Friday, February 28, 2014

Squidoo is Retiring the CafePress Module

Yep, first went the Zazzle module, and now the CP module is saying farewell.  More info here.

POD Giveaways

Giveaways that might be of interest to shopkeepers--my latest finds below:

Shop Specific Giveaways
Giveaways from a specific POD shop or set of, you can't use this to buy your own stuff, but can sport some items by your fellow designers.

(3/3) $25 to Designer Cat Zazzle Shop

POD Marketplace Giveaways
Giveaways for a gift certificate or item with your choice of design  from a POD marketplace.  You can usually use you're winnings to sell your own stuff sold through these PODS.

(3/5) 3 Rolls of Spoonflower Wallpaper

Other Printing and POD Business Related Giveaways

(3/3) PrintKEG $50 GC
(3/7) PrintKEG Custom T-Shirt
(3/8) Piczzle Custom Puzzle
(3/9) PrintKEG $50 GC
(3/11) Piczzle Custom Puzzle
(3/11) Piczzle Custom Puzzle
(3/14) Piczzle Custom Puzzle
(3/15) PrintKEG Custom T-Shirt
(3/16) 1 2 3 Print Business Cards

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Selling Your Art Through Print on Demand: Getting Started

What Is Print on Demand?

By working through a print on demand company (or POD) allows you to sell  products like shirts, posters, mugs, mousepads, cards and more printed with your designs without having to pay any printing costs. The idea is simple. You supply the company with the designs, and the POD company provides you with a shop that shows your designs on various items--but nothing is actually printed until a customer orders it.  POD collects their "base price" on orders and you make an artist commission or mark-up on the sale. They handle the production and shipping, collect sales taxes, etc., so you can focus on making great art.  

There are various print on demand services out there. Below is a guide on what to look for when choosing a POD for your art. At the bottom you can find links to detailed reviews of the services I've used and  links to the other print on demand services I'm aware of.

What To Look For in a POD

There are several different considerations in choosing a print-on-demand company. Some may be more important to you depending on what you want to sell, who you want to sell it to, and how much time you want to put into your shop.

  • Product Selection 
    What can you sell?
  • Product and Printing Quality
    Do they meet your quality standards?
  • Storefront 
    How is the store front laid out, what features are offered, how much flexibility do you have to make it your own, and how difficult is it to set up, add products, and maintain your shop?
  • Product Price
    What is the base price of the products (before adding your commission or mark-up)?
  • Production & Shipping Time/Cost 
    How fast do your customers get their orders, and how much will they pay for shipping?
  • Customer Base 
    Does the company have a market for your niche already in place, or will you have to rely mainly on your own promotional efforts?

POD Shops List and Reviews


Product Selection
Zazzle offers an excellent selection of apparel, stationary, home and office items, custom tech items and a fairly large selection of other gift items. They offer more shirt styles than any of the other POD mentioned here, and have a good selection of shirt colors as well (although not as many as Printfection). They offer custom embroidery (not limited to a particular size like CafePress) on select styles of apparel and bags, but you have to pay a one-time fee to convert your original artwork for use on embroidery unless you have the ability to save your work in the format they require (you can do text designs using their fonts and dingbats without having to pay this fee, though).

I have been very satisfied with quality of everything I've ordered from Zazzle. I was especially impressed by the quality of their stationery (stickers, cards, business cards). Their printing on most items is sharp and clear, though I have had some small issues with their printing on ceramics.

Zazzle product price is a little bit higher that other PODS on most items, though you can lower your cost per item by buying multiples of the same type of item. Zazzle also frequently offers coupons and discounts, which can save you a lot.

Zazzle's storefront has some nice built in features. Customers can customize any of your products (unless you opt out of this feature) by adding their own text or photos, moving or resizing your design, or changing the style or color. You can even create templates where they are asked to fill in text or photos at specific areas of your design.

