10 Things I’ve Learned in 4 Years of Print on Demand

I started my print on demand journey in January 2019 and since then I have been on a learning journey to figure out all the odds and ends of this industry. 

Over the years, I have consumed so much content, so many lessons, so many articles, and really just anything I could get my eyeballs on when it comes to POD. 

These are some of the big lessons that I’ve learned in the last 4 years when it comes to having a successful print on demand business. 

  1. This is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme
  2. Just because one product pops off doesn’t mean you’re set
  3. Be a lifelong learner
  4. You don’t need to be a “real” artist to succeed
  5. Focus on one thing at a time
  6. Fads and trends come and go, evergreen is forever
  7. Prepare for holidays 3-5 months in advance
  8. Not all platforms are made equal
  9. You need to be a self starter
  10. Entrepreneurship is not all it’s cracked up to be

Now let’s dive into each one of these lessons…

It takes time to gather enough data to know what’s going to sell.

1. This is NOT a get rich quick scheme

Though many of the YouTube “Gurus” would have you believe otherwise, it takes time to build a successful print on demand shop. It takes quite a while to build a portfolio of products that sell consistently. 

For me, that meant a lot of trial and error. Years of it, and I’m still working on it to this day. But with every failure and every success you get a little closer to knowing which products are going to do well with which designs.

If you are thinking about starting a print on demand shop, I can’t stress this enough. Just start now! Get your shop live and fill your shop with designs as best you can, and then sit and wait and see how they do. It takes time to gather enough data to know what’s going to sell. You will learn so much from each view and each sale you make as well as learning from the products that don’t sell at all.

Don’t forget to connect your shop to Google Analytics so you can collect all that juicy data right from the start! Here’s my guide on how to hook up your Zazzle shop to GA4.

2. Just because one product pops off doesn’t mean you’re set

It can be so incredibly motivating and exciting when you have a product that starts to gain traction. But speaking from experience, one product isn’t enough to call yourself a POD success. 

It takes many, many products selling consistently to be able to really say that you’ve made it. And just like I said in point 1, it takes time to build up that library of consistently selling products. 

So get started today!

Things change at an incredibly fast pace in the online world…

3. Be a lifelong learner

It’s so important in the online industry to stay curious and to be continuously upping your game by taking courses, reading books, and absorbing every bit of information you can from your peers as this is going to keep you up to date with coming trends and teach you how to create beautiful designs as well as market them. 

Things change at an incredibly fast pace in the online world, so do your best to keep up! 

4. You don’t need to be a “real” artist to succeed

Speaking from first-hand experience here! 

I have next to no experience in the fine arts and I’ve managed to learn a ton through sites like YouTube and Skillshare and by just practicing and getting the experience. 

If you aren’t an artist, go grab a sketchbook and a couple of pens or pencils and practice drawing. Or get yourself a beginner paint set. Just start! 

There’s a great free YouTube course that teaches drawing that I have been taking off and on over the last little while. I’ve linked the first video here and the accompanying website here

My Recommended Tools

Below are my personal favorite tools that I use regularly in my POD business.
The below links are affiliate links meaning I may receive a small commission for anything purchased through these links at no extra cost to you.

Creative Fabrica – My favorite place to get graphics with a straightforward commercial license for print on demand use.

Adobe Illustrator – I use Adobe Illustrator for at least half of my design creations. It’s pricey but so worth it when you choose to take the business seriously. Get a free trial to Adobe Illustrator here.

Graphics TabletMy partner got me this exact tablet as a Christmas gift when I was just starting out with creating my own designs. It has served me well now for several years and it was a very low cost investment that made a big impact in my POD business.

Ergonomic Mouse – If you spend long hours at the computer like me I highly recommend investing in a good ergonomic mouse. Over the years, I have caused an injury in my hand/wrist from being at the computer so much, but my pain has gotten significantly better since getting this ergonomic mouse on Amazon.

5. Focus on one thing at a time

Admittedly, I am terrible at this, as I have multiple websites and am spread out over multiple print on demand platforms. However, I’ve also been doing this for a few years, so I’ve built a pretty good foundation and have the ability to spread myself a little more thin now. 

When you’re first starting out, focus on one thing. I cannot stress this enough. Pick one platform to start with, for me it was Zazzle, and then pick one product or one niche to focus on from there. 

