Business Life

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

The Etsy Print On Demand (POD) landscape is an eCommerce strategy that continues to gain momentum. This business model combines the best of both worlds when it comes to selling customized products—offering creative entrepreneurs access to Etsy’s enormous customer base and the efficiency of a low-overhead business setup.

Leveraging data insights from Marmalead, it’s clear that sellers face stiff competition using keywords like “POD” or “print on demand.” Despite—or perhaps because of—this, the POD business model is becoming an increasingly popular choice among sellers and buyers on Etsy.

This comprehensive guide covers the critical Dos and Don’ts for anyone considering venturing into the Etsy POD space.

Criticisms of Etsy Print On Demand

vintage singer sewing machine sitting on desk

Before diving into actionable advice, let’s touch on a subject of contention within the Etsy community: Is POD really “handmade”?

While you may not be molding your own mugs from a lump of clay or hand-stitching your unique t-shirt designs, what you offer is a product of your unique creative flair and artistic sensibility. And to do this right, it takes an artist. Someone with an eye for graphic design or catchy one-liners.

Because, let’s face it, in a marketplace inundated with mass-produced goods, Etsy POD should, and can, stand out. After all, we can all agree that Etsy 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. For artists and designers passionate about their brand and artwork, printing it on various products is a great way to turn their hobby into cold hard cash.

However, not everyone has the tools at home to print and apply their unique designs to quality-made products.

And that’s where Etsy 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

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: Marmalead’s Storm tool offers a treasure trove of keyword inspiration tailored for your Etsy POD 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 digital art files to DIYers who 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 generate income without holding a physical product. And manufacturers have noticed.

To this, we offer a warning: While the increased popularity of print on demand has led 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 shop with tried and trusted POD partners. As a rule of thumb, a good Etsy print on demand manufacturer should have a wide range of quality products and be easy 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. 

Wrong. It is totally your problem because it’s your product. 

Along those lines, how does your supplier manage returns and refunds? When figuring this out, it’s helpful to think like your customer.

All this to say, do your research before signing up for any run-of-the-mill 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, Etsy 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, you name it.

You can sell all these products (and more) using the Etsy 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 your Etsy shop as a POD business.

lawyer hovering over executive desk

Follow Etsy’s rules when it comes to selling print on demand products on Etsy. Bookmark this link and come back to it often because 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 cannot infringe on copyright owned by anyone else.

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 POD is 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 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 you’ve never assessed yourself. For all you know, your supplier could send out t-shirts with fraying hems 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. 

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 and buy your product directly through your Etsy listing. Not only will this help you measure the quality for yourself, but you’ll also get a better idea of the entire shipping process from your customer’s perspective.

Do: Think globally.

etsy print on demand - sell your products globally

Take Printify or Printful as an example; they have printing facilities in the US, Canada, UK, Mexico, and all over.

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 in the comments below!

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2 replies on “Etsy Print on Demand: What You Should & Shouldn’t Do”

Great article and thank you for it! I do still see a lot of trademarked items on Etsy. And I know for a fact that not all of them have a license to sell them. Probably the majority doesn’t. Redbubble is overrun with it as well. My Etsy shop is relatively new, and while I don’t draw everything myself, I do use legal resources and make sure there are POD licenses in place. I can imagine it’s tough for them to police. But hopefully Etsy doesn’t get overrun with that garbage.

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