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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

103: Comparing Online Design Markets

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Howdy! While I prefer selling original art through a gallery or in person, I like the option of offering prints and t-shirts too. That said, I don't like carrying all the stock for those, so while back in the day, I actually had a massive pile of prints to sell, nowadays I have outsourced print/t-shirt sales to online marketplaces. For ages, I've been selling T-shirts on Redbubble and Amazon, stickers and miscellaneous other merchandise through Redbubble, and prints through Fine Art America. More recently, I've expanded to INPRNT, where I sell prints, and Zazzle, where I sell magnets. I also looked at Studio 6 and Design by Humans, but none of the photos or scans (set to the largest possible size!) of my work are large enough file sizes for those. While I technically have made digital designs in the past, lately I'm posting pictures of my physical paintings for sale online.

Of the stores I use, I lean on Redbubble the most. Once a design is uploaded, I have the option of applying it to a diverse range of products. The process of approving or declining to place the design on the relevant products is simple and quick. Amazon Merch works in a similar fashion, though for a smaller range of products. My problem with Amazon is the arbitrary limitations. I can have a maximum of 25 designs on Amazon, and I can only upload it to 10 products per day. Conveniently, on days I don't upload a design, the site automatically takes my prior designs and expands them to foreign markets. Applying the design to a simple T-shirt in another country's online marketplace counts as 1 of the 10 designs for that day, so I only ever manually upload my designs to the USA marketplace, and let the site take it from there.

When I first began selling products online, I was mostly uploading my old tattoo designs, which included a lot of fan art. Amazon has stricter copyright policies, that they more stringently enforce, than Redbubble, so I've been careful not to submit fanart to Amazon. They generally last a year or more before being taken down on Redbubble, though once they're down, I don't re-upload them. My best selling products are fan art. If there was a simple method for paying a royalty, from my cut, to the original character creator, I'd happily do that. But, alas.

I am aware that Amazon pays creators more per product sold than Redbubble but I haven't the foggiest by how much. The way I look at it, all of these online sales count as passive income, and buyers have loyalty to the sites they're most familiar with. I'm not going to convince a buyer to go to Amazon and buy my product if they generally shop on Redbubble. These are different distinct markets and they'll allow me the cut they can justify. After Redbubble recently alerted users to a new tier system, in which some sellers will get a smaller cut per sale, I took a look at other online marketplaces to diversify where I'm selling. That's how I found out about INPRNT.

INPRNT lets sellers modify the percentage they'll be paid, though I've left mine with the default site settings. They offer a range of print sizes and materials, which I appreciate. Unfortunately, their stickers are in a square format, which I'm not a fan of. Redbubble cuts the stickers to match the shape of the design. Fine Art America also sells stickers but their store can be annoying to navigate.

I originally intended for Fine Art America to be my main print marketplace, but unfortunately, I've learned recently, that like Amazon, they arbitrarily limit sellers to 25 designs. I have many more than that. Another issue I have with Fine Art America, is that they don't let me decline featuring my design on irrelevant products. None of my designs have enough pixels to fill a comforter. Yet Fine Art America insists on listing that and shower curtains, as products in my store. Shame. I can sell prints on Redbubble but that's not really their specialty.

While Redbubble technically lets me decline irrelevant products, they don't abide by my design settings. Say I set a white background for a design because there is dark lettering beneath the image in the png file (meaning often with a transparent background). Buyers can still mistakenly buy a t-shirt of that design in a range of inappropriate colors. Likewise, they sell more products than they list when submitting a design. I can't decline on products that aren't listed, and my designs aren't intentionally sized nor positioned for many of those.

Zazzle is more straightforward than Redbubble in that the product I select upon which to sell my design, is the only product being sold with it. However, it doesn't allow the seller to easily flip a rectangle from a horizontal to a vertical position when arranging the design—Meaning that my horizontal paintings are on a different size magnet than my vertical ones because I couldn't simply rotate that magnet on-screen. While yes, I could technically post a horizontal design on a vertical magnet and rotate the design to fit the shape in real life, it would appear in the store on its side since the magnet display couldn't be altered. If that makes sense. I do believe Zazzle allows the seller to alter the percentage they make per sale but I left mine at the default prices.

Also, as an aside, INPRNT and Design by Humans both have an application process for artists, though INPRNT lets users invite two artists to the site per month. Design by Humans rejects artists who make physical, as opposed to digital, art. This is due to file size constraints, because without access to a remarkably fancy camera or scanner, artists can't easily obtain the desired file sizes.

I plan to continue diversifying where/how I sell my art. One day, I'd like enough of a passive income to fund a low-cost homestead lifestyle. That may be a pipe dream but I am persistent. Anyway, thanks for stopping by. I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!

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