Being a designer with an online store means a lot of self-promotion. Having great products is important of course. But you can have the greatest products in the world, but having a not-so-great photograph of it will result in lost sales and people passing over your product for others. A well-designed mockup can go a long way on your own website and social media. Products with a professional looking mockup will catch attention. They make people want to share your product photographs, and ultimately buy your products. This is important whether you sell your own products through your own website, or use a fulfillment store such as Zazzle, RedBubble, or Society6.
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What is a Mockup?
Technically, a mockup is a prototype meant for displaying a finished product. There are many different types of mockups, but for the sake of this article, a mockup is a digital photograph representing a final product, usually to display something for sale like clothing, home decor, electronics, and other goods. The design is digitally manipulated by an image program to place it into the product, such as a t-shirt. The mockup template file has special algorithms that deform the image and add texture, lighting and shadows so that it looks natural and real. The finished photograph is called a mockup.
Mockups are ideal for print-on-demand stores to show what the product will look like before it is produced. This is perfect when you have a design but don’t have the finished product to show. POD stores such as Zazzle use mockups to display their products so people can see what they are buying without having to imagine what the design would look like on a product.
Why Would I Use a Mockup?
In its essence, a mockup is just the product, for example a shirt, with the image digitally placed on it, and manipulated so that it fits the product and looks natural and real (think about all the curves and wrinkles in a t-shirt). However, a great mockup, especially ones used for advertising and promotion, have a little more. They have a background, or show the object being used in some way. For example, a coffee mug on a table with a background looks much more appealing than a coffee mug just floating in plain white empty space. A t-shirt on a person who is standing against a brick wall looks more authentic than a flat t-shirt on a plain white background.
For your mockups, think about how the product will be used, and place the object into that background. It is important that the background be interesting but not too busy or colorful. For example, in the coffee mug scenario, having the mug on a wooden table with a nice simple background and maybe some donuts on the table with it would make an interesting scene without a lot of clutter.
How Do I Create a Mockup?
There are several ways to go about creating your mockups. Which way you choose depends on how much time you have to devote to your mockups, and how much money you are willing to spend on them. I have listed four of the major ways you can achieve mockups below.
Online Mockup Generators
There are several online mockup generators that do not even require you to do anything besides upload your design. PlaceIt is a fantastic one, and they have dozens of products for you to choose from. The mockups you generate are free if you choose the small version (300 x 400 pixels). This size is not large enough to really use on your website. You must pay to download the higher resolution files. At the time of writing of this article (November 2017) the cost is $8 per mockup, or you can get a subscription. The website NoCode has a great article listing several great online mockup generators. Some of these are free, most you have to pay to download the image file.
The advantages of using online mockup generators are that they are fast and easy. The disadvantage is that they usually are not free, and it is a one-time deal. Each time you use it for a different design, you have to pay again.
PSD Mockup Templates
With PSD mockup templates, you download a template file (usually in .psd format, which is a Photoshop image file). This image already has a background and the object inside (such as a throw pillow), and all you have to do is add your own image. This method does require some basic knowledge of how to use Photoshop layers and smart objects. Photopea is a great, free online image editor which can handle smart objects and layers just like Photoshop. Just like the online generator, these mockups already come with the templates to overlay texture and deform the image (think wrinkles and curves) to fit the product realistically.
Many pre-made PSD mockups are free, but there are ones that you must pay for. MockupWorld is a great site with hundreds of free mockups to download. Sometimes you can find PSD mockup templates on Behance and Etsy. Here is an article listing several free mockup template websites online. CreativeMarket is a great source of high quality PSD mockups, but they all have a cost. Most PSD templates are fairly inexpensive, usually between $5-$15.
For an example of a mockup that I created using a PSD template, please look at the header image for one of my blog articles here: Colorful Animals Fine Art Collection.
The advantage of using a PSD template is you can use it over and over again. The disadvantage is many of them require you to attribute the mockup to the original creator and provide a link back to the mockup page.
Using the Mockups from your Online Store
Another way is to use the mockups already created for you by your online stores. Most of RedBubble’s products and many of Zazzle’s products come with a great mockup already there for you on the website. Just download it or take a screenshot and use it as-is in your website or blog. Be sure to use the mockups that already come with a detailed background, not the ones that are just the product on a plain white background. An excellent example of this is Redbubble’s floor pillows. The background is colorful and detailed, but not too distracting from the product.
Creating your Own Mockups from Scratch
Another way to make a mockup is to make your own. You can take the products already displayed on your website and paste them into a background. Almost all print-on-demand stores like Zazzle do the hard work for you and create a simple mockup of the product. The issue with using these as-is is that they are often just the product on a plain white background. You want realistic looking mockups that look natural and have a background to really show off your products.
Pixabay is a great place to find copyright-free photos that you can use for your background. You can even use your own photographs of the inside of your house. For example, using a photograph of your fridge to make a background for a magnet mockup. This is often necessary since you may not always find a suitable photograph. Do not use stock photo websites for your backgrounds, as they usually forbid any changes made to the image.
In order to create this type of mockup effectively, one must have a moderate to advanced knowledge of Photoshop or similar image editing program. Download the simple mockup already generated from your online store (such as Zazzle). The best ones to use are the products that have a plain white background already and no shadow. Use an image-editing program of your choice to cut it out of the white background. Make sure you use feathering and anti-aliasing when you cut out your image. This will create a softer edge that will blend better. Create a new layer on your background, and paste the image in the background image. Use a drop-shadow on your object to give it more depth and make it look like it is actually a part of the photo rather than floating on top of it. Often you need to adjust brightness, contrast and color saturation to make sure it fit seamlessly into the background properly.
There are multiple advantages of using this method of making mockups. First, you do not have to worry about copyright infringement. Second, you made the image, so you don’t have to worry about attributing the mockup to anyone. Third, sometimes a suitable mockup is not available for your particular product. Many mockup templates found online, particularly the free ones, fall short of the intended effect. Often they have backgrounds that are too simple. Your goal is to catch people’s attention with a mockup that looks natural, like the product is really in someone’s house. This is especially effective for wall art such as framed prints. And, last, it is 100% free. The disadvantage, of course, is that it is the most time-consuming. However, in my opinion it is the most rewarding.
Where Do I Put these Mockup Photographs?
So you created a mockup, now what? They are ideal for blog articles talking about your products and online stores. If you have a shopping cart system on your website, then these mockups are perfect for displaying your products. Share your product mockups on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook with a link to your product page or blog article. Print them out and make a catalog. And you can use and reuse them for a long time. Make multiple mockups of the same product and rotate it when you post on Twitter or Facebook.