Intro to Print on Demand

We’ve been teasing everybody about this topic for months and months, but today we’re finally going to begin our print on demand series! There’s so much to cover that we’re going to break it up into several episodes.

There are two options for printing: traditional analog-type printers and digital printing. With traditional printers you typically have to do large quantities of each item and there’s usually a hefty setup fee. In this digital age, it’s become a lot easier to simply print direct to garments or make giclée or inkjet art prints. So companies have started offering these services, combined with shipping the products either to you or directly to the customer. They can basically do one or many products at a time with no crazy setup fees and no boxes of unsold inventory sitting in your living room!

Today we dig into the different types of print on demand services available and why artists might want to consider them.

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Topics discussed

  • Traditional vs digital printing
  • The definition of print on demand
  • Different types of print on demand services available
  • Specific online printers we have experience with
  • Public marketplaces vs printers that integrate with your website
  • The pros and cons of each type
  • Nikki’s licensing deal with a new POD curated art marketplace
  • How to get started with POD and choosing the right option for your brand

Take Laura’s new Skillshare class:

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Check out Nikki’s latest calendar:

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Laura

0:01
So Nikki, what are we talking about today?

Nikki

0:04
Well, we’ve been teasing you about this topic for months and months, but we’re finally going to get into our print on demand series. And there’s so much to cover that we’re going to break it up into several episodes. But before we dive into today’s topic, Laura, I know you’ve been working hard for the past several months on an exciting project that you just launched.

Laura

0:24
I have! For anyone who is interested in making art on their iPad, I’ve just launched a new Skillshare course called Mindful Mandalas in Procreate. There’s something just so therapeutic about creating symmetrical designs and the iPad and Procreate have made that so incredibly easy.

Nikki

0:46
I know! Procreate is amazing the way it’s like having an entire art studio – hell, an entire art supply store – on your iPad. And you don’t even have to clean your brushes when you’re done!

Laura

0:57
Exactly! Yes, so this class is perfect for all levels, including absolute beginners. I take you step by step through the whole mandala making process. So from creating the inked outline using the radial symmetry tool, to creating layers of gorgeous color, texture and depth. We cover things like how you can recolor your artwork in seconds, and I even added some really cool freebies like downloadable mandala frameworks, a custom color palette and mandala shape worksheet. I also show you how to create an animated GIF file from your artwork.

Nikki

1:36
Wait an animated JIF, or an animated GIF.

Laura

1:40
It’s animated JIF. And I know this because I looked it up before I hit record on my class and the guy who had invented them calls them JIFs.

Nikki

1:50
Okay, I know that the guy who invented them calls it that, but I still think it’s wrong. I mean, the G in that word stands for graphic/graphical, not giraffical! So I don’t care if he created it. He’s wrong!

Laura

2:11
Okay, maybe that’s the case. But I’m going to use JIF, because that’s what he said. And it’s just going to be a little potato/patata.

Nikki

2:19
Okay, fine, be that way. All right. So I haven’t done mandalas before, but I also use Procreate and I know that I don’t use half of the features that it offers. But I just watched your new class and you give a great intro to some of the tools that I didn’t even know existed. And didn’t you also give some tips about using some of the new features in the latest version of Procreate?

Laura

2:45
I did. The new version of Procreate 5.2 has some really cool features. And I cover things like the new brush stabilization tools, and the brand new color palette functionality where you can do some really cool things like even name your colors. And that always reminds me, Nikki, of people who have the job of naming nail polish colors. I mean, how cool is that?

Nikki

3:09
That is a cool job. How do we sign up for that one? Or naming paint swatches?

Laura

3:16
Or naming ice cream flavors, right?

Nikki

3:18
Oh, yeah. Well, mine would all be named after bourbon. Anyway, back on topic. Yeah, the new version of Procreate really sounds amazing. And if you use our link to Laura’s Mindful Mandalas in Procreate class in the shownotes, you’ll get a free Skillshare trial. Now back to today’s topic.

Laura

3:43
Right, back to today’s topic. We’ve talked about print on demand a few times in the past, but I don’t think all of our listeners might be familiar with print on demand, also known as POD. So Nikki, can you give us a definition of what print on demand actually is?

