So, you decided to take the plunge and put your art out there and start selling it. You've researched all your options and decided to stick with Print on Demand, aka PoD because the initial cost is low to none, but this in turn raise one more question : Which Print on Demand shop should you start with?
Many new designers and artist have this idea that they should commit to one and ONLY one shop and want to chose the best there is. After all, don't we all want to be profitable and maximise our chances of sales from the start?
Here is the thing though, you DON'T have to sell your soul to just one PoD company, and they certainly do not own you or your designs, so there is no reason to figure out which one is best as if you couldn't pick more than one. None of the Print on Demand company out there owns the rights to your designs and the vast majority of them do not even demand exclusivity rights of licensing. What this means is that you are completely free to upload your designs on as many platforms as you want. But where should you start? Which Print on Demand website is the easiest to get started with as a beginner? How many to start with? Can you expand over time?
When I started back in 2017, I opened a Society6 shop first and right after that (as within a week or so) I opened a Redbubble shop as well. Since I live in India, I wanted to find an India based PoD as well in hope my audience from India would find it easier to buy my designs. I joined one called "Cupik" which ended up going bankrupt, and then 3 others that...yup! all went bankrupt without paying me my dues! My advice from this experience : never stick to just one Print on Demand shop/website company because you NEVER know when one will shut down operation. And most certainly NEVER think that just because you live in a specific country you should absolutely have a shop that sells to your local audience. Most of my audience in India never bought anything from any of my shops. What you want to do as a newbie, is stick to websites that are already big and established and have an audience of their own and the traffic. Sure, you will have to drive your own traffic to your shop too, but it helps to be on a platform that is already having their own customer base, as there will be more potential to be found in searches over time.
I frankly recommend starting with 2-3 platforms and upload the same thing on all 3 and see what works on each of them in the long run. Then as you expand, open more Print on Demand shops on smaller platforms and start with uploading you clear best sellers there as well. You'll notice fairly quickly that not everything will sell the same on different platforms and that there isn't much logic in why something sells on repeat on Redbubble but not at all on Society6, other than maybe the fact these two websites have different main target audiences to begin with.
pros and cons of different pod platforms
So, which one should you dive in with first among the reputed ones? My advice is to go with the ones that are a better fit with the type of art you do. If you make art that looks good as art print Society6 is going to be a much wiser choice than Teepublic for example, because S6 kind of specialise in wall art and home decor. If you are making t-shirts with fun typography, Teepublic and Redbubble are probably worth considering before Society6 as they put more focus on apparel. Each PoD has their pros and cons, and each have uploaders that work slightly differently too. All the Print on Demand websites below are platforms I have shop with and have experience with.
They are one of the most well known platform in the PoD industry and while art prints is what they started with, they now have over 90 different products you can upload your designs on. The vast majority of my sales with them has been art prints and soft furnishing items like throw pillows and curtains. This means that if you do stand alone artworks and/or pattern designs, you have a better chance at selling with them. They do t-shirts and mugs too, so your graphic tee designs could sell there as well, but it doesn't seem to be what the vast majority of their own audience is really after. My portfolio has a little of everything and designs with quotes aren't my bestsellers on that platform. Bear in mind that Society6 started levying shipping fees on each sales as of 2023 and hiked the joining fee from 1$ to 5$ in an effort to discourage less sincere and authentic artists.
Pros: Wide catalog of products to enable your art on, large audience, and quality printing (I ordered a few items over the years). They let you set your own margins on all products and if you want to make money, you will have to set them at at least 20% to 30% on all products to recover the shipping fees and still make a profit worth your time The platform is regularly scouted by big retail brands too, so if your art is good, this could be a springboard to licensing deals. Deny Designs, their sister site also onboard artists to be on their wholesale platform, so it pays to be consistent, follow trends and produce quality designs.
Cons: Society6 is infamous among designers for having one of the most complicated uploader and design studio there is. You will need to create several different files to fit different products and uploading and enabling everything just right can sometimes take over an hour.
