I don't know about you, but I don't always have a ton of time.
Well, ok -- maybe that was before the pandemic hit. But one of the things I have learned over time being a designer of sorts and loving fashion design was that it seemed I never had enough time to do/make everything I wanted to have available within a product line to sell. Especially not when I was working a full-time job either!
Bags! Shoes! And yeah, duh -- clothing! It seemed most of my friends who are designers made all of their own items from scratch on their machines and I just didn't want to sit at my machine after working 40+ hours a week. Maybe for myself only but not as a side hustle.
But I always had requests from people - "Can you make me something? I want something designed by you!"
I really appreciated the sentiment, but often times it was just as confusing/hard for me as it was for them.
I would sit there and go "How should I adjust this for them? Am I even gonna find that fabric again? How in the hell will I get this perfect? Dammit! My machine jacked up again!!"
Needless to say, it was super-frustrating. Adding to that, unfortunately the general public is not educated on how long handmade can/might take, how very small designers usually can't make a full-time living off it, how expensive "just making a collection and selling it" is.... on and on and on. It's tiresome. And navigating the manufacturing and tech pack part with NO experience? I dunno. Too much work for someone who generally works full time.
And for years, I was super bummed out about it all. I wanted to get products into the world of my own designs, but I personally *hate production* especially when I have to sit there and make it myself. I'm sorry, I love y'all, but I do NOT want to sit in front of my machine for hours to make something only for it to come out quite imperfectly and for me to hate it, even though it's probably ok. My own sewing patterns were a good idea to release (and maybe I will release more in the future, maybe not) but I also wanted something a little more "instant".
Enter the world of Print on Demand, or POD!
Yeah, these sites are really nothing new -- not at all. Many of them have been around for YEARS (like Spoonflower) but for me, personally I was going about thing I made it the hard way.
I feel like more and more of the POD sites are cropping up as time goes on and to me, it's exciting. I love e-comm and I definitely think that is how retail is going and product is becoming increasingly customizable in most product markets.
I also have always loved to play with color, pattern, surface design prints, and I loved my product design class in college (we did our own product offshoot of MAC Makeup -- MAC Hair in 2005 or 2006!)
Sure, no one doing POD will end up being a zillionaire (or maybe you will? I don't know!) It probably won't even equate to a full-time job going this direction. But personally, I love that my fingerprint is on real-life products and that people can buy and enjoy them. And I get a commission cut!
I also love POD because I have little to no start-up costs associated with any of them so I literally just create and sell. So many of them you can integrate with existing Etsy and/or Shopify sites but you don't have to.
Besides not having to do the production work myself, I don't have to deal too much with the customer service side, payments side, or packing and shipping! It works for me and my lifestyle.
****One thing I really feel like I need to mention about selling on POD sites: You HAVE to have rights or design your prints/designs completely yourself. This is really copyright 101, but this is how all of these sites work. Save yourself the headache and money of a lawsuit and do NOT steal art randomly from the internet for your POD sites!****
So here is my unofficial quick guide of POD sites and how I like them!
Ok, I think most of us are familiar with this one.
Spoonflower allows you to create and sell custom-print fabrics. Originally it was just fabric by the yard, wallpaper, and wrapping paper. Now they have expanded their product line into bedding, pillows, curtains, face masks, and more!
I remember being in college in 2005 and creating your own fabrics was NOT something you could do easily unless you hand-printed yourself or went to a big manufacturer and got it printed in bulk. No designer starting out can usually afford that!
- Great fabric selection. Spoonflower has over 20 different fabrics you can get your repeat printed on: including jersey, silk, denim, chiffon, cotton poplin, sateen, velvet, and fleece!
- Easy to upload your repeat swatch from Photoshop, Illustrator, or Procreate. DPI needs to be 150dpi or higher.
- Can change sizing on website (wouldn't recommend doing this too far one way or the other, depending upon starting DPI.)
- Option for different types of repeat on-site depending upon your starting motif
- Sell with online storefront and make commission. You can customize this with your banner!
- Fabric produced in USA, at a North Carolina facility.
- I feel like their website is a little slow. Maybe it will be fixed, but hey.
