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!

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. 

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!

Among us is a multiplayer game that became popular during the early days of the COVID quarantine. The game was released by a small company called Innersloth. The viral popularity of the game and simple graphics inspired many designers to create designs for their Redbubble and other print on demand shops. The designs sold very well riding the popularity of the game, the only problem was that the artists that were selling the designs were doing so illegally.

Copyright

When the game’s popularity grew exponentially, demand for shirts and other gear went through the roof. Since the company that released the game was relatively small (three people) they quickly realized people were profiting off their work and publicly pleaded for people to stop making designs featuring their game. Shortly, PoD services like Amazon, Teespring and Redbubble removed the designs from their services, though many designs even as of this writing are still available.

It doesn’t matter if the team who made the game was a small indie gamer or EA, the fact remains that they own the copyright and rights to create materials with the design not you. Many designs have the mentality that if it is available on the internet, it is free and that simply is not the case. You have to have permission (written) to use any content in your designs that you did not create. What this means is that if you drew the characters from Among US and then created a design with the drawing you still did not create the design, you only copied it, creating a derivative work. You can’t use that in your designs any more than you can use Baby Yoda in your designs.

Expressing yourself

If you are a fan of the game and would like to talk to them about submitting your fanart then by all means, contact them. The link to their website is below and from experience small teams are often very appreciative when they receive fanart submissions.

Conclusion

I hope this short article cleared things up for you. I get so many questions submitted via social media about using games like Among Us to make designs. Copyright can seem daunting and it can be tempting to try and subvert the system and use content you don’t own in your designs. At the end of the day however, the only people you are hurting are the content creators large and small when you use their work without permission.

If you have questions you would like me to answer, feel free to drop m a message here. Remember I can’t monetize this content because of all the copyrighted product names I use, so please do me a favor and support this blog by sharing these articles with your friends on social media.

Now, get out there and get designing!

 

Article Resources

Among Use team Innersloth

https://innersloth.com/index.php

Buy official Among Us merchandise!

https://store.innersloth.com/

Note: I do not own the copyright to Among Us, the phrase is used only for educational purposes. All rights and permissions are those of the copyright holder. 

If you create designs for Print on Demand, you know there is one email that will get your heart racing, that your artwork is under review for copyright or Intellectual Property violations on Redbubble or other Print on Demand service. Since November, Redbubble has been cracking down on accounts and seem to be more stringent with their review of products being uploaded to the store. I have had quite a few questions about this, so what causes Redbubble to put your artwork into the “under review” category, and should you panic about it? There are a few reasons this can happen, let’s talk about them…

Why is this happening?

When you get the dreaded “Your artwork is under review” email from Redbubble, it can be confusing and a bit frustrating because the email is vague and does not spell out what you might have done wrong – this is an auto-generated email and is intended to cover the lesser offenses as well as the big ones. When you upload a design to Redbubble, the server reviews the submission tags and details, searching for overt copyright infringement. A common example is this: you upload a design with a spaceship and tag it with Star Wars or use Star Wars in your description. Star Wars is a copyrighted phrase, and you are not allowed to use it to sell your spaceship designs, even if the design doesn’t contain the actual likenesses of a Star Wars spaceship. This is the same as uploading a sports design and tagging it with NFL, NBA, or other franchise.

If you are careful about checking the trademark and copyright status of your designs before you upload them, and don’t use obvious copyrighted words or phrases in your tags, then you will likely be just fine, and your designs will be reinstated to the store in a few days. Often the system kicks the design to a human to make sure that the content is not violating any intellectual property before can be sold. If this is where you are, then I would recommend that you wait a week and if they haven’t sent you a response, then contact Redbubble support at: Redbubble Marketplace Integrity Team dmca.support@redbubble.com and ask them nicely about the status of your design.

