Finding trends to make designs for can be a difficult endeavor. Where do you go to find the latest trends? And once you find a good source for trends, how do you evaluate the suggested trends so that you are not wasting your time on designs that are not going to sell?  Let’s talk about it…

Considerations

Before we talk about where to find trends for your print on demand designs, lets take a moment to put a couple warnings out there. First, remember that everyone who does print on demand is also looking for good sources for design trends, we all want to get in on the ground floor for that next viral design. Second, if you rely on YouTube or blog articles for your weekly source of trending designs, realize that your sales for that design will often depend on when you get your design completed and uploaded for sale. If your source uploads a video or article on Sunday and you wait until Tuesday to start working on your designs, many other designers will be in the market with that design before you, and the market for that design will be saturated.

A trending story

The freshest and least competition source for trends will always be the news. This can be from twitter, a local or national news station or even Facebook. Who has time to watch the news all day? Nobody, but it is a good source. As an example, one of the designers I have been mentoring for a long time made a design last year using the phrase “it is what it is”. The designer happened to be watching the news the night that the story broke and within a couple hours he had a design created, tuned, and uploaded. The phrase went viral in the Print on Demand world and the designer did very well for the short time the phrase was a thing. This is a good example of noticing a trend, creating a design, and uploading while customers were actively looking or shirts with the phrase. The shirts sold great for the first few days and then sales held steady for three weeks. This is the lifetime for many trends, the first few days will do great then as the trend is fading you will see steadily declining sales as more designers get into the market for that trend. This is the problem many PoD designers see; they find the trend too late and unless their designs are above average (not using Canva or other template sites) they generally hit the market for that trend after the initial sales rush is over. The late to the party designer will see a few sales (or likely none) and get frustrated.

Competition

This can be difficult to hear, but designers who chase the latest trends but lack graphic design skills are the most likely to fail at print on demand, or struggle with sales. If you take one thing away from this article, know that the best way to make a decent number of sales on Redbubble, Teespring or other PoD services is to offer good quality designs that stand out from the crowd in a low competition niche. The number one thing you will hear from anyone offering advice on Redbubble or PoD will tell you that you need to find a niche that you are passionate about and is low competition. If you start out your PoD journey by jumping into the Pets or alcohol general niche, you are jockeying for a place at the table with well established designers. Unless your cat design is amazing, don’t expect to do well in an oversaturated niche until you get established in the market. Now, if you drill down into a niche to a smaller portion of it, like cats and coffee or cats and marathon runners (as an example, but these are also pretty saturated) you can expect to sell significantly more units that if you stayed in the general cats niche.

Do you suggest paid options?

My answer to this is meh.  I have been mentoring designers for a long time, and I have seen some do well with the paid services, but generally designers who find their own sources for trends make more sales than having a service spoon feed you the trends to work on. Much of this depends on how much time you must devote to your print on demand business. If you have time to watch the news and can move quickly to get a high quality design out to market, you can do well. As before, realize that there are a lot of other designers who are frustrated and struggling like you are and looking for that easy source of trends. The way to succeed in business is to find a way to differentiate yourself from the crowd. If everyone is using the paid services and making the same shirts, how many do you really think are succeeding?

Evaluating trends

Many designers use bubble trends as their primary source for designs. You can find them here. (https://bubbletrends.herokuapp.com/trends) The site lists the trending searches on Redbubble, and a lot of designers hawk this site daily and make designs based on the daily results. Let’s take a look at the top 20 results for today, but first something to think about: The results on these sites can be skewed. The number one search is abs in progress, when a designer sees this, he or she will often go to Redbubble and search for the term and look at the resulting designs. This artificially increases the validity of the term and raises it higher or keeps it on top. The thing you don’t know is how many non-designers searched for this term.

The first thing you should notice about this weeks top twenty is the copyrighted material like Baron Zemo (from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) or celebrity names like DMX or Angela Dean. Copyrighted material cannot be used to make print on demand designs unless you are working with a partner program through Redbubble or other service, and celebrities are protected just like copyrighted material. You cannot use likenesses of celebrities in your designs without permission. The rest of the searches are reasonable sources for designs depending on hos many results there are. The only other point I would make about this week’s list would be the fully vaccinated still antisocial term. Some print on demand services are still purposely pushing results for Coronavirus and Covid-19 searches down into the lower rankings. They do not want to be responsible for people profiting off of the pandemic. I would use this one at your own risk. As of this writing, many services consider it a grey area but I personally don’t use it in my designs.

So is Bubbletrends a good site? Is the information valuable? It depends. I am telling you about it and you are checking it out today. How many other designers have read this article and are using the site on a daily basis now? The viability of a trend is determined by your ability to get a quality design out to market.

Conclusion

What sources do you use for finding trends? Are you struggling with low or slow sales on Redbubble Teespring, Merch by Amazon or other PoD service? Drop me a message and let’s talk. Please share this article with your print on demand communities and get out there and get designing!

This article may contain some things that you might have a tough time hearing if you are experiencing difficulties selling products with your photography. Why do some photographers sell, and some do not? Let’s talk about it.

The basics

The Canon 5dMKIV, a pro level DSLR camera outputs images at around 6700 X 4400 pixels. There are cameras which are many times that resolution, but I will use the 5dIV for this example because it is considered an industry standard in terms of image quality output. As a point of interest, the lower end prosumer model Canon T7i outputs around 6000 X 4000 pixels and is a very capable camera at a fraction of the price. I will not get into he differences between the two cameras because one is full frame and the other is APS-C, rather I will just stick to the output resolution because those dimensions directly correspond to the products you can put your image on in the Redbubble (and other PoD services like Teespring, Teepublic, Spreadshirt and the like.) interface.

