How I Design & Create Print on Demand Products For Passive Income

Part 1 of How I Opened an Etsy Shop Using Canva and Printify + SEO, Pricing, & More

Passive income: the holy grail of internet businesspeople.. and for a good reason. For many of us, working a 9–5 in a cubicle with an egotistical boss and a dress code doesn’t sound all that appealing. How much more satisfying does it sound to open an e-commerce shop, write an Ebook or online course, or invest in stocks, and then sit back and watch the money roll in?

A lot.

Yet as easy as influencers say it is to earn $1k, $5k, even $20k, a month, it isn’t.. for the vast majority of us. And once we see that something isn’t the instant hit we were promised, we can be so quick to move onto the next project before giving it a real chance, and so the cycle continues. It takes patience, hard work, and continuous effort to be successful.. and, to be honest, I haven’t reached that place myself.

Even though I haven’t reached any significant monetary milestone YET, I completed a goal I set for myself — one which I have been putting off for a long time — and that alone is an achievement. Of course, I will continue to put in the time and effort until I reach the financial targets I have, as my end goal is to be my own boss (I just love the idea of working in my pajamas too much to give up any time soon).

I will be sharing with you just how easy it is to open a new stream of income — without forking away tons of start-up money — by opening a print on demand Etsy store with the help of Printify so you can do it, too (Trust me, if I can do it, you definitely can).

CHOOSE A NICHE & BRAND IDENTITY

You’ve probably already heard this countless times, so I won’t delve too deep into it.

Of course you want to choose a profitable niche, but more importantly, you want your niche to be something you’re passionate about. Choosing a niche you actually like allows you to understand your target audience better — since you also are your target audience — and to not get bored of your own brand after a few months.

It’s also a good idea to brainstorm some subniche ideas that fit under your major niche, otherwise it will be difficult to come up with enough designs. It also adds some variety to your store while maintaining its unique identity.
For example, if your niche is all about nerds, you can create subniches like math nerds and science nerds. If your niche is all about science nerds, you can create subniches like physics nerds and chemist nerds. How much scope you want to have is entirely up to you.

After you’ve chosen your niche, you will want to brainstorm store names — the catchier the more memorable — and then create a logo using colors and elements that match the mood of your niche. I hired a designer on Fiverr to create my logo for me, which didn’t cost me any more than $30.

*Make sure your store name is not trademarked and taken on Etsy before getting a logo made! (see how to check trademarks below).

DESIGN YOUR SHIRTS

Before you start designing, you’re going to need to know what to design.

Brainstorm simple, catchy, and/or humorous phrases that you think people would like that fit into your niche. If you’re stuck for ideas, take a look at popular products selling on websites like Etsy, Teespring, and Redbubble to stir some inspiration in you and get the ball rolling, so to speak.
This does not mean you should infringe on someone’s copyrights (although that does happen a lot in ecommerce and art communities, sadly). You want your designs to be unique and yours.

  • To avoid legal issues, you’ll want to ensure that your textual idea is not trademarked by another. To double-check that your phrase is not already owned, check trademark search websites like trademarkia.com and tmsearch.uspto.gov (under “Select a Search Option” select “Basic Word Mark Search”).
  • Although hiring typography designers and digital artists on Fiverr and Upwork is also an option, you are going to want to avoid this on Etsy. As another company will be creating and distributing your products through Printify, you, the shop owner, are expected to contribute to the creation of a product somehow.

Now that you have your first idea, you’re ready to start designing!

If you’re anything like me, you’re going into this with zero graphic design skills or experience. Luckily, Canva makes this super easy.

  1. Create a Canva account and sign up for the 30-day free pro trial so you can download your designs with transparent backgrounds. After the trial is over a pro subscription costs $12.99/month, but 30 days is plenty of time to create some designs to get started.
  • I created my account using an e-mail address I made I made specifically for my Etsy store to keep everything organized.
  • Having a Canva pro account means you have access to pro elements and fonts, which may be tempting, but don’t use them! Most of them are NOT free for commercial use. You can use the FREE elements and fonts only if you plan on selling products with your design commercially.

2. To begin designing, you need to select or create a template using the correct dimensions. At the top right-hand corner, click “create a design” and select “T-shirt” under the suggested options. OR you can click the + button that reads “custom size” and set the dimensions to 14 x 18 in manually (16 x 18 in also works).

3. Play around with the free fonts and elements to get a feel of how creation works. You can resize, crop, change colors, duplicate, and more!