Nikki

4:00
Absolutely. So basically, there are two options for printing: the traditional, more analog type of printers and digital printing. Traditional printers do things like offset or lithography printing for art prints, screen printing on t-shirts, or whatever other products you want your art printed on. And you typically have to do large quantities of each item and there’s usually quite a hefty setup fee. But in this digital age, it’s become a lot easier to simply print direct to garment on a t-shirt, or to make giclee or inkjet prints for art prints. So there’s a lot of companies that have started offering these services combined with shipping the products either to you or directly to your customer. They can basically do one or many products at a time with no crazy setup fees.

Laura

4:52
Right, I know when you screen print something, for example, you have to pay for the screens to be created and burned. And for larger items that can be really cost prohibitive if you don’t know if you’re going to sell five or 500 of them. And the last thing you want are 500 t-shirts sitting around in your garage that you can’t sell.

Nikki

5:12
Especially if you don’t have a garage!

Laura

5:15
Like me. Yeah, that means they would be sitting in my living room.

Nikki

5:20
Or if you live in a school bus… which is a tease for a future episode.

Laura

5:25
Which is going to be really fun to talk about! But let’s dig into the different types of print on demand services available and why artists might want to consider them.

Laura

5:39
Hi, this is Laura Lee Griffin.

Nikki

5:41
And this is Nikki May with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

5:51
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

6:05
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours.

Nikki

6:13
So we asked our Startist Society Facebook group what questions they had about print on demand, and a lot of people want to know which sites are are the safest to use, which are the most trusted?

Laura

6:28
Well, there are quite a few different types of POD services available. And it’s important to understand the differences between them. So why don’t we just start there?

Nikki

6:38
Okay, so probably everyone is familiar with the photo printing services like Shutterfly or Snapfish, which one could argue is really how print on demand began. And it started as just a way for individuals to be able to print their personal photos on products. For example, when my sister had her first kid in 2001, I put photos of him on a mousepad, and mugs for our parents. And we made a calendar of photos of her kids for several years in a row.

Laura

7:14
Yeah, I just finished working on a friend’s wedding album book on Shutterfly. But I also got sucked into their little free add ons, which by the way, are not really free, because they charge ridiculous shipping and handling to recoup their costs. But they have things like Christmas ornaments and coasters and key chains and all kinds of things like that.

Nikki

7:35
Yeah, so that’s a great kind of service for one off or personal gifts. But they’re not inexpensive.

Laura

7:43
For sure. I definitely would not order a portfolio books, for example, from Shutterfly, because it would be crazy expensive. So for artists, we’re going to recommend some different options.

Nikki

7:54
Yeah, so the next category is online printers like Vistaprint, Moo and Sticker Mule that are more for business marketing materials like business cards, postcards, labels and stickers that have smaller print runs than traditional printers.

Laura

8:11
Yes, we both have personally used Moo for business cards and greeting cards, because their quality is awesome. And they let you upload multiple designs in a single order, instead of ordering like 50 of the same thing.

Nikki

8:25
Yeah, I love Moo for those reasons, but they’re really a bit more expensive than say Vistaprint. So actually, I use Vistaprint when I don’t need the variety of different images.

Laura

8:37
And we both have mentioned in past episodes that we’ve used Sticker Mule for stickers for our artwork, but they also offer things like packing tape, envelopes, acrylic pins, and some other things like that.

Nikki

8:50
Yeah, and I’ve tried all those products when they’ve offered them for their weekly specials.

Laura

8:56
Of course you have.

Nikki

8:57
Yeah, anyway, these printers are great for more businessy stuff, but we know that you’re here for the art. So what’s next, Laura?

Laura

9:06
Alright, the next big category is the public marketplace print on demand sites. So that would encompass sites like Society6, Redbubble, Spoonflower – which was recently purchased by Shutterfly – or Fine Art America where your artwork is basically marketed and sold on a searchable site with other artists’ work. And it’s put on a variety of products, everything from t-shirts to fabric yardage to even bath curtains. And by the way, I know a lot of artists are really nervous about what it means with the Shutterfly takeover of Spoonflower that was recently announced. Will it still be a cool artist driven indie shop? Or will it turn into something huge and commercial with smaller commissions for the artists? I know some artists make a substantial portion of their income there which can be kind of scary.

Nikki

9:57
I can see how people who rely on Spoonflower for a big portion of their income might be worried about that. But for me, I’ve had a small Spoonflower shop for a few years and I’m really not that concerned about that. It’s the same thing people worry about every time a smaller company is acquired by a larger one. And I personally have a lot of other things I have to worry about like, like where I left my bourbon.

