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Blog / Beginner's handbook / How to Create Designs For Print-on-Demand

Beginner's handbook

How to Create Designs for Print-on-Demand Even If You’re Not a Designer

How to Create Designs for Print-on-Demand Even If You’re Not a Designer
Liva Spandega

By Liva Spandega

10 min read

You have a business idea and have decided you want to launch your custom-printed product store. However, some questions have left you stumped: How to create designs for print-on-demand? Where should I start? What kind of designs are people interested in right now? Do I need to know all kinds of design tools to get started?

If this description sounds familiar, you’re in the right place. In this blog post, we’ll go through the process of turning your ideas into designs you can use to create your print-on-demand business

And let us reassure you that it’s completely doable—you don’t need to be a graphic design expert to launch an online store. As long as you have your design ideas and a willingness to invest your time and energy, you’ll find different tools available to help your custom products come to life.

Let’s go through the process step by step!

As with any project you take on, the first step should be proper research. Even if you already have a pretty good idea of what you want to do, you should still look around to see if someone else hasn’t gotten there before you. In the fashion world, design trends come and go (and then come back again) even for everyday products, so you’ll want to make sure you’re hitting the sweet spot for your future customers.

If you’re starting from scratch ideas-wise and want to see what’s generally popular to source ideas, look into what other in-demand sellers offer first. Go to Etsy or Amazon, select a product category you’re interested in, and check out the best-selling print-on-demand products. As you’re browsing, you’ll notice trending products, styles, etc. Use the filters to dive deeper into specific product categories and see how your ideas might fit in.

For example, on Etsy, you can sort the results by top customer reviews, which will help you see what types of designs people love and what they’re looking for in terms of fabrics, clothing styles, etc.

Source: Etsy

Source: Etsy

You can check out Google Trends to see how often people search for keywords related to the design ideas you have in mind. For example, you want to create a t-shirt line with funny cat or dog designs and want to know what people search for more often. Enter the search terms, see how popular they have been over the period you choose, and draw your conclusions (cats win this round).

Source: Google Trends

Source: Google Trends

You can also do some good old googling yourself. Search for design trend reports, predictions, and overviews and seek inspiration there. And don’t forget social media. People love to talk about their favorite items and purchases (check out what people post under the #outfitoftheday hashtag, seek out popular influencers with large followings, etc.).

For example, here’s fashion influencer Chrissy Rutherford showing off one of this year’s design trends—groovy patterns.

Source: Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/p/C6gY9nxoFK5/)

Source: Chrissy Rutherford’s Instagram

Read more: Design Trends for Print-on-Demand in 2024

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Step 2: Define your niche

Once you know what’s trending and what you might like to do, it’s time to narrow down your niche. It’s a well-known fact in the print-on-demand industry that you’ll never be able to have a store that appeals to absolutely everyone. It makes much more sense business-wise to dedicate your efforts to a niche whose buyers are looking for exactly what you offer. Plus, the narrower your niche, the easier it is to come up with relevant designs and sell them to your target market.

To define your niche, imagine your ideal customer. How old are they? What are their interests? Are they shopping for themselves or someone else? What kind of designs would appeal to them—minimalistic or extravagant? Colorful or monochrome?

Ask yourself as many questions about your potential customers as possible. As you come up with answers, you’ll start to understand who your buyers are and what kind of designs they will like the most. During this brainstorming process, write down your answers. Over time, come back and refine them as you get your first customer feedback and learn more about your buyers.

Source: WildflowerandPenny (https://www.etsy.com/listing/1334116567/dog-mom-sweatshirt-animal-rescue)

Source: WildflowerandPenny

Let’s say you’ve settled on dog lovers with rescue dogs as your niche. Imagine yourself in the shoes of a customer who wants to buy some t-shirts that express their love for their adopted pets. Go on Google, Amazon, Etsy, social media, and other places where people might look for items to buy. See what’s already on the market and figure out how to offer something better or entirely new.

Read more:

Step 3: Sketch or plan your designs

With the first two steps down, it’s time to start creating your own designs. If you like to draw, take your pencil and paper (or your stylus and drawing pad) and sketch away. Jot down your ideas, no matter what comes to your mind. They don’t need to be fully formed designs yet—you’ll refine and finalize them later. But get your creative juices flowing and unleash your creativity to create the basis for what your store and products will become.

What to do if you’re not that confident in your artistic skills? These days, it’s not a problem. With different design tools available, you can easily create unique designs from scratch using stock images, ready-made vector graphics, clipart, and all kinds of other elements. If you have the budget, you can even hire talented designers to create the images for you. Or you can browse around for some free resources, searching for keywords like “free designs,” “free images,” “royalty-free designs,” and much more.

Just make sure to use elements that are cleared for commercial use. Always read the terms and conditions that apply to the particular image you’re looking at. And don’t forget about copyrights and trademarks—when in doubt about whether you’re allowed to print something, check in with a legal expert or come up with a safe alternative.

During this planning stage, you can also simply write down the ideas for your products. If you plan to sell t-shirts with funny quotes about book reading, list the quotes you could use. Later, when you work on the actual print files, you’ll have a list ready to go, and you’ll be able to focus on the technical aspects of creating your custom designs.

a black shirt with white text on it next to a book

Source: PickandrollTees

Whether you’re drawing the designs yourself or planning design ideas, always keep your chosen niche and your future buyers in mind. What will appeal to them? What kind of shapes, colors, fonts, and other details would catch their eye?

Step 4: Choose your design software

To create print-on-demand designs, you’ll need digital print files, so choosing the right tools is one of the most important steps in this process. There are different ways you can go about this depending on how tech-savvy you are.

To get you started, here are 3 popular choices.

