It has been a while since we reported on the review process at Redbubble. If you are like me, you add a lot of new designs to your shop every day. Eventually, no matter how careful you are with trademark and copyright searches, the Redbubble algorithm is going to tag your design for review. This morning, during my regular upload session, one of my designs triggered the review process and I thought I would let you all know how things are going today compared to a few months ago. After you upload, your design the review process starts with this email:

Busted!

There is nothing in print on demand that makes your heart race more than getting the under review email. Your mind starts to race, you think about the keywords you used and then immediately head back to the trademark and copyright websites to double check your design and wording (you are checking your designs before you upload them….right?). Read the email, one of the things it tells you is not to panic. The under review process can be triggered by images, descriptions or keywords. 

Art

At this point, if you have created your art or sourced it from a known safe site like Canva, and checked your wording for copyright then you are likely fine on this part of the process. If you are using copyrighted images like Disney characters, Videogame characters, Company Logos or Celebrity names, then you might be in a bit of hot water. You can’t use any of these things without eventually getting caught by Redbubble or the organization that owns the copyright to the work you stole. If you made a shirt with a Baby Yoda Riding a Nike swoosh, then likely Redbubble will not only delete your design, but put a black mark against your account. Enough black marks and they will suspend your account for violating their IP (Intellectual Property) terms. The number of infractions before they suspend your account can vary depending on the severity of the infraction. 

Words Matter

If your art is all good, then take a look at the wording of your design. Check each part of the phrase in a legitimate trademark search tool. like the United States Patent and Trademark Office https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks

If your art and your text is free of copyright infringement as far as you can tell, then we need to move on to the last potential issue: keywords. 

What about your keywords?  

Words are trademarked just like images. For example, words Nike, Star Wars, Nintendo, Batman, Zelda etc. are all copyrighted and cannot be used in a design without licensing or permission from the trademark holder. This means that if you draw a character that somewhat resembles Baby Yoda, then upload the design using keywords like Star Wars, Yoda or Mandalorian , you will get dinged. This is a top level infraction too because you made something that looked like Yoda then used official copyrighted words to try and game the system. This shows that you knew what you were doing was wrong and tried to subvert the process. I have seen accounts banned for one to two of this sort of offense. 

All good

If your art, text and keywords are all safe as far as you can tell, then it likely means that something in your design triggered the review process and they will likely get back to you soon letting you know that your product is ready to sell. 

My design

My design that went under review this morning was cleared for sale exactly one hour after the preview process was triggered. I panicked, I double checked, I sweated, but in the end everything turned out just fine. It has been a few months since a design of mine went under review, and I am happy to say that at least for me as of today, their process was reduced from nearly a week to just an hour. 

Contested

If your product gets reviewed and they make the decision to suspend the design you can send Redbubble a nicely worded response to the email they will send you and they might give you more information about your infraction. Unfortunately, most times they do not give you additional information, and you tend to be stuck wondering what you did wrong. 

The last time I had a design go under review, it was for a keyword that was starting to become politically  heated i social media. They decided apparently to not allow designs with that particular keyword, and removed it from my listing when they reinstated the design for sale. Not a big deal and I had to do all the research to figure out why that one word was removed. It made sense afterward, but at the time I was left wondering what happened. 

What about you?

What about your experience? I’d love to her if you have had designs that went under review and if they were reinstated and how long it took. I’m also interested to hear about the number of infractions it took for your account to be banned if they got you. 

Remember, I can’t monetize this content because of the trademarked names I use in my content, so please help out by sharing these articles to your favorite print on demand forum and spread the word about our site. 

Now get out there and make the next firal shirt!

Did you recently receive an email about a survey from Redbubble? Are you wondering if this is a legitimate email and if Redbubble really want your feedback? Are you concerned that this email is a spam email and you should not click the link because it may be a scam? Let’s talk about it

Changes

Redbubble has been going through some recent changes, in January this year, new CEO: Michael J. Ilczynski, joined the company amidst ongoing litigation for copyright infringement from videogame company Atari. Hope by the artist community was that when Ilczynski took over the CEO seat positive changes would be coming for Redbubble in terms of the rampant copyright infringement present on the site. Hopefully, we may be starting to see changes on the horizon. But what about that weird email?