Aim to the Duvet

The printable area for the king size Duvet needs a file with dimensions equal to 7632 x 6480 pixels at 300 dots per inch, and a file of this size is compatible with most of the other products available on Redbubble. If you aim toward the largest size needed, most other products will work. The problem with using an image from a camera is that you are under the file size needed for some of the cooler  products. So how do I get a useable file for a Duvet out of an image off my camera?

Let’s process this

If you are shooting on a smartphone, and then uploading to Redbubble, the quality is just not going to be there. I am all about the camera you have is the best one adage, but the quality of the images that are output from a smartphone are (in mast cases) not going to stand up to printing on a very large format like the King Duvet. Even with some of the larger pixel smartphones coming out, the fact is that the sensor in the smartphones is so small that the quality does not stand up to larger printing formats. We shall see what the quality of the new cameras offers, as I type this a new Samsung is slated to hit the market soon which may change the opinions.

How you process your images is also important, in many cases the horizontal edge can be upscaled a bit and will fit on one edge of the Duvet, but then there is space that is not filled with your image, what do you do about that? A solid color? This can b done in the Redbubble interface. The other option is to upscale the image so that the short side of the image meets the 6480 resolution requirement. The net result of this will be a cropped image from your original, so be sure to shoot for the crop you need for your final image.

The method you use to upscale your image is also important. Not all algorithms are created equal, and I have found that the output from free software packages like GIMP tend to leave images blurry. The good news about this is that you are printing on fabric in most cases, so a blurry image is going to matter more on prints and coffee mugs. A better option is to subscribe to Photoshop or buy a dedicated resizing program or plugin. Adobe recently announced a new feature called super resolution which can upscale an image four times it’s original size with little quality loss. The photoshop bundle costs 10 bucks a month, if you are a photographer, I can’t imagine why you would not take advantage of this amazing price.

 So, if your technical photography game is on point, and you still aren’t selling products with your images, what are you doing wrong?

Amateur hour

The internet is a fickle place, and good photography is available everywhere. This means that if your image quality is not in the very good to great level of quality then your stuff isn’t going to sell. Not to bury the lead here, but this is the most common problem I see when I consult with Redbubble sellers who are struggling to get consistent sales with photo products. This can be very tough to hear, especially when everyone you know is telling you how amazing your photography is. You might have an amazing image of a beach that is just not selling even though it looks great to you. What you need to assess is whether the image is great because it means something to you – like memories of a great beach vacation or if it is technically great. When you look at your image, you remember the fond times on the beach and the margaritas you had and how warm the water was. When I look at your image, I see a shot of a beach that I may have seen a million times before, and it was likely shot at midday. The sun is probably harsh, and the sky is boring, making the image overall lifeless. The easiest way to fail at Redbubble with photography is to upload snapshots instead of art. To be frank, nobody cares to hang an image of your girlfriend on the beach in her bikini, or an image of your car shot on the street in midday.

Boring presentation

The other big way I see designers struggle is with the way they put the images on the products for Redbubble and other print on demand sites. There is nothing more boring than plopping an image on a shirt and calling it a day. Even if it is an amazing photo, if you do not add text or some other design elements to the design they generally don’t sell well. See? Tough love here in this article. So, how do you get better and make images that are quality enough to sell?

Practice!

Getting better at photography is just like getting better at any skill. Do not rely on your camera and think that the camera will make the shots great, I have tens of thousands of dollars in camera gear that is very capable of taking terrible images. Consider enrolling in a community college course to ramp up your photo skills. The YouTube videos can only offer so much, and being in a classroom and having your work evaluated will be one of the biggest steps you will take to increase your skills in photography. There are many keys to a good photograph, the light, the composition, technical aspects, and post processing. With the rampant availability of great images online, if you fall down in any of these categories, you could end up with an image that will not sell well for you.

Don’t be discouraged

There is a market for every kind of art in the world. There IS a market for your boring vacation snapshot, you just need to find it. If you are looking to sell images of a car then join and get involved in a Facebook group dedicated to that car (I’m sure there are many) If you take the extra steps to make the designs interesting with some graphical or text additions then you might be able to find a great niche for Redbubble.

Conclusion

There you go, was it painful to hear that? I mentor people on print on demand and photography, and I am well aware that it can be devastating to hear that your work is not as good as your family is telling you it is. Did you learn something? Do you know someone else who is struggling to sell photography on Redbubble, Teespring Spreadshirt, Etsy or other platforms? Share this article with them and help me to continue to make this kind of content. Feel free to drop me a message here if you have any questions about this article.

Get out and get designing!

Finding trends for Redbubble, Teespring, and Merch by Amazon designs can be tough. The YouTube creator crowd put out weekly trends videos which can give decent insight into trends of the moment.  The problem with the trends videos or trends articles is that often by the time you get your design uploaded to Redbubble, there are usually tons of designs available ranging from intricate pro designs to the quick and dirty text-based versions. What if there was a way to track the trends as they are happening, and jump on the ones you want to as they are becoming popular?

Beware copyright

Remember that just because something is a trend that is does not mean it is necessarily a good print on demand design topic. When researching trends all copyright and intellectual property considerations are still in effect. If McDonalds is trending, it doesn’t mean you can safely make McDonalds shirt designs. Just putting that out there. It should also be noted that I am not condoning the creation of any specific genre of design. I provide this information for your entertainment. Now.. on to the tools…

Google

Google Trends is a good place to look for trends. It is of course the best source because it is Google. They collate more information than you can swallow in one sitting, but it is a great place to hang out and watch for trends. You need a Google account and it is free. 

Trends24

Trends24.in is a site which constantly tracks twitter trends. You can select a specific region just like you can on Google Trends to focus you research to a particular part of the world. The service is free.