  • To add text, click “text” in the left toolbar and click “add a heading.” (Note that typography designs generally do not use more than 3 fonts to avoid looking sloppy).
  • On the upper toolbar that appears when the text is selected, you can (from left to right) change the font, change the text size, change the color, make the text bold or in italics, space the letters, add effects, underline, re-position/align (you can also drag and drop), and more!
  • To add elements (images), click “elements” in the left toolbar and browse through the free images.
  • On the upper toolbar that appears when the element is selected, you can (from left to right) sometimes change the color(s) used in the image, crop, flip, position, and more. You can also rotate the image by clicking on the “rotate” button beneath it and expand or shrink it by pulling on one of the four corners.

That covers the basics, but there’s plenty of online resources and tutorials in case you get stuck, like this, this, and this.

4. Once everything looks A-Okay and you’re happy with your design, give it a title to save as at the top (which should read “untitled design” before changing it). Click “download” at the top right (the icon is an arrow pointing down), Set the “size x” bar to 3, check the “transparent background” box, then hit “download.”

5. You probably want to make a white version of your design too so it can show up on darker t-shirt colors. To do this, simply select the text and elements you used and change their colors to white (or black, if you started with a white design). Change the title so you can distinguish between both images and download the same way as before.

CREATE YOUR SHIRTS ON PRINTIFY

You can also use Printful to fulfill your creations, but as it’s more expensive, I went with Printify.

  1. Create your account using the same business e-mail as before. Pretty straightforward. Later on you will connect your Printify account with your Etsy shop.
  2. Take a gander at the catalog and see what kind of stuff you can put your design on! I will be showing you how to make T-shirts since they are the most popular, but you can also sell sweatshirts, mugs, bags, posters, stickers, and more!
  3. Select the T-shirt style you want to sell, considering your target audience and budget. I mainly stick to unisex tees, specifically the infamous Bella+Canvas 3001, but you might want to choose a cheaper option:
  • Note that the more expensive a shirt is to create, the more your down payment is going to cost. You will be charged — by Printify — for every order that is placed, but your money will be restored once you are paid through Etsy (with a profit).

4. Once you’ve clicked on the shirt you want to sell, you’ll notice a huge list of print providers. These are the different companies that will print the design onto the shirt you’ve selected (usually the shirt quality, color options, and prices vary).

I sampled the Monster Digital print provider and their Bella+Canvas shirt quality was very good and comfortable. I also sampled the SwiftPOD Bella+Canvas and they also did a good job, though their shirt was less soft.

If you are selling within the USA only, you’ll want to choose a print provider located in the USA, and ideally a higher-rating one (their rating /10 is beside the company name). I’m currently not selling anything outside of the USA because it is more complicated, because I would need to charge for shipping, and because Covid-19 has slowed down shipping, especially across borders.

When you’re ready, click “start designing” beside the print provider of your choice.

5. The default shirt that shows up is a basic white, so you will want to upload your black design (with a transparent background) to start off with. Click “add your design” and select the correct file from your device’s downloads.

6. You can now play around with the sizing and positioning. Almost all of the time, you’ll want your design to be centered and higher up, but not over the dotted line or it’ll be cut off! You can move it around using drag and drop (make sure you re-center the alignment) or by using the “positioning” option (my preference).

* Make sure the image is high resolution (green) and never medium or lower!

7. To create the black shirt with the white design, select the “all colors” dropdown from the top right and select “black.” The black download will automatically be there from before, you just won’t be able to see it clearly anymore.
What you’ll want to do then is click “make a specific design for black” in the blue box beneath the selected colors.
Next, hit the trash can beside the design you already uploaded (under “your design”) so you can replace it with the white download.
Click “add layer” and upload the white transparent version of your design from “my device.”

8. Position the white image on the black shirt in the same way as on the white shirt. You can double-check that they are the exact same by making the tables under “your design” match perfectly (you mainly only need to alter the size: width and positioning: top). You can look at the white shirt’s table again by clicking “white” under “colors.”

You can add other T-shirt colors in the same way, usually using black designs for lighter backgrounds and white designs for darker backgrounds. You should resist choosing more than 4–5 colors per product, since customers are likely to get overwhelmed by a large selection and end up not choosing any of them.

9. When you’re all set, you can look at the preview by clicking ‘preview” at the top beside “edit.” When you’re happy, click “save product” at the bottom right.