Target Tags change

Sometimes the review process is triggered by using tags that you would not think would cause an issue. I recently helped one of my readers through this process, and the first thing we did was start with the design and the tags he used. The design was generic enough and was something he drew in Adobe Illustrator; I did a search for trademarks on the topic of the design and all turned up fine. The problem came from the tags. When he uploaded the design, he used the word Redneck in his tags. This word triggered the process because of the NFL team Washington Redskins changing their name, and the media coverage surrounding it. Redneck seems to be the alternate name choice or suggestion from the public for the team. In the case of his design, the word redneck was appropriate, and he wasn’t even eluding to the controversy with the Washington Redskins in his design or description. He did as I suggested and waited a week then sent a genuinely nice email asking if Redbubble had any updates on the design review process. In this case, the design was reinstated, and no harm was done. Redbubble is very reasonable when it comes to reviewing copyright infringement. They see a lot of stolen work and a lot of people using copyrighted material in their designs so be nice to them and be patient because they are reviewing a lot of work daily.

Strike Three!

How many times can you get the “your work is under review” email from Redbubble before your account gets banned? First, I would say that if you are reading this and you are concerned about the prospect of your account being banned because you are using copyrighted material in your designs, then you have a larger problem. If you are using material you do not own in your designs, then you are stealing. Other artists and companies spend a lot of time and money to promote their brand and build their name and reputation, and it is not right for you to profit from that by using their content in your designs. I have heard between two and three strikes against your account before you are banned by Redbubble. I would imagine it depends on the kind of copyright infringement you are doing. If you are using a baby Yoda riding a Nike swoosh holding a Starbucks with a pot leaf behind him, then I would consider that a massive legel of infringement. If you accidentally add a copyrighted tag into your list, or accidentally put a copyrighted phrase in your description, I am betting Redbubble will be much more lenient in their ruling on your account.

Check your Copyrights

When researching content for new designs, you should always be taking the time to look up the trademarks and copyrights of your proposed design before you even start putting pen to paper. Even using material that some consider “grey area” like videogames in your designs is not allowed. There was a team that made the game, and an artist that created the characters, and programmers who made the code. You were not a part of the team and you do not have the right to make designs featuring their work for your profit. This applies to large and small companies and means you cannot use Mario from Nintendo and you cannot use the characters from the game Among Us in your designs.

Conclusion

So, if you can’t use any of these properties when making your design, what are you supposed to do? Create your own stuff. But what if your design isn’t as exciting or interesting without the words Just Do it? Create your own catchphrase, don’t expect Nike, who spent millions marketing Just Do It to let you use it for free. What if your design isn’t as cool without the Among Us characters? Create your own. It is all plain and simple. If you didn’t create the art/character/drink etc. DON’T USE IT!

Now get out there and get designing!

If you are new to Print on Demand, you might have shared some of your designs only to have people in the forums complain about copyright infringement, stealing, and all sorts of other things. How do you know when you are creating a design if the material you are using is copyrighted? Here is a quick list of topics that should not be used in your print on demand designs (unless you have permission from the owners of the property, or you are working with a partner program.)

I compiled this list after doing a very quick search on Redbubble, Teepublic, and Teespring. There are many more examples, this is not intended to be a complete list. I often see examples of designs using many of the properties on this list, and it seemed like a good idea to compile a list of areas that you should stay away from when making print on demand designs.   

Brands

  • Starbucks
  • Food – Pizza Hut, Chilis logo, etc.
  • Clothing Brands like Nike and Adidas
  • Soft Drinks like Coke, Mt. Dew, and Pepsi
  • Alcohol like Budweiser, Johnny Walker, Jack Daniels
  • Cars, not just the names but the shape of a car is also copyrighted and therefore should not be used without permission.
  • Toys, like LEGO – they are copyrighted.
  • Any logo for any brand or franchise. This includes Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, DC, and any other logo which is recognizable and represents a brand. This also extends to logos that might be more obscure like the logo for the Empire or Rebels from the Star Wars franchise, they are all copyrighted and may not be used in your designs.
  • Electronics – Dell computers, Cooler Master, Sony, Apple (iPhone iMac, etc.) Camera brands like Canon, Nikon, etc.
  • Catchphrases and marketing phrases – D’oh from The Simpsons, Just do it from Nike, I’m loving it from McDonald’s

Cartoons and Television

  • The Simpsons are owned by Fox who is owned by Disney, they have scores of lawyers that scour the internet every day looking for people using their property without permission
  • Any Disney Character – Baby Yoda and The Mandalorian, Lino, and Stitch, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Aladdin, etc.
  • Star Wars – R2D2, X-Wing or Tie fighters, Mandalorian armor
  • Marvel Characters or the logos for those characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc.
  • DC Comic Characters and their logos – The Punisher, Batman, etc.

