Back in the day, if you were an artist or a graphic designer of any kind, you only had 3 options in life: get paid to work for somebody else, get lucky and produce something of cultural significance, or wait hungrily for one of those two things to happen.
Nowadays, it’s not like that at all – with all kinds of platforms like Redbubble, Society Six and Etsy’s Digital Products section – all you need to do is produce killer artwork, and somebody else will put it on a tshirt or a phone case or just put it in a frame.
It's a pretty sweet deal – you can upload some designs here and there and just collect the passive income while somebody else does all the work. But what if we told you that ‘all the work’ probably isn’t as much as you thought? What if all the equipment you needed to start could fit in the corner of a garage?
More importantly, what if you could take the entire share of the profits and use it to build that brand you’ve always dreamed of? Instead of being another seller on a massive platform, you could go it alone and stand out as something different, something special, something unique?
Why go it alone?
We’re not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s as easy as uploading a file to a third-party website – building your own custom product business takes a lot of hard work. The people who succeed are single-minded, focused and they’re willing to work 12 or 14-hour days and devote themselves entirely. They have a passion and a belief that they’re on the right path, and that’s all you need to get where you want to go. That said, with benefits like these, that passion is only fuelled:
• Bigger margins: selling on your own means no more third-party fees and deductions.
• More visibility: you’re no longer another product in a catalogue of thousands.
• More media variety: why settle for flat colours when you can have holographic film or gloss textures?
• More app variety: with the right equipment, you can print your art on any object or material you can imagine.
• Quality control: you can say with certainty that yours is a premium product.
Pros & Cons of Outsourcing Production
A lot of designers and artists start their journey on third party sites because it’s cheap and it’s easy. Once they realise that their ambitions are bigger than the modest returns, they often make the choice to develop their own brand, improve their visibility and take a bigger slice of the pie. At this point they have two options: outsource production to specialist manufacturers; or start making products by themselves.
If you’re still not in a position to invest a lot of time or money, outsourcing is a great stepping stone towards earning a little more from your art. By now however, your experience with third parties should have taught you to expect limitations on your overall profits. Again, you just have to ask yourself: do I care enough about this to put everything I have into it? If the answer is yes, you might as well start building the business you actually want.
What you Need to Produce & Sell Your Own Art
If you’ve worked as a graphic designer, or you’re aware of the scale of the personalisation market, you’ll already have a good idea of what’s possible and what your future customers are looking for. Here’s what you need to take your art from your computer to their wall and make a profit along the way.
Equipment and somewhere to put it
Since you’re simply putting your design on blank objects, you’ll likely want to invest in some digital printing technology. As manufacturers of some of the most trusted digital printers on the market, we could into detail on this, but to keep it brief: quality, speed and reliability are essential, but with space at a premium, it pays to plan ahead and find the most versatile solution in as small a package as possible.
The skills to use the equipment
For the most part, professional digital printers aren’t the same as your standard office printer. The process is different, but that doesn’t mean it has to be more difficult. If funds are tight, you can buy second-hand and invest time practising and learning the ropes. If you’d rather get to work quickly, it pays to invest in new equipment because it will probably be optimised for ease-of-use and the manufacturer might even include training options as part of the purchase.
A website with eCommerce abilities
You can continue to sell through third-party platforms, but if you want your brand to have real authority (and you want to keep all the profits for yourself), you need your own space. Outsourcing in this case may be a better option if you have no web skills or interest in learning them, although a small time investment in time at this stage means you don’t have to keep paying a web designer every time you need to change something.
A means of distribution
Bear in mind that you’ll also need to take care of shipping orders to your customers. Once again, the technology available for streamlining distribution is easily accessible, built for convenience and priced to suit almost any business model.
If you think people are prepared to pay for your art on a t-shirt, or a mug, or a phone case, just think about how you could develop as a business. You could offer customisation as an additional service and give your customers something they’ll never find anywhere else. With the personalisation market growing at such an impressive rate, it’s a pretty good time to use it as a springboard for the independent design career you always wanted.
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