Zazzle shops have some nice features for building customer loyalty and communication. Customers make comments on your products, rate them, and save them as favorites. They can join your fan club and receive updates every time you add something new. Zazzle makes it easy for people to share things they like by social media as well.

In your shops you can categorize and sub-categorize, add your own header images, choose what features to include (comments/etc), and add as many items and designs as you want. There are only certain places where you can add html and it's harder to brand this as "your own shop" than Printfection, ArtsNow, and CafePress VIP shops. They do, however, allow some HTML in the product description, which is a nice feature when you want to send customers to see matching items or visit other parts of your store.

Their product creation tools allows you to resize, rotate, and move your design anywhere on the product, change the background color (sometimes), add text, and add multiple designs on one item. It does take a considerable amount of time to add items individually and do all this tweaking though. You can add things faster through Quick Create, which can speed up the process, though it can be a bit hard to work with sometimes.

Once you ad an item, you can change everything about it (style, model, description, etc.) EXCEPT the design itself. You can delete your item and add it again with the changes you want, but unfortunately when you do that you loose all the comments, awards, and ratings associated with it.

Mark-Up/Commission Method
At Zazzle you earn a percentage of the product sale price. You get to set the percentage, and the price increases accordingly. However, according to recent changes (June 2013) a transaction fee (5%) will now be subtracted from royalty rates set greater than or equal to 15%. You can earn more on order that come through your affiliate links (as well as volume bonus).

Customer Base
Zazzle has a good customer base. You can expect sales through their marketplace.

CafePress has a deal with Sony Records allowing Zazzle shopkeepers to do fan designs for some of their songs (including Heartbreak Hotel, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, I Fought the Law and the Law Won, and more). You can find out more about tha there. They also allow for customer customization.

An easy shop for beginners to set up, with a good customer base and quality products. Their storefront and marketplace has many tools to build customer loyalty, and they offer various ways that customers can personalize items. However, the storefront is less customization than with some other services.

This review last updated Feb 2014.  

(DISCLOSURE: I am part of the Zazzle affiliate program and receive a commission on purchases by customers who visit through the links above).


Product Selection
CafePress has a nicely rounded out selection of apparel (including baby and maternity) and gift items. They have ceramics, stationary, and gifts for home and office. They offer embroidery, but it is limited to a pre-set shaped patch on certain apparel items. They also offer books and audio and video CDs.

Of the PODS reviewed here CafePress is the one which offers the most items for cars (like vanity licence plates, flags, etc.), the most travel accessories, and the most large home accessories (blankets, sheets, shower curtains), the most pet items (dog collars, bowls, etc.), and the largest amount of baby gear (diaper bags, blankets, bibs, etc.) .

Overall, CafePress has a relatively good product and printing quality. I have had a few things mis-printed, but they've always been good about replacing the item when there was a problem. So, if anything isn't like you expected, contact them. Every thing else I've ordered from them  from them (mugs, cards, ornaments) was excellent quality, though in my personal opinion the journals would more appropriately be called notebooks, as the cover is card-stock and the size is somewhat thin for a true journal.

CafePress has average prices.

Production & Shipping Time/Cost
CafePress has a reasonable shipping rate and processing time.

If you use their Basic Shops (their free shop version), you are VERY limited in how you can customize your shop. You have one logo you can add at the top, and an area you can add text to underneath, but NO custom HTML (URLS typed into the text area will be turned into links for you). You can have only one of each product in a basic shop (although you can open as many basic shops as you need). But it seems CafePress is moving away from basic shops and may do away with them eventually.)

You can now choose to pay a set price for a premium shop or pay a percentage of your earnings. With a Premium Shop you can organize your shop into categories and subcategories, and have as many products and designs as you want. You also have more flexibility to customize your shop. They have templates you can choose from or you can design your own. Unfortunately the templates contain some discontinued features, which are difficult to remove. I don't know why they haven't updated them.

Both premium and basic shops are fairly easy to set up (depending, of course, on how much you want to customize a premium shop). You can add multiple items at once, and also change things like prices and description in bulk.