 Videogames

All aspects of a game, including the characters, the game logo, etc. Among Us, Pokémon, Kirby, Mario, etc. This is especially true with the Among Us franchise, they are a smaller company and are currently working toward creating their own merchandise. The developer has requested that people making PoD gear with their designs please stop.

Music

Music, lyrics and band logos are all copyrighted and should not be used in your designs. This includes just a few words from a song or the musical notes for a song’s passage. Art from album covers should also not be used, even if it is “only part” of the artwork. 

Too many rules

It can seem like with all these areas that you cannot make designs from, that there is some sort of conspiracy or the world is against you making merchandise for your favorite band, or game. The reality is that if you make a shirt with the Nike Logo or the words Just Do It and you make money, then you are making money off of a brand that you do not own. Another example is the team that made the game Among Us. They worked very hard on their game and there was a significant investment in time and money that went into creating the game. It is not right for you to take their characters or other aspects of the game and make a design so you can make money off their hard work. You might think that a big company like Starbucks would not care if you made a design with their logo, but they most certainly will. The design you make can hurt the brand, and this can get you into even more trouble. While searching, I saw a Baby Yoda drinking a beer with a pot leaf, alcohol and drugs can do even more harm to a brand by associating them together in a design, and Disney would be even more aggressive defending this sort of case. 

Conclusion

So, if you can’t use any of these properties when making your design, what are you supposed to do? Create your own stuff. But what if your design isn’t as exciting or interesting without the words Just Do it? Create your own catchphrase, don’t expect Nike, who spent millions marketing Just Do It to let you use it for free. What if your design isn’t as cool without the Among Us characters? Create your own. It is all plain and simple. If you didn’t create the art/character/drink etc. DON’T USE IT!

Now get out there and get designing!

When you are researching content for new designs searching the status of copyright should be one of your most important steps. Why take the time to create a design and upload it to your Print on Demand service only to have it taken down because the design has been copyrighted or trademarked? Where is the best place to check the status of copyright? Let’s talk about it…

Disclaimer

Before we go any further, it needs to be made absolutely clear that I am not a lawyer, and comments, information, observations, and suggestions in this article are for your information only and should not be considered to be legal advice in any way. If you have questions about whether you have violated copyright law or need advice on legal matters of copyright, I advise you to seek counsel of an attorney who specializes in copyright and copyright law.

What is copyright?

Copyright and Trademarks are the most important kind of Intellectual Property (IP) protection that need to be considered when discussing or creating designs for Print on Demand.  You will often see people refer to intellectual property when discussing the use of copyrighted or trademarked designs in PoD forums, but what is intellectual property? IP is works created from the mind including literary and artistic works, inventions, designs, symbols, names, and images used in commerce. Intellectual property rights protect artists’ work from being copied and used without their permission (we don’t ever see that in print on demand, do we?).

While intellectual property protections extend to four different types, copyright, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets, only copyright and trademarks are generally applicable to print on demand artists. Patents and Trade secrets are more applicable to the back-end printing side of PoD, so we won’t discuss those in this article.  

How do Copyright and Trademark differ?

You often hear copyright and Trademark used interchangeably, but they mean two very different things. Copyright is intellectual property protection geared toward literary and artistic works. Works covered by copyright range from paintings, photographs, books, music, videos to technical drawings, maps, and advertisements. A trademark is a type of intellectual property geared toward items that help define a brand, such as company name, logo, or symbols, and that help distinguish one entity from another. When you create a print on demand design, it is covered under copyright once it has been published. The definition of being published varies so be sure to read up on the current definition if you find yourself in a copyright legal battle.

