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Blog / Beginner's handbook / What’s the Key to a Successful Print-on-Demand Design? [Expert Tips]

Beginner's handbook

What’s the Key to a Successful Print-on-Demand Design? [Expert Tips]

What’s the Key to a Successful Print-on-Demand Design? [Expert Tips]
Karlina Rozkalne

By Karlina Rozkalne

9 min read

Building a print-on-demand business ain’t easy (although it’s considerably easier than managing a business and inventory). One aspect of a successful online business is its design. Good designs can draw in customers and keep them coming back.

But what makes a design “good”? As you’ll learn in this article—there are 7 components to a successful design. Some are store-specific, but most apply to any and all print-on-demand stores.

Valuable read: 10 Profitable Ecommerce Business Ideas for 2024

What makes a good print-on-demand design: 7 aspects to consider

Now, the nitty-gritty. We’ve compiled things we’ve seen working for our customers and gathered expert tips from our in-house team of designers so you get the most value out of this article. Let’s get into it!

Your audience should always be at the forefront of everything you do for your brand. Otherwise, you run the (high) risk of missing the mark with your designs. You know what they say—when you’re targeting everyone, you’re targeting no one.

You can only connect with your customers if you know who your customers are: what they like, what they’re looking for, what their pain points are, etc. Knowing your target audience well allows you to craft designs to suit their specific tastes and needs.

Plus, understanding your audience helps you focus on specific trends your customers will actually resonate with (as opposed to trying to jump on every trend).

Here are 3 tips to connect with your audience:

  • Niche down—instead of targeting, say, “pet owners,” focus on a smaller group within that group, like “pug owners.” This will allow you to connect with and entice these specific dog lovers, not just any person who has dogs. Specificity translates into a bigger chance of getting loyal repeat customers.

  • Gather insights—doing research can greatly help you get to know your existing and potential customers. You can send out customer surveys to people who have already bought something from you, get valuable insights into shopper preferences and behaviors from social media and tools like Google Analytics, or check out competitor reviews and comments to identify common shortcomings.

  • Optimize for mobile63% of retail ecommerce sales come from mobile shoppers. Since the majority of consumers browse and shop on mobile devices, ensure that your listings and designs look appealing on smaller screens and that the product listings are optimized for mobile shopping. This helps remove friction, making purchasing decisions easier.

Valuable read: How to Start a Print-on-Demand Business in 2024 in 9 Steps

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Good designs don’t have to be complicated. Don’t make your designs too “busy.” It doesn’t mean that less is always better, but, generally speaking, designs must be harmonious and balanced to be appealing. Here are some examples of simple, beautiful designs.

a bed with pillows and posters on itSource: FunkyClubPrints Etsy

These designs are striking because they’re simple, bold, and have a nice balance of text and illustration.

Sometimes, keeping the design and product color choice to a very limited range could help achieve a more cohesive look.

Anete Vilne, Senior Visual Communication Designer at Printful

Now, you can also opt for intricate designs if you have a good understanding of color theory and composition. With intricate designs, it’s important not to overwhelm the viewer. Here’s an excellent example of a detailed design that nails composition, colors, and detail without becoming cluttered.

a painting on a wallSource: DeliberateFlow Etsy

As you can see, there’s a stark contrast between both examples, but they both work. So the takeaway is, whatever your style is, ensure it aligns with the principles of good design: balance, contrast, and clarity.

Aim for a design that complements the product it’s printed on. And that’s our next point—products.

“Scalability,” in this case, means “compatibility with different products.” Creating a design that can be put on multiple products means you can:

  • Save time on design creation

  • Create matching, cohesive collections

  • Expand your collection in minutes

“With POD, one design can be adapted to different products. Ensure that designs look good in different sizes, from a blanket to an AirPods case, or your design can be changed to fit the different formats and sizes.”

—Jolanta Niedre, Visual Communications Designer at Printful

Tips for creating designs that look great on various products:

  • Use vector graphics: Ensures scalability without losing quality

  • Maintain simple layouts: Avoids distortion across formats

  • Limit color palette: Ensures consistency on various materials

  • Test on mockups: Preview on different products before finalizing

  • Consider placement: Adjust design placement for different items

  • Focus on modularity: Create elements that can be rearranged

Here’s an example of one design on several products:

Valuable read: 23 Bestselling Print-on-Demand Products

This is a big one. You always, always have to follow design file guidelines. Otherwise, no matter how beautiful your design is, it won’t look good when it’s on a product. And if customers don’t like what they receive, there will be no repeat purchases.