Mark-Up/Commission Method
CafePress has two different pricing methods, one for shops, and one for it's marketplace, and a third for certain name brand items, and items it sells through third party venues like Amazon and Ebay. They set the base price in your shop, and you set whatever price over that you wanted to. On order through the marketplace you will get a percentage varying from 5% to 10% of the sale price, depending on different factors including participation on the site (I've written more about that here). Some very high participators will be hand chosen for a program where you have more responsibilities, and can earn up to 15% in the marketplace. You also receive volume bonus if you sell over a certain amount from your shops. Orders originating in the marketplace do not count towards this bonus.

Customer Base
CafePress has one of the best, most established, customer bases. It's possible to get quite a bit of sales solely from their marketplace. However, starting in June 2009 they removed all links to shops from the things you sold in the marketplace (so you still get sales from the marketplace, but will have less of a chance to gain repeat customers that way), and they changed their rules so that they could exclude designs from the marketplace they thought were redundant or otherwise unwanted (this doesn't remove them from your own shops, only the marketplace). Also, you don't have a choice on which color gets featured in the marketplace anymore (again, this doesn't apply to shops). So, while they have a large customer base, it is not quite as accessible as it used to be.

PARTNERSHIPS: CafePress has deals with various TV shows, movies, video games and groups to allow their designers to make designs associated with their brand. These include Star Trek, Lost, Twilight, and more. You can find more detail and the complete list of fan portals CafePress offers here. It also recently added customization, which is a little tricky to figure out, and somewhat frustrating because you can't use images in your image basket when making custom items, and have to upload images again, which is time consuming.

OTHER FEATURES: In July 2013 CafePress added some features that might help customer loyalty...allowing customers to like items, follow an artist, ect. Unfortunately, they are also requiring artists to be somewhat active in this new "community" or their commission is downgraded lower than 10%.

ISSUES WITH TERMS: I have read some criticism about their terms which may leave artists more open then they like to having their work used without their permission. Here's an article about it. I'm not sure how much of a risk this is, and I've never heard of CafePress selling anything with a design without paying anyone, but thought I would mention it so you could read and decide for yourself.

Their well established customer base and marketplace makes this a good shop to start with if you don't want to do much promotion (and if you don't mind only taking 10% of marketplace sales). If you are successful at promoting your shop yourself and don't need to rely on CafePress's marketplace promotion, you can take a higher mark-up, though.

Visit CafePress

Review last updated Feb 2014.  Moved from Squidoo.

(DISCLOSURE: I am part of the CafePress affiliate program and receive a commission on purchases by customers who visit through the links above).

POD REVIEWS: Printfection

NOTE: I stopped actively using Printfection in 2010. Though I still receive their newsletter and try to keep up on changes, my experience as a day to day user is based on activity prior to 9/2010.

Product Selection
Printfection offers various styles of t-shirts, as well as a small number of gift items (aprons, cutting boards, tote bags, laptop sleeves,  mouspads, and coasters, and mugs).

They also have some colors of clothing not found at the other PODS reviewed here.

This POD is known for it's excellent printing quality. I've only bought a few things myself there, so I will defer to what I've heard.

The prices are reasonable, and they offer volume discounts if you buy more than one item.  You can pass these discounts on to your customer, or not.

Production & Shipping Time/Cost
Shipping is based on weight, so you have to view your shopping cart to determine the shipping cost. I've found the prices to be reasonable on the orders I've made. Shipping time is normal for most PODs.

The storefront offers A LOT of flexibility. You can have as many sections, items for sale, and designs that you want. The layout is completely customizable if you know how to code for it. Unfortunately, the templates available if you DON'T know how to do your own coding are somewhat lacking.

The space available on T-shirts is a little larger than most at most other PODS, and you can move your design around on your items (in stead of being stuck with it centered--though there is a limited printing space you can work with). I found it fairly easy to add new items.