TV

When I am working on designs, I often have the TV on behind me. The news can be a boring topic, but sometimes it does give nuggets of cool design ideas. I don’t watch TV all day. I usually turn it on in the morning for an hour while I am working. 

Conclusion

What do you think? Have you tried these sources, and how did they work for you? If you have other sources please feel free to drop them to me and I will share them with the readers. 

Get out there and get designing! 

The print on demand industry has an incredibly low bar for entry, and if you do it right, it can be a good source of passive income. There are tons of great places to sell your designs online like Redbubble, Teespring, Teepublic and even directly on Amazon using their Merch by Amazon service. Getting started can feel overwhelming because there are so many options, so where do you start? Let’s talk about it.

The basics of design tools

There are two common types of graphic design tools used to create designs for print on demand, raster and vector. Raster or pixel-based tools like Gimp (free) or Photoshop are tailored to work on pixel-based images like photographs. The biggest downside to these programs is that the files you output are limited to the resolution of the source material you start with. As an example, many images found on stock photo sites like pexels or unsplash will be downloaded at around 2000 pixels at 72 to 100 dpi (dots per inch) on the long edge, and most sites like Redbubble want files around 4500 X 5400 pixels at 300 dpi for maximum compatibility with all products. This means that if you download an image of a squirrel depending on how big the squirrel is in the frame, you very well may not be able to use that image for printing purposes. Recent updates to photoshop have included the ability to increase the resolution of an image significantly, and there are dedicated plugins which will also increase the resolution of your image, but these can only go so far before the output begins to look fuzzy and unusable. Generally, if you plan to base your designs on photo type images, you will want to take your own photos so they are in higher resolution.

The second type of tool commonly used for print on demand is vector-based programs like Affinity Designer (Win/Mac $24.99, iPad $9.99) and Adobe’s Illustrator (subscription). The benefit of using vector-based programs is that they are not based on resolution or file size. When you create designs in vector software, you are putting points and curves together to make a shape. These shapes are all mathematically based and can be scaled to any size and resolution needed for your printing needs. The biggest downside to these programs is they take time to learn, and the end result is often cartoon-looking.  Be aware that vector-based programs are CPU and GPU intensive and can really bog down an older computer.

What if I can’t draw?

The tool many choose to create designs for print on demand, especially when first starting out is often a template-driven drag and drop site like Canva.com. Canva provides lots of good-looking templates to get you up and designing (and selling) right away. Canva includes commercial usage rights and can keep you virtually buried in designs to choose from if you opt for the premium subscription level of Canva’s service. Canva is a great place to start if you have no graphic design or layout skills and want to quickly get some designs up on your print on demand service. If you have watched any of the YouTube creators, they often tout Canva as the go-to solution for most beginning print on demand workflows.

The biggest downside to using sites and drag and drop solutions like Canva is that everyone with little to no graphic and design layout knowledge is using the same templates. Customers are picky and they tend to glaze over their interest when offered multiple versions of the same shirt with marginally different text treatments. Remember that if your dream shirt says I love Dogs with a picture of a dog, you can execute the design in Canva, but the result you will upload to Redbubble will use text, images and layout that many other designers are also using. Your I love dogs shirt is no longer unique since it uses the same dog picture that is on a hundred or thousand other shirts available on Redbubble. This one reason is why most new designers fail to sell designs on Redbubble and other platforms after watching the YouTuber crowd hype the ease and lucrative nature of print on demand.

Which is best free or paid software?

The best answer to this is: it depends. If you are looking to throw a few text-based designs up on Redbubble and make a few quick sales, then perhaps Canva might be the best option for you. With Canva, you are limited to the look of their designs templates and if you do not plan to do t-shirt design long term this is a good solution.  

The biggest factor to consider in your decision when looking at tools to create your print on demand designs should be longevity and flexibility. What if you start a print on demand business today and spend thousands of hours creating and uploading designs and the free service or software you are using to create your designs is suddenly no longer available? Canva is a big site, but what if the legislation surrounding their content and templates changes? What would you do if the free software you spent hundreds of hours getting used to is no longer being upgraded? Choosing programs like Affinity Designer, Procreate and Illustrator are not only industry standards, but less likely to vanish because their team is not making it on the freeware model. I have gone the free/cheap route with programs before, and the program I spent hundreds of hours learning was suddenly gone because the technology in the free program was purchased by a larger company (Sony) and later phased out.  It is frustrating and can lead to downtime while you learn a new program or suite.

The argument for paid options

What if you want to get serious about making designs and the templates offered at Canva do not fit your needs? If you are looking to make unique designs (that have a better chance of selling), then it is going to cost you two things: money and time. If you subscribe to Illustrator, you will be learning to use an industry-standard design program. There are a million and one free YouTube tutorials available to get you up and running quickly. The point that I like to make is that when you are learning to use an Adobe product, you are learning a lasting skill. It can take time, but there are a lot of sources available for support when you decide to walk down that well-traveled road.  

The time part of the equation is learning the basics of graphic design. YouTube is a good source, but I have found that sites like skillshare and Udemy offer great courses that are produced by knowledgeable instructors. Udemy often has sales offering their master classes for less than 20 dollars. This isn’t an advertisement for Udemy, I just personally use them and have found their content very high quality and I recommend them to anyone looking to learn a skill.

Setting yourself up for success long term

Learning graphic design and a program like Illustrator will net you a set of skills that are not dependent on companies like Canva to produce your product. You are also setting your work apart from the competition. Once you know the rules for text layout and can create assets (like your dog picture for your dream shirt) then your work is elevated above all of the designers who rely on Canva.

