where you have accounts will sometimes go through changes. It is very important to not “Set it and forget it”. Zazzle usually adds new products every week, and if you don’t keep up you can get overwhelmed if you want to start adding new products to your store. They will also make layout changes which can affect your store and sometimes the products themselves.

Organize your store. Most POD websites have a way for you to organize your front end store into categories or galleries. You should organize similar designs together. It will make your products and designs easier to find in your store. Curate your designs into collections if they are available.

Fill out your bio, avatar, and header image. Most stores provide these, and it makes your store look more professional. Visiting a store that is missing the avatar or which has an empty bio makes it feel like the person doesn’t care about their storefront.  having a well filled out bio can help you connect with your customers and gain followers.   Add social media links, if allowed, to your store’s profile.  I recommend using the same avatar and header image for all of your stores and social media accounts, for continuity.

Good SEO Is Important

Use unique titles, keywords and descriptions. This is the single most important thing you can do to get sales. All stores use titles, keywords and descriptions in their search. If your product is properly labeled, it will be found. Conversely, if you do not use keywords properly ,or at all, your product will be difficult or impossible to find in the search results. Many places will set a limit as to how many keywords you can use. Use up to the maximum if you can, but prioritize the most important ones first. Keywords should include the subject, style, media, multiple variations of the same word (both singular and plural of the same word), alternative description words (wolf and wild dog), descriptors such as color, and what the subject is doing or the focus (portrait, landscape, still life). Rank your keywords by importance, so if you are limited you know which ones to keep. A good description is important too, as this is also used in the search not only by the POD site, but also by search engines.   Be as detailed and descriptive as possible; even tell a little story if you like.  And last but not least, give each and every design a unique title.  Do not title every piece you do “Untitled”, or use the same name for all of your works.  This is confusing, and also will make it much harder to find your specific design in the search results.

Social Media Promotion

Promote Yourself

Post on Social Media Regularly. This is another important part. POD sites do a good job marketing themselves, but they usually do not promote individual designers.   That is your job. Join Facebook groups, post your products in a Twitter feed, sent links to your friends and family members. You don’t have to spend a ton of time on this, but it is good to promote yourself.

Be Active On The Store Website. Most POD stores rank their search results based on an algorithm of a mixture of sales, favorites, views and comments on each design.  The more favorites, views and comments you can get can lead to a higher search engine placement, which in turn can lead to more sales.  A good start to this is promoting yourself through social media, such as on your own Facebook page or in Facebook groups specific to the website.  For example, Society6 has multiple Facebook groups where you can post your designs so other people can promote them.  They expect you will promote their images in return.  Some stores, such as FineArtAmerica, have a very active community with Groups and discussion boards.  These are also great places to promote yourself.  It is common courtesy to reciprocate any comments, likes and follows you get on these stores.

Link to your stores in your website. If you have a website, it is important to provide links to your other online galleries and stores somewhere on the site. This is especially important if you do not have a shopping cart on your site. You can also cross-link your stores in your other stores in your About Me page. If you have some sort of gallery online through a third party, such as DeviantArt, you can put the links there as well.

Take advantage of any promotional tools the store will provide.  Many stores provide lots of cool widgets and tools for you to use to help market yourself. You can use Google Analytics, get widgets to put in your blog or website, buy ad space, join a referral network, use Facebook plugins,  even the ability to add products or a shopping cart system to your own website.  Especially take advantage of any referral or affiliate programs if the website offers it.  This can be a great way for you to get extra royalties while you are already promoting your products.  It usually entails adding some simple code into your link.

I hope the information I have provided has proven useful. If I have missed anything feel free to leave a comment and I will add it!

List of Print-On-Demand Store Guide Blog Articles

All stock photos courtesy of Pixabay.