A trademark is like the Nike “Swoosh”, which is a symbol that defines the apparel company, and differentiates it from other clothing companies, even if they make similar items. Think of the difference between Nike and Adidas, you know their logos and they are instantly recognizable. This is why trademark protection is important, if you were to use a design that “played off” or parodied the logo of a company like Nike, they would be well within their right to come after you especially for print on demand because you would be using their logo on clothing, which would be in direct competition and they could easily demonstrate their loss of revenue form your using their logo.

Copyright protection allows the creator of a piece of art or song to make and sell copies of their works, to create derivative works, and to perform or display their works to the public.

Fair Use

Fair use is often cited as a right to use something that was published on the internet. This is where things get a bit muddy. A copyrighted work can be used for educational purposes, research, parody, or commentary. Ah, there we go! Does that mean you can use the Baby Yoda character riding a Nike swoosh if you put funny words and treat it like a parody? No. it will likely not be considered fair use if it’s for commercial gains, like print on demand. This also applies to the impact on the market, if you sell that shirt with the Nike logo, you are taking money (potentially) out of the pockets of the rightful copyright or trademark owner.

The more creative the work, the more heavily it is protected under copyright. Artwork, novels, songs, poems, and movies involve a lot more creative effort, and copying this type of material is less likely to support a claim of fair use. This is why you can’t legally use lyrics from a Beatles song in your print on demand design. Even though you might not put the title of the song in your design, the lyrics and music are all copyrighted and cannot be used without permission.

This leads to the final argument for fair use, and that is the fictional 10% rule, which says as long as I change 10% of the design or work I can use it. This is commonly cited when discussing EDM or Rap songs that use samples. There has been a myriad of court cases around this 10% rule and most of them failed. It is just better safe than sorry in this case. Don’t use copyrighted work period – not even parts. 

Words Matter

How do you know if the work you want to use is copyrighted? The simple rule of thumb is that if you didn’t create the work you can’t use it. If you drew a “fanart” Pokémon you cannot use it in your shirt design. If you didn’t write the song, you can’t use the lyrics in your design. If you didn’t take the photograph you can’t use it in your design.  But what about words? Words used in specific orders can be trademarked “Let’s get ready to Rumble” is copyrighted by ring announcer Michael Buffer and cannot be used without permission. “Just Do It” is owned by Nike and also cannot be used without permission from Nike.

How do you check copyright?

If you come up with a cool phrase or want to know if a phrase can be safely used in your design, check the phrase in the following websites. In general, if the listing says that it is live, then it is a phrase or word, or symbol that should not be used in your designs. If the phrase was trademarked or copyrighted at one time but the copyright has expired, then you should be able to use it safely. Use your best judgment, use caution, and if you have questions check with a copyright attorney. Again – I’m not suggesting a course of legal action here, just illustrating my copyright workflow.

USPTO Search trademark database | USPTO

Middle of the page – click Search our Trademark Database (TESS) and enter your term. This will show if there are entries for your phrase and if it is currently live.

United States Copyright Office: WebVoyage (loc.gov)

You can search by title, name or keyword in this search field.

Where’s my house?

If you have searched the above references and still aren’t sure whether you should use the phrase or logo in your designs, it is always better to not use them. For me, the amount of money I will get from the sale of the shirts is not worth risking my personal assets. If you want to use a copyrighted work, you can always contact a copyright attorney, they can determine the owner of the property and contact them for you. The attorney will negotiate a use cost and restrictions and you can go from there. If that sounds like way too much trouble and money to go through for a shirt design – you are correct. That is why it is just better to move on.

Conclusion

Did you find the content in this article useful? Because we use trademarked words in our content, we cannot place ads, so we rely on our readers to help support us to continue to make this kind of content. Please share this article on your print on demand forums and spread the word about our content.

Get out there and get designing!

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

Did you find the information in this article useful? Support us by sharing this and other articles on this site to your Print on Demand forums. We can’t monetize our content because we use copyrighted words, so we rely on our readers to share our content to support us.

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!