Your opinion counts

I recently got this email too, and before I took the survey, I sent off a response to the address the message originated from.  I received a curt response that this is indeed a legitimate survey, and my feedback is valuable etc. etc. It appears as though there were two different surveys sent out, one for buyers and one for artists.

The artist survey was mostly focused on copyright concerns and how the artist community felt Redbubble was handling the situation compared to other Print on Demand platforms. The survey started with questions  about how Redbubble was dealing with copyright infringement and if I felt that my designs were protected on their system. You can protect your designs with watermark easily, just go to your Redbubble dashboard where you can enable a beta version (as of this writing) for an option to protect your artwork. This feature places half opacity X’s over the design when it is viewed to prevent others from directly lifting and stealing your work. The reality is that anyone with photoshop and about 30 seconds can remove those watermarks. As with most copyright systems, they only really hinder the legitimate users and shoppers experience rather than deterring theft.  

The survey also asked questions about copyright infringement, and as an artist if I was satisfied with the way RB protects my work. I have had more work stolen from Redbubble than any other print on demand service I use. It is difficult to tell whether this is just because Redbubble is so much larger than other services, making them a bigger target or whether it is just easier to scrape data from Redbubble’s servers. In the survey, they also wanted to know if Redbubble did a better job protecting artist’s work than other print on demand services. What was the sudden concern about whether I consider my work protected or not? They haven’t cared up until now, could there be another reason for this sudden concern about our art?

Ulterior motives

I do not work for Redbubble, but I know a lot about copyright, and intellectual property law. In June 2018, Redbubble was sued by Atari for copyright infringement. People were apparently selling Atari branded merchandise on Redbubble, and they got caught. I surmise that this survey is part of the litigation going on between Atari and Redbubble. They want to show that their artist community feel they are taking the safety of artist’s work – and copyright infringement very seriously. So. the sudden concern for the protection of artist’s work may be for more selfish reasons, especially when they have other problems that need to be addressed with their business and site.

The real issues

Protecting artist’s work is a huge issue, don’t get me wrong, but Redbubble has other equally large issues plaguing it which could arguably impact artist’s Redbubble income more than someone stealing their design.  

Copyrighted Properties

The biggest problem on Redbubble is the rampant presence of copyrighted properties. Within a few seconds, it is easy to find designs based on all sorts of properties not in the partner program. Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, DC, Disney, and so much more can easily be found and purchased. The presence of items with these properties is detrimental to artist’s earnings on Redbubble. If I create a design with a coffee cup that says I love coffee and that is  presented to the customer side by side in the Redbubble store with a design using Baby Yoda that also says I love coffee, which one is going to sell? This assumes that the buyer is searching for a shirt that says I love coffee, and the representation of Baby Yoda is executed well. The sales for those of us who are not using copyrighted properties are impacted every day by Redbubble ignoring the presence of these properties on the site. Now, some may argue that if my design mentioned above was executed better than the one with the Baby Yoda, it would naturally sell more than the one with the copyrighted property – of that argument I am not convinced. If all copyrighted properties were removed from the Redbubble store (which they should be) it would put everyone selling product on the site on equal ground and make sales about the execution of the design not stealing trending properties everyone wants.

Tag spamming

When you upload a design to Redbubble, you add tags for that design, however many artists game the system using tag spamming to unnaturally raise the rank of their design in the system’s algorithm. We have all seen them before, a design based on dogs has a long line of the word dog and breeds copied a million times. Implementing tags in this way is against the Redbubble rules and gives those using this bug an advantage over others uploading similar designs. You would think that this should be easy to catch or at least remove the benefit to those gaming the system. As of this writing this has not yet happened, and the use of tag spamming can get your design on page on of a search easily.  

To catch a thief

Each time a design is printed onto a product, there is someone standing there putting the shirt or mug or whatever into the machine and bringing up the design to print. Those people should be knowledgeable in copyrighted properties and have a system where they can question whether something is a copyrighted property before it gets printed and sent out. Again, I’m not a Redbubble employee, but obviously this isn’t a system that is available to the employees printing the designs because if it were, they would know better than to print something with a Pikachu or Batman on it and send it out.