Laura

10:24
Yeah, I think it just speaks, though, to the importance of not having all of your eggs in one basket. So the way you earn money on these sites is that you essentially have a licensing relationship with them. For example, Society6 and Spoonflower both pay artists a 10%, commission on sales and Redbubble pays 20% on sales for most products. And then there are some products that you can set your own markup on, and Society6 also offers the ability for you to earn, I think it’s another 10%, if you sign up for their affiliate program.

Nikki

10:58
Yeah, it is.

Laura

10:59
Yeah, and then you just direct people to your shop through a special affiliate tracked link that you can put on your website or your social media or wherever.

Nikki

11:07
So these types of sites are really a great way to dip your toes into print on demand – you don’t need to have your own website, and they have really great search engines built in to help people find your work. Now, most of these big ones are pretty saturated in, what year are we? 2021 coming into 2022, so it’s not as easy to be found on them as it once was. But they have pretty good product tagging and naming, so it’s still possible to be found on those.

Laura

11:39
Yeah, it can feel like it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle on these big sites.

Nikki

11:44
Totally. But in the meantime, if you’re just wanting to get started with print on demand and you’re a bit intimidated, these marketplaces are a great way to offer products quickly and easily. You can still market them to your own audience, and point them to your Society6 or Spoonflower shop. And you just, you simply shouldn’t rely on them to be accidentally found on these platforms.

Laura

12:08
Yeah, if you happen to have an email newsletter, and you’ve uploaded some recent designs, that might be a great place to tell your followers about them, and to direct them to those shops, especially if you have that affiliate link we just mentioned.

Nikki

12:23
Yeah, so let’s talk about pros and cons of these big marketplaces. The first pro that I can think of is what we’ve already mentioned, it’s a super low barrier to entry. It’s really easy to start and set up your own shop and you don’t need to set up or manage all the technical aspects; they’ve got that figured out for you.

Laura

12:44
Oh, yeah, definitely lowers the intimidation factor. The other pro that actually exists for all of print on demand sites is shipping. And when I say shipping, I mean the fact that you don’t have to do it.

Nikki

12:56
Amen, sista!

Laura

13:00
I am not a fan of shipping. So the fact that the most significant effort I need to put out is to create the artwork and upload it is awesome. Another pro for this solution is that when something goes wrong with an order, the customer will contact Society6, and not you, to get the issue resolved. And this can save a lot of time and frustration on your end.

Nikki

13:24
For sure. So a con for the public marketplaces like Society6 is that you mostly don’t get to set your own prices and choose your profit level. They set the prices for you and you get a small percentage.

Laura

13:38
And also you can’t control when sales are offered. They could offer a 30% discount on your products, for example. And you won’t have a say in the matter, though, it could be an opportunity for you to order some of your own stock to sell locally, especially if they’re having a free worldwide shipping sale.

Nikki

13:56
Yeah, definitely. One more con is that even if you’ve sent someone to your shop on one of these marketplaces, it’s so easy for them to go to see your product, but then they can easily click on other people’s products and never find their way back to you. So yeah, you may just drive sales for someone else.

Laura

14:17
True. Absolutely true.

Nikki

14:19
Yeah, so any artists can basically start selling their products on these types of public marketplaces. But there are some other marketplaces that are more curated. And when I say curated, I mean that either you apply and they accept you or they seek out artists and approach you to join their marketplace.

Laura

14:37
Yeah, some examples of this would be Casetify for phone cases, Thortful for greeting cards, and another great marketplace that is fairly new is one called Mixtiles. And when more established sites like Society6 feel overcrowded, it’s great to get in on the front end of another service because you never know if they’ll become the next big thing or the next Society6, Mixtiles is definitely one to try to get in on now.

Nikki

15:05
Yeah, so Mixtiles actually started years ago as more of a Shutterfly-type service where they had an app and you could just upload your own photos from your phone or a computer and have them printed on these really simple foam core tiles that you could hang with removable tape. I actually ordered a bunch of my drawings printed on them back in 2016, just to hang myself. But a few months ago, Laura you heard that they were launching their new print on demand platform called Mixtiles Art, and that they were accepting submissions.

Laura

15:41
Yeah, we both reached out to them back, I think it was in May of this year, through their website. And they requested our Instagram handles or our website so they could forward to their art team for review and said they would reach out if they thought it was a good fit. And we didn’t hear anything for a while.