One thing those who take this advice learn quickly is that once they have the basics down pat, they have another source of revenue available to them that other designers do not. If you can create the dog picture in illustrator, suddenly you can offer services to other designers who lack the skill to create those assets themselves. Offering to create those awesome dog pictures on sites like fiverr can be a good source of income that you can do while you are creating new designs for your print on demand shops. I have often created assets that never became shirts, and was able to sell them on fiverr, recouping my time spent on those images.

Setting yourself apart

So, learning graphic design and illustrator sets your work apart from the rest of the crowd, and also opens another income venue, why wouldn’t you do it? Remember that a monthly subscription to use illustrator is a business expense, which you will be happy about when tax time comes. The problem with setting your work apart for the competition is that you will get more sales and thus have to pay more taxes. Print on demand is a very low overhead business and a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud can certainly help offset that. Who knew that selling more could cost you so much?

Conclusion

What do you think? Did this article convince you to consider investing in yourself to learn a new skill, or will you stick with the free or drag and drop options? I love to hear from my readers, feel free to drop me a message here with comments about this article or questions about print on demand. Because I use name brand words, I can’t monetize my content so if you like articles like this, please share them with your print on demand community and spread the word.

Now get out there and get designing!

Print on Demand has two very distinct paths, and how you allocate your time when designing new products can affect the overall success of your print on demand business. Does it make more sense to chase current trends or produce evergreen designs? Let’s talk about it…

Two schools of thought

I get a ton of messages every day from struggling designers begging me to enlighten them on the latest trends, I am also asked all the time why I stopped publishing articles devoted to weekly trends. In truth, both questions are related to the same thing, time. I write articles for this blog, but I also spend my day (full time) designing print on demand products. Over the years, I have done a ton of experimenting with time spent on chasing trends and evergreens. Which is your time best spent on? Let’s talk about the right way to chase trends first.

Doing trends right

Most struggling designers focusing primarily in trends for their stores think that watching a YouTube video on this weeks trends, and jumping on those trends is the ticket to success in print on demand. Unfortunately, these are the designers I usually hear from saying they cannot figure out why their work is not selling. The reality is that (often) once the YouTubers have made their “this week’s trends” video, so many people have already made and uploaded designs for those trends, it is like jumping into a crowded pool. This means that the only people benefiting from spreading the word about the trends for the week are the YouTubers getting money for your views. Do not fool yourself into thinking that if there was a great trend the person making the video stumbled on, they would not sit on that trend themselves and make some money.

So, what is the best way to find new trends if the YouTube niches of the week and Redbubble trends tools are providing information that is mostly out of date by the time you get it? The best trend research tool is going to be you taking the time to surf the internet and television. Many of the trends no associated with holidays come from the news. As an example, in the news this week was the removal of six Dr. Seuss books from publication. Depending on the source of your information you would see that the cancel culture has taken the books off the shelf or that the Dr. Seuss organization decided to take them off the publication list for what they considered to be inappropriate material. Regardless of the stance you would take on the subject, the next thing you would do is find out If Dr Seuss was in the public domain and if you could use it on a shirt design. You would find out that it is a copyrighted property and that you cannot use it on a design in any way. How much time did this one search take, and did it net you an idea for a new design? If you end up spending your time surfing and reading news looking for the next trend is that a good use of your time?

Trends versus evergreen designs

This is a decision you need to make for yourself. If you are nimble and able to create designs quick enough to jump on emerging trends, then chasing trends could very well be profitable for you. If you sit back and wait for the YouTubers to tell you which trends to make designs for, then likely you are going to struggle. Whether chasing trends is a viable business decision for you is up to your individual situation. If you have another full-time job, and you work on print on demand in the evenings, then likely you will struggle with chasing trends, unless your designs are amazing and can stand above the rest. If you are making your designs with template sites like Canva, or using the same old stock images that everyone else is using then you might have a tough time. How much time you spend on chasing trends versus creating evergreen designs should also be a consideration based on where you are with your business. If you don’t have a lot of sales and you are focusing your efforts on trends, then maybe consider finding a few evergreen (good all year long) niches to work in and get some sales. Finding a good mix of trends and evergreens will net you a good return on your time invested in your business.

I love to work in my proven niches, but also spend some time each day looking at trends and determining if the trend of the day is something, I am interested in. Finding the right balance for your workday can keep you fresh in your niche while still allowing you to branch out into trends.  

Trend Saturation

Trends quickly become saturated in the market, especially the ones the YouTubers are pushing. Designers hear about the trend and jump on their Canva account and make a text only version of the trend so they can get something to the market quickly. The result is that the customer is deluged with a million designs that all look the same and they just move on.  When you are getting started, or if you are struggling to get your first few sales on Redbubble or Teespring, you must determine if you time is best spent uploading a design that is similar to the other offerings in the market, or if you could work on a good original design for an evergreen niche.

You make it or you don’t

If I make a design using the Dr. Seuss example from above, I must balance how long (time) I am spending on creating that design versus time that could be spent on an evergreen. How long will the Dr. Seuss story be a trending topic? Odds are that as you are reading this, the trend is long gone. If I spent time making a design and uploading it, was it worth my time if I do not sell any? We all want to have the next viral shirt design, but honestly how often does that happen? If you spend a few hours deciding on a trend to make a shirt for, spend a couple hours or more making the design, upload it and sell one at your current profit margin, was it worth it? Most of the Merch by Amazon shirts are getting a few dollars in profit. If you spent two or three hours researching, designing and uploading and you sell one (or none) is your time worth the dollar or so an hour it took to make that shirt and sell it? That doesn’t count for viral shirts which make up for any loss of sales of course, but If you are reading this how many viral shirt designs have you had?