For example, if you are going to focus on Zazzle, you could focus on kids’ birthday invitations and just go crazy with them. Make a few hundred of them and carve a little piece of the market out for yourself. What kinds of kids’ parties are trending these days? Bounce parties? Laser tag parties? Simulated sky diving? Pottery painting? 

If you don’t want to pick a specific party theme, what about a specific age? Different kid’s ages will have different designs.

Get a pen and paper and put a timer on for 10 minutes and brain-dump every niche you can think of around the type of product that you want to design for. Seriously, do it now, I’ll wait. 

Getting on a trend right before it peaks is a wild ride and such a blast…

6. Fads and trends come and go, evergreen is forever

I learned this lesson hard in 2020 with face masks, (if you haven’t read my 2020 income report check it out here.)

Getting on a trend right before it peaks is a wild ride and such a blast, but they never last and the comedown can be kind of upsetting. One minute you’re making hundreds of sales a day and a few weeks later it’s only a few dozen, months down the road it’s only a handful a day until the sales slowly start to dry up completely. 

If you can figure out how to continually jump on trends before they hit their peak and ride that wave over and over again, then that’s amazing! And I’m jealous. 

The reality is that trends are hard to predict and often involve a lot of luck. It’s not sustainable to rely on them and you’re better off pursuing evergreen niches and products to make consistent sales and grow consistent income over time.

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7. Prepare for holidays 3-5 months in advance

Another lesson I had to learn the hard way. Generally speaking, it takes a few months for search engines and marketplaces to index your new products and rank them accordingly. 

As a good rule of thumb, you want to get products listed a minimum of 3 months before a holiday to give it a fighting chance. This also gives the marketplace enough time to see your products and potentially pick them to go into holiday collections or get selected for Editor’s Pick. 

That means you’ll want to start getting your Christmas stuff up in the summer and your Halloween designs up in the spring. 

I’ve created a free calendar of all the dates you should be getting designs up by. Get it here.

8. Not all platforms are made equal

Every print on demand marketplace is different and draws a different type of audience. It’s up to you to look at your style and see which one best suits you. 

For example, if you create beautiful seamless patterns, you may do well on Society6. 

Whereas if you enjoy creating invitations, stationary, and small business supplies, you might prefer Zazzle.

Or, if you have more of a cartoony, meme, or pop culture style Redbubble might be the place for you. 

Check out the different marketplaces and see what best suits you. You can always put your designs on multiple platforms and see which does the best for you. But beware! If you spread yourself too thin you won’t do well on any of them. Focus on one thing. 

See why Zazzle is my favorite POD platform here.

9. You need to be a self starter

As much as the YouTube Gurus would have us believe otherwise, it’s HARD to do well with print on demand. You have to choose to put that time in yourself, no one’s going to sit you down and force you to do it. 

And let’s face it, uploading designs and coming up with titles, descriptions, and tags isn’t exactly fun. 

So you really need to step up and be a self starter to get those products up. 

Hard truth: without this skill, you don’t stand a chance. The good news is that it is a skill and that means it can be developed over time! 

If you’re struggling to get going with your print on demand business, go find one motivational quote/podcast episode/YouTube video that you can come back to when you “just don’t feel like it.” Read/listen to it/watch it and immediately open up your POD site of choice and start uploading! 

Entrepreneurship has meant a lot of lonely days…

10. Entrepreneurship is not all it’s cracked up to be

Along the same lines as the previous point, just like being a self starter can be difficult, being an entrepreneur isn’t really everything I thought it would be. Not yet at least, but I am still building. 

So far, for me, entrepreneurship has meant a lot of lonely days, sitting in my living room and working alone, or with my partner, Evan. It’s been a bit of a lonely journey…

Friends and family don’t really understand what you’re doing and have a hard time being supportive. Though they mean well. It’s awkward when introducing yourself to new people when they ask what you do for a living and you try to explain print on demand, surface pattern design, and blogging to them. 

And you don’t have coworkers to shoot the shit with during the day. 

The journey is a bit isolating. This brings me to why I’ve started this blog. Because I want to build a community of people that love print on demand! 

And on that note, if you haven’t joined my email list, you can sign up here so we can keep in touch and learn from each other and have fun with POD together. 

I send out emails about once a week and share what I’m working on that week, tips and tricks I’ve learned, and/or just a little about me. 

I hope to see you there!