The Bad and The Ugly of Print on Demand

Just a short post for the weekend; I’ve talked about the good a lot recently, but there are plenty of downsides to POD as well. This is largely related to Redbubble, but things here can be applied to every POD-service you work with; be it Redbubble, TeePublic, Merch by Amazon, and to a lesser extent services like Printful and Printify.

Now for starters there definitely are clear benefits to print on demand over traditional selling (I’ll write an article about that too!), When you’re facing something new, it’s best to try and see a wide picture, and not to focus on the good or bad specifically.

You don’t want to buy into the hype and rush in, but you also don’t want to be discouraged by all the negatives either. I’ve really enjoyed my print on demand journey so far, but there are so many downsides to consider to see if it is right for you.

Low Margins

Some people do go into print on demand hoping and expecting to get rich quick! The truth is that you really don’t get paid a lot per sale. Some services don’t even let you set your own pricing.

At the start on Redbubble I was making as low as 13p per sale on Redbubble (before I changed things up!), which is one of the reasons I didn’t put much effort in at the start. I didn’t know the potential that Redbubble had.

Low margins are just part and parcel of the print on demand experience. You can’t expect to make a lot per sale if you aren’t handling the production, shipping or returns. The beauty of print on demand; the fact that it is passive, is the biggest part of it giving such low returns per sale.

Low margins still pay off in other ways. Imagine you were printing these T-Shirts yourself; you’d have to design, print, ship and handle returns. If you weren’t doing that yourself, you’d have to manage it and pay somebody else to. That’s a lot of time that could be spent otherwise just designing and uploading.

With any print on demand service, you can just upload, and then be done with it. I’d take low returns and no ongoing effort, over higher returns and continued effort.

Changing rules

You may not have seen this email; but it happens now and then depending on your niche;

An Important Message About Your Work on Redbubble“, from the Redbubble Marketplace Integrity Team, is usually not an email you want to see first thing in the morning.

Usually this refers to a piece of work you have uploaded, and has now been removed. For me, it was because I uploaded semi-religious content.

Redbubble no longer want to have religious content printed on some items; items which you stand on, or place other things on. So no coasters, floor pillows, socks, bath mats, etc.

This is fair enough, you may offend people by putting a design on one of these items. Redbubble take a strict approach to it. Even if you have made sales, they will remove the design without warning.

It’s up to you to re-upload the design and only list it on allowed products. It’s a pain, and it highlights another aspect of print on demand.

On Print on Demand, you have to play by ever-changing rules which you cannot control.

I’m lucky, for me it was only two products, but the message is the same. You play by their rules, and they can change them suddenly. What if they decide to ‘outlaw’ your main niche? It could happen and it’s something to be aware of.

Other services are likely to do this to. As society changes, as more customers make more requests and complaints, print on demand providers will gradually change to suit their needs.

Quality street

As everything is out of our hands, we never actually see the products we are selling. Imagine a greengrocer never seeing the fruit he sells, how can he be sure of it’s quality? The only way would be to test it ourselves, but we can’t do that for every design we upload.

Usually this isn’t an issue, Redbubble and TeePublic use good quality producers, as does Amazon for Merch. But as above, we are relying on other companies, so they can always change these, and it’ll be up to us to deal with it.

There have been complaints about printing in the past, but as a designer you’re unlikely to be able to solve these. It’s a shame, and it can damage your brand if that’s what you’re trying to build, but it’s something you’ll need to deal with.

I have bought a few of my stickers, both to check the quality and because I wanted them. Once you have seen a selection, you understand the quality they are being produced at.

A little tip; buy your own work through another account to give yourself a sales boost.


Wouldn’t Redbubble be great if you were the only artist? Sadly you’re always going to have competition. No matter the niche, if you make a sale, then someone else will find out and try to get into your niche. Redbubble just wants a cut of any sale, so they’ll be promoting items which already sell.

Merch is especially notorious. There are tools to track sales of shirts, so if you make a sale you’ll be damn sure somebody else is going to come along and try.

It can be tough to fight your competition. It truly eliminates the passive nature of print on demand sometimes, but this can be a good thing. It forces you to make good designs that people want to buy. If you make a good enough, or the best design, people will buy it over a competitor.

In Summary

Passive income and print on demand is not a one way ticket to easy street. You aren’t guaranteed money at all unless you put some real effort in! Many “gurus” online push that it’s simple to get set up and once you’re done, you’re done. It just isn’t like that. You need to put a lot of effort in at the start!

It’s good to be aware of the downsides, and above all don’t let them deter you! Nothing is easy in life when you start!