Print On Demand For Dummies

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If you are new to the industry and never heard the term before, the first thing you should know is the meaning of the POD term. Print on demand is a business setup which lets you produce and sell copies of the product only at a time there is demand for that certain product whatever it is tee, hoodie, socks, shoes or stickers. As the old and traditional mechanical printing with print presses was overtaken by the next generation POD laser printers, printing and selling only 1 product per design become affordable and the POD industry was a reality. The first thing I remember was the local POD shops where you could run with a text idea or design on a memory stick and they would print it on a tee. With the appearance of Merch By Amazon, Teespring, Printful, Teezily and other POD companies, we can also have our own virtual tee designing shop today. But that’s not all, the print on demand industry emerged to a level where almost all apparel products are sold using the print on demand technology including products like hoodies, pants, sweaters, sneakers, shoes, dresses, socks as well as bags, pillows, mugs, wall art and much, much more.

What’s the big hype about the POD products and business?!

The biggest apparel brands will still make the stylish clothes for teenagers and probably still rule the market for the young (for now), but, the 2 key advantages that go in our favor and are connected to each other are stated below:

  1. We can have unlimited designs – unlike the standard and traditional apparel brands like Zara, H&M, Macy’s, Adidas or Nike which prospect of product come in seasonal batches(e.g Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter). There are two key things that stop them here and they are they are storing physical goods and products are produced before there is demand for them as well as they claim to have limited edition clothes which mean if they keep producing they won’t be unique and special and therefore lose their value. As some successful people in the industry stated before: The POD business is a numbers game!
  2. We can play with people emotions – what I mean with this is that most of the people are highly hooked and addicted to a certain group, event, person or belief and are very passionate about the same which goes in our favor. What I mean is that 1 out of 3 people will buy a hoodie that praises their favorite politician or actor as soon as they see it even though they were not looking for a new hoodie. 1 out of 3 people will buy a new T-shirt with a protective autism day saying and wear it on autism events even though they were not looking for such shirt at the moment. 1 out of 3 baseball fans will buy a wall art with their favorite baseball team sayings or a number of titles as soon as they see it. Just imagine if we hit the timing and run Facebook, Pinterest or Google ads to the sports fans with our product few days before their team is playing in the final, to the autism supporters few days before the official autism day or our product that praises the politician they support a week before the elections. This is one of the advanced techniques that separates the ones that make 7 figures a month from the ones making up to 6 figures a month, but this is a pod for dummies post so we want to make it as simple as possible and focus only on free traffic which is much easier and doesn’t allow any space for failure.

What makes me even more excited here is the future of the industry. If you are like me and want to look into the future you probably also have figured out that with the appearance of the 3D printers soon enough companies will find a way to let designers have features like scratching, fading and any other designing future the traditional designers of big brands are using. After all the custom POD necklaces which I forgot to mention in the available products above are nothing different then this except the web application they need to make in configuration with their 3D printer. I am 100% sure this is possible and can be made, so be ready to see it rolling!

Exploring the market(Finding a niche)

Creating what people want to see is a crucial thing when selling on Amazon. Well, if you can create the greatest designs in the marketplace, just go for it and you will get discovered sooner or later, however, as I already said before you can sell simple text based designs with no art at all if we play with people emotions. When you are starting you probably have ten to thirty ideas to sell, but as you raise you will most likely run out of design ideas. What I like to do is check the best-selling shirts and get some ideas and motivation out of them. So, one thing to do this is to browse the novelty categories on Amazon using the “sort by featured” filter.

sort-by-featured-amazon

One thing I like more is scraping Google. This is my own method and you probably won’t find it anywhere else.
To better understand this method we need to know what BSR(Best-Selling Rank) is.

BSR of amazon
BSR is actually the rank of an Amazon product depending on how well it sells. You will find it below the product descriptions. If an item doesn’t have a BSR this means that the item had zero sales.

