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Printing your art on products locally

As a designer or artist, you might find yourself in a situation where you need some of your art printed quickly on a product without relying on a big PoD like Society6 or Redbubble for several reasons. It could be that you are living in a country where the currency exchange isn't totally in your favour, or shipping takes a long time. or you might want to open an Etsy shop and need some inventory that will not force you to set insane margins to get some profit. Or you might need a special item quickly to run a marketing campaign and waiting 3-4 weeks for a delivery might not work for you. Then with Christmas right around the corner, you might have the opportunity to have a stall in a small pop-up market and need to have items for sale on short notice.

cue in the local printing services!

A few years ago, when I realised that people around me here in Mumbai were not going to order from Society6 or Redbubble because the prices in dollars seemed a bit steep for them, I decided to experiment with the idea of having some of my designs on products printed in India. There was some good, bad and downright ugly, but I managed to sell a few things in my offline circles that way. At one point I even opened an Etsy shop, which in hindsight was a fun experience but not a profitable one for me. I'm actually still sitting on boxes of notepads from my Etsy days if that tells you anything, but hey! We all have those business mistakes in your past right?

The point is that it's actually quite easy to find printing options locally for regular items like stickers, mugs, t-shirts and mousepads.

Things like stickers usually need to be printed in bulk, so if you go that route, do check with the printing service what their minimum quantity is. I used to go with a pan-India service called "Inkmonk" which specialises in printing corporate gifts, packaging and marketing items for customer. With them the minimum quantity was 30 units per designs, and stickers were items I could sell easily in my offline circles because the price point was low and they were still affordable even when I slapped on a 100% markup. That rickshaw and the lemon chili evil eye charm were my biggest seller and that trio pack made for about 95% of all my Etsy sales when I had a shop there. It was easy to store at home, and easy to ship internationally too, it fit in a greeting card and could be shipped at affordable rates as a document instead of a parcel.

If you know were to look, and you should DEFINITELY ask around, you can also rely on a local, no brand, no franchise printing service. This is how I got some greeting cards and those groovy rickshaws notepads printed at the peak of my Etsy shop days. When you go down that route, you have to be super careful though, because most of those printing services will not entertain your order unless you meet their minimum number of unit, usually it's 100 units, and you could negotiate it to 50 units with some, but in the end, they want to recoup their costs too and in general, the higher the number of units, the lower the price per piece will be too. As a small brand and business, I widely overestimated how those items would sell and I have still too many of them in storage 3 years later. So my advice to you all, is to go for that kind of service ONLY if you have the certainty of being to sell them all out, or at least 80% of it, or else, you'll end up loosing money. This is a great solution if you are getting ready to sell in a pop-up market event where there will be enough foot traffic to get you the sales you need. Those professional printing services keep their prices low precisely because they ask for a minimum number of pieces in an order. Those notepads set me off at about 60 rupees a piece, I could sell them locally for about 250 rupees because they were completely custom and available nowhere else. On Etsy, if I remember correctly now, I sold them for about the equivalent of 5-600 rupees to recover the packaging material and some of the shipping costs. If you go with a printing service for bulk order here are a few things you ABSOLUTELY need to stay on top of :

  1. ALWAYS request a printing sample before placing an order. A good local printing service should oblige, if they don't, walk away

  2. Check with them right away what their minimum quantity is, it's not a standard, and you can't assume that everybody asks for a minimum of 100 pieces, some deal in the thousands.

  3. Ask what the delivery time is right away, before placing an order and make it clear about your own deadline.

  4. Walk away if they ask for the whole payment in full before doing the work. it's ok for them to ask for a deposit, but be wary of paying the whole amount right away because then they don't have an incentive to get your order printed on time.

don't sneeze at vistaprint!

Just because it's mainstream and everybody has used it at least once doesn't mean it should be off your radar to print your art on products. First because their quality is really good for the price, and then because unlike a local offline printing service you will not be tied to a huge minimum quantity to place an order, for many of their items, you can actually just get the one piece you need printed, which is good news if you are planning on using let's say a coffee mug with your art on it in an Instagram photo or want to gift your art as a mug or t-shirt, or mouse pad to a friend. I actually had several orders in my offline circle for a specific artwork on a mug and Vistaprint was my to-go option. I also got my art printed on posters with them for other orders and the greeting cards in the picture above. For stationery like those cards, they have a minimum purchase of 10 cards per design, which is a lot less than with the printing service I used for my notepad. Granted the price per unit is significantly higher with Vistaprint, it's an option that makes sense if you know you are not going to sell much of them and don't want to be stuck with a massive inventory that will gather dust and eventually end up being trash.

