Last June I had been on Redbubble for six months, I had only put a few designs up, playing around with notion of having stuff on clothes. I hadn’t really considered it anything as far as a money making plan. 

This June, I have about 15% of a day job despite long periods of not uploading. If I could manage to upload consistently, things might be further along by now. Here’s what I’ve learned about Redbubble and putting designs on stuff. 

You don’t have to be an amazing artist

This is an assumption I went in to Redbubble with. My art isn’t amazing, I’ve been out of practice in drawing and designing anything for a long time. On top of that, I wasn’t ever amazing. 

On the other hand, there are a lot of people in the world, some of them are bound to like what I or you have to offer. This can be evidenced by walking down a busy street. Whether it’s custom apparel or from a high street shop, how many shirts would you wear out of the ones you see? Prime example, HM may print bad girl on a bunch of items and that’s funny but when you see them in the street, somebody bought them. 

You do need to make effort

Not being able to execute beautiful drawn works and going for zero effort designs aren’t the same. Now I’m sure if you hammered out enough simple text designs you’d land in a similar place to someone that did stellar pieces with serious audience appeal. 

I’m sure it’s not a perfect equivalence but the effort made and how unique your design is dictate how many people out of the many millions might buy it. Either way, there’s a bare minimum for effort and the lower the bar, the more saturated that niche will be. 

Pick things you like

This ties in to effort, if you are interested in things, you have already made some of the effort required, you know things about the subject, you have a take on it. These things are required to get somewhere with people buying custom merch, you need to convey ideas in a way people want on a shirt, a mug or a gigantic wall tapestry. Be that through text, beautiful sketches or something in between. This is where a good chunk of the effort lies, a poorly executed piece with a message that resonates with the viewer has every chance of beating out the more graphically impressive design that doesn’t strike the right chord with the same person. 

You don’t need a following

This isn’t me saying you shouldn’t have a following. 

This is me saying that I’ve got 10 followers. My ratio of favourites to sales is about 10:7.5 what this says, to me is that my designs get looked at by people looking for that thing. Sometimes I’ll upload and get some interest, generally from people who sort by new. The ones that get interest tend to be the ones that actually look good. I think, maybe. 

Having a following is something I haven’t really worked out, not because I don’t get the general concept of creating one but because I just don’t do this consistently enough to get a bunch of followers on the go. 

If you don’t have a following, you should still do the basics. I’ve found Pinterest and Tumblr to be most sensible, if underutilised by myself outlets to boost interest in your designs.  If you have time to make some proper effort, instagram is probably the place to be for building a relevant following. 

By the numbers

Now, I’m not going to give out a detailed breakdown of figures, traffic and platforms here, I don’t have enough sales to be worth looking at. If you’re looking that way Michael Essek is the man to look to. In fact a lot of what I have to say on this is based on lessons learned from not consistently pushing this forward but here’s how it breaks down as a year of growth. 

Now due to the oddities of Redbubble’s dashboard, it under reports what I get out every monthly payout and shifts it around somewhat, November had December outgunned and the last month should sit higher on the scale, it’s been good. 

On specifics, I mentioned that 10:7.5 favourites to sales ratio. Given the dearth of follower that would point to search based sources working for me. Now, that is true according to statistics. 

However over time redbubble’s search influence has increased. Which brings me on to the reason I’ve kept this up.

Sales Beget Sales

Having previously worked in online sales departments for companies in a variety of areas, there’s one thing that’s always stuck out. Sales mean more sales. 

Marketplaces get a cut of sales, things that sell will always get out in front, so you can in general expect sales to increase over time when you get them to sell. 

A lot of the growth my redbubble profile has experienced over time, it has been through this, newer designs do pick up but there’s been no runaways for me so far. Just steady growth whether I upload sporadically or consistently. 

Now that sounds like an argument against creating art consistently. It isn’t. That growth won’t get you away from your day job. Consistently adding to it and getting a nice snowball on will get you somewhere. 

Other Platforms

I haven’t found much luck outside of Redbubble, maybe I didn’t push the uploads due to lack of interest but spreadshirt got a few sales, Society6 didn’t do it for me. I have had some sales on Displate, which offers smallish commissions on pricey products. They could work well, in fact, they’ve done well against the few designs I’ve uploaded, due to their specific aspect ratio not fitting in with what I’m already creating. 

I have applied for Amazon Merch the odd time, I doubt I’ll get on any time soon. 

Your own site? 

I’m working on a Printify backed Woocommerce site currently, it’s not worth it at my level except for the fact that it behoves me to have my very own ecommerce site since it’s the kind of work I often do. Over time I may, once finished experiment with advertising and whether or not there’s a return to be had. 

Building a site like that costs me practically nothing because I already require hosting and I have the requisite skills to build one without a significant investment in learning new skills. 

Now, when this is worth it, is when you have that following I mentioned having not grown earlier. If you have a following, being able to offer your following better pricing, deals for liking you and clear a larger profit without having to invest in advertising your products it’s a no brainer. 

Is Print on Demand a good idea in 2019?

If you have creative skills and time to build something up, sure – assuming you like doing it. 

Now I haven’t mentioned Shopify, I like their style, the setup seems handy. However for real profitability, I’ve given them a miss before on company projects and I’ll give them a miss on this, they’ll cost you like a marketplace or a site builder. 

On the other hand, they may make a fine stepping stone depending on how much business you can manage to do.

Now, here’s the thing I’ve preached to numerous customers, many clients and a fair few bosses. Stop looking for the magic bullets. They don’t exist, if you want to build something, there’s still room to build something, the internet is a more competitive world than it was, it’s also a hell of a lot bigger.