Conclusion

Finding a good balance of trend and evergreens that work for you is the toughest part of this equation. I don’t have a hard and fast time allotment because there are so many factors involved. The biggest consideration I can give you is to remember if you spend hours finding a trend and make a design for it, and it doesn’t sell can you reuse the assets you created for something else?  Find that balance and let me know how things are going for you. I love to hear from my readers and love to hear if the advice here helps you in your endeavors.

Remember, because of the trademarks and copyrighted words I use on this blog I can’t monetize my content, so if you find articles like this useful, you can help me out by sharing the site and articles with your friends in the print on demand communities you belong to.

Get out there and get designing!

This evening, Design by Humans sent out a notification email informing it’s artist community of a possible data breach. It is time to change your passwords and keep an eye on your accounts attached to DBH. 

The statement reads: 

Dear Valued DBH Community Member,

At DBH, we respect the privacy of your personal information. As a member of the close-knit DBH community, we also value your trust, which is why we are writing to you today.

We recently learned that there may have been unauthorized access to our website and immediately started an investigation to learn more about the incident. Our investigation is ongoing. 

While the investigation is pending, we are advising you to follow responsible security practices and change the password for your Design by Humans account. Please do this as soon as possible. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding. We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused you.

We will update you once our investigation is complete. Thank you for your continued trust and membership in our DBH community.

Thank you, 

The DBH Team 

No further details have been provided by Design By Humans on the extent of the data breach, this posting will be updated once we receive additional information. We have reached out to Design By Humans for further information but as of this writing have not had our contact request returned. 

Be careful out there. 

Finding the next elusive trend for Print on Demand can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. Most use the Bubble Trends tool to get a snapshot of the day’s trends on Redbubble then start making shirts if the demand versus availability is reasonable. The thinking (and what most YouTubers will tell you) is that if the phrase “Big Cow” is trending and there are only a few hundred designs showing available on bubble trends, you should drop everything and make shirts with “Big Cow” because that is where the money is. The problem comes when you make your shirts and upload them and the sales just don’t come. What is happening? And if the trends sites aren’t the best place to look for trends then where do you go? Let’s talk about it…

A moment in time

Most of the Redbubble trends tools are a snapshot of what was being searched for at that time. The numbers of available shirts are a bit misleading. You must realize that just like you, everyone else is searching for that next elusive trend to jump on. When the trends tool took the snapshot there may have been only a few hundred designs available, but unless you are there to jump on the new design trends when the next snapshot happens you are going to be behind. By the time you get your design done, how many others will already be available?

The tough truth

Chasing trends is a rough game, especially if you are not a graphic designer. If you use Canva or another service that offers pre-made templates for your Print on Demand designs, the truth is that they all look like the designs everyone else using those services are making. Someone who knows graphic design and does Print on Demand likely has a catalog of originally created assets ready to go. I would venture that they have a few different kinds of cows, maybe funny maybe serious that they can use right away. This designer likely has their own custom templates ready to drop their cow drawing into and all they need to do is add the text and a bit of polish and they will end up with an original custom design that is light years better than the one you created on Canva or on your smartphone. When the customer comes across a design that looks like 20 other people’s or the custom original cow, guess which one is going to sell.

Making sense of it all

The reason you aren’t getting sales from your trend chasing makes total sense if you take a step back. First, you must ask yourself if your designs can stand shoulder to shoulder with the other people that are making the same themed design. When I chase trends, I always make original content (not stolen from google images and not from Canva) instead of just making a text design. Text designs especially for trends are the low-hanging fruit that everyone goes for right away. Second, you need to ask yourself if the trend you are chasing or creating designs for is going to still be a thing by the time your design launches on the sites. If you are jumping on trends too late this could also be why you aren’t seeing the sales you want. If the YouTuber you watch does a weekly trends video on Monday but you don’t watch it until Wednesday night, how many designs are already available for that trend, and will the one you create on Canva be better than the ones being created by graphic designers? Think of trends like a crowded pool, if the pool is going to be open on Sunday and you arrive way later in the afternoon it is going to be very crowded and difficult to be able to swim and enjoy yourself. If you wait until everyone goes home for the day, you are going to get some time to yourself in the pool but it will be closing before you get a good swim in. Does that make sense?

Finding good trends

The harder something is to do, the more rewarding it can be. Using the Bubble Trends tool will give you a snapshot of trends from Redbubble, but something like Google Trends will give you more granular data that you can use to look at trends on Google, which will translate into trends for Print on Demand – but it will be more work than going to one website and having the information spoon-fed to you.  A good source of trend data is Merch Titans or just looking around on Amazon. Keeping a close eye on trending topics on social media services like Twitter is also a good place to start, but again, it will be more work than just clicking a trends tool. Soon we will have a full review of Merch Titans and Google Trend for Print on Demand users, so stay tuned!

Conclusion

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Get out and get designing!

Getting those first sales can be difficult. If you frequent Facebook or Reddit forums geared towards sharing your work, you might be saddened by everyone boasting about all the sales they are getting, but you are seeing very few if any. Do visitor numbers matter? Do you get traffic on your Print on Demand shop but no sales? Do you have hundreds upon hundreds of people favoriting your art but no sales? Traffic, visitors, and favorites can be difficult to understand so let’s talk about it…

Traffic

There are three distinct sources for traffic headed to your Print on Demand store. In the case of Redbubble, or Teepublic, they will start promoting your work right away. If you are using Teespring then you have to fulfill the requirement s of their trust score (by getting a few sales via direct promotion or direct marketing) before they will start promoting your work. Traffic types include:

Site traffic

Redbubble, Teepublic, or Teespring market your work more as it sells better. The more you sell the higher your work will rank in the pages when a customer searches the site. Your work can appear in their email advertisements, blog posts, or direct ad sales on sites like Facebook. This one is pretty simple – the more you sell the more they promote you and the more you sell.