This leads to the argument that Redbubble turn a blind eye to what is being sent out. If they are more concerned about profit and sales than intellectual property theft, then they would have a system like the one mentioned above already in place, and more shops with copyrighted properties would be banned. The people printing the products are the last line of defense when it comes to copyright property theft, they should be able and required to mark a design for review before it is printed and sent out if it is suspect.

Approval process for designs

Because of the volume of deigns uploaded daily to Redouble, it may see an unsurmountable task to have a team member looking at every design before it gets approved for sale. I surmise that the only review happens when the algorithm marks a tag which is for a copyrighted property, meaning that you can sell that Baby Yoda shirt as long as you don’t mark it as Baby Yoda. The review process is also triggered by complaints from copyright owners. The problem with this system as mentioned earlier is that much goes unnoticed which is why there is so much copyright property for sale on Redbubble. Those using these designs have learned to tag so they won’t get sent to review and use more generic descriptions which don’t mention the actual name of the property.

The devil you know

Redbubble has issues, but they are the biggest print on demand service, so artists just have to deal with all the downsides. I mentor a lot of artists who have jumped ship from Redbubble to other services like Teepspring, Teepbulic (owned by Redbubble), Design by Humans and others but end up coming back to Redbubble for better sales. Redbubble spends more in marketing on social medial like Facebook and tis helps.

Will there be positive changes, and will Redbubble remove all of the copyrighted designs? Probably not. Will they thin the herd out so to speak? Likely. Will the new CEO implement changes that make it fairer for artists not stealing other people’s properties? Perhaps. Time will tell and I will report when I know more.

Get out there and get designing the next viral shirt!

This is one of the most common questions I get. Sometimes it feels like you have your niche totally nailed down and sales are starting to really ramp up, then suddenly they drop off the cliff. What causes the ebb and flow of the income from Print on Demand and what can you do to help the low sales months? Let’s talk about it…

Time marches on

One thing the Print on Demand  influencers on YouTube don’t tell you about the print on demand industry is that sales tend to rise and fall over the course of the year. You will often hear Q4 as being the best because this time of year represents fall and the holiday season. Because people are all looking for unique gifts, shirts and products with unique art sell very well during this time of year. During the holidays you will see the largest spike in your sales, then they will decline starting in January for a bit because the holiday madness is over. Most PoD shops will see significant bumps in sales a few weeks before the fun holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo and Fourth of July. Make sure your store is stocked at least a month before these dates to ensure that your designs have propagated through the system and your customers can find them.

Advertising

Putting up a new design is only the start of the process when it comes to Print on Demand. Advertising your products in appropriate places online will help significantly in terms of sales. Don’t rely solely on the Redbubble algorithm to bring customers to your shop. You might be disillusioned by the amount of traffic that you get during the holiday season and slow down your advertising – this is not a good plan. As a shop owner, you need to strike a balance between advertising your products enough to bring in customers and spamming them. Likewise, if you are spending more time advertising and posting your products instead of creating new designs, then you need to look at where you are advertising and if your posts are hitting the target audience for your designs.

Trends change

Customers are finicky. Trends change, and if you still have all those old designs about COVID-19 and expect to have a stable monthly income from them, you are doing it wrong. People want to move past COVID, they are tired of wearing masks and are not buying them like they were at the beginning of the pandemic. As a shop owner, you need to realize this change in trend and make the necessary changes to your designs. This is the same for all those designs that have been around for years like the Bigfoot  silhouette – even though many updated this to be social distancing champion, which did well at the beginning of the pandemic. If you are using Canva or other template or stock asset site, you already have one strike against you in terms of originality of look for your designs. If you made a bunch of designs and never updated or added to them using these assets, then they have gotten stale and people are no longer interested in them, plain and simple. To succeed in print on demand, you must constantly be searching for new trends and styles to keep your shop fresh. This applies to evergreen designs as well as your current trending designs. Styles change, trending colors change, the fonts customers want change, layout preference changes, and you must keep up with all of it if you really want your shop to privide you wth monthly income. .

