Ask any business owner, and they’ll tell you how hard monetization can be. You’ll often need a longer runway than you think. Since breaking into the world of entrepreneurship, I’ve been dabbling in setting up “passive income” streams, not only to help fund my startup but also to indulge my creative side.
I started off selling coffee mugs featuring a few digital designs. (Side note: I’m not a designer myself, but I didn’t let that stop me. See step #2 here for some details on getting original designs created for you that you can go on to sell in various ways.) Once my mugs started selling, I wondered where else I’d be able to utilize the same designs. As it turned out, lots of places!
Over the last eight months, I’ve been able to monetize my work on other platforms and diversify my revenue streams more widely than I’d anticipated. While many business ideas take exorbitant capital to come to life, earning a passive income doesn’t (which, by the way, is the whole point)–and that’s particularly true using print-on-demand and other online services to design and sell a wide range of merchandise across multiple platforms.
In rough chronological, not best-to-worst order (I’m a sample of one, so my experience using these platforms shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement), here’s how I’ve managed to take just a single idea–namely, a purple-haired unicorn–and sell it 13 different ways.
First, I made some blankets and shower curtains.
Teelaunch lets you easily place your graphics on mugs, totes, blankets, and more. As a print-on-demand platform, the site handles the heavy-lifting tasks like fulfilling and shipping orders. Upload your design, fill in your customer’s details, and the order will be sent on your behalf. Teelaunch is made for Shopify, so it’s a quick and easy add-on to any existing e-commerce storefront you might already be working on. I’ve been able to use it to ship hundreds of products ranging from shower curtains to fleece blankets.
2. iMessage, Kakao, And Line
Then I made stickers.
You can sell digital products, too (without being an app developer), like “stickers.” They’re either a still image or an animated graphic, kind of like a souped-up emoji, that lets mobile users express their thoughts and feelings (or just be silly). Stickers are very popular among users of messaging apps like Kakao, Line, and iMessage. Consumers pay anywhere from 99 cents to $5 or more for stickers sets.
So I just took the existing character sets I’d been selling on mugs, added a few more variations, and listed them on both Line and iMessage, creating a new monthly revenue channel.
Related: The Unicorn Craze, Explained
3. Merch By Amazon
Time to scale up.
Amazon, as you surely know, is the 800-pound gorilla of the e-commerce world. In the U.S. alone, 183 million visitors frequent Amazon’s network of sites (Walmart comes in second among retailers, with 87 million monthly visitors). Just the sheer size of the customer pool makes it worth considering Amazon. On Merch by Amazon, designers upload their creations to be printed on T-shirts, and Amazon handles the production and fulfillment. The platform also takes care of shipping and returns, which means less hassle for you.
4. Cimpress Open
Hoodies, mugs, and totes.
In my experience using it, Cimpress Open excels at on-demand printing, and its services are easy to set up. Production is handled on demand, so shop owners don’t have to worry about inventory problems, like having too much or too little on hand. With the Shopify plugin, you can take one design and turn it into countless products, ranging from drinkware to hoodies and tote bags. After integrating Cimpress Open with my Shopify store, I easily created new tote designs in just a few minutes.
With summertime coming, it was on to beach towels.
It was late spring by the time I’d finished turning my unicorn designs into Line stickers, so my mind went at that point toward summer swag. No problem! I quickly modified many of my designs to sell on beach towels–and later on, pillows.
Towels are a great seasonal item that can put some extra cash into your pocket. If your design is upbeat and has an overall “sunny” feel, it could be a winner for summertime success. Printful is one service where it’s easy to make fluffy beach towels and pillows. Its app also integrates with Shopify, and as designer June Bui points out, it “[sends] my customers an automatic notification once the product is shipped, so I don’t have to do anything. It’s been very convenient.”
Exploring less-common merch, like clocks and wall art.
Redbubble has a strong indie artist vibe and offers a wide range of products to print on. Some of them, like clocks, stickers, and wall art, are hard to find through other print-on-demand sites. I’ve found Redbubble lets me sell items that tend to be harder to find elsewhere in the print-on-demand space.
Guess I’m a sneaker-designer now.
Yes, you can design sneakers, too. They can be especially great if you have a kid-friendly design, because kids grow up fast and need several pairs of shoes within a short amount of time. Higher turnover can mean more sales for you.
ArtsAdd sells more than just sneakers, though. Using the platform, I took the unicorn design that I’d previously used for yoga mats and stickers and turned it into sleeping masks.
Almost forgot about T-shirts–oh, and have I mentioned design royalties?
You won’t be surprised to learn that if you have an existing design, it’s easy to modify it to fit a T-shirt. Society6 lets designers monetize their artwork, with artists setting the margins for original art prints. For other products like phone cases, bath mats, laptop sleeves, and more, the platform pays up to $15.90 per sale in royalties. “I decided to sell my designs on sites that pay royalties to gain more visibility and extra income,” Eduardo Ely, a graphic designer, explains. “The more designs I put on [these] sites, the greater my income in the future. It’s a long-term investment.”
More shower curtains . . . and self-set pricing.
Threadless has lots of great tools to customize your digital storefront, which is useful for establishing your brand, especially if you don’t have your own website yet. You can post your content for free and set your own prices. Setting prices gives you a lot of freedom, but remember that freedom comes with the need for market research.
Make sure you check the site for similar products to get a feel for prices before posting your own. Threadless handles inventory, manufacturing, shipping, and customer care, so it takes a lot off your plate. There are no minimum orders or shipping fees, which is convenient when you’re just starting out.
10. Design By Humans
Design by Humans is a great place to go if your digital designs will suit physical stickers. Like most of these print-on-demand services, you can focus on the design and let them handle the rest. This is a great platform for targeting the gamer community and dedicated YouTubers, since Design by Humans caters to those customer demographics.
Pet beds and bumper stickers.
Zazzle takes a different approach to pricing. All you do is set your desired profit margin, and the platform takes care of the calculations. It’s a great way to make a specific amount of money per sale and simplify your budget–which comes in handy when you’ve got product lines set up on literally 10 other marketplaces!
Adding (way) more product types and social-media updates.
Cafepress offers easy-to-use website tools and gets your design onto over 400 different products. It can automatically push social media updates for you as well. Cafepress might not be the best place to go when you’re just starting to build passive-income streams, but I’m really glad I found it after hitting my stride. It’s a great option for entrepreneurs who have some sales under their belt and are ready to take their graphic distribution game to the next level.
For getting crafty.
Once you have a design, turning it into handmade items can help you reach yet another market on Etsy. As you’re probably familiar, the e-commerce site lets you easily set up a store and market to its hundreds of thousands of users who typically like products with a crafty, homemade edge. “I sell state-by-state seasonal food-guide prints, and so far my experience with Etsy has been great,” says graphic designer Jessica Haas. “My products have done well at Etsy since the platform predominantly caters to a younger female audience who support handcrafted items.”
The point is, there are lots of different ways to sell a single design. You just have to learn the ropes of the wide range of platforms that are out there, then decide which ones your target customer is most likely to visit. My recommendation? Start with just one to get your feet wet, then move on to two or three when you’re ready. The goal is to establish multiple product lines based on the same design, otherwise you may quickly find yourself in over your head (remember, the whole point of pursuing passive income is to earn it passively).
Once you’ve had success, you can always add a few more designs, or just keep your first one and find more outlets. But whatever you learn on one print-on-demand outlet, you’ll be able to apply to the next–the main thing is just to get started. Good luck!