Direct customer engagement

This is where you promote your work on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, or direct email. The user clicks the link you provide with your advertising material and is taken to your shop. This is where you are going to get your biggest number of sales right away. The more you promote your work the more you will drive direct customers to your shop. Finding good places, good hashtags and niche forums to advertise your work should be a good portion of your time spent on marketing your products. Do remember that there is a fine line between advertising and spamming. Putting an ad for a cool new design in your favorite yoga forum is good, but flooding the forums with all the products that your cool new yoga design is available on is spammy and will make most people tune you out or worse cause them to complain to the forum admins about your poor advertising practices. Good engagement, and mentioning your wares when you can will go a longer way than carpet bombing the forums with images and links to the same or similar products that you are selling.  

Organic Traffic

When you fill out those description boxes or add tags to your work, the search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing crawl it and use that information to generate results that a user can click on when they search for a specific topic. Remember that the bigger the niche you are in, the less likely a user is to see your designs. If a user searches for funny yoga shirts how many results will come up and how likely are you to be in the top few pages? A lot and not likely. This is where specific descriptions are going to pay off. If a user searches for funny yoga shirts with cats meditating, and you have those keywords in your description or tags then you are much more likely to get a successful search result. Just make sure you are using truthful and relevant tags for your work. You can get more traffic to your designs by adding tags that are copyrighted but Redbubble and other sites will quickly delete your design for inaccurate tags or remove the offending tags from your listing. Be responsible with your tags and not spammy. 

Consider the source

Now you know where you are getting your traffic, let’s talk about the kinds of traffic. If you are targeting people interested in yoga and you are a member of a yoga forum, that is a great place to talk about and share your work.  As mentioned earlier, engagement with the community, talking with people and answering questions, etc. can give you opportunities to mention or show your work which feels a lot less spammy than flooding the forum with photos of your cool new design.

If you frequent Facebook and Reddit sharing groups, where artists talk about and share their work, you can get a lot of sharing traffic but not buying traffic. I have talked to so many people struggling with their shops that have hundreds or thousands of likes and followers but only a few sales. This means that that person is doing a good job of marketing, but not a good job of directing that marketing effort. If you are in sharing groups with other artists, I hate to be the one to break the bad news to you, but most of those people are trying to sell their work too, not buy yours. Favorites don’t go a long way to getting sales if they are just from people who are looking to get you to favorite their work too.  You can have a million followers, but if they are all followers that are looking o get sales not people who are interested in your work then you might be starting to realize where your problem lies.

Data Matters

If you are relying on the website (like Redbubble) to give you the data you need to figure out why you aren’t seeing sales, you are missing out on part of the equation. You will see where the traffic came from and how that translated to sales, but what if you could see what the user was searching for when they found your designs? What if you knew how many times the user was shown your content before they clicked on it (impressions versus clicks) This is where Google Analytics comes in. Now, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, there are a million and one tutorials to get Google Analytics setup with your Print on Demand shop, so just do a Google or Youtube search. It is very easy, takes only a few minutes, and the data you will get will be much more interesting and informative than the culled data you get from the Print on Demand sites. Most sites like Redbubble just need the tracking ID that Google gives you when you go to www.google.com/analytics (it looks like UA-733458177-1) Once you have your analytics account setup and make a property you just need to paste it into the tracking section of your account on Redbubble. Its super easy.

Losing Traffic

If you had good traffic and sales but have recently noticed a drop off in customers, where you are sharing your work might be the culprit. If you spend a lot of time in the Redbubble and other print on demand sharing sites on Facebook people might be “borrowing” your ideas. Thievery in Print on Demand is rampant and there are no safeguards other than copyrighting all of your work before you post it. Many times that can be expensive ($65.00 per copyright submission of 750 images), and even then most of the stealing happens with sellers that are not in the United States and therefore not applicable to our copyright laws. If you have found your traffic taking a hit, consider doing a reverse google image lookup on some of your more popular designs. Just right-click the image on your proint on demand site and choose look up image on google (in the Chrome browser). Google will find instances of your shirt design and you can see if people have pilfered your work.   

Conclusion

Make sure you are focusing your marketing efforts on the right place online, and make sure you have all the data you can get to make informed decisions about the work you are putting into marketing your work online. At the end of the day, you can have a million followers and likes, but if they all come from people who aren’t going to buy your stuff it is useless. Most customers don’t look at likes and followers before they buy, they see a shirt or product they like with your design and they buy it.

Did you find this information useful? Drop me a message and let me know. Because of the trademarked names in many of my articles, I can’t use ads or monetize it so sharing this content with other print on demand artists help me to keep this site going and provide content like this.

Get out there and get designing!

One of the best ways to get sales on any print on demand design starts with finding effective keywords. There are two schools of thought on how to use keywords in your listings: 1. Find relevant keywords that will drive buyers to your design and 2. Use popular trending keywords (even when they don’t fit the description of your design). Which is the best approach and are there risks associated with either method?

Where to start

With the margins for print on demand sales so thin, I always prefer free solutions to paid ones, and besides who doesn’t like free right? I recommend two services which are (as of this writing) free to use. They will require an email or free account signup. This can be easily sorted by just making a new Gmail account for your print on demand business if you haven’t already.

Merchtitans

My go-to is the merchtitans.com keyword finder for Redbubble, it can be found here. Merchtitans does a good job of scraping the data from Redbubble listings when you type in your keyword or phrase. Merchtitans will collate a list of words and show you how many times they appear on Redbubble. Click the format and copy tags and it will present you with a list that is ready to be pasted into your listing.