People steal

If you have a design that sells really well and the sales suddenly drop off a cliff for it, there is a strong likelihood that someone may have either borrowed your idea and is selling it for cheaper than you are, or they have stolen it outright. Try searching for similar keywords on Google and see if other results similar to yours show up. You can also do a reverse image lookup on Google images, just upload your image in .jpg form and tell Google to search, and it will generate similar images. If you have found that someone stole your design, then you must go through the process of issuing a takedown request through the print on demand company. Redbubble is usually fairly good about it, but other companies like Teespring Teepublic and Etsy can be notoriously tough to get positive results. I’m working on an article coning soon about the process for each PoD site if you find someone has stolen your design. Be aware, that unless your design is copyrighted or trademarked, there is little you can do if someone creates a similar design to yours. You really only have grounds to stand on if they stole your design outright. This is a generality and depending on the design you might have more or less luck getting something stolen removed from a site.

Resolving the issue

If you have fresh designs (not outdated trends), and you are doing a good amount of advertising to your target niche, but still have slow sales then you might need to consider that your designs are not compelling enough, or that the designs you are making are too targeted. If your design targets Veterans who love Corgis and live in the state of Alabama, then you have to realize that your target audience is too small. This can be as big of an issue as shooting for a target audience that is too large like Corgi lovers. With a larger audience like that, your design has to be stellar and original to float to the top of all the other designs available in the market.

If you designs are mostly current trends, you might need to consider adding some evergreen designs like birthday, graduation etc. that an help your store weather the slow months.

What I do

I have a mixture of offerings in my shops ranging from specific holiday themes to alcohol and other evergreen type designs. I add current trends as I have time and find design ideas that inspire me, then I remove the, when they are no longer appropriate. A good example would be to have removed designs from the 2020 election from your store by January 2021 or so. Another question I often get is “should I remove or disable holiday designs once they pass?” I leave them up and in the case of Redbubble just put them into a holiday design category. It seems strange, but the Christmas in July thing many people do often gets me quite a few sales of Christmas designs from the year before in mid to late June. This year I have new Christmas designs going up specifically for Christmas in July and I will report back on the success of those.

What do you think? Did you learn anything? Let me know if you found this or any other article here useful. Please also share this content on your print on demand forums. If you have a specific topic you would like me to cover in an upcoming article, feel free to drop me a message her eon my contact form.

Now get out there and get designing the next viral shirt!

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!

The most common reason a design is taken down is for violating copyright or community standards. The second most common (an often overlooked) reason a design can be taken down is for using font which are not commercially licensed. There are a ton of sites that offer free fonts, so why would a design be taken down for using one of these free fonts? Let’s talk about it.. 

Fonts and how they can get your design removed

People create fonts, and just like a photograph, the work the creator does is covered under copyright. If you use sits like dafont not all of the fonts they offer are commercially useable. When you download a font from this type of site, you have to read the end user license agreement. You will find that many of the cooler fonts are not freely useable for commercial purposes. Just like stock photo sites, font sites scour the internet constantly  looking for improper uses of their client’s fonts. They will send a takedown notice to sites like Redbubble and quickly get your design removed, then it is up to you to prive that you purchased or properly licensed the offending font. 

The larger concern for print on demand designers is that the status of the fonts can change at any time. Often the author of the font will decide that they do not want the font to be used commercially anymore and the status will change to private use only. When this happens you will not receive notification, it is up to you as a designer to keep track of the fonts you have used in your designs and constantly review the status. This can add a lot of time to an already time-consuming design process. So, how do you avoid tis? How can you be sure that you are using fonts that are safe and won’t change status?

The argument for Adobe

When you subscribe to Creative Cloud or even the photoshop bundle, you get use of Adobe’s font library which is commercially useable. Since I have been using Adobe, none of their font have changed status from commercial to private and I started using photoshop at version two about a million years ago. That doesn’t mean it won’t even happen I just feel safe in knowing that if the status of a font changed, they would let their community know because they are the industry leader in design software. 