- You have to buy test swatches before selling any of your fabrics. I understand completely why they do this, but there is a little bit of an up front cost to selling. You can add many swatches to a "collection" and usually pay only about $20 for a pretty large selection of swatches.
- Commission is kinda low.
Coolest thing that has happened with me and Spoonflower: a vintage-styled indie designer bought 3 yards worth of my mushroom print fabric to make some of her products with! Said indie designer has had her own work worn by Katy Perry, so who knows what kind of life my fabrics designed may lead later on!
I honestly thought this site was mostly for graphic designers and t-shirt designers, but not really. Red Bubble has been around since 2006 and they are continuously expanding their product line.
Lately I am REALLY loving their backpacks and duffle bags. They have a good assortment of clothing, but they also make houseware items like shower curtains, duvet covers, pillows, clocks, mugs, and more!
Designer view of items on Red Bubble.
- Very quick upload to multiple products! Very easy to enable/disable products on there that you don't like your print on.
- Easy print size adjustment. Just click the slider and edit your sizing accordingly! The site already knows what is a good or bad DPI on your design and will not let you pass that quality threshold.
- Quality products! Most of the items are made in the USA, but if they are not they specify.
- Great ship speed. I feel like anything I have ordered has come really quickly.
- Great customer service. Any time something I have hasn't shown up, they made it right!
- Online storefront. They host your product on their site and you have your own custom banner too! It seems their site has good product SEO too, so that is also helpful in Google searches.
- Set your own product margins! I tend to keep mine standard set so as not to discourage sales. Over time, if you have heavy traffic and sell a bunch you could adjust your sales margins for a bigger profit.
- Collections on shopfront.
- Honestly, not really much. I wish they had different styles of clothing to customize, but there are different POD manufacturers for that application.
- No sample ordering available that I can find.
- No integration with Shopify, WooCommerce, and other common sites where you sell your own merchandise.
Ok, this is where I fell in love with print on demand. I originally was playing with another site (who shall be unnamed since I heard not great things about another one) so Kin Custom was where I started playing more.
If you are thinking about Kin Custom? Definitely try it. They are solid, legit, and a good way to get your art or prints on varying apparel.
- Lots of product options! Multiple dresses, shoes, skirt, bags, and tech accessories! Home goods have recently been added like duvet covers, shower curtains, and pillow covers.
- VERY customizable. If you want something very specific like lettering going down a sleeve, this is the site for you. If you want print placements in a very exact location, this will do it too.
- Online storefront available. This one doesn't have good product SEO like Red Bubble (meaning less opportunities for people to find your work randomly), but you can direct your customers straight to your store for checkout.
- Great profit margin for a POD site. Set your items to what makes sense for you and your brand and get selling! Yes, it goes without saying that your profit margin will be better if you find another, cheaper manufacturer overall and bulk-buy your items, but that's not what POD is about really.
- Quality product. Most if not all of this product is made in China, but I love the items I have received as samples from them!
- Sample and bulk ordering. Get samples from them to see your work, promote it, or give away. Or order in bulk to mark up and sell in real life at your own brick and mortar shop!
- Custom branding set! Get your logo printed on bags, tags, and product tag! This one is awesome and not really available via many sites.
- Integration with Shopify, WooCommerce, Amazon, and other common sites where you can have a shop!
- Featured products on shopfront.
And example of the design window below:
- Email-only customer service. Their customer service is reasonable, but not stellar.
- Non-SEO friendly shopfront. Yes, you definitely have to do your own marketing with POD to begin with, but a boost from the company itself is never unwelcome!
- 1-2 weeks shipping. Maybe it's faster now, but it seemed a little slower. At the same time, I don't mind because it is a COMPLETELY custom, made-to-order item.
Overall, a really solid and fun site to work off of!
This one was perhaps my 1st POD/drop ship experiment. It really gave me an idea about how POD worked and set sales goals for me with the product I designed. Some random stranger on Facebook argued that this site was "a pyramid scheme" but that is NOT how this site works at all!