 

 

 KWFinder

This one will require an email as well. You get only a few searches a day and in most cases, you only get the first five or so results. I consider this a decent resource, but to get the most out of this one you need a paid account. I have found that the results from KWFinder are fairly close to the ones that come from Google Adwords (which I will be doing an article on in an upcoming post.)

Relevant keywords

If you have a picture of a bear drinking coffee on the design you are listing, the relevant keywords would be bear, coffee and drinking. From there, consider using descriptors of the items in your design. Coffee cup, coffee mug, grizzly bear, cute bear, teddy bear, blue mug etc. Don’t forget words like cute, adorable and the like.  Clear use of keywords can get you far and most importantly keep your design from being removed from Redbubble and other sites which use keywords. Some of the best-selling products on these sites use a few clear keywords to describe the design instead of a million useless words.

Trending keywords

The other school of thought is to add keywords that are trending in the news and other media. The thinking is that when a buyer searched for these keywords on Google or other search engine, your design will come up and you will get your design in front of more eyes. In practice, adding irrelevant keywords or words containing celebrity names or other properties generally get you listed lower in the rankings when the customer searches for similar keywords to the ones in your listing.  The automatic algorithms are also much more likely to flag or take your design down if you use these type of trending keywords.

Order matters

Algorithms change, and as of this writing, the sites like Redbubble that use keywords give more weight to the keywords that appear first in the listing. Fewer keywords also put more weight or emphasis on the words used. This also goes for Merch by Amazon so use your most important keywords in your first description boxes. 

How many keywords?

Just because sites like Redbubble allow you to use more than 20 keywords doesn’t necessarily mean you should use more than 20 keywords. I generally to keep my word count under 15. Put the relevant ones up front in the listing and then use them in your description. This will add even more weight to these words. Do words like best-selling top-selling and others help? Not as much as you would think. There are a lot of people listing designs every day and how many of those people do you think are using words like best-selling and top-selling? Those words become less weighty when a lot of people use them. You have to come up with words for your design that are unique to your design.

Conclusion

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Now get out there and get designing!

Print on Demand (or PoD) is considered a passive source of income and is an internet-based business anyone can start. When most people talk about Print on Demand, they are generally referring to a company online which prints T-shirts for you, however today’s print on demand services offer everything from face masks to phone cases and beach towels. Essentially you create a high-resolution design and upload it to a service, depending on the service you choose to partner with, they will promote, print, and ship the order to your customers. You get a percentage for each sale and most services allow you to choose the amount you make on each item sold. This lets you focus your time on creating new sellable designs rather than dealing with business infrastructure. How does it work? Let’s talk about it.

How much does it cost?

Getting started in any business requires startup costs. Depending on the path you take, your startup cost for getting into Print on Demand can be very reasonable. All but a couple of the Print on Demand services are free to join, but you might be required to jump through a few hoops to get your items listed.  Until now, if you wanted to be able to make your own T-shirts to sell, you had to learn screen printing and buy the bulky equipment and all the blank shirts and inks. You had to buy into a credit card service and deal with the hassle of not only promoting your designs, but printing and sending them out to your customers yourself. With Print on Demand services, you just upload a high quality, high resolution file and they handle the rest. But what about the most important part of the equation? The designs?

If you don’t have a background in graphic design, color theory and typography, can you still make designs for Print on Demand? Of course, there are websites like  Canva.com  that allow you to create designs from templates, all you need to do is come up with the text you want to put on the shirt. Here is where most Print on Demand tutorials end – they don’t tell you the truth. You can use these design templates, but there will be many times when you want to make specific changes to a design to fit your needs for a shirt design, and having a background or at least some basic knowledge in graphic design can go a long way.

The most significant cost associated with starting a Print on Demand will be time. No matter how simple all of the other tutorials say it will be, there will be significant time involved in getting your business up and running, then you will spend a ton of time researching new niches for shirt designs, promoting your work and uploading your completed designs to your shop. There are automation services which streamline the process for you but be prepared to pay a monthly charge.

What you need

First and foremost (other than an internet connection) you are going to need a computer or tablet that can create designs for your Print on Demand shop. You will also need software to create your new designs on, there are free options available like GIMP, but I prefer Photoshop over all other programs because there is so much information available online to learn the program. All the best plugins, and content is created with Photoshop in mind, and I can’t see a viable reason to not use Photoshop for creating designs. My thinking is that you can get a free program like GIMP and try to translate tutorials and lessons to that platform, but learning new software can be difficult enough without having to add in a translation errors when you already don’t feel comfortable with the program.

Photoshop used to cost hundreds of dollars and needed to be upgraded each year. These days, you can get photoshop in the photographer bundle for $9.99 a month, less than the price of a cup of coffee. This will give you access to all the cool new features in photoshop and it is constantly updated. In the photographer bundle you also get Lightroom which is a great program to catalog and edit all your photos. We aren’t affiliated with Adobe, and get nothing for recommending photoshop to you, it is just the best program to use for design creation hands down.

You will also want a backup strategy for your designs. You are investing time into your designs, and a computer crash could completely derail your business if you don’t put a plan in place form the outset. 1 Terabyte dries ca be had at any big box store for less than a hundred dollars – often way under a hundred dollars. Back up your work often, believe me the first time you have a computer crash you are going to thank me.

Lastly, you are going to need your tax information. When you sell something online you must pay taxes on it, there is no way around it. Most Print on Demand services will ask for your social security number and will give you itemized comma separated lists of the items you sold over the year so you can claim them on your taxes.