If you use affinity designer or Canva, the fonts in those packages are also (as of this writing please do your own research for confirmation) commercially useable. I would imagine if the status changed with one of their fonts, they too would notify their user base.

Conclusion

What is your source of fonts for print on demand designs? How confident are you in the likelihood of them not changing status? I love to hear from my readers, feel free to drop me a message with questions about this article or anything in print on demand. Remember I use name brands in my blogs so I can’t monetize it please pass this article along to your print on demand communities it helps me and keeps articles like this coming.

Now get out there 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!

Print on demand sites like Redbubble, Teespring, Society6, Zazzle, and Teepublic attract a variety of aspiring artists, and those looking for a good source of internet-based passive income. I spend my days consulting would-be entrepreneurs and help them to improve the sales of their print on demand stores and consult on design quality. One of the most common questions I get is: “how much can I expect to make a month from print on demand?”. To answer this question, one must look at the factors that go into running a successful print on demand business.

The bottom line

I’m not going to waste your time and make you read the whole article if you are just looking for a number, so here is the down and dirty answer: on average, not much. I say on average because there is an 80% failure rate for new shops on sites like Redbubble. New designers see the YouTube channels promoting print on demand as a get rich quick scheme that takes little time and yields awesome passive income. The truth of how much you will make on average per month lies in how much time you are willing to devote to your venture. Print on demand can be a great source of passive income that can grow as you are able to devote more time to it. Will it pay your rent? In most cases, no. Will it pay your electric bill? Once you are established it is very likely to generate on average a few hundred dollars a month. Most of the designers I consult with struggle to make the $20 monthly payout limit on Redbubble for the first six months. After the first few months, and the designer’s work has gotten better and they have a better feel for the audience they are creating for, they will start to see enough sales to get paid at least the minium $20 each month. A good shop with decent evergreen designs can expect to make a couple hundred dollars a month on average.  

It takes time

If you need money to make ends meet this month, then print on demand is not for you. Do not stay at home making designs instead of looking for a new job. Especially at first, the print on demand industry is not going to replace your day job. The YouTube crowd will lead you down the road thinking that you will make thousands a month with little effort. While this is certainly possible it is not the most common experience with this overcrowded finicky industry. They aren’t going to tell you this because they want you to be hyped up and keep coming back to their “how to make your first sale” and “weekly niche review” videos because they make money every time you watch or share one of their videos.  

If you opened your shop today with no designs to upload, expect at least a couple of months before you have enough designs in your shop to make your first sale. If you spend 15 hours a day and put up a thousand “meh” designs, or steal images from the internet to put on your shirts, expect this time to take much longer. The best course is to research your designs, find a good niche to work in, and start making good looking well laid out designs that people want to wear.

Two paths

Designs in print on demand shops fall into two general categories, trends, and evergreen. Trends are the hottest stuff going on in social media and often mirror trends in meme culture. Evergreen designs are ones that are always going to sell like I love my Dog and Teachers are cool etc. Chasing trends can be profitable, depending on how you go about it. If you follow the YouTube creator’s content and make designs based on their trend suggestions you are going to fight for every sale tooth and nail. If you find your own trends by watching the news and social media you can likely identify a trend and jump on it much faster than waiting for someone on YouTube to tell you (and all their viewers) about it. Chasing trends also means you need to spend more time designing for the latest market shift. Depending on who got to the market with the trend before you (and how good your design is) one can do well or very poorly chasing trends. Most of the people I consult with are chasing trends and getting into the market late with a design and not understanding why it is not selling, or making poor quality designs. This can be a frustrating way of doing print on demand and is the most common reason people quit. 

Sales ebb and flow

Another aspect you should be aware of when it comes to print on demand is the way the market tends to rise and fall in terms of sales. As the year progresses, there will always be birthdays and other special occasions for people to shop for, this will be your trickle income, even on slow months. Holidays will be better, like Valentines Day, Cinco De Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, and the like. Expect to see a jump in revenue around this time if you have good looking designs in your shop. Most shops will see their best results in Q4 around the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and New Year’s Holidays. As long as you are not relying on your PoD shop to make rent then as the year goes along it can be a nice surprise when you have a good sale month or hit a trend just right and see some good income.