Code: site:amazon.com + “#30 in Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry > Novelty & More > Clothing > Novelty >”

Copy the above bolded text and paste it into Google.
The site:amazon.com tells Google to return results only from the amazon website while “#30 in Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry > Novelty & More > Clothing > Novelty >” tells Google to return results only that contain the pasted text in them.
So, start with #30 and just increase the number to 31,32,33…
The above footprint will return results from all novelty categories. You can tweak the footprint in your own way for example “Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry > Novelty & More > Clothing > Novelty > Women > Tops & Tees > T-Shirts” will return only results from the Women category, while “Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry > Novelty & More > Clothing > Novelty > Men > Shirts > T-Shirts” the Men category.
When you enter the results you may see that the BSR differs from the one typed, note that this is because these results ware cached up to a month or two earlier and Amazon tweaked their rank depending if they sell less or more in this week to month or two timespan.
Another way to do niche research is to look at Trends By Google. What I usually do with Google Trends is type in shirt, t-shirt, t shirt or tee and see what was trending in the past 7 and 30 days in the USA. You can also try with hoodie, sweatshirt etc. explore the other regions to or research by a state. Even if we search trends that are not related to tees we can still make products around them if the event or term is hugely trending around the world. The Google Trends is a tool that you can sit and play for a few days, there are unlimited guides around the web about it and if I write a detailed guide I will be just rewriting what’s already there, so do your own research about this if you plan to use it.

Check if an idea is worth designing

You may come to a situation where you wonder if it’s worth spending time designing for a particular idea. What I usually do is do market research by one of the methods I mentioned above and collect 20-30 ideas. Then I dig deeper and try to find sub-niches of these 20-30 ideas that have less competition but potential buyers. This results with about 100 potential niches in my notepad. What I would do next is go to Amazon novelty categories and for each and every of these niches analyze the BSR of the top 10-20 results sorted by “featured”. I will sum their BSR’s and then divide them by the number of items I analyzer. The number I get gives me rough idea how well shirts in this niche are selling and if it’s worth going further and creating a product for this particular niche. A similar, but a more advanced formula is what we are using in the Niche Analyzer tool of Podalyzer. If you are new and doing 2 designs per day you can do it manually, but if you are in the higher tiers and spend few hours doing this I would really suggest you use Podalyzer or investing only a few bucks per month in Merch Informer which is another super tool in order to save a bunch of your time which can be spent in creating better designs.

Creating the Designs

Personally, I am one of the worst designers you will see out there and because of that most of my designs are mostly text-based. If you are a great designer with an art background I assure you that you will be killing it in the industry, but even if you are not there is still space to make some great profits.
You are humoristic? Use it!
You have great ideas? Use them!
You know what’s trending? Use it!
You can do a great research? Use it!
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.
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The list is unlimited. Just use what you are good at and create text-based designs around that thing.
My designs are usually 2 lines of text as well as a graphic with a free commercial use tag in the middle of the lines.

make-merch-best-design

You need to know that for Merch it is recommended to have 4500 x 5400 pixels png images with 300 DPI resolution while for Podalyzer basic tees it’s 13.78″ x 17.72″ 300 DPI . Your file should not exceed 25MB of size.
I never create art, If you can, I recommend you do it, but if you can’t there are photos or clip art with free for commercial use license for almost anything you want. My personal favorite place for free art is the Pixabay website. Vecteezy and Freepik are also great sources. A Google search asking for free graphics will give you hundreds of other sources.
When it comes to photo creating and editing tools, there are also an unlimited amount of options and I would mention only the ones I have used.

