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Etsy Print on Demand: What You Should & Shouldn’t Do

Etsy Print On Demand is a business model that’s indeed gaining momentum. Entrepreneurs can leverage the massive network of Etsy buyers while also using a low-cost and efficient business model to sell a customized product. 

Thanks to our Marmalead keyword tool, we’ve noticed an increase in search traffic for “pod,” “print on demand,” and similar keywords, proving that the business model is only growing in popularity among Etsy sellers and shoppers alike.

This article will go over what you should and shouldn’t do if you want to start using Etsy and print on demand (POD).

A Criticism of Etsy Print on Demand

vintage singer sewing machine sitting on desk

Before we get into the Dos and Don’ts, we’ll quickly address the criticism of the print on demand business model for Etsy…

Some Etsy sellers look down on print on demand because they don’t think of it as “handmade.” And while it’s true, you won’t be shaping your own coffee mugs from clay or stitching in your unique t-shirt designs by hand, you will be offering uniquely made products from your own creative ingenuity. And to do it right, it takes an artist. Someone with an eye for graphic design or catchy one-liners.

Because let’s face it, there’s enough recycled content out there on Amazon and Facebook Marketplace. And we can all agree that Etsy probably doesn’t need more “custom” t-shirts with the same stolen designs from the front page of Redbubble.

Print on demand for Etsy is different. At least, it should be. Rather than stealing art from the far reaches of the internet, Etsy sellers create their own designs. They are passionate about their brand and their artwork. And a great way to turn your art into cold hard cash is by printing it on a t-shirt.

But not everybody has the tools at home to print and apply their unique designs to quality-made products. And that’s where print on demand comes into play.

So, here’s what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to print on demand for Etsy:

Don’t: Use keywords like “pod” or “print on demand”

print on demand keyword stats in marmalead

Yes, our data shows that more shops are popping up on Etsy using these keywords in their listings. But that doesn’t mean you should.

If your business model is selling tote bags or coffee mugs, printed directly from a wholesaler with your own unique designs, then these keywords won’t help you. That’s because they’re industry terms. And shoppers looking for your products won’t use them.

So rather than using industry keywords like “print on demand” focus on keywords that are true to the product you offer and the specific characteristics for that listing.

Pro tip: When you use Marmalead’s Storm tool, you’ll have access to an endless number of keyword ideas for your Etsy print on demand business. Here’s how to use Storm for your Etsy shop.

On the other hand, if your business model is selling your own digital downloads for other businesses to use in their print on demand operation, by all means, use these keywords. That’s because your customers are other businesses and not necessarily consumers. Sure, you may sell quite a few of your digital art files to DIYers that design their own clothing at home. But your target market is probably another business interested in your designs for commercial purposes.

Do: Use trusted manufacturers.

etsy print on demand - colorful shirts hanging on clothing rack

Etsy print on demand has exploded in the last five years. Many entrepreneurs have seen how easy it is to set up a business and start generating income without ever having to hold a physical product. And manufacturers have noticed.

While the increased popularity of print on demand has lead to some suppliers making the process easier for your business, other suppliers are using it as a means to exploit you and your customers.

From garbage products to hastily printed designs, some manufacturers are better than others. 

That’s why it pays to integrate your Etsy shop with tried and trusted POD partners. A print on demand manufacturer should not only have a wide range of products, but they should be easy for you to use. 

Think about it this way. If you use a crappy manufacturer, what happens when your customer receives a faulty or damaged product? You might think it’s not your problem because you didn’t dispatch the product. 

Oh no, no, no – but it is your problem because it is your product. 

How does your supplier manage returns and refunds? When figuring this out, it pays to think like your customer.

In other words, do your research before signing up to a POD supplier, and research a lot! Put yourself in the shoes of your customer because that’s ultimately who will be interacting with your POD supplier. 

Don’t: Only sell t-shirts.

Ten years ago, Etsy was synonymous with selling small products made by the hands of artisans.

For better or worse, that’s changed. 

Similarly, several years ago, t-shirts were the go-to product to be sold using the POD business model.

But again, that’s changed.

Today, the products that can be sold using the POD business model are limited only by the supplier you use.

Pillows, mugs, underwear, metal wall art, books, dog clothing, jewelry. 