Nikki

16:04
But then in September, I got an email with a subject line “Invitation to join Mixtiles Art”. Fast forward a few weeks, and I am now a licensed artist on Mixtiles Art where you can currently find all my state flower and insect drawings. And they’re available as framed prints.

Laura

16:24
(applause sound effects and laughter)

Nikki

16:28
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Anyway. So Mixtiles works the same way as the other marketplaces where you get a set percentage for each item sold.

Laura

16:43
Nikki, that’s amazing. We’ll definitely put a link to your shop in the show notes so that everyone can check it out.

Nikki

16:49
Thanks. And your email from them is surely coming soon.

Laura

16:53
Perhaps, but I’m all about community over competition. And the important part of this story is that we put ourselves out there and even if I don’t hear back from this company, I feel a little bit more comfortable reaching out to the next one.

Nikki

17:06
Oh, totally. Yeah. And I’ve submitted to quite a few other companies that offer this type of service, and ones that I think are more saturated and never heard back from. So this one being newer, I think, really worked in my favor.

Laura

17:19
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Good timing.

Nikki

17:22
Yeah.

Laura

17:23
So as for pros and cons, I think for this type of curated public marketplace, they are, they’re mostly the same.

Nikki

17:31
Right, one pro is that since they aren’t open to everyone, there’s less competition for eyes on your products. So it might be easier for people to find your work.

Laura

17:40
Mm hmm.

Nikki

17:42
A con is the opposite side of that, which is the barrier of entry, since it is an open to everyone.

Laura

17:48
Yeah, definitely. So there’s one other category of print on demand sites we wanted to mention. And we’re going to go into more detail in future episodes about it. But that is print on demand services that you can add to your own website or your Etsy shop. So some examples are Printify, Printful, Gooten and Art of Where, just to name a few.

Nikki

18:12
Yeah, we talked about this in a few episodes about selling for the holidays, and creating calendars. So we’re not going to go much into detail about this today, because we’re going to do an entire episode about creating products and integrating them with a few of the more popular e commerce website platforms.

Laura

18:31
Right. So the pros to having your print on demand products on your own website, are they you can set the prices however you want to allow for a larger profit margin. Essentially, they set the base cost for each product, and then you get to choose the markup that you want on top of them. You can control the timing and the amount of your sales, you’re essentially driving traffic to your own website and can customize that customer experience when people arrive there so that it matches your brand. And you can also be like the sole person, only your products would be available on your website, potentially. So they’re not being drawn to a website that has thousands of other artists on it, right?

Nikki

19:12
Right. Now, the con to having it on your own website is that you’re responsible for setting up all the tech, adding it to your website, dealing with tech issues when things go wrong. There’s some complexity about setting up shipping costs, especially if you offer products from multiple POD companies or selling and shipping from your own studio as well.

Laura

19:35
Yeah, this can be expensive for your customer to if you need to pay shipping based on products coming from multiple print on demand companies. That all adds up.

Nikki

19:44
Yeah, and we will definitely address that issue when we do the episode on setting it up on your own website. Also, although you need to market your work no matter what solution you choose, if you’re selling on your own site, you won’t make any sales at all if you don’t do your own marketing. You might accidentally make some sales from Spoonflower and Society6 just because people are on those platforms anyway. But if you don’t let people know that your store exists when it’s all on your platform, you’re not going to get any sales at all. And the other thing is that you have to be customer support for issues with products, as opposed to the company managing those customer emails.

Laura

20:29
Yeah, they’re not going to go to Printful or Printify, they’re going to come to you and say, my product didn’t print right, or something is broken or whatever. But Nikki, in your experience, when something’s gone wrong with an order, from your website, you know, if something arrives broken or misprinted? Were those companies like Printful, Printify, Gooten, are they responsive to you? And how did you get that issue resolved?

Nikki

20:54
Oh, yeah, I said it was a con that you have to do your own customer support. But anytime I’ve had an issue with a product or shipping, which really has been very rare, each of these companies was immediately responsive and replaced the item very quickly.

Laura

21:09
That’s really good to hear.

Nikki

21:10
Yeah.

Laura

21:11
Now, when the issue happened, did they require a photo of the damage, and did any of those items need to be returned to them?

Nikki

21:19
So they always require a photo, but they’ve never required that the product be shipped back. And when they have to do a reprint, it’s always faster than the original one, because they want to make sure that they’re providing really good customer service.

