As a supplement to income from books, producing goods to sell directly to the public can be very useful. In this first of a two-part feature, Lionel Meyringer and Paul Morton give their insights on print-on-demand services.

The web provides opportunities for illustrators to monetise their creative work beyond the printed page, but there are many things to consider - will the effort required be financially rewarding enough? What's the best platform (it may differ depending on your style and preference), what to sell, how to attract interest from the public, handling of payments and shipping, and what about copyright?

Some of these points will be addressed in the next post, but for this first part, Paul and Lionel delve into the world of print-on demand (that is, the artist uploads their image data to a production platform, which features and prints it onto a select range of products, on demand).

Before we start, a note on copyright. Published illustrators planning on re-using artwork from commissioned jobs should always check the terms of their contracts: most publishers include clauses on copyright with regards to third party goods. Even if it's work in which the illustrators holds all rights, if it's been used in a commission it's courteous to notify the client. 

The following are personal reflections; SCBWI  does not endorse any specific commercial business.

Lionel Meyringer

Many of us have heard of Redbubble, Society6 and Zazzle. These sites, and many similar, smaller players, produce products on demand and deal with all the boring stuff: orders, dispatching and returns. You keep your copyright, and you get a cut of any sale. There are no ongoing costs for having a shopfront. In my experience they offer a smooth process to selling and making money from your images without the hassle of dealing with sales yourself. Aside from your time and effort, there is no outlay.

How do they compare?

There is a lot of crossover, but there are some differences. Society6 sells many shiny, higher-end items. Dispatch seems to always be from the United States, so there could be duty to pay on orders to outside the US. Redbubble is probably the easiest to use. Zazzle have more of a novelty/gift vibe. They all do shower curtains. I’ve found the quality of stuff I’ve bought from these sites good, and they all promise hassle-free returns.

Profit-share depends on the site. Redbubble defaults to between 20-30% per product, but allows you to set your own markup. I marked a sticker up by 300% once. I can’t say I sold many of that one. Society6 give you 10%, except on art prints, where you can charge whatever amount you like. Last time I checked, Zazzle allowed a maximum 99% markup. These are all subject to change and local conditions. Check out any site’s terms.
Screenshot of part of Lionel's shop on Society6

Is it worth the effort?

I’ve used these sites to make available products using images I’ve already created. This keeps extra effort required to a minimum. Without any marketing, I make just enough to pay for the odd art course, which works fine for me.

To make a living off these sites, you will need to put ongoing effort into research and promotion, especially on social media. On the web there is lots of information on how to do this. It seems to be a case of figuring out internet memes that folks like (cute cats and dogs), or social networks that might like your work, posting lots and hash-tagging the heck out of everything with a link to your shopfront. The things that appear to sell most are fan-art t-shirts, greetings cards and art prints.

What do I need to do?

There is some initial set-up effort: getting your shopfront sorted, figuring out how to upload images and hacking them into shape for a particular product. It takes a bit of learning. I would stick to one site to start with.

Technically, here are a few basics I’ve learned:

1. Create very large digital images. Check the site for image size required before uploading.

2. The more pictures and products you have, the more likely you will sell something.

3. Tag the heck out of your stuff! Check what other creators are using for similar images. Add
those and then something special to make it stand out.

4. Only add stuff you like!

What’s the downside?

I suppose there is some risk of having an idea copied, but I feel that's unlikely, especially for an image with any degree of complexity. If you have existing images you think someone would like on a product, and don’t want the hassle of distribution, I’d say there is little downside to loading something onto one of these sites and going angling for sales. There’s no ongoing cost or maintenance required. As Ray Liotta says in Goodfellas: “It’s all pure profit”.

Paul Morton

I've been selling artwork on products on Zazzle for the past two years. After meeting Paul Stickland at conference, he highly recommended making use of old images on new products. And he gave me comprehensive instructions of how to go about it.

Zazzle is brilliant at streamlining the process, and once virtually created there's no further involvement other than watching sales, tweaking search tags and descriptions etc. It's a bit bothersome to set up the USA tax and payment forms, but there are plenty of online forums with answers.

Last week I sold three items, including these:

All the illustrations are my copyright and free for me to repurpose. So I earn small royalties on each sale, but do not have any hassle of dealing with buyers and mailing items out - that's all dealt with by Zazzle. It takes just a few minutes to load images, but then quite a while designing a decent looking product -  all templates supplied by Zazzle. The SEO is the most time-consuming.

The top sellers, i.e. those earning tens of thousands of dollars (and there are lots of those), have maybe 20,000 items for sale.

I've built a product list of just under 3,000 in three years. I think a turning point in sales would be 6,000. So my earnings are modest at the moment. A few hundred pounds.

Screenshot from Paul's shop on Zazzle

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Many thanks to Paul and Lionel! There will be a few more thoughts on print-on-demand in Part 2, where we'll also be looking at ways to promote and sell items created, stored and shipped by artists themselves.

Header image @ Lionel Meyringer 


Lionel Meyringer is a London-based illustrator. He likes casting the characters that inhabit his head into the world, so he can get on with inventing more. You can find him at

Lionel's Redbubble shop and Society6 page.

Paul Morton runs HotFrog Graphics and is a long-standing volunteer with SCBWI's illustration team. His book Bugbelly: Babysitting Trouble was released by Five Quills earlier this year. 

Paul's shop on Zazzle

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