Like Society6 it is one of the big name in the industry and they have been at it for a while, and like S6, they have a catalog of over 90 products to enable your designs on. I can't vouch for the printing quality there as I never ordered anything from them (their shipping fees to India are insane) but I know that unlike Society6, their bestsellers aren't art print or home decor items. The vast majority of my sales comes from stickers and apparel. So if you are more into art that sell as stickers, or t-shirts they are your first choice of platform. Bear in mind a few things though :
They started a membership tier program and all new accounts start at "Standard" tier on which hefty fees levied on earnings. They do so to encourage artists to produce quality work to move up to the Premium tier were no fees are charged
You ABSOLUTELY need a transparent .png file for your designs as t-shirts and stickers require a transparent background.
Pros: Their uploader is one of the easiest, most beginner friendly there is. You are pretty good just uploading a png file and then add a background color on items you do not want as default white and it also has the option to tile a design into a pattern, so you do not have to upload large pattern squares on products you need a repeat design, simply upload the seamless tile and select the tile option. Like Society6 they let you set your own margin, I recommend 20% on everything and 50% on stickers.
Cons: As much as I welcome the move to charge fees on entry level accounts to encourage new designers to produce quality, they can be as high as 50% of your earnings if you earn around the minimum payment threshold amount in a month. It's definitely something that could be a deterrent to a lot of genuine artists even if the intent was to flush the spammers and scammer out.
Like its name suggest, their strength is t-shirts, and that's about 99% of my sales with them, so only upload art that looks good as a t-shirt and comes with a transparent PNG background. I started in 2021 with them and it took me about 5 months to make a sale and within a year they became regular. I actually own one of their t-shirt and it's one of my favourite, it's in the wash almost every week and 2 years later it hasn't lost shape, frayed or even saw the print on it fade or flake. They don't let you set your own margin, but have an account category system that decides how much you earn on each sale. You are either an apprentice or an artisan, the decision is widely based on what type of artwork/designs you produce. If you produce unique, clearly hand drawn quality designs, you will be categorised as Artisan, if you are more into vector graphics you re-use over and over with generic fonts you are going to be an Apprentice. Apprentice earn 2$ per t-shirt sale at full price and 1$ if there is a sale/promotion going.
Artisan earn 4$ at full price and 2$ during a sale/promotion. Pros: The uploader is fuss free, and I love their keyword generator. You enter one main keyword that describe your art the best, and then the field for secondary keywords will suggest other keywords similar to the main one.
Cons: They have a very limited product range, not surprising considering they are t-shirt specialists, but they could have a few more and I think it wouldn't hurt. They also do not let you upload individual files on specific products. So the main t-shirt file is what goes on everything, even if one item would benefit more from let say a pattern file like maybe the phone case. You can at least put a specific background color on non-apparel items.
Threadless Despite the fact that it has quite a few unique products no other PoD seem to be doing like shoes and skateboards, it seems the only thing that consistently sell there are t-shirts. But of all the PoD this is one of my least performing one. They seem to have a system where you can opt to have them manage your margins which I went for, and an option to be included in the Threadless marketplace, where they decide which of your designs to include on their website shop. If you don't enable that feature, you are 100% responsible to drive traffic to your shop in order to get sales.
Pros: uploading designs is fairly easy and they have a few very unique products like shoes, and skateboards and a round rug. Cons: It seems to be a lot harder to make sales there, their managed pricing option and being included in the market place option is a bit more complex and if you plan on making that one your main shop, it seems you'll need to pull more weight in marketing than on other platforms. You also will need very specific files using their own templates for some products like shoes, leggings and duffle bags among other, so that is a bit of extra work.
Now of course there are more PoD I sell on, but I listed only the ones that are the most beginner friendly. I recommend you regularly keeps yourself in the loop of what's new in the PoD world as you keep going and join new ones regularly and see where it takes you. The advantage of starting early on a new platform is that you will get seen more than on a super saturated platform like Society6, but it also means it might take a lot more time before you make that first sale as fewer people will know about a smaller, newer business, but it's worth tapping into these opportunities.