I've been selling my designs on print-on-demand sites for several years now. Here are some of the mistakes I've made.
Mistake #1: Not Using Keywords Correctly
I've been selling products that I've designed on several "print on demand" sites such as Zazzle and Cafepress and would like to share some tips for others who might be considering doing the same. I've made some good income over the past 10 years, and while my monthly checks were usually never more than $100, I didn't have to do any more work after I'd uploaded my designs. When someone purchases one of my designs, the print on demand site does all the work, prints the design on stickers, mugs, shirts, etc., and ships them to the customer, and then I get a percentage of the transaction.
In the beginning there were not that many other designers uploading designs, and I sold quite a lot of things. Gradually however, as more content was uploaded, my designs became harder for people to find, and as a result I sold fewer products. In the beginning I was fairly careless about what keywords that I used. I now realize that had I been choosing to use more and better keywords on each of my listings, I could have gained more traffic to my designs. For example, if a product was a sticker for Modesto California, I may have only input "Modesto, modesto ca, modesto california" and called it "good". Now, for a similar product I might add the county, a neighboring town or two, the state, and more specific keywords to catch those searching for a particular type of sticker for that town, such as "Modesto retro". I also now realize that the site automatically adds the item, such as "sticker" to my keywords, so adding kewords such as "Modesto sticker" is unnecessary and may even hurt search results.
Proper keyword use is essential for selling products on print on demand sites. Each site has either a blog or a "help" section that can help users understand how to use keywords. In Zazzle's help section there are some good tutorials about how to use keywords more effectively on their site.
Mistake #2: Not Adjusting My Design Properly for Each Product
When I first started selling designs on print on demand sites, my go-to site was Cafepress. Now Cafepress is fairly saturated and it is extremely hard for new designs to be found. One issue that I have with that platform is the difficulty that designers have in adjusting an image to fit properly on each product. What works on a shirt may not print properly on a keychain, and you'll have unhappy customers as a result. I find Cafepress's designer interface to be stuck somewhere around 1991, and that is unfortunate for designers like me.
On Zazzle the designer interface is a bit more modern. Still however, you will have to adjust some designs to fit onto products. For example, if you have a square image and want to add it to a square sticker, you'll most likely have to adjust your image by pulling in the top and sides, so that edges don't get cut off when the sticker are die cut. For Christmas ornament, you may find that the hole where the ornament is hung from ends up sitting in the middle of an important part of your design, so you'll have to adjust it.
The most common mistake that I see new designers making of either Cafepress or Zazzle is that they upload a design, and check all the boxes for that image to be printed on multiple designs. Again, what looks good on one product, may look ridiculous on another, if you don't go through each and every option and configure it to that product.
Mistake #3: Going too Broad and Ignoring Niches
One of the biggest mistakes that I've realized is that I often went too broad when designing products. For example, if you search Zazzle for stickers for "fishing", there will be hundreds of designs. It may be very hard to get your design found when there are so many others competing for space. Instead, if going so broad, consider niche areas of fishing, such as "fly fishing" or "kayak fishing". There may be only a dozen or so designs in those niche areas, and your design may stand a much better chance of being found. Do a bit of research first and find niche areas for whatever design that you are considering selling.
You may end up having to make more designs and end up selling only a few from each niche concept, but the idea is that if you find enough niches, and upload enough products, you can sell more items in the long run than if you'd gone for the broader market.
Mistake #4: Not Using Social Media to Promote Products
When I first started using Zazzle, I wasn't on social media. I just assumed that I'd sell most of my products to people who came to those sites and searched for keywords related to the designs I'd uploaded. As I joined online forums for designers and read some of their posts about social media helping sell products, I created Twitter and Pinterest accounts, followed some influencers and eventually built up a small following of my own. I would post a new design or product every now and then, along with a link to it on Zazzle. After I'd reached 1,000 followers on Pinterest, I noticed that my sales on Zazzle had increased by about 20% a month.
If you're considering selling on print on demand sites, go ahead an create some social media accounts for yourself and begin to build a following. Eventually you can share some of the things that you create, but don't just use that account to promote your products. In order to keep and grow followers, make sure that you also share interesting content that's not related to a product you're selling. Avoid being "spammy" and you'll find that you get better results by adding a product every so often instead of as your main type of posts.
Mistake #5: Sticking to Just one Print on Demand Site
In the beginng I was using only Cafepress to sell my designs on products. Once I added Zazzle and Teepublic, I began to sell more products and earn more money. There is no rule against uploading the same designs to multiple sites. You aren't in any kind of exclusive agreement with any one of them when you add a design and there's no reason not to add the same design on multiple sites. Also, you may want to consider trying different sites for different products. It pays to upload some of your designs to different products and find what does best on each print on demand site.
A Few Other Tips
Here are a few more tips on how to sell more products on Zazzle. Don't forget to complete your storefront and fill out all of the information fields. Use a good photo that captures people's attention, along with a good bio for yourself, along description of what designs that you specialize in. Sites such as Zazzle rank stores on a scale of 1-10, depending on how you've completed the required steps in setting up you shop. Make sure that you create collections of your products, share them on social media, and delete old products that haven't sold after being listed for a long time. Your store's ranking will eventually be used to determine how often your products come up in search results.
Also, don't assume that it's best practice to put your product on each and every item that the site sells. I've seen people say this is a good idea, but it's not. Focus on those that sell and don't bother with odd items such as "customized pencil sharpeners" as they can come up in search results and be ignored by someone looking for a more popular product with your design on it, a sticker for example.
When it comes to choosing what commission that you want to receive when an item sells, don't go too high, but also don't cheat yourself by going too low. I find that for stickers, which are typically cheap items, I choose a 50% commission. For tee shirts, which are more expensive, I usually go with 15% to 20%.
Also, be persistent and don't give up on any one site that you haven't sold products on. If you're not having any success with your designs on that site, consider adding them to another product that they sell, jewelry for example, and see if that works. Try different niche areas until you finally find one that sells and then expand on that idea.
You may not get rich or quit your day job from designing for print on demand sites such as Zazzle, however if you're persistent, you can make you some decent side income.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 13, 2021:
This is a very helpful article. Thank you for sharing the advice. I have thought of trying to sell items on Zazzle, so I appreciate the information.
Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 13, 2021:
I have work on Zazzle but haven't gone to the site to eliminate things that aren't selling in quite some time. I should get on that. New year, new site clean-up. Thanks for the reminders.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 11, 2021:
I have never tried to sell anything on Zazzle, but this is good information to know. Thanks!