Laura

21:35
That’s great. Now that we’ve talked about the types of print on demand available, let’s answer a few questions from our Startist Society community about print on demand itself. First up, people want to know, where do I start?

Nikki

21:51
That’s always the question, isn’t it? So as I mentioned briefly, in the beginning, the print on demand marketplaces like Society6 and Spoonflower are a great way to start with minimal effort.

Laura

22:03
Yeah, if you can start an Instagram account and upload your photos, you can get on Society6. We’ll talk more about workflows, file preparation, organization, etc, in a future episode. But Nikki, another question that came up is what products sell and which products should be avoided.

Nikki

22:23
So I believe that what products sell depends really on who your audience is and what they’re used to seeing from you. I imagine there’s an audience for each of the products that a POD site offers, or they wouldn’t keep offering them, you know? It’s more about knowing your own customer and figuring out how to market to the type of customer that you want to have.

Laura

22:49
And knowing your brand’s story. If I’m someone who creates fine art, I might not want to sell a baseball cap with my art on it.

Nikki

22:59
You will never see me sell a baseball cap with my art on it.

Laura

23:04
If there if there are people out there selling art on baseball caps, that’s totally fine!

Nikki

23:07
There is absolutely a market for it. It’s just not mine. Additionally, you need to do some research and experimentation on your own. For example, pretty much all the print on demand sites offer a variety of mugs. But there are different sizes and shapes. And one might appeal to you or your customers more than another, right? So Laura, another question we keep hearing from our community is, if you’re trying to license your art, should you avoid making it available on print on demand products?

Laura

23:40
I think in general, the answer is it mostly doesn’t matter. There are plenty of artists that get found by companies that want to license their work through POD sites like Society6, they may just ask you to take that artwork off of the platform. Or they may ask you to design new art to their specifications. I think the the one exception to this might be if you’re wanting to design for the quilting cotton fabric world and you have a really strong collection that you want to pitch to fabric companies, I would suggest holding those back from the public eye because if you’re successful with your pitch, they generally do not want that collection to be seen before the launch of the line.

Nikki

24:23
Those are excellent points. So to wrap it up, we’ve talked about pros and cons of the different types of POD platforms. But there are tons of great benefits to using print on demand in general.

Laura

24:35
Yeah, I think one of the biggest factors, aside from setup costs, is actual inventory. It’s basically a no risk way to begin selling products because you have no significant overhead, no warehouse, no printing equipment or equipment maintenance. All the things. If POD was available at the start to many companies that have large wholesale businesses today, they might have rethought their business model.

Nikki

25:03
Right? Your only real investment is your time.

Laura

25:06
And your talent. Alright, Nikki, so what are key takeaways from today’s episode?

Nikki

25:14
Well, I’d say that there are definite pros and cons to using print on demand, and specifically with each type. But print on demand is a great way to get started with selling your art on many different types of products.

Laura

25:28
And speaking of types of products, you’ve recently launched one yourself right, Nikki?

Nikki

25:33
I have! In fact, we had an entire episode about the product, I just launched – calendars. And if you haven’t listened to that episode, go back and listen to episode 44. All about designing and selling calendars where

Laura

interviewed me about my process.

Laura

25:50
Yes, and you sell your calendars through print on demand on your own website. Right?

Nikki

25:55
I do. And you can find all the details and purchase one at nikkimay.com/calendar. They are big, beautiful, colorful images of my state flowers and insect drawings with really nice sized boxes to write all your appointments in.

Laura

26:12
I can attest to the fact that they are beautiful. And I love that they’re functional too. Not only can you use them for writing your appointments in but you can cut them down and create frameable prints from them, right?

Nikki

26:27
Yeah, definitely. I’ve had customers buy a calendar and then make a gorgeous gallery wall of 12 prints at the end of the year. The calendar and the prints all make great holiday gifts and you should probably buy one for everyone you know.

Laura

26:40
But what a great deal that is for the cost of a single print, right? You can get a wall of prints basically for the cost of one.

Laura

26:51
Okay, now it’s your turn. If you have any questions for us or have any experience with print on demand that you’d like to share, please let us know in the Startist Society Facebook group or on Instagram @startistsociety.

Nikki

27:05
And for today’s Startist Society show notes and links to today’s resources go to startistsociety.com/printondemand.

Laura

27:14
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, we’d love for you to leave us a five star rating and review. Reviews help us reach more Startist like you and keep us inspired to continue creating new episodes.

Nikki

27:25
Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

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