Print on Demand - Design and Sell
What is POD?
How Does it Work?
Why Use a POD Company?
What are Some POD Sites?
Choosing a POD site
What is POD?
Print on demand is a specialized kind of "custom" product provider. The "print on demand" (POD) services provide the product, you provide the content. It may be a book or CD, or designs applied to products such as t-shirts, hats, mugs, stickers, etc. The designs could be anything from a picture of your dog to political slogans to logos to cartoons and as much more as your imagination can provide. There are no minimum orders and (usually) no set up costs. Providers create the custom "product" only after receiving an order. There are a number of POD services that allow you to not just custom create products but also sell them.
How does it work?
The POD creator as seller programs tend to have a similar structure. You, the creator, use a graphics application to create a design. Then on the POD web site you pick a product (like a t-shirt) and "apply" the design so that the image you created shows on that product. That helps the customer know what it will look like. The degree to which a creator can control how the image is used varies. In some cases the creator selects specific products. In other cases the creator posts the design and the customer may have an opportunity to select the product and even modify the design by adding or removing text or other design elements.
Most POD sites also provide a "gallery" or "shop" where you can display a collection of your designs. If a customer decides they want to buy the product with your design on it, they buy it from the POD web site. The POD company collects the payment, creates and ships the product with your design, handles customer feedback and problems, and puts your markup or commission in your account.
Some POD sites allow you to choose your own markup (profit), others have a set commission (profit) ranging from 5% to 20% of a the retail price (what the customer pays). Usually there is a holding period on that commission in case the customer decides to return the item. If there is a return usually you lose the commission.
Why Use a POD?
These sites offer tremendous opportunity because they normally allow you to plunge in without paying any direct costs. Unlike the typical startup business you can skip the investment in inventory that may or may not sell. The system also provides an inexpensive test market for new designs. Even if you want to sell directly to your customers, and get the price breaks that come from volume purchase, the POD model can save you lots of money. Release the design to the POD site first, see how it sells, then decide whether to add it to your inventory. The POD service also offers expanded sales potential for artists and photographers creating individual items for specific customers. Because the products are not made until they are ordered it is easy to present the customer with more choices. If the customer orders a sweatshirt with a picture of their dog on it, but they see stickers, buttons, additional apparel, and other items when they go to purchase the chances are good that they will order one or more additional items.
Here are some print on demand sites that allow you to submit and sell your own designs on their site.
ImageKind (USA - specializes in high quality framed prints, posters and similar items) FAQ
Printfection (USA - mostly apparel) FAQ
Zazzle (USA - apparel, mugs, buttons, magnets, posters, cards and similar items) FAQ
CafePress (USA - apparel, mugs, buttons, magnets, posters, cards and similar items) FAQ
Comboutique (Europe - apparel, buttons) FAQ
Greeting Card Universe (USA - greeting cards) FAQ
Skreened (USA - apparel only) FAQ
E-shirt (USA - apparel) FAQ
Shirt City (USA, Europe, Japan - apparel) FAQ
Spreadshirt (Europe and USA - apparel) FAQ
Lulu (USA - books, CD, DVD, calendars and similar items) FAQ
Redbubble (Australia - framed prints, artwork, other items coming) FAQ
Custom Design and Printed (Australia? USA?, apparel, handbags, playing cards, and other items) FAQ
Spoonflower (USA, fabric) FAQ *seller services not yet on site
Yerzies (USA, apparel) FAQ
(Canada, apparel) FAQ
MySoti (UK, apparel) FAQ
PrintShop (UK, apparel, mugs, mouse mat) FAQ
SonicShack (USA, apparel) FAQ
Shirtmagic (USA, apparel) FAQ
Artamatik ( (New Zealand, accessories such as handbags, watches) FAQ
DeckPeck (USA, skateboards) FAQ
Choosing a POD site
Choosing a POD site is a matter of what works best for the designs you create, and the audience you serve. The best solution for one person is likely to be the wrong solution for another. When you visit a site first think like a customer. How does the site strike you? Is it easy to find information? Is it easy to find how to make contact? Are the basic questions freely and easily available?