The short answer is: it depends. Before we get to the good bits here, let me state that I am not a lawyer, and nothing in this article is intended to replace the advice of legal counsel. If you have specific questions about using images downloaded from the internet in your print on demand designs, I always suggest contacting a copyright attorney. Ok, now the rest of the answer: The long answer to this question lies in the source of the image you procured from google. There are stock photography websites like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock which allow you to license their images for personal or commercial use, and the price you pay will be significantly more for commercial use (and the restrictions of how it can be used are more stringent.). So, at this point, you might be asking yourself can I or can’t I use the images I find on google for my designs?

It is complicated

Before you use an image downloaded off google in your design you need to be aware of the legal rights of the image holder, the person who actually took the photo or made the image you want to use. Has this person released the content into creative commons where anyone can use it as they see fit? Have they released it to stock sites so they can make a per-image fee from its use? If you are not 100% sure of the source of the image and how it can be used, then don’t use it. Artists have rights, and their images come with inherent copyright just lie your print on demand designs do. If you create a cool design and upload it and someone steals it right away, how do you feel that they are making money off the design you made? Is this starting to make a little more sense now?

Long term considerations  

If you download an image from a stock website and use it in one of your designs do you know your rights? If the stock site goes out of business does the license you are using the image under still apply? Or are you required to take your design down? If you get dinged for copyright on one of your print on demand sites do you have a copy of the image license on file that you can access if you need it? If you get sued would you be able to produce a verifiable license agreement (even if the website was out of business) for the image you used and made money from?  

Pexels

If the source of the image you are using is a website like pexels.com then according to their license agreement, you can (as of this writing) use images downloaded from their site for commercial applications like blogs, websites, commercials, and even print on demand designs. I would of course refer you to their site for the most current restrictions in their license agreement.

Here is a link to the Terms and Conditions for Pelxels:

https://www.pexels.com/terms-of-service

Is it worth the trouble?

This all sounds like a lot to keep track of. If I download an image from Pexels I have to keep a copy of the license agreement and I have to actually read the agreement to ensure that my application is not voiding my license for that image? I also must keep track of the sources I have used in my designs and ensure that the licensing has not changed for the materials I am using in my designs? Yes. The alternative is that you get sued and lose your car, house dog, etc. Again, I will state that I’m not a legal scholar but I have a lot of experience with licensed properties, and believe me if you are being taken to court over copyright infringement you should be concerned. Most lawyers won’t take a case unless there are clear and current materials representing the copyright claim. You do have an LLC (limited liability corporation) that you run your design business through just in case, right?

Everyone is in the same boat

So what if you are like the many out there who are doing print on demand designs with no graphic design background or skills? You don’t have the ability to make cool designs yourself so you scour the internet for clipart and images you can use for your designs. Well, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but there are a lot in the print on demand industry who do exactly the same thing you do. When you use images from Pexels, yes, they are useable in commercial designs, but realize that everyone else is also using the images from Pexels in their designs as well. Print on demand is a very saturated market to be in and when you are working in a saturated market, you need to figure out what you can do to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Set yourself apart

If a customer comes to Redbubble and searches for “I love coffee” shirts, and five results come up, two with just words, two with the same coffee cup image from google images and the words and one with a cool character holding coffee which one do you think is going to sell? Generally, depending on the design the more unique offering will be the one that sells. So how do you get to be the guy selling the unique design instead of the cookie-cutter design everyone else is doing? Take some classes, get real software like photoshop and illustrator and learn to use them. If you are using the free options, pre-made templates or just text designs your work is not going to stand out from the crowd. Learning to make (good) unique designs can be a long road to take, but you will sell more in the long run, and what is even cooler is that once you make your fortune from your designs you can release them to stock sites for others to license and make you even more money from. Cool huh?

Conclusion

Is stealing images from the internet for your designs worth it? No. at best, your images will get copyright flagged and taken down, at worst you will get sued and the money you made from that design will have to go to the rightful owner (the creator of the design) and your lawyer. Take your own pictures, make your own designs, create your own illustrations and overall you will get a financial win and a moral one because you didn’t steal other artist’s work to make money.

Get out there and get designing!