If working for clients is not enough for you in terms of money and/or satisfaction, as a designer you have one more alternative – to sell your products directly to the general public. There are several ways to do it and one of them are the so-called POD (Print on Demand) sites.
What Is POD and What Can It Offer Me?
POD (Print on Demand) is a type of service where you upload your designs, they are (virtually) placed on numerous products users can browse and order. When a user picks a product with your design, it gets printed and you get a commission for your artwork.
The good thing about POD is that you don’t have to stock tons of products that might never sell but the bad is that POD products tend to be more expensive than mass produced ones. Nevertheless, when somebody wants a truly unique gift, the price comes secondary. If you are afraid POD products are too expensive for people to buy, rest assured, this isn’t the case.
POD sites, such as Zazzle, CafePress, CowCow and the others listed in this article are a great way to sell designs that get printed on T-shirts, phone cases, mugs, hats, mats, and what not and make some money. It’s fun and I know designers whose income comes solely from such work, so it’s an option worth trying. You will hardly become a millionaire by selling designs on POD sites but with some persistence, you can make this a steady source of income for you.
At present, Zazzle is the best POD site to sell on. It attracts huge crowds of buyers and it offers hundreds of products to print your designs on. Some of its items, for instance phone cases, are a bit pricey but this doesn’t stop people from buying them.
It’s free to open as many Zazzle stores as you want. It makes sense to open separate stores based on design theme (i.e. one for floral designs, one for aliens, one for fairy tale characters, etc.) or product types (i.e. invitations, cases, T-shirts, etc.) but if you like, you can put all your designs in one or two shops only.
With Zazzle you can set your commission to as much as you deem reasonable. In theory you can set any rate you want but 10-15% works best for most products – it’s neither too low (so you earn peanuts), nor too high (to make the product too expensive to be competitive).
One of the good things about Zazzle is that it offers a lot of customization options, so even if you can’t make the design exactly the way the buyer wants it, he or she can modify it to their liking.
It’s not that bad but you must know that Zazzle offers a 30 day unconditional return. This means that after you sell a product, you have to wait 30 days for the sale to clear. Returns are not that common but be prepared that 10-20% of your sales might end in returns.
CafePress used to be the biggest POD site but due to some unfortunate managerial decisions a couple of years ago that imposed quite a lot of restrictions on sellers and made them go away, its traffic dropped. One of these restrictions was the commission percentage you can set – you must go with the CafePress default commission of 10 % for the marketplace but with your own store you have more flexibility. Unlike sales at the marketplace, sales in stores are eligible for volume bonuses, which is one more source of income for you.
The problem with stores is that you have to pay for each store you open. You are not obliged to open stores, though – you can sell on the marketplace but if you want to arrange your products per topic or product (i.e. in separate stores), you need to have a really high sales volume to justify the fee. What is more, store products are not sold at the marketplace. This means, you can’t benefit from the traffic at the marketplace, you need to drive your own traffic instead.
Nevertheless, CafePress is still a popular POD site and some sellers are making good money there. For many products, such as cases, shirts, etc. CafePress has lower prices than Zazzle and other POD sites, which in theory makes them more accessible and should result in more sales.
This site is not as popular as the first two. CowCow is among the newest POD sites but it has a huge potential. The site is based in Asia and to be honest, I’ve read some complaints about the quality of its products, though such complaints are not unheard of any other POD site.
The fact that the site is new means it has lower traffic than the two big ones. However, the positive is there is far less competition.
CowCow offers a huge assortment of printable products – in addition to the traditional T-shirts, mugs, hats, phone/laptop cases, stickers, postcards, etc., it also offers handbags, magnets, car signs, USB gadgets and hundreds more. Basically, the deal here is quite reasonable prices for acceptable quality.
There aren’t as many customization options as there are on Zazzle for example. This means you need to know your audience really well, so that you can offer the product exactly as your clients need it because they can’t customize it.
There are 3 types of stores on CowCow. Only one of them is free but since the fees for the other 2 are waived for now, you don’t need to worry you will have to pay even if you have no sales.
As a designer, there is no way you haven’t heard about DeviantArt. It’s one of the best places to show your work and to get free resources but you might not know it’s a POD site as well. It has a shop where you can sell prints of your photos and fine art.
Since DeviantArt isn’t primarily a POD site, it doesn’t offer as many printable products as the other ones. However, if your work is artsy and you need it printed with superb quality, you should try this site. As an earning opportunity I don’t think DeviantArt is the best but if art and building a name as an artist is more important to you then profits, you might want to give this site a try.
RedBubble is another site where your art will be appreciated. Again, I am afraid in terms of money this approach might be worse than selling simple designs as most sellers do on Zazzle, CafePress, and CowCow but if you value art and want to make some money from it, RedBubble is the way to go.
RedBubble is known for its rigorous screening process. As a result, be prepared that even some of your best designs might be rejected because of quality issues but rest assured that the ones that make the cut, will be in good company.
RedBubble’s product assortment isn’t awfully rich but they do have lots of products, such as T-shirts, phone cases, stickers, cards, etc. and from time to time they add new products.
As a whole, products on RedBubble are priced higher than products on some of the other POD sites. On one hand, this influences in a negative way the amount of products you can sell but on the other, you make more with one sale.
6. Fine Art America
Your quest for sites that sell quality stuff can continue with Fine Art America. It offers more printable products than DeviantArt but far from the rich product range of Zazzle, CafePress, and Cowcow. Still, if you are into fine art prints, phone cases, posters, post cards, or jewelry, this site is the place.
Again, I’m afraid this site won’t make you rich. The print on the products is really top quality but their prices aren’t low and I suppose sales volumes are hardly impressive.
7. Other POD Sites
These 6 POD sites are the best but there are a few dozens more to mention. For instance Skreened or Spreadshirt are also good. They focus on T-shirts mainly, while the ones on the list offer much more products. With Spreadshirt you have some limitations on the number of colors you can use in a design but a good aspect of theirs is their huge T-shirt printing area.
Wordans is also a POD site for apparel mainly (though they do have some other products as well) but because of all the negative seller and buyer reviews I’ve read, I can’t recommend it. Inktastic is yet another site for apparel mainly, so if you don’t like the other sites, you could give it a try.
Etsy is also a site where you can sell stuff but it’s not a POD type of site – it’s more suitable for craftsmen. What is more, they have fees to list your products, so unless you are doing this as a full-time job, Etsy might not be worth the trouble.
Obviously, there is no shortage of POD sites to try your luck. Not all of them are good and not all your products will sell well but they are fun and are a great option to explore when you have the time. So, if you haven’t tried a POD site so far, now you can try it and see if it works for you.