Mark-Up/Commission Method
They have a base price and you set whatever mark-up you want above that. You can also set a mark-up for each bulk pricing level (for instance, if they buy 2 or 10 items, you can change your mark-up on each of these bulk pricing levels).

Customer Base
I am not even sure if they have a public marketplace now.  If they do, I can't find it on their main page.  Even when they did have a marketplace and were promoting it from their main page, I never made a sale through spite of my designs being fairly high up in their marketplace under some key search words, and the same designs doing comparatively well in CafePress and Zazzle.

A great store if you want to sell mainly t-shirts, do a lot of customization to your site (and don't mind coding it yourself or hiring someone to do it), and are willing to do your own promotion (not rely on their marketplace). However, they have been doing better and more frequent sales and coupons, so are easier to promote then they used to be...which might help change that for the better.

Visit Printfection

POD REVIEWS: Arts Now (a.k.a. ArtsCafe, ArtsCow)

NOTE:  I stopped selling through ArtsNow in 2009 so a lot of this information may be outdated.

ArtsNow also has a SuperVIP program where you can sign up resellers under you with their own shops branded with your name. So, if you discover a new POD which seems to have the same products as ArtsNow...well, it probably is a site managed by an ArtsNow VIP. The prices may be different, but quality will be the same.
Product Selection
ArtsNow has the widest product offering of all the PODS I've worked with. They have a LARGE amount of gift items--from flash drives to umbrellas.

I've found quality in all areas to be inconsistent. Though some items have proven to be very good quality, others are noticeably poor in quality. Some things look great when they first arrive, but break easily or have problems that show up later, and printing quality varies vastly with each order (I've had cards come in the same large unpadded bag with bulky items, so that they arrived bent). I have some more detail on some specific items below (though of course I can only comment on the things I've ordered).

Good Quality
  • Watches (Many of their watches are made by Citizen, and ArtsNow only takes off the front to add the picture)
  • Porcelain Ornaments
  • Pin-back Buttons 
Fair Quality
Items that might be a little under what I expected, but still acceptable.
  • Puzzles - Don't come with a box, and the cardboard is not very thick
Poor Quality
Nonfunctional or Otherwise Unacceptable
  • Travel Alarm Clock - Simply didn't work (Several complaints on forum also.)
  • Greeting Cards - Cards have a waxy coating that I've never seen on other POD cards. With a light background they look alright, but cards with a dark background scratch easily so I would not suggest using this service for cards with colored backgrounds.
  • Apparel (See Note below)

Special Note Regarding ArtsNow Apparel
I have several complaints about apparel. Women's shirts are about two sizes too small (built for women with a very small bustline, it seems). Color quality has been inconsistent (two maternity shirts with the same design came with one much lighter than the other), and while the designs on dark shirts look great at first, it wears out quickly with washing. But the problem that caused me to remove them from my shop was a legal one. The shirts are not labeled properly for US Federal Trade Commission standards. They need to have information including care and fabric content and all the labels have is size. They said they would work on the problem but I'm not sure if it's been addressed yet.

Special Note Regarding ArtsNow Key Chains
Their key chains are made with zinc, which does contain lead, but when I contacted Arts Now about it they said that it meets the European export safety standard. This is different than the American standard, and am not sure how it compares. It's likely some of their other metal items are also made this way.

ArtsNow has the very low base prices--sometimes costing as much as half what similar or even identical items cost at other PODS. You can mark up prices quite a bit and still keep prices low. If you sign up for VIP service you get even lower base prices (though you can't lower the price below ArtsNow own prices for custom item--you can however offer coupons which lower the price more).

Production & Shipping Time/Cost
ArtsNow is located in Hong Kong, so it's 8-12 business days for standard shipping plus 24 - 48 hours production time. This means that items can take up to three weeks to ship (longer during holidays...expect to stop selling items to ship by Christmas around December 1, and expect a extra one week delay in late January/early February when the plant shuts down for the Chinese New Year Holiday.).