They’re all products that you can sell on Etsy using the POD business model.

So, consider this: the products and artwork you sell define your Etsy print on demand business. Not the POD business model itself. 

Do: Embrace it as a POD business.

lawyer hovering over executive desk

Follow Etsy’s rules when it comes to selling print on demand products on Etsy. You’ll need to follow that link and learn their rules, as Etsy constantly tweaks its rules and regulations.

But the premise is this:

You can sell print-on-demand products on Etsy, and you should embrace that. However, it’s important to remember that any designs you’re selling must be your designs and not infringe on copyright.

Yes, you can pay professional designers to create a design for you, but you need to make sure you receive commercial licensing from those designers. If not, there’s a chance the graphic designer can drop a copyright claim on your Etsy shop, essentially shutting down your business on Etsy for good.

So as long as you have permission from the designer you should be ok.

Copyright infringement is no joke, and Etsy takes it very seriously. Do yourself a favor and stay up to date on Etsy’s rules. They’re constantly changing!

Don’t: Assume it’s easy.

There are tons of articles and YouTube videos out there explaining how setting up an Etsy print on demand shop is a breeze. And how you can “set and forget” your business and generate income while only working a couple hours a week, and blah blah blah. 

Well, they’re right… to an extent. That is if you want to make a few hundred bucks and have your Etsy shop banned after three weeks. 

The truth is, that whether you run a full-fledged eCommerce empire or a simple print on demand shop on Etsy, no business is “set and forget.” 

They all require work and good amounts of it. 

Your Etsy POD shop will only be as good as the marketing you put into it. It will only be as good as the customer service you provide when something goes wrong, and it will only be as good as the “brand” that you create.

If you truly want sales why you sleep, your Etsy print on demand shop will only be as good as the keywords you use in your listings. So dust off those old keywords that aren’t getting you traffic and put some new ones in their place.

Do: Find your niche.

Niche marketing is a great way to grow a print on demand business on Etsy. Essentially, you are the dominant supplier of a small but undersupplied demand. 

For example, “anime” keywords.

There’s a pretty big demand for anime products on Etsy, and once you niche down, there’s not as much competition as you think.

anime keyword stats from marmalead

That’s just an example, but the premise is there. Find a small niche for which no quality products are being supplied, and then provide those products. 

The best way to find new product markets is through Marmalead’s keyword search tool. Try it out for yourself!

Don’t: forget to inspect your own products.

use good etsy print on demand manufacturers with quality clothing

Just because you don’t have to stock a physical inventory yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. 

First off, it’s reckless to sell a product that you’ve never assessed yourself. For all you know, your supplier could be sending out t-shirts with fraying hems right from the factory, and you wouldn’t know. 

So inspect what you’re selling before you sell it. 

Pro Tip: Some POD suppliers offer you, the business operator, to buy their products at a discounted price and inspect them before committing to selling them. 

And buying your products from your supplier ahead of time is a great idea. But keep in mind, some POD suppliers have been known to intentionally send high-quality products when a business places an order to inspect them. In contrast, your end customer ends up getting a similar product, but of lower quality. 

To avoid this, set up your Etsy print on demand shop, then buy your own product directly through your Etsy listing. Not only will this help you measure the quality for yourself, you’ll also get a better idea of what the entire shipping process looks like from your customer’s perspective.

Do: Think globally.

etsy print on demand - sell your products globally

Looking at Printful as an example, they have printing facilities in the US, UK, and EU. 

So when it comes to thinking of designs and products, think away from your own backyard. If you’re based in the US, how can you leverage culture and trends in the UK?

The point is this:

Etsy is a global marketplace, and the print on demand business model allows you to truly leverage that. So embrace it!

Conclusion for Etsy Print on Demand

The Etsy print on demand business model presents many opportunities for more tech-savvy eCommerce entrepreneurs. Now that Etsy is willing to host POD items, it’s become a marketplace that’s proving to be immensely popular with POD business owners. 

Keep in mind that the business model and Etsy don’t always work perfectly together, but if you’re willing to navigate the hurdles, there are certainly many opportunities to be had.

What do you think about print on demand for Etsy? Do you embrace it as a new way to sell products? Or do you think it’s a fad that won’t last? Let us know down in the comments below!


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