EDIT YOUR LISTING’S DESCRIPTION AND PRICE

To edit your listing, click “edit listing” beside your saved shirt.

WRITE SEO BY RESEARCHING AND UTILIZING KEYWORDS

If you want as much free marketing as you can get, you’re going to want to use an SEO strategy. Since you’re probably already a writer — being on Medium — you don’t have to stress too much about this.

For keyword searching you can use Moz and/or Alura, to name a few. I’m going to show you how to use Moz.

  1. Make a Moz account and sign up for the free 1-month pro subscription to use up to 5k searches (as opposed to 10). It’s rather expensive, so make sure to end your subscription before the month is up.
  2. Type in words and strings of words (long-form content/SEO) that are associated with your product to see which words and phrases have a higher chance of engagement.
    The optimum keyword has a HIGH monthly volume and a LOW difficulty. You will have to do this with each product so you are not competing against yourself on Google and Etsy.
  3. Once you’ve chosen a product’s keyword — which will also be its title — it’s time to write the SEO content, which should be a minimum of 400 words. Use your shirt’s keyword approximately three times within the text you write and once in the title.
    Write copy for your product that is engaging, emotional, and exciting. Include things like how your customer will feel while wearing or using the product, why your product is special, why you believe someone would love to have it, and why you think it would make an amazing gift.
    You’re going to notice you can’t easily go on about how amazing your product is for 400 words, but fear not..
  4. On Printify, select the shirt you are selling from the catalog. There are bullet points of features the item has at the top of the page (above the list of print providers), and sometimes there is even a product video you can watch to learn more about it.

Scroll down past all the print provider options to see even more details about the product, such as a description, more features, care instructions, and a size chart.

In your OWN words, re-write the most important features and product maintenance instructions, and really milk it.

5. Beside your product’s print provider listed beneath the product, make a note of the average production time to help determine how long the total shipping time will take, and a note of the price for later.

6. Click here to view all the shipping rates, and click “see rates” under the applicable print provider to get to the following page:

Underneath “shirts” you will find the necessary shipping information, including the shipping price and time depending on where the item is being shipped to. Make a note of the shipping price for later, and add the estimated shipping time to the production time to get a total estimate.

7. In your description, include that your shipping is free and the estimated production + shipping time.

*Make sure the shipping information stands out, possibly by using an emoji since you cannot make letters bold on Etsy.

8. Lastly, be sure to include a refund policy in your description. As POD products are printed specifically for customers, I personally do not offer refunds or exchanges unless a product being damaged or misprinted.

Your product description should now include:

  • Copy (to promote your product)
  • Features
  • Care guidelines
  • Shipping information
  • Refund policy

You can copy and paste the same features, guidelines, and shipping information every time you write a description for the same POD item!

PRICE YOUR PRODUCT

Pricing is relative and most people have a hard time deciding what to charge for their products, especially as beginners. Too high and people won’t be willing to fork out their money, and too low and people will think the product is poor quality (and too too low means you’ll end up LOSING money).

When determining a sale price, you’ll want to keep in mind four main things:

  • The shipping price, which you took a note of earlier. You want to include the shipping in your sale price so you can promote your shipping as free.
  • The product price, which you also took note of previously.
  • Etsy fees, which can be calculated using the omniprofit Etsy calculator.
  • Profit margins and sales: You want to make back a 20–30% profit minimum so you can run 10–20% sales frequently without losing money (omniprofit calculates the profit margin for you!).

The product price + shipping price + Etsy fees = your break-even price ($0 profit, $0 loss). Sell above it to make a profit.

Example: If the shipping is $4 to deliver (while charging the customer $0) and has a $9.21 item cost, these will be your profits based on a sale price of $19.99:

You would make a gross profit of $4.73/sale, or 23.66%

If you run a 10% sale on this item your shirt will sell for $17.99, making you a profit of $2.89, or 16.06%.

If you run a 20% sale on this item your shirt will sell for $15.99, making you a profit of $1.05, or 6.57% (which is considered low).

On Printify, update the item prices all at once by scrolling down to “variants” on the edit page. Tick the “select all” box at the top left of the list, then click “edit price” next to it. Update the price and click “apply.”

*Do not set your price’s ending to .00, but rather to .99, .95, or another ending.

Click “save as draft” at the bottom of the page, and it’s ready to be linked with Etsy!

A freelance writer, writer, artist, geek, hopeless (and hopeful) romantic, and over-thinker. My website: www.fantasywritingschool.com

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