Find file guidelines in our Product Catalog next to each product under the File guidelines tab.

a man holding a sign over his faceSource: Printful

File specifications or guidelines will differ depending on how your design will be fulfilled (meaning which technique will be used). Here are the guidelines you must follow with Printful:

What’s the resolution you must aim for? All design files, regardless of the fulfillment technique, must be at least 150 dots per inch (DPI), but anything over 300 DPI won’t really affect the result.

“Before starting a design, it’s important to carefully review the guidelines. This ensures that your work will look its best when printed, and you won’t have to make revisions to match the printing technique later on.

Also, keep in mind that while we offer many solutions and options, different techniques have their limitations. I would advise looking at photos of the product and the technique before diving in so your expectations are set correctly!”

—Carmela Toro, Senior Visual Communication Designer

Valuable read: Is there a difference in quality between 150 and 300 DPI?

To comply with Printful’s policies, you have to either own the content you’re submitting to Printful or have the rights to use, display, and resell it.

We highly suggest reading the Acceptable Content Guidelines to get detailed information on:

  • Intellectual property rights

  • Illegal content

  • Hateful content

Valuable read: Can I Print That? Copyright and Trademark 101

There are numerous sources you can use to get high-quality, royalty-free images and graphics. Here are a few.

Public domain images

a screenshot of a websiteSource: RawPixel

Public domain images are photos, artworks, or vectors whose copyrights have expired or have never existed in the first place. You’re free to use these images for personal or commercial purposes. RawPixel is one of the places you can find an extensive collection of such images.

Unsplash

a screenshot of a photo of a citySource: Unsplash

To use images from Unsplash for commercial purposes, you must add a significant personal touch to them. According to the detailed guidelines on Unsplash, you can’t “sell copies of Photos without first significantly or meaningfully updating, modifying, or otherwise incorporating new creative elements into the Photos beyond simple retouches, resizing, or other minimal changes so long as they are not done by automated means (i.e., selling unaltered, slightly altered, or altered by automatic script copies of the Photos), including selling them as prints or printed on physical goods.”

Stockvault

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Stockvault

In Stockvault, you’ll find textures, backgrounds, graphics, and photos that you can use and sell if you read and agree to the platform’s terms of use:

a screenshot of a documentSource: Stockvault’s terms of use

Valuable read: Free Images for Print-on-Demand: 15+ Amazing Resources

The designs you create must be beautiful, good-quality, and (no less important) consistent with your brand. Brand cohesiveness is an important aspect of gaining your customers’ trust and making your brand easily recognizable.

Some pro tips to maintain brand consistency:

  • Use a color palette: Stick to a specific color palette for all your products to keep a uniform look

  • Select key fonts: Choose one or two fonts that represent your brand and use them consistently

  • Make design templates: Create templates for your main product types to streamline your design process

  • Self-audit regularly: Schedule regular reviews of your products to ensure they align with your brand’s aesthetic

  • Develop a style guide: Assembling a style guide can help keep your designs consistent

Valuable read: How to Build a Brand in 2024: A Complete Guide

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Now, you shouldn’t mindlessly follow trends. As we discussed in the previous section, you should always evaluate what fits your brand. But being aware of trends can give you a competitive edge in the print-on-demand market. 

Here’s how to smartly integrate trends without losing your brand identity:

  • Curate trends that align with your brand: Not all trends will fit your brand’s style or ethos. Choose those that complement your existing products and appeal to your target audience.

  • Incorporate trends moderately: Use trending colors, patterns, or themes as accents rather than the main focus of your designs to keep your brand’s core identity intact.

  • Monitor social media and fashion: Platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok are great for spotting upcoming trends. Fashion shows and design expos can also provide insight into future trends.

  • Engage with your community: Regularly interact with your customers via surveys, comments, or social media polls to gauge their interest in current trends.

  • Experiment with limited editions: Offering limited-time products can be a safe way to test how well a trend works with your audience without fully committing to a shift in your product line.

Following newest colour, pattern, fashion trends unlock’s a lot of new themes or styles to try out! I use a lot of inspirational color scheme generators, look at the newest catwalks or social media publications from fashion designers that inspire me.

Anete Vilne, Senior Visual Communication Designer at Printful

Ready to create your designs?

That’s all we have for you today. Just like in other parts of the business, creating successful designs involves strategic thinking and an understanding of your brand and audience.

By focusing on clear target demographics, maintaining simplicity, ensuring scalability, adhering to legal guidelines, achieving brand consistency, and staying attuned to trends, you can craft designs that not only look great but also sell well. Keep innovating, stay true to your brand, and always keep your customer’s needs at the forefront of your design process.

Valuable read: Is Print-on-Demand Profitable?

author

By Karlina Rozkalne on Jun 11, 2024

Karlina Rozkalne

SEO Content Writer

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.