  • Paint – even though it is first on my list I don’t recommend using Paint because it is an app which goes free with Windows and the origins are probably the year of 1990 with zero updates afterward.
  • Adobe Photoshop – paid application with unlimited about of options and features.
  • Adobe Illustrator – paid application and my personal favorite. If you know just a bit of Adobe Illustrator it is all you need in order to create good stuff.
  • Gimp – this is an alternative to Photoshop if you are using Linux, I have never used it while working with POD’s but I have heard that people like it.
  • Pixlr Editor – it’s a web app with limited amount of functions, but great if you are just starting and don’t want to spend money on expensive photo editing apps.(also has an Android and IOS app)
  • Canva – great app with a downside of being limited to 5000 pixels of height or width, so in order to be able to upload you need to resize and lose quality.
  • Over – mobile app for Android and IOS in order to create designs with no access to a computer. It won’t work on some of the older I-Phone models.
  • Make Merch – great tool specialized for making MBA designs, with weighty price tag on it.

Outsourcing Your Designs

If you are unable to do the designs on your own or you want to scale fast, there is always an option to outsource your designs. There are many ways to do this, you can look at some local design companies, here in-house designers or look over the internet. Here are a few freelance marketplaces that can be a great source of potential designers:

  • Fiverr – originally the aim of this marketplace is to sell everything for $5, however, it is not always the case. Just visit the graphic design category and search for t-shirt designers, there will be plenty of them.
  • Upwork – one of the biggest freelance marketplaces. Create your own hiring listing and add all the requirements, there will be plenty of applicants.
  • People Per Hour – a marketplace to hire freelancers on an hourly rate.

Note: Always check if the design that they send contains copyrighted elements.

Creating your Final Product

There are few key things you need to know and fill when adding your design to the pod platform with an aim to create an Amazon listing with it. Amazon uses keywords from your listing details in order to make your listing relevant to what people search and enable them to find your product. The 5 details that need to be filled with text are Brand Name, Title, Product Description, Keywords and Product Features.
You need to use these 5 fields wisely because they will give an initial boost to your listing and if they are nicely optimized there is nothing else to do in order to present your product to all the potential buyers. Also, you should note that overusing or stuffing keywords will give a negative impact to your listing and by overdoing it for every product can get your whole account in trouble. Long story short what you need to do is fill all these fields with descriptive text which best describes your product. Some people say that the description field has no effect on ranking too, but I still think that it makes at least a little impact.
The maximum length of the title is 200 characters and I the main keyword is must-use here.
The description must be over 1000 characters long and has no more than 1% keyword density for the main keyword we are targeting. Using synonyms and similar words will help you expand your discovery.
Try to always fill the features list with one to two sentence answers for the most common questions that can come into buyers mind.

Protecting your designs from Copycats

If this is the first time you met the “copycat” term, it is the word used for people that copy and steal our ideas and designs. One of the main problems we are facing at the moment selling on Amazon is the thing that as soon as some of our designs make some noise and start getting a higher amount of sales on a daily basis there will be hundreds of other pixel to pixel or very similar copies popping up. They are very unethical and will use tactics like cheaper price in order to drain the life out of your original Amazon listing and without the help of Amazon there is not much we can do about this problem. You can report all the pixel-to-pixel copies but the process is very boring and frustrating because you need to spend lots of time every day in order to protect yourself. Podalyzer is working on a solution which is still in beta mode that will find and report copy designs fully automated.
But that’s not all, because, these copycats will go as far as creating their own websites on own domains and list the copied products there with a cheaper price tag and use another POD company to fulfill the orders. Save your design in a PNG format or just save the listing image from Amazon on your device and do a Google image search with it, you would be surprised on how many other stores you will see your original design if it’s selling well. Some people browsing Amazon will also do a Google search for the listing title looking for a cheaper alternative. All these potential buyers will buy from the copycats because they are selling the same thing for a few bucks less even though the quality is worse.
All we can do at the moment is report their domain and hosting to the service providers, report their Paypal accounts and send a cease and desist letter to their e-mail addresses. There are lots of conversations about this lately among the Merch communities so if you feel like you need help in order to take down a copy shop you can always count on and ask for assistance in the Merch by Amazon Facebook group, the folks over there are very helpful and will assist and help you further.