If you are serious about starting your Print on Demand business, I highly recommend that you consider setting up a LLC. I’m not a lawyer and don’t consider this legal advice, but a LLC will protect your personal assets in the event that someone sues you over a design. Whether you are making shirt designs, jewelry or looking at a career in photography a LLC can be a lifesaver (and property saver). Again, I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice but Legalzoom.com is a great place to get a LLC setup for around $300.

Set yourself apart

Since COVID-19 hit the Print on Demand industry has exploded with new designers. Some have come and gone, others are still hanging on. With the field so crowded, you as a designer need to set yourself apart from the herd. When you use services like Canva.com to create your designs, you must realize that your work is going to look like other’s work. You can’t get around this and no matter how many different templates are available, customers are going to see the same shirt template all over the place. How do you set yourself apart from all the other designers? I am a bit proponent for learning new skills. Rather than just replaying on pre-made templates, why not take the time to learn how to make the designs yourself? This will open all sorts of new avenues for you. Consider this, if you know how to make the templates you could not only create your own designs to sell, but you can also create designs to sell to other designers who don’t have the design skills.

Is it worth it?

The revenue you are going to see (especially at first) from a Print on Demand shop isn’t going to pay the rent, and in most cases, it might not even buy you lunch. Print on Demand is a very crowded market and there is no get rich quick scheme. Just like any business, it is going to take time to research your designs, find new trends to create designs for and upload your designs. The margins you make are razor thin and you will rely on volume to start seeing a reasonable income on a monthly basis. If you have time, and you love to create things that other people can enjoy, then Print on Demand is right for you. I love to make the designs, but even to this day years later I still find myself buying a lot of my designs and wearing them every day. The joy of someone telling you that they love your shirt and you being able to hand them a card and saying I made this is priceless. For me, the time involved in Print on Demand as a business is well worth it.

Copyrighted material

Any “what is Print on Demand” article should include a bit about copyrighted materials. If you have questions about the legality of using the Nike logo, or Baby Yoda in your designs, we have detailed explanations here. For now, the best piece of advice I can give about copyrighted materials is this: If you didn’t create it don’t use it. Drawing Baby Yoda is not creating it. You must produce the design or idea and then implement it to be able to legally use it on your designs. If you venture into the copyrighted materials game be aware that the best thing that can happen to you is your account gets banned or they just take your design down. If you make that shirt with Baby Yoda and it sells well, Disney is going to come after you. Larger companies like this have teams of lawyers that do nothing all day but look for instances of people using their intellectual property and suing them.

Using copyrighted materials in your designs can be a way to get some quick sales, but the hassle and litigation surrounding the use of copyrighted materials is not worth the risk in my eyes.

Print on Demand services

There are a ton of Print on Demand services, but three stand out – Redbubble, Teespring and Merch by Amazon. These three services all use the same base file resolutions 4500X5400 and all three are non-exclusive, meaning when you create a design you can upload it to all three of these services to sell. Let’s break down a quick summary of each of these services:

Redbubble

When you are first starting out, Redbubble is going to be your best source of income. The process of uploading your design and choosing the products it will appear on is quick and easy. You can choose your profit margin and once your design is uploaded it will propagate through Google and the Redbubble service. They will immediately start including you into relevant searches and customers will be able to start finding your designs right away. Redbubble is stringent on enforcement of copyrighted materials, so if you upload something you don’t have the rights to use, they will catch you and remove the design. Multiple infractions will lead to a banned account. If you are going to just choose one Print on Demand service to work with, Redbubble will be the quickest and easiest to get up and running. They are a great way to dip your toe into the Print on Demand game and see if it is right for you.

Merch by Amazon

Did you know Amazon has a Print on Demand service? The shirts are decent quality, and they promote your work on Amazon. This is good and bad, good that it is Amazon and your products will be promoted where everyone is already shopping, but bad in that Amazon is so bug your work can get lost in the myriad of other designs available on the service. You also have to apply for a seller account and prove that your work is good. Once you are in you work your way up through a tier system starting at 10 design slots available. After your designs sell 10 shirts you move to Tier 2 whish has 25 design slots. Getting to the point where you can add a reasonable amount of designs onto your account can take quite a few months depending on your designs.

Teespring

Teespring has a metric called a trust score that you are required to navigate before they begin adding your designs into relevant customer searches. This means if you add 25 designs featuring dogs, your work will not be shown to customers searching for dogs until you have sold a few items and met the first tier of trust score requirements. The royalties are good on Teespring, and at the end of the day it is well worth the hoops you have to jump through to get a few sales to start your account. Use Twitter and Instagram to promote your work and get a few sales and you will be all good.

Big note: Teespring’s trust score is there to keep people from uploading and selling copyrighted materials, Don’t even think about uploading your fan art of Baby Yoda, your design will get taken down,  and your trust score will go into negative territory meaning you have to make even more sales on your own before your work starts showing up in relevant searches on the site.

Will you make a lot of money?

It depends. If you are using pre-made templates, and your work looks like everyone else’s, you might not. If you make create fun designs that people want, then you should do well.  Customers want fun topical and interesting designs.  

Give it a shot

Give Print on Demand a try. Don’t give up until you have at least 100 designs up. Once you reach 100 designs, you can take a step back and breath for a minute. Give it some time, depending on the time of year sales can be slow. Towards the holidays sales are always better, consider this as a long-term passive income source. That doesn’t mean to put up a bunch of designs and walk away, rather take the time for that big initial push to get 100 designs then evaluate where you are. Look at the designs that are selling and the ones that aren’t. Trends change, people’s taste change and your skills improve. Once you hit 100 designs I guarantee that you will look back and wrinkle your nose at some of the early designs you created.

Print on Demand is a fun and rewarding source of passive income. It is cheap to get started as it only costs you time at the outset. Go into it with an open mind and see if what interests you and drives your creation sells.