Google is your friend

While the like of Vistaprint and Inkmonk tend to have limited items in their catalogue and tend to stick to corporate gifts items and marketing material, they are not the only companies out there who do print on demand services for individuals.

It might take you a bit of time to find them, but do make a point of Googling around typing in the kind of item you want to get custom printed and your city or country and it should yield results.

The Christmas cushion cover at the top of this blog post and the rickshaw one in the picture right here on the left are both from an Indian company called "Your Print". I found out about them last year when I was looking for a round mousepad and have since then used them for my throw pillow covers. Honestly, I can't vouch for their other items, as I haven't tried. I strongly recommend ordering just one unit first to see the quality and if you need more, place a bigger order later. This is an approach you should have with all those smaller online printing services, the quality can be hit or miss, and some items could print great and others not at all. In India, I am yet to find a decent phone case printing service, they all have very cheap cases and printing methods that dull all the colors, and I have tried a few of these companies, none could really cut it. Ordering just one piece also help you gauge their delivery time. Your Print is great for quality but they do take over a week to deliver, so that is something you will need to factor in when placing an order for let's say a pop-up event, don't order last minute with an online printing service.

put your home printer to work

Most home printers can do a great job at printing postcards and stickers on special paper if you take the time to understand the printing settings. A while ago I wrote a blog post about printing stickers at home you might want to check.

If you don't have a printer yet, I strongly recommend you get one if you are going to do small pop-up events regularly, or simply need stickers to use in your journal or your Instagram pictures to showcase your work. I strongly advise staying off HP printers, their ink quality fades over time and they do not really cut it for more professional looking print. I swear by Epson, and I am in love with my L805 printer (affiliate link), I heard Canon is great too, so take your time to decide which one to buy, and remember that with printers, you get what you pay for, a budget printer will give you budget print quality. If you are going to open an Etsy shop that mostly sell stickers, you might want to look into buying a plotting machine like Cricut or Silouhette (both are affiliate links). These are NOT cheap, especially in India, so do not feel you have to buy them if your goal is to just print a few stickers here and there. I cut all of mine with an exacto knife of a good old pair of small scissors. But if you are going to sell volumes, these plotting machine with save you tons of time and they can be used beyond just cutting stickers.

society6 for specific items

Society6 and other licensing model PoD do have unique items you will not be able to get printed locally and I STRONGLY recommend you purchase those every now and then, not to sell offline, but for your own use. Consider it a marketing expense, one that is going to be a lot more fruitful than a paid add campaign on Instagram in the long run. Why? Because people want to SEE the real product.

A picture with you using the Apple watch bands, or using the Society6 water bottle, or an unboxing video speaks a lot more volume than a mockup picture. The printing quality on a physical product cannot be hidden the way it is with a digital mock up picture. And if my blog analytics says anything, it appears a lot of Google searches about Society6 water bottles lead people to this blog post : Society6 water bottle review. Most of the PoD companies shop worldwide, I only shopped with Society6 so far because I like their product better, but if you have just a Redbubble shop, do make a point to order from them as well. Just wait for a promotion offer so that you buy the item at the discount so that it helps you recoup the cost of shipping. In this department, Society6 is the one that runs the most promotional deal on products and they let their artist know the schedule in advance so you can plan your marketing campaigns and purchases. PoD also deduct your markup margin from the price if you make the purchase through your artist account so the price you'll be charged at checkout is factoring in that cut too. So if for example Society6 is having a 50% off on Phone cases, they will also deduct your markup on the final retail price at checkout, in my case it's an additional 20% off the already marked down public price. Usually, orders place through them take a total of 15 days to reach me in India from the day of placing the order, which is quite fast, and they usually manufacture it with production partners in countries with which India has trade agreement so I never had to pay custom duty fees so far.

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