I guess this one is more of s "manufacture on demand". Apparently, the more shoes you sell, the more options you have - like other designers are submitting sketches after X sales and getting MUCH more custom design work done via AliveShoes.
Of course, this won't beat designing something completely your own and buying product in bulk, but I don't know many designers just starting out who have thousands of dollars to drop (even for like, 5 styles) for adding a shoe line for 1 season.
- High quality product. Most, if not all of their designs are 100% leather and they are true to size via feedback from my customers. They are all made in Italy.
- Storefront option, but maybe not SEO-friendly? Looks good though!
- Fun to customize options, and they are always adding new styles. Lots of them are limited-run for both styles and some materials.
- No startup cost associated. Just design and sell!
- Decent commission overall! Remember that you are still supporting someone's indie brand via the manufacturer.
- Good shipping.
- Awesome custom keepsake box! Really elevates the shoes overall.
- Coupons! These coupons do cut into your profit, but they exist for your customers to use.
- Awesome brand photos. I really love how everything looks on this.
- No integration with Shopify, WooCommerce, Amazon, or other sites where you can sell your merchandise.
- Limited custom styles unless you sign up for pro. I used my profit from sales to pay for pro to get all the options and still had a little bit of money leftover in my pocket.
- Application process. I don't know how picky they truly are, but they seem to want people who have a blog, or a design background, or something. That being said, I dunno. Maybe you could sign up?
- 7 sales needed before shoe hits production. I had 6 sales and miraculously all my shoes went into production, but I don't know if this was a covid-19 fluke or what. But this means you need to do HEAVY product marketing for it.
- Pricey! This is because yeah, they are all-leather but sometimes you do have to pay more for quality. Everyone I talked to about their shoe orders loved their shoes. And I hope so because I loved them too!
This one I just started playing with the other day! I looooove the extremely varying product styles and lines you can create. From a really fleshed-out clothing line to a very detailed house-wares line, this seems to be a top-notch POD manufacturer.
- AMAZING customizable product line. I got really excited about cardigans, dusters, and the fact that you can design and sell custom CHAIRS. (They are $600 each, so don't get that excited.)
- Integration with Shopify, Amazon, other online storefronts.
- Storefront available, but again not very SEO-friendly which is fine by me. Just do your own marketing or integration.
- Customize all parts of garment or product. You can get very detailed on this very fast. It's both good and bad for someone like me!
- Just the sheer size of their product line and availability! Wow.
- Wholesaler discount available.
- This one seems like you would do much better with a very cohesive print/surface design line. Meaning... don't just design a print and throw it up on some items.
- Some of the design software on-site is a little kludgy but it works and is very detailed. VERY.
- No "quick upload" of prints to items. This makes sense as to why (do you really want to upload to 450+ products at once? No.) But it could be nice to select a few items and have it upload and the you customize further.
- Doesn't look like the storefront part is automatic? I don't know what the deal is on this yet. Maybe they want to see my designs in queue before approving me? Either way, there may be an approval process on this. I am really not sure yet, but would love to make items via this site.
- Pricey, but again this will probably be very high-quality product. I haven't gotten samples from them, but looking forward to it.
- Not sure if you can order piece by piece samples? If you can, you are ordering it at the retail price which is generally around $88 on many clothing items. I get it, completely.
Those are the ones I have generally played with, but there are MANY others out there and I feel like more and more cropping up every day! I feel like this is the future of a lot of fashion design and I really think bigger brands will benefit from having customizable elements on their own sites as well.
Other POD sites to check out:
Graphic Tees, Hoodies, and more: Printify, TeePublic, and Printful.
Other POD sites with varying product lines: Zazzle, TeeSpring, Society6, Art of Where, Threadless, and CafePress.
Will you ever be amazingly successful from all of this? Probably not. But there are people on Red Bubble alone who make a decent side income monthly.
You could potentially wholesale your work with a boutique or other company if your product designs are a good match for them. And who knows? Maybe some other company might want to license your prints.
Regardless, this method is a GREAT way to get real-life product out there that you designed. You, people you know, or fans of your brand get to wear it. You have fun making the items and everything else involved in it.
It's just exciting overall!
Let me know in the comments other POD sites you love!