There’s a lot of curiosity about using print-on-demand for your art, and we’re here to give you the scoop. 

Here are the main two questions we hear from artists:

1. What it is print-on-demand?

2. Should I be exploring it in my art business?

To start, artists work with print-on-demand companies to manufacture products featuring their artwork. This could be anything from pillows and shower curtains to scarves and small prints! In many cases, they’ll also handle sales transactions, packing, shipping, and providing customer service—all while printing orders as they are taken and marketing their own ecommerce website.

You’ve probably heard of the bigger names like Fine Art America, Café Press, RedBubble, Society6, or Zazzle, and working with these print-on-demand companies (PODs for short) can offer a variety of benefits!

First and foremost, selling products featuring your work opens up a whole new revenue stream for artists. You can sell these products both online and in person, helping you to reach a whole new set of buyers with these practical pieces at different price points.

And, since PODs carry a lot of the weight, artists are left with fewer responsibilities to earn this passive income. 

While using print-on-demand for your art business can be rewarding if done correctly, you need to understand the big picture first.

Before you go all in, take a minute to consider some of the following challenges when working with print-on-demand for your art:

Profit margins vary and may be low 

PODs are businesses, too, and that means they aren’t just going to help artists for free. 

The primary goal of these big print companies is to make money, and unfortunately this can come at the expense of the artists. Because these sites are handling a lot of the duties, they of course are going to take a larger percentage of your profits.

Artists can either be paid through a percentage of each sale (A.K.A. royalties), but the terms are typically specified by the PODs. Or, a markup from the bottom line cost of the product, where the artist is offered the choice to determine the final retail price.

And, depending on the product, the profit margin can be quite low. You may even have to spend money up front for products that may only return a few dollars on each purchase. 

So when all is said and done, artists may only receive a very small piece of the pie.

You may not get access to your client list

Again, print-on-demand companies are trying to make there own money here. Which means they are following the good business practice of capturing buyer information, so they can market to them again and hopefully make more sales.

You know what else that means?

You usually don’t get a list of these buyers. Because you’re selling on their site, you won’t ever get to know who loved and bought your work. You won’t get their information so you can make more sales, unless they miraculously reach out to you.

You don’t always get to control your brand, either. Odds are big PODs market, package, and ship products with their logo attached to them, not yours. You miss the chance to tell the story behind your work, the chance to form an emotional connection with potential buyers. Your brand and your story is often what entices people to buy! 

So while it may be a help to you that they are facilitating the sale and delivery of the products, know that there are other challenges you will have to reconcile.

Quality can be a big problem

If a print-on-demand company only cares about the bottom line, unfortunately the quality of the prints may be sacrificed.

And while you trust and hope they would only sell a quality product, it can reflect badly on your art business and affect your sales of these products if the quality is less than stellar.

There is a way around this, however! 

Do your research to see which companies have the highest quality printing. And don’t stop there, check into the quality of their website and customer service department, too. The site should be easy to navigate and purchase from, with a friendly staff to answer any questions they (or you!) may have. 

Sometimes it’s best not to take chances. You should even go as far as ordering one of your own printed products to judge the quality for yourself.

 

Sales won’t happen automatically

There is a lot of noise on print-on-demand sites like Society6, and it can be difficult to stand out among the thousands of artists and artworks listed. 

Don’t fall prey to the belief that just because you’ve listed a great product, buyers will come to you. Successful artists on these sites spend a lot of time up front promoting their profiles, interacting on social media and creating exciting sales opportunities. 

The key? Be active! 

For instance, share your latest products and prints on your Facebook page or Instagram profile. You can even create some urgency around your prints by doing 24-hour limited edition sales. Give your followers a heads up about when your prints will be on sale and generate a buzz around the sale for a week or so beforehand. Then, put your limited edition print (ex: 100-200 prints) up for sale.

Remember, while big PODs do the heavy lifting in many areas, artists still have to spend the time marketing their work.

Not all art lends itself to print-on-demand

Because of the nature of print-on-demand, keep in mind that not all artwork will be the right fit. 

For instance, a colorful abstract might make the perfect pillow or shower curtain. But a portrait or metal sculpture? Maybe not.

And, certain types of art might actually lose their value if they were to be reprinted on commonplace items. Your gallery representation may not even allow it within their contract.

That being said, choose your products carefully!

Not all products will work for all audiences—and that’s okay. It all depends on your audience and what they are most likely to buy, so do your research. The pieces that wouldn’t work on a scarf or bed linens may still work as a phone case, coffee mug, or framed print. But if you don’t think your fan base would go for it, don’t waste the time listing it.

Finally, not all PODs will have the best quality for every product they offer. You may want to consider printing certain products with one company and different products with another if they specialize in different areas.

Keep an eye on your time (and the result)

It can take a lot of time to research each site, understand the specific requirements, copyright your images, and upload artwork with the right dimensions for each product, not mention advertise your listings afterwards!

So if you’re doing this for extra or passive income, you need to make sure it’s worth all of the time, energy, and costs. You want to make a profit, right?

Of course there’s going to be a learning curve. But once you get the hang of things, can you set up a workflow to help make the process go more smoothly? Working your tail off for a few extra bucks may not be worth it in the end, especially if other avenues like ebooks or workshops are more profitable with your art audience.

It’s important to always keep an eye on the financial outcome when you start a new endeavor for your art business.

 

The bottom line?

We’re not saying to rule out print-on-demand all together. Remember the benefits we talked about before? Not all companies function the same way, and many artists like Robin Pedrero have found great success with this process!

There are simply challenges that need to be recognized if you are going to navigate the POD world successfully. Understanding all that comes with it will ultimately help you make the best decision possible for your artwork, business, and time. 

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