Designs matter

Your sales are all about the quality of your designs and your ability to promote and advertise your work. Finding a good mix of evergreen and trending designs will help you maintain consistent passive income from print on demand as the year goes along. 

Conclusion

Did this article scare you away? Print on demand can be a great source of passive income, but you need to approach it with realistic expectations. Print on demand isn’t going to pay your rent next month if you just started today, but it can become a nice source of trickle or passive income as the year goes by.

Final thoughts

I have been asked numerous times over the last few months to create a paid guide for my print on demand method. Would you find this interesting? It would include everything from the basic setup and business plan to strategies for file archiving and asset management. Getting your first sales and promoting your work would of course be a significant part of the guide. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about this, feel free to drop me a message here on my contact form.

Now, get out there and get designing!

The lure of quick money can be strong when it comes to Print on Demand, this is especially true when you see the myriad of YouTubers who profess to be selling tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise per month on platforms like Redbubble, Spreadshirt, Society6, and Teespring. They promise an alternative to working your 9 to 5 job, and the best part is that you can start with a very small budget! If so, many people are making money hand over fist, why do so many Redbubble and Print on Demand shops fail? Let’s talk about it…

The lure of easy money

 It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Print on Demand is a great source of passive income. Those promoting PoD tell you that you can use template sites like Canva and make simple text-based shirts requiring no skill in graphic design. They promise that if you make 100 shirts and then you can sit back and wait for the monthly cash to roll in. This is where many people end up, they make the same shirts that everyone else is making, using the same templates that everyone is using, and upload to the same services that everyone else is using. Are we starting to see the source of the problem yet?

It takes time!

If Print on Demand is your first foray into internet-based business ventures, you will quickly learn that nothing on the internet happens quickly, unless it goes viral of course. It takes time to research new shirt designs, create the design, upload the design, research the keywords for the design, and upload the designs to the print on demand servers. Once the designs are live, it takes time for Google to index them and get them in front of your customer’s eyes. After a while with no sales designers will realize that print on demand takes time – quite a bit of it. It is at this point where many designers turn to upload automation services like Merch Titans which allow you to upload to a few different services at the same time. This does come at a risk however, when you sign up for your accounts, the agreement you digitally sign for most print on demand services state that automated upload services are not allowed. Using these automated services can result in your account being banned. The automation services aren’t free and suddenly, the no startup fee business is costing you ten bucks a month for access to an uploader service.

The market is crowded

The promise of quick cash in print on demand has brought a ton of designers into the industry. Rather quickly, you will realize that a lot of people are making the same design and offering it in their PoD shop. This leads to the desire to make more compelling and interesting designs, so designers who are not skilled in graphic design will turn toward the paid version of the template services like Canva premium. Just like that you are paying 10 dollars for your automated uploader system and 8 dollars for premium access to better templates. When you are starting out in print on demand, many will be struggling to make 18 dollars a month. Suddenly, you are losing money every month creating the same designs as everyone else is making.

My designs aren’t selling!

Here you are, you have created over 100 designs for your print on demand shop, but they aren’t selling. You search the internet and come across articles like this, post on Facebook forums, and even try Reddit but your designs aren’t selling, and you can’t figure out why. The tough truth is that you have fallen for the get rich quick scheme that is so pervasive in the print on demand industry. In an effort to recoup their initial investment designers often turn to copyrighted material and start to make designs featuring Nike, Starbucks, DC comics characters (how many fake batman shirts have you seen?) Using copyrighted material in your designs will often break the dam, and you start seeing some sales. You will quickly recoup your initial investment but as soon as things get going, your account gets banned, you might get a letter from DC Comics or Disney from who you “borrowed” your designs from. You have no leg to stand on, you know when you used the copyrighted material you were doing something you weren’t supposed to. Now your car and home are in danger because they have big lawyers, and you can’t afford to hire one because you aren’t even making enough every month to cover the costs of the automated uploader service and Canva premium. Your “no startup budget” print on demand business venture is now costing you a whole heck of a lot more than you ever anticipated.