Shipping costs, however, are extremely low--starting at only $3 ($1 for orders of small items like buttons or Italian charms) for worldwide standard shipping. For VIP shop owners shipping is free.

However, shipping quality is often poor. I have had a coffee mug come wrapped in a t-shirt I ordered, had items damaged because they were packed together with other differently shaped items in the same bubble wrap bag, and had cards come with the wrong sized envelope. On the plus side, I do like that their buttons, magnets, key chains, watches and other jewelry items come individually wrapped--which saves them from damage (but not from damaging other items, like cards). Also their ornaments come well swaddled in plenty of bubble wrap and I've never received one broken (and I've ordered over 20 of these).

You can add as many items and sections you want to your storefront. There are various templates available for both VIP and basic stores. Under basic free service you have a limited amount of customization you can do, but if you pay for VIP service most aspects of the store can be customized to create the look and feel you want, and it is possible to remove the ArtsNow branding completely from VIP stores. VIP stores also come with invoices which can be customized (so that when your customers receive your orders your branding is on their Invoice) and the ability to offer your own coupons. If you want to pay the extra to become a SuperVIP you can have reseller accounts under you and earn money through them.

Set up at ArtsNow can be a bit tricky. There are numerous features for which you are given no instruction. On the other hand, there is a lot of flexibility in the way you can add and re-arrange items. You can open as many stores as you want and move or copy items easily between stores (even in the free program), and do many other changes in bulk. When designing a product you can place the design anywhere within the design space.

A few notes of concern:

  • There are typos in the product descriptions which ArtsNow still has not addressed in spite of many complaints by various shopkeepers
  • Customer service for shop problems can be slow
  • If you are signed up for VIP, when a customer contacts "Customer Service" they contact you. (Some might consider this a plus, but personally it's one of the services I expect the POD to cover, not me).
  • Under VIP you will need to have to have your own domain or most of the extra feautres (including setting your own shipping price and the lower base prices) won't work. People can still access your site through the URL, but when they do, you're coupons don't work for them, your lower VIP base price doesn't count, etc. So, make sure to set up your domain name right away and promote it, not the URL. The VIP base price also doesn't apply to marketplace sales. You cover the cost of the domain name yourself.

Mark-Up/Commission Method
You select a mark-up over the base price. If you sign up for VIP service you get a lower base price, but can not lower your prices below ArtsNow's custom prices. As a VIP you also earn a mark-up on custom items people make through your stores.

Customer Base
Though I have sold an occasional item through their marketplace, overall it is not a very user friendly marketplace and has a low customer base. There are no links to your shop from the marketplace, nor is there any links to your other designs or products.

Your own purchases and customer's purchases from your shop are listed together, and there is no easy way to tell them apart, which is a nightmare come tax time.

ArtsNow has very low prices and a huge selection of products, but the quality of products, printing, and service is inconsistent. Their low customer base and poor marketplace structure means you can't rely on marketplace sales, but should expect most of your sales to come from your own promotional efforts.

Visit ArtsNow

Review last updated in 2009 - Moved from my Squidoo.

(DISCLOSURE: Though I no longer sell through ArtsNow I am still a member of their affiliate program and receive a commission on purchases by customers who visit through the links above.).

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

POD Giveaways's been a while since I've posted any POD giveaways. Just found some and would love to share. 

Specific Items or Items from Specific Shops
These are items from other POD artists, often self-sponsored by them (but sometimes sponsor by the POD).

2/15  Set of Scribbleprints Cards (from Zazzle) and Jewelry - Such Fun to Give
2/15  Penguin Love Shirt from CafePress - A Year of Jubilee Reviews

POD Gift Cards or Item of Choice
These are items you can use, if you choose, to purchase YOUR OWN stuff.  CP is short for CafePress.

2/14    $50 CP Gift Card - One Smiling Monkey
MONTHLY  $25 CP Gift Card

Business Giveaways
Giveaways for other things that might interest POD shopkeepers.

2/13 PrintKEG giveaway
2/17 Custom Printed Bags