Etsy Print On Demand: Five Things I’ve Learned in Five Months
Happy Wednesday, y’all! Also, UGH. Not sure why I always am like “Hey Friends! Happy Wednesday!” every single time I wrote a post cause I know it’s so freaking lame. Like, I hate lines like that when I read other people’s blog posts. And here I am, doing it for like the fifty millionth time in a row, hahaha.
BUT! I didn’t start this post to talk about the correct way to start a blog post. Instead, we are talking about something totally different that we’ve never ever discussed! Etsy Print on Demand! You ready? I’m ready! I think this post is going to be really fun!
Let’s get started! There’s so much to share with you!
A little background! I started my Etsy shop in 2010 to sell landscape photographs. Once the store was open, I added five or six (really bad, lol) photographs, checked on them exactly two times, and then promptly let all my listings expire. At the time, I was really into sewing stuffed owls from vintage fabric (it was 2010, okay?) with plans to eventually sell them on Etsy so I kept the store up but never maintained it. Around the same time, I started shooting heavily and, since I loved the idea – and still love the idea! – of selling prints, I kept my Etsy open-but-empty for nearly twelve years. I only logged in once or twice over the years and, when I started Opal and June, switched my Etsy name to Opal and June just to make sure I owned it on the platform. And that was that! I honestly just thought it would sit there as a placeholder forever. Lucky for me, I was wrong!
Earlier this year, I gave myself a time period to explore different creative ventures. I published Photoshoot Checklists and, while researching about Amazon KDP, came across a video about Print on Demand. “Great!” I thought – I could add a tee shirt section to my Opal and June website with a few cute designs. Why not, right? And that was that! A couple weeks later, I completed my first (very bad, lol) shirt design, opened a Printify account, and linked to Etsy to launch my shirts. I figured it would be easy to launch on Etsy and then also list on my website. And it was!
Five months and 203 sales later, I have lots of thoughts!
One! Take everything you see on YouTube and TikTok with a grain of salt.
I get it. YouTubers and TikTok gurus have to post things that look exciting to up their engagement. If you search Etsy Print on Demand on either platform, you’ll see a lot of “I sold $400k” last year and a lot of buzzwords, including passive income.
Y’all. Passive income isn’t really thing. I mean, it kinda is. But, really, it just means that you’re getting paid at a different time than when your work is done. So, when you’re working on a project, you’re not aware of how much you’ll gain from that specific project. Think of it like this: if you were hired to paint a mural and you were offered $100 for it, you could accept the $100 or walk away. You know what you’re going to be paid for your work. If, however, you were offered a mural job and were told you’d be paid $1 by every person who liked the mural, you might make $100. Or you might make $2. Or you might make $5,000. While that $5,000 number would be a kind of passive income, you always run the risk of being paid $2 for a $100 job. If you hit that $5,000 mark, you’d feel incredible! That’s way more than you would have gotten paid than if you’d taken the job for $100. But! There is always a risk that, no matter how good your work is, you’d only profit $2 for a $100 job. Does that make sense?
Etsy Print on Demand is kind of like this. You can have all the right ingredients to a recipe and fall short. You could also have okay ingredients and do fantastic. Print on Demand is relatively passive – and also the easiest thing I’ve ever sold – but it is pretty hard to come out with a profit when you are starting. Even with business knowledge, the numbers can be a little surprising and, if you think you’re going to profit $10 from one sale, double check your numbers. A couple of dollars can make a huge difference in Print on Demand and can really impact your overall financial goal. For example, if you have your shirts set to profit $8 but also have free shipping turned on and a sale going, you’ll probably lose money.
Also! Keep in mind! Revenue is NOT profit. It’s possible to sell $1,000 in inventory and come out with a $50 paycheck.
Two! Any business is a marathon, not a sprint.
I don’t like to do things halfway so, the past few months, I have spent a lot of late nights researching Print on Demand.
There have been a lot of common themes in my research but the biggest – and scariest, lol – trend I noticed was a bit of a “get rich quick” attitude including lots of comments about “making money while you sleep”. Have I woken up to multiple sales that were placed when I was sleeping? Yes! Is it amazing? Absolutely! Does it mean that I didn’t work for that money? Absolutely not. I did, just not when I was sleeping.
It is extremely rare that someone will create a six figure business in a few months. If you’re interested in Etsy Print on Demand, think of it as something you can do long term for discretionary income, not as something that will take off and support your entire life. Could this happen? Of course! Would it be amazing? YES! Do I have some stellar hope for my store over the holidays? YES! But! My store won’t be done at the end of the holidays. It’ll keep going with more goals and milestones. Also, keep in mind that I love my photography job with my entire heart and have no plans to stop shooting / wouldn’t quit my job even if I did make $158,000 in profit in one month from Print on Demand, lol. We all have different end goals with our businesses and various financial goals but, to achieve any of these milestones, it’s going to take time – and work, too!
Three! Diversify your listings in Etsy.
