Are you looking for a hassle free and low-cost side hustle? And, you’ve always had an interest in design but work and life sort of got in the way? If so, you’re in luck. It’s never been easier (and cheaper) to start a small design and merchandise business from the comfort of your own home. Welcome to the wonderful world of print-on-demand.
Today’s print-on-demand platforms have effectively opened up factory grade production and last-mile fulfilment to the masses. Anyone with an iPad and creative enthusiasm can start a clothing and merchandise brand in minutes. Everything from t-shirts to shower curtains can now be easily printed with no minimum order quantities and sent directly to your customers around the world.
Like yourself, I’ve always fancied myself as “artistically inclined”. However, I took a completely different path in university and in my career. Fortunately, I’ve had more time recently to explore this creative side since starting on my new entrepreneurial journey. I took some of the existing designs I illustrated for my education start-up and literally created a merchandise store in minutes. Here are the 5 most popular print-on-demand platforms that you can use to get you started:
Red Bubble – Print-On-Demand Marketplace With An Awesome Pop Vibe
Red Bubble is an online marketplace for independent artists to sell print-on-demand products with their designs on them. It allows you to upload your designs onto different products of your choice e.g. t-shirts, iPhone cases, tote bags etc. Users that visit their site will be able to view your products and purchase them. Red Bubble will handle the transaction, manufacturing and shipping on your behalf.
A key differentiator for Red Bubble is it’s distinct pop-ish vibe of its product designs. In my opinion, a majority of designs available here are more catered toward the younger hip market. If you’re looking for a one stop solution and want to create products for a younger crowd, these guys are a pretty good option to start with.
There’s a simple calculation for what you take home. The retail price is essentially the base price (which is what Red Bubble takes) plus the Artist Margin (which is the profit you take). Although the base price cannot be amended, you’re allowed to set your artist margin as high as you wish. The higher your margin, the higher your retail price.
Society6 – Print-On-Demand Marketplace With A Hipster Designer Mood
Society6 is almost identical to Red Bubble in terms of the features it offers. It’s a one stop shop for artists to have their designs discovered, sold, printed on demand and shipped. Similarly, artists get their own storefront and their products are discoverable within the general Society6 marketplace.
I think what makes this site distinct is the type of designers it attracts and the types of products it focuses on. In my opinion the designs tend to have a more hipster graphic designer vibe. Secondly, the products are geared toward home decor and lifestyle as opposed to Red Bubble’s more obvious tilt toward fashion. So if you’re also looking for one stop solution and have designs which suit a more mature and home decor crowd, this may be a better option for you.
There is however a difference in terms of how an artist makes money. Unlike Red Bubble, Society6 pays out a fixed 10% margin to artists for any products sold regardless of how much it’s priced. However, they’ve made an exception for art prints, framed prints, and canvas prints. For these products, the artists are allowed to set their own desired margins (above 10% if they wish so).
Zazzle – Print-On-Demand Marketplace For Personalised Gifts
Zazzle like the first two platforms mentioned is also a one stop solution with its own marketplace. They too handle the e-commerce transaction processing, manufacturing and shipping. Every artist or “designer” as they are referred to, are also given their own storefront with their products made available to all of the buyers on Zazzle.
What is particularly interesting about Zazzle is the personalisation or customisation niche that it’s craved for itself in the print-on-demand space. It’s almost like setting up an Etsy store without the hassle of actually handling manufacturing and the fulfillment/shipping. The products are focused around gift items which are more typically customised suchs as greeting cards, water tumblers and calendars. So if you are more inclined toward designing gifts type products, this platform is worth checking out.
Zazzle’s designer payment scheme is exactly the same as Red Bubble. There is a base price and as a designer, you can decide what you want the percentage of the margin to be. This will therefore determine the final retail price of your product.
Threadless Artists Shops – Print On Demand Marketplace with Themed Design Challenges
Threadless is the one of the OGs of the print-on-demand phenomenon. They were the first to leverage on the collective creativity of independent artists around the world to fuel the designs on their e-commerce site. Artists would submit their work for design challenges where winning entries would be made into products on the site.
Threadless set up “Artist Shops” as an alternative channel for artists to submit other designs into their marketplace. Similarly, you’ll be given a storefront and will have access to the same print-on-demand manufacturing and fulfilment services. All products are also available on the main Threadless marketplace.
A key differentiator is the mentioned community design challenges. Threadless runs themed challenges frequently and winning designs will be featured on the site. This will increase your chances of being discovered. If you’re looking for a one stop solution and are looking to build a following through themed design challenges, this might just be the platform for you.
In terms of the artist profits, it’s pretty much the same with Red Bubble or Zazzle. You can set your retail price and whatever is above the base cost is what you keep. Simple.
Printify – Print On Demand Solution for Your Own Website
Printify is a print-on-demand solution provider for artists and creators who would like to sell from their own websites. They are integrated with the main e-commerce platforms like Wix and Shopify. They can provide the same manufacturing and fulfilment services like the other platforms. However, they do not provide a storefront nor do they have a marketplace for artists.
There is merit in selling from your own website. This solution is suitable for those who prefer to grow the traffic on their own websites and their email list. Printify also allows you to manage your products from a single account if you have more than one website retailing your products. This solution is suitable for those who are already familiar with setting up and marketing their own website. If you’re looking to build your own site, this solution is worth exploring.
In terms of costs, this solution is definitely the most complicated of the lot. Firstly you’ll need to factor in the cost of your own website. Services like Wix and Shopify have their own monthly hosting charges and some of them take a cut from your sales. Printify has three types of costs. There’s the base cost which pays for the manufacturing and printing of the product. Secondly, there are shipping costs for different destinations. Finally, there is a monthly fee which you don’t need to worry about. You’ll only need to start paying the monthly fee if you want to expand your sales channels beyond five different sites. The retail price of the product you set on your own website will determine the profit you generate.
Just to reiterate, it’s never been easier and cheaper to start a small design and merchandise business with these print on demand solutions and platforms. However, I want to stress that just because you’ve built something doesn’t mean that they will come. A large proportion of your success will be dependent on how much effort you put into creating designs that resonate and also marketing your products to the right audience. That being said, the best way to find out is to start.
There is an artist in everyone of us. Share your creativity with the world.
Below is a checklist detailing the advantages and features of the different print on demand platforms and solutions. It will help you narrow down what you need to make your new business a success.