Canva

Source: Canva

Source: Canva

Canva is a free online image editing tool that’s perfect for beginners. It doesn’t require deep technical knowledge and is easy and intuitive to use with its drag-and-drop editor. One of the best parts of Canva is the countless templates and elements you can choose from to get you started with designing. 

If you need some of its more advanced features, like background removal or premium images, you can sign up for the Canva Pro plan. But generally, you can accomplish a lot with the free version, which can be extra important if you’re just getting started and don’t have much of a budget.

Photoshop

One of the most popular options for image editing is Photoshop, of course (so much so that the software name has become a verb). However, it does require some previous knowledge—there is quite a steep learning curve with Photoshop. So if this is your first time trying it out, creating your designs exactly as you’ve imagined them might take a lot of time. 

The advantage of Photoshop, compared to other alternatives, is the vast opportunities it offers. As a graphic designer, with Photoshop, you can essentially do anything that comes to mind to create print-on-demand designs.

Printful’s Design Maker

Source: Printful

Source: Printful

If specialized image editing software is not for you, check out the Printful Design Maker, which can help you create or edit print-ready designs. There are thousands of clipart graphics, hundreds of fonts, a pattern-creating tool, and many more features you can use to come up with your unique designs. There are even Quick Designs available that you can customize to fit your specific print-on-demand business. 

The Design Maker is free to use, and if you’ve settled on Printful as your print provider, you can immediately see how your designs will look on the print-on-demand products you’ve chosen for your store.

The Printful Design Maker even lets you create a transparent background for your images with the built-in Background Removal Tool.

These are just 3 examples—there are many other tools available (Adobe Illustrator, Gimp, etc.), so feel free to experiment to find what works best for you.

Read more: 16 Free Photoshop Alternatives to Discover This Year

Step 5: Create your designs

Once you have your preferred design software and a plan for what you want to make, it’s time to get started with the design process and turn your creative ideas into printable designs. Just as you did in the planning stage, when you create images now, remember your target audience, their preferred design styles, and your brand identity. 

Your designs have to appeal to your ideal buyers and reflect who you are as a brand. Consider this when choosing colors, the size of the design, fonts, and other elements.

Source: FoxfireGear (https://www.etsy.com/listing/925733798/plant-lover-gift-plant-lovers-tshirt)

Source: FoxfireGear

You should also think about the print-on-demand products you’re going to sell your designs on and customize them accordingly. Remember that each embroidery or printing technique has peculiarities you need to consider. A t-shirt design won’t be suitable for an embroidered hat, whereas an embroidery design for a hat could be reused on a sweatshirt. All-over-print products like leggings will look best with patterns or other bold elements.

Not all of your designs will look great on absolutely all products—and that’s alright! Find the ones that work best for your brand, and feel free to experiment. 

Read more: Step-By-Step Guide to Embroidery Designs

Step 6: Optimize your designs for printing

After you’ve created the designs and chosen the print-on-demand products you’ll sell on your store, there are a few more important steps left. Each print-on-demand service will have specific print file requirements for your designs to make sure your high-quality designs turn into high-quality products.

When you’ve prepared your designs, you need to adjust them according to the print guidelines for each print-on-demand product you plan to add to your store. If you use Printful, you’ll find the guidelines under a separate tab on each product page.

Source: Printful

Source: Printful

| The Printful Design Maker will come in handy for this—it’ll let you know if your design doesn’t meet the required dots-per-inch (DPI) threshold or is outside the safe print area.

This is an extremely important step that you shouldn’t slack on. Following the guidelines will ensure your final products turn out exactly as you’ve imagined. If you ignore them, you risk receiving negative customer feedback once you start selling, and buyers get products that don’t look as promised. So make sure to check each product’s guidelines (better safe than sorry).

Step 7: Create mockups

As any online shopper knows, one of the risks of buying things online is that you can’t really be sure how the physical products will look once you receive them. You can lessen these buyer fears by showcasing your designs on the products using mockups. That’ll let your customers get a better feel of the design’s placement, size, colors, etc. And they can also see the product itself, like its fit, length, and size.

Source: Printful

Source: Printful

Print-on-demand services like Printful usually offer mockups as well. When you create your products on Printful, you can generate different mockups for each product. Choose the types of images that would suit your print-on-demand store best and will appeal to your target audience.

Step 8: Order samples

As handy and helpful as mockups are, the best way to test how your designs look on the products you’ve chosen is to order samples. When you create print-on-demand designs, you’re not working with the physical products themselves, and what you see on your computer screen might not always look exactly the same in real life.

To make sure that everything looks like you’ve imagined, order some samples. That’ll let you test the print quality of the dropshipping platform you’ve selected and how well your designs work on the products you chose. You might realize that you need to adjust some colors or make other edits to ensure your buyers leave your store satisfied with their purchase and come back for more. Plus, when you have your products on hand, you can use them to promote your store. Organize a photo shoot or simply wear your merch to spread the word.

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man with jacket
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Create and sell custom products online
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It’s time to create print-on-demand designs

As you can see, anyone can get started with their print-on-demand store, and you don’t need advanced design skills to create eye-catching designs. There are many graphic design tools available to help your ideas come to life, so all you need to do is take the plunge, do some research, figure out your target audience and their preferences, and off you go.

There’s no time to waste—get started with your print-on-demand designs now!

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By Liva Spandega on Jun 26, 2024

Liva Spandega

Content Writer

Liva is a Content Writer at Printful. She enjoys making lists about everything and anything, starting with ecommerce tips and marketing advice and ending with the cuddliest cats and best movies.

Liva is a Content Writer at Printful. She enjoys making lists about everything and anything, starting with ecommerce tips and marketing advice and ending with the cuddliest cats and best movies.