In the fourth part of our ‘Passive Income For Creatives’ series, we share how you can use your creative talents to create physical products without any upfront costs using print on demand services.
Sell products using print on-demand service
If you’re a designer, illustrator, photographer calligrapher or artist, you could turn your artwork into physical products at no cost to you thanks to the rising popularity of print on-demand services. In the past, creating physical products with your artwork used to require upfront costs for materials and print runs plus the time consuming process of sourcing manufacturers and physically packing and shipping orders. Nowadays, with print on demand services, you get to bypass the physical logistics and focus entirely on creating work and building your audience.
How it works
Websites like Society6 and Printful make it easy to sell your artwork online. Much like listing a digital product, as a seller on a print on demand website you have your own dedicated digital storefront. When a customer places an order of your work, the print on-demand company creates the product with your artwork on and handles all of the production and shipping. You then receive a commission for any sales made and someone somewhere in the world gets to enjoy your artwork in their home.
There are no upfront costs, no having to drop parcels off at the post office and no added stress. Products can be purchased and shipped throughout the world whilst you sleep!
What’s great about utilising these types of services is that you can test the market without any initial financial investment. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on a print run of t-shirts, you can try as many designs as you want without the typically associated upfront costs, making this a very low risk option for physical product creation. As a creative, it also gives you an opportunity to experiment with your designs, and over time you’ll get a feel for what type of designs sell well and respond to the market accordingly. All without having to invest in expensive print runs so you can avoid the costly expense of slow moving stock gathering dust in your spare room.
You also get the chance to react very quickly to new market/product trends. Rather than waiting for long lead times for a new product range launch, these can be turned around at lightning speed and be ready to launch as soon as you’ve created and published your design.
Print on-demand product ideas
With print on-demand services, whether you’re a photographer, pattern designer, artist or illustrator, your work can be turned into a whole host of products. With each month, new product lines are being listed on these print on demand websites and so the potential range of products you can choose from can be pretty impressive.
Popular print on-demand products you could sell:
- Prints, wall art, hand lettered quotes
- Clothing (t-shirts, hoodies, tote bags)
- Stationery (notebooks, greeting cards, wrapping paper)
- Tech (phone cases, laptop sleeves)
- Homeware (mugs, coasters, throws, pillows)
As with all ‘passive’ income revenue streams, you certainly get out what you put in. In the early stages of your product development, you may find that you’ll have to invest a lot of time into creating a wide variety of designs. The more designs you have, the greater visibility your products will have and therefore increase your chance of a sale. It may take a while to make that first sale, and there may be some designs that don’t sell at all, but in due time you’ll be able to use sales data to refine the product creation process to increase your chance of consistent sales and grow your income.
How to increase sales
Many popular sellers on websites like Society6 attribute building a social media following to helping to increase their visibility and sales on marketplaces. By building an audience on social media, not only does it help to establish the personality behind the work (aka the brand) but it also helps to direct traffic to your webstore. Pinterest, with both free and paid options, is another powerful traffic source that can help to get eyes on your products.
Drop-shipping your products
Whilst using third party marketplaces is always a great way to start and test the market, over time you may wish to have more control of your sales and to develop a deeper relationship with your customer base. To do this, having your own website where you manage the whole sales process gives you valuable data and intimate communication with your customers, that is not always possible with third party websites (where your customer data can be quite limited.)
Drop-shipping is another way of using the print on demand model of selling physical printed products without having to pay for the up-front costs of inventory. Printful offers this type of service and how this works is typically:
- Someone places an order on your website
- This order gets forwarded to your print-on-demand service
- They create and ship the product to your customer
Some websites and services like Printful can integrate sales through your website to automatically get forwarded to your print on demand supplier, making your shop run on autopilot. Once an order is received through your website, the supplier then receives your order, prints the item, packs it and ships it for you on your behalf.
The benefits of setting up your own website is that you get to set your own prices for your products and so you can therefore increase and control your profit margins for each product. On third-party marketplaces you may find that to be competitive amongst a sea of other creators that your products have to remain in a certain price range, whereas on your own site you can command whatever price you wish.
The downsides of drop-shipping are that the customer service side of things then gets transferred to you. With marketplaces like Society6, shipping queries, checkout issues or product faults are usually the responsibility of the marketplace. When a customer is buying from your website, any logistics or product queries are likely to be landing in your inbox. Depending on how hands-off you’d like to be may well determine whether you’re happy to stick with sales through a marketplace, via your own website or both!
As designers, as much as we love creating things online there’s always something magical about seeing your designs in tangible form, made real. If you’ve ever dreamed of creating your own physical product (which as creatives, let’s face it is always ‘the dream’), using print on demand services could be an ideal stepping stone into testing the waters. Not only does it minimise risks, with little or no overhead costs, but it always gives you the opportunity to flex your creative skills and try out a host of ideas until you find your niche: the sweet spot between what you love creating and what people love to buy.
Creating print on demand products can not only be a way of diversifying your income, adding an additional revenue stream to your creative business, but it can be a business all in itself. Once you find a platform or supplier you’re happy with and if you’re prepared to invest time into marketing your products – there’s huge potential to create a reliable, healthy income this way. All from designing and creating what you love!
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our other articles in our ‘Passive Income for Creatives’ series:
Header image taken from The Valencia Collection