And I do! And they sell! They don’t, however, sell as well as other items I had no intention of selling when I opened my shop. I got really sick in late March and ended up having surgery in April and decided that, during my downtime, I’d really focus on Print on Demand. This was great for me! I love to shoot and talk photography so I just, I don’t know, kinda re-focused that while I was healing. Because of this, I was able to diversify and pay attention to what was selling from those creations. I started to sell photographer items and they sell okay. What sells way better for me, though, are cute political activist items and totally over the top animal designs. And when I say over the top? I mean really over the top, lol. Think lots of flowers and butterflies and more flowers and stars and sunsets, too. This works for me because I freaking love color. If I didn’t, I’d hate making these designs. Instead, I really love it!
And what I love even more? Diversifying those items! I don’t post a tee shirt and then wait to see if it sells. Last month, I started putting all my designs on three items: a tee shirt, a sweatshirt, and a coffee mug. Do all of these items always sell? Nope! But! Sometimes I think a design will rock a tee shirt and I’m totally wrong – customers snag the mug instead. Etsy charges twenty cents a listing and, for me, it’s definitely worth a sixty cent investment to list each design as three items. Sometimes they all sell, sometimes one sells, and sometimes the design is just a dud. And that’s okay! If you’re going to do Print on Demand, don’t focus on just one design. Focus on the overall feel of your designs instead! Your Etsy doesn’t have to be totally cohesive but, the more cohesive you are in your design style, the more everything will tie together. This will help increase sales!
Four! Trends matter but they don’t last forever.
Another thing I see a lot online is chasing trends. This is important but it’s not quite as important as people say it is. I get why it’s a hot topic because it IS important – clothing trends are fast even when they’re slow – but, when you’re constantly chasing trends, you’re going to burn out. Don’t copy other people and don’t rely on pre-made PNG art from Etsy or Creative Fabrica to run your shop (side note: Creative Fabrica is the BEST!). When a trend dies out, you’ll still want items reflective of you + your art. If you’re just selling trends – especially trends you’ve pulled from other people’s styles – you’ll be designing constantly. And you should be designing regularly! But constantly? That just seems like a recipe for burn out and a little animosity, too.
I should clarify! Do I think that a new shop seller can sell more by only selling the newest trend? Yes! Do I think that’s sustainable? No. Pay more attention to fashion trends, lifestyle trends, and trends you see around you: not just trends you see in Etsy Print on Demand.
P.S. Niche down on whatever you like as little or as much as you want! Me? No desire to sell profession shirts. Do I realize that I could make more money if I sold them? Yes! Is it a really oversaturated market? Yes! Do I want to compete in it? No. Also, I do not want to own everything I make or wear every one of the shirts I create. But! Would I stop to see it in a store? Abso-freaking-lutely! Design stuff you love but, at the end of the day, you are not your customer. And your customers? They’ll drive the directions your designs go in. This is good! And sometimes? Really unexpected.
Five! Trademarks? They really freaking matter.
I know there’s a lot of fan art on Etsy. Don’t sell it. And when you’re listing items? Check, like, everything you write for trademarks. I’m not a new business owner and not new to copyright and have been really surprised at some of the trademarks I’ve found when listing items. Keep your shops safe!
And Bonus! It’s really fun.
Print on Demand has been SO much fun to learn and run and, so far, I am really loving it. Like, it’s honestly fantastic.
That said! Print on Demand has combined a lot of things I have experience in and already love: I use my flower photos for puzzles, I love playing with color, and I’m a total nerd for SEO. I also think that, in this field, it’s important to keep your work ethic high and your expectations low. Some things will sell well because they hit the right person at the right time and gained momentum. Other items may be just as good – or better! – but if they’re not seen by the right person at the right time, they can flop. And, as I’ve said at least three times in this post: that’s okay! Just work hard and have fun doing so! I never imagined I’d hit even a hundred listings (or even close to a hundred sales, honestly) and, right now, my listing goal for the end of the year is 850. But if I wasn’t loving it? I’d never have been able to hit that mark. It’s a blast! Don’t be afraid to try it out and go for it!
Couple notes before I go! Because I like to keep my design work separate from my photographs, I design exclusively in Canva with a pro license. I cannot draw to save my life so my designs are all done with (appropriately licensed) clip art from Canva, Etsy, Creative Fabrica, and Creative Market.
For fonts, I mostly use a combination of fonts from Canva and Creative Fabrica. Copying is rampant on Print on Demand platforms so keep this in mind: the more unique your designs are, the harder they are to copy. This includes using elements from many different platforms and finding your own unique design style, even if you’re designing in a super saturated niche. But most of all? Have fun!! It’s such a good creative outlet for artists at all levels and it’s just really freaking fun. 500 / 10 would recommend, even if it’s just to serve as a hobby! Just remember to have fun with it! It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
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Based in Fayetteville, Arkansas Lissa Chandler is a traveling portrait and wedding photographer. Lissa is also the owner of Opal and June and the creator + instructor of The Hue of You, an online (and rad!) four week editing course offered through Click Photo School.
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