The following information should be available without you having to ask and without having to register or give your private information. In many cases that information won't be, but how much information is offered, and where should be part of your evaluation. Not everything will be important to you, especially as you get started. Considering these questions now, however, may help you decide what works best for you. If your thought on reading a question is "do I care?" or "why do I care" then find out more about what that question might mean to you before deciding.
Who is the site owner (company name or individual, you need to know who the legal owner is, not just the web site name)?
Where is the site owner located (if they don't make a physical mailing address easily found use extra caution)?
Do they provide an example of what a seller's site looks like?
Do you need or expect them to help you market your items, or are you just looking for order fulfillment?
Do they have a "marketplace" where your items may appear in addition to appear on your "shop" hosted on their site. A "marketplace" is where items owned by a variety of people appear in one place so the general public can buy them.
If there is a marketplace, can you choose whether to list your items in the marketplace?
If there is a marketplace is your compensation for a sale different than if you sell directly through your shop? see, e.g. CafePress Marketplace, Spreadshirt Shops.
What print methods do they use? (Screen printing,
direct to garment,
heat transfer, appliqué, flocking etc.) Check for differences in set-up costs and minimum order requirements for different print methods.
Do you pay anything before selling the items e.g. advance pay for the apparel, set up costs, digitizing, preparation costs, advertising fees or anything else?
Who is responsible for accepting orders and processing customer payments?
Who takes the risk of credit card fraud?
How are customer costs, and your compensation, determined?
One common scheme is a markup on a base price. The base price is what the POD company gets out of every sale. The designer then adds to that a "markup" which is what the customer pays for the product. The designer earns the difference between the base price and the markup.
Another common scheme is a commission on sales price. The POD sets the sale price (what the customer pays) then pays the designer a percentage of that sale price for every item sold.
If you earn a commission or royalty based on sales, is there a difference in your rate of compensation depending upon whether the sale is through
Are there different types of "shops" available. For example are there free shops with restrictions as to customization, number of products, pricing or whatever and then paid shops that change some or all of those restrictions? Are different "levels" of shops treated differently in the marketplace or customer service?
Can you customize your shop, and if so, what are the restrictions on customizing? Can you add image links, text links, tables? Can you change font size and color? How much of the hosted site will be visible to shoppers, and how visible? How many pages are allowed? What is the organization of the shop? Can you organize by design? Can you have more than one design within the shop structure? More than one product type in one shop structure?
If you want to offer a different theme and so want a different shop front are you allowed to open a second shop? Can you manage the second shop from that same account or will you need a separate account?
Is there an affiliate program in place? (Advanced topic, consider skipping this question) If so do you have to give up part of your compensation for an affiliate sale? Can you become an affiliate? Can you affiliate to your own items? Can you display other products designed by other people and sold on that same site - inside your shop as an affiliate?
Are there any fees you must pay "out-of-pocket" - in other words can you actually lose money or are any fees only paid out of amounts earned? Not getting paid quite as much as you expected is very different from being required to pay something.
What factors can affect your compensation? For example, if compensation is based on sales price is that before or after the customer uses any coupons that might reduce the amount the customer actually pays? Is compensation reduced to share the costs paid to affiliates?
Is there a bonus paid for selling a certain dollar amount of products? If you have more than one "shop" or account is that bonus paid based on combined sales or sale individual to each shop or account?
Do they have a range of products that are suited to your customer base? Are they missing products that are important to your customer base?
Think like a customer - what are their print methods? what are the return policies?
Carefully look over the design requirements. Can you provide designs that meet those requirements? Do you understand the requirements? Are there different design requirements depending upon the print method chosen?
What kind of control do you have over which products are sold with your design on it? Do you have to apply the design to a product to sell it? Or can you apply it to one type for display purpose but the POD will offer it on other similar products? If you don't want to sell a particular product type can you set it that way?
Can customers modify or add to your design? If so can you control or guide the degree or type of modifications?
Can you market just the design, and leave the putting it all together on a product to someone else?
Are the designs checked / approved before being posted? If so, how long is the delay between submittal and approval? What is the criteria for approval?
Are there limits on how long can a design be displayed for sale? Are you required to remove designs that are not selling, and if so what is the period they can remain unsold and still displayed?
Explore some of the shops and galleries I've opened.
For in depth exploration of the POD T-shirt industry see