Failure is an option

Conservative estimates put the failure rate of print on demand businesses at 80%. Based on the comments and questions I get here on this forum, and all the questions I answer on the Facebook groups I work with, getting started in print on demand is tough unless you have a plan. If you think there are shortcuts and you can use Canva or steal images from google images for your content, you are destined for failure. If you troll design groups and steal ideas or designs, your success will also be short-lived. If you don’t want to take the time to exhaustively research the latest trends, or find good niches for evergreen designs then this isn’t the business for you.  If you fall into these categories I would suggest cutting your losses now and walking away.

Make a plan

Customers are picky, plain, and simple. They want the coolest looking designs with the words they searched for at the best price. If you have a shirt that says I love dogs in boring text and your competition has I love dogs with a cute little dog and the text laid out in a compelling way, and you are both selling them for the same price on Redbubble or Teespring, which one do you think is going to sell first? The cuter design with the better laid out text is going to beat out a “plain jane” design every day of the week. This is one of the many reasons print on demand shops fail, not taking enough time to layout the design. The second reason is that many designers jump into the deep end of a very populated niche like yoga or alcohol. Do your research, find a niche you are passionate about the make some shirts for it, if they sell then expand and refine your work and offer more designs for that niche. Designers often ask me what they can do to compete with those shops with graphic design experience?

Knowledge is key

There are a million places online where you can learn the basics of graphic design and layout. It can be incredibly boring, learning about text and typefaces that work in specific situations and how color harmonies work can make your designs stand head and shoulders above the ones who are struggling to make a sale. Consider taking a class from a reputable source like Udemy, they offer a lot of great classes and they often have great sales. YouTube is hit or miss with the quality of the content and remember that content producers on that platform are interested in time spent viewing. They will make shorter duration videos to engage your more in the hopes that you will stay on their channel and click the next video. Udemy charges a one-time fee and you can watch the course at your leisure. Udemy isn’t a sponsor and I don’t get anything for talking about them, I have used their service many times and overall I have been very happy with the quality of the courses offered there.

Areas to avoid

I cannot tell you the number of times that someone has said to me: just tell me the niche I should be working in to make money. Think about it this way: why would I tell you and everyone else reading these articles the niches I am working in? I am happy to give you help with designs, implementation and steer you toward the light in terms of making more money with your print on demand shop, but I’m not going to tell you which niches to work in. There are a ton of content creators on YouTube that do weekly niche reviews, but you must take this information with a grain of salt. If I tell you today that you need to be making yoga shirt designs, you, and everyone else reading these articles or watching the videos will be racing to put up as many designs in that niche, instantly flooding it and making it way more competitive. The only ones profiting from providing this information is the YouTube creators raking in the views on their videos about new hot niches. Don’t think for one moment that they aren’t going to be making everything they can from the niches they are giving you in the videos before they pass the information along to you. What would you do in that situation?

Don’t bother buying the all in one print on demand courses that are offered all over the internet, they are telling you the same stuff I’m telling you here. Start a shop, you can do it, get a Canva account, Get a Merch Titans account, do research for your designs before you put time into them and of course find the smallest niche you can to work in and expand from there. The most important thing you will learn from a print on demand class is to make great looking designs. Even if you are working in a boring niche or just using a few words, be creative and lay the design out so it looks better than the ones available in other designer’s shops.  See? Now you know everything, and it didn’t cost you a penny.

Lastly, when you are on Facebook or Reddit, don’t beg people to tell you the niches they are working in. When someone is selling well in a niche they aren’t going to tell you about it don’t be silly.

Conclusion

With all the ways to fail in print on demand, why bother to stay in it? Why do I bother to support artists who want to create work and sell it online? Because the first time you are out and about in the store or at the mall and you see someone you don’t know wearing your design, the feeling is unforgettable. The passive income doesn’t hurt either once you get your shop rolling and find out what designs are selling best to your audience. Stick with it, make sure you have a plan, and don’t fall into the get rich quick schemes.  

Because I use copyrighted words and phrases, and often talk about brand names I can’t monetize this content, so please support this page by sharing the content with your print on demand forums and colleagues.

Now get out there and get designing!