Designing a Product That Will Sell -Phase 2 of the 5 Phases of a Print on Demand Business

Designing a product that will sellDesigning a product that will sell is a phase where most beginning Print on Demand sellers fail.  Today we are going to look at why that is and how to overcome the problem.

In case you missed the Overview of Print on Demand (POD) post.  Here is a quick explanation of a Print on Demand Business.

  1. Mindset – You establish the right mindset for this business.  This includes picking a niche of people to sell to.
  2. DESIGN – You create PNG image files.  These are designs that will be placed on physical product AFTER someone buys the product.  You need to focus on designing a product that will sell.
  3. PARTNER – You upload the PNG file to a partner company and they create a mock-up of the product you are selling and usually create a sales page for you.
  4. TRAFFIC – You generate traffic to your sale pages..  This is usually paid advertising traffic.
  5. SCALING – When you find a product that sells well you scale the sales.  This is done by increasing the advertising budget, creating similar products and selling in new markets.

In a previous post, I covered Mindset – yours and your customers.  We introduced the concept of a niche market introduced an eBook that shows 25 Ways to Pick a Niche That Works for You. Today we will look at designing a Print on Demand (POD) product that will sell, a product that people in your niche will actually buy.  Designing a product that will sell is much harder than most people think.


Most beginning Print on Demand sellers think that the technical side of designing a product that will sell is the difficult part of designing a Print on Demand product.  Mastering Photoshop or Photoshop Elements or Gimp seems like a daunting technical hurdle. When we look deeper, it turns out that the technical side of designing a product that will sell is NOT the difficult part of design.  The difficult part is deciding what product we should design.  We are used to judging things using the criteria “What will people like?”  That isn’t even the right question for a Print on Demand business.  A more correct question is “What will the people in my niche buy?”  It turns out that most of the concepts that people in a niche “like” or “talk about” are NOT things that can be turned into products that these same people will BUY.

Even worse, it turns out that people (like us) with a marketing bent, tend to be terrible at identifying products that our niche market will buy.  Let me give you one classic example from the marketing world.  Marketers talk about (and often advertise) “anti-aging cremes.”   Ladies do not buy “anti-aging cremes.”  They buy “wrinkle removing cremes” or “age spot removing cremes.”   They just do not walk into a store and think: “I need to be sure and pick up some anti-aging creme today.”  The same difficulty arises when marketers try their hand at designing a product that will sell.  The hard part is figuring out what to design so you can create an image for a shirt, mug or necklace that people will buy.


  1.  Phase 1 – Determining which design to create and market.
  2. Phase 2 – Actually creating an image file that we can upload to a partner company.  (The partner company handles manufacturing the product once one is sold.  You might sell from a sales page on their website, create your own Internet store or sell on sites like Amazon, Etsy and eBay.)

STEP 1 – Determining a design to create and market.

Most beginning sellers try to emulate the folks who have been at this a long time (or the few that can do this intuitively). These wise marketers have paid for their wisdom.  Often by spending 10s of thousands of dollars to figure out what sells.  As shown in the image “Wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from mistakes!”  We want to learn from other people’s mistakes if at all possible.

The Wrong Question

As beginning POD sellers it is very natural to ask this question: “What do I think will sell well to the people in my niche?”  I’m going to suggest that you do NOT fall into this trap.  The odds are against you if you try to understand the buying habits of a group of people that you only know online.  You may know similar people in your local community or in your family, but they usually don’t represent the online buyers very well.

The Right Question

Rather than trying to come up with something brand new that you think will be a cash cow, you are far better off asking one of these two questions.  Both of these questions involve researching the Internet for Social Proof that an idea is worth pursuing.  Here are the questions:

  1. “What is already selling in my niche?”  If you can find a product that is already selling, then you can make your own version and sell that.   (Never copy someone else’s design exactly.  This is illegal and just morally wrong.  It is not that hard to create your own version to sell.)  Here the question of whether or not your niche will buy the basic product has already been answered.
  2. If you do have an idea that you think will sell, ask this question:  “Is there any social proof that people in my niche are interested in this product?”  This is not quite as good as seeing a product that is already selling, but using results from thousands of people who are in a niche is much better than using our own personal judgement.

Obviously the next question is “How do I do this research?”   I have written a couple of things that will help:

  • blog post that describes over 20 sites you can use to research sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Pinterest, Google and more.
  • a free eBook that covers the 20 online sites in much more detail (screenshots and walk-throughs).

The research steps become quite simple (even if carrying them out may be time consuming.)

Research – Version 1 – Anything That is Selling in My Niche

  1. Keywords to identify people in a niche – Most of the sites we will be researching are selling millions of items to people in many niches.  You need to determine a keyword phrase that will help you identify people in your niche.   For example “Dog Lovers” would identify people who love dogs and “Love my Wife” would identify husbands looking for something to give their spouse.   There are often a number of these keyword phrases and you will want to collect them over time.
  2. Search the Selling Sites – Search several of the sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Wanelo and Google Shopping as mentioned in the blog and eBook described above using your keyword phrase.
  3. Save a copy of the winners – When you find a product that is selling well screen capture it

Research – Version 2 – Is there any Social Proof that an idea I had or found will sell.

  1. Keywords to identify version of the idea I think will sell – You need to determine a keyword phrase that will help you identify the phrase you think will sell.  For example “Best Mom in the World” or “Love my Dog”
  2. Search the Selling and Consumer Interest Sites – Search several of the selling sites mentioned in the previous set of steps.  You can also search sites like Pinterest, Google Images and Facebook to see if people like the phrase or image you want on your design.
  3. Save a copy of the winners – When you find a product that is selling well screen capture it

Once you have completed the research phase, it is time to move to the creating phase of designing your product.

STEP 2 – Creating your design – a PNG image file

There are two basic ways to end up with an image file that is legally yours and that you can upload to your partner (Print on Demand) website.

  1. OUTSOURCE THE DESIGN WORK – While there are a bunch of want to outsource, here are some of the more common ones that we use when we are outsourcing the task of designing a product that will sell.
    • FIVERR.COM – This used to be $5 for each task.  More recently you can expect to pay $15 to $25 dollars for a top notch designer to create a nice design for you.
    • UPWORK.COM – Another site where sellers tell people what they want and designers respond to your requite.
    • – A more expensive site.
    • A friend or relative who likes design work
    • A Virtual Assistant company who handles a lot of work for you and has a designer as part of their team (this is the one I use.)
    • Here is a good article that goes into this in more detail  Outsourcing Article
    1. IMAGE EDITOR – At some point you are really going to want to become familiar with a quality Image Editor.  I like Photoshop Elements which is a derivative of Photoshop.  Elements is easier to use and has all the features that I have ever needed.  There are other design programs like Adobe Illustrator and Gimp, but you will see Photoshop and Photoshop Elements mentioned the most.   Here are three reasons you need to learn an editor:
      1. To create simple designs yourself
      2. To resize and crop product mock-up images to the proper size for advertising.
      3. To place your image on different mock-up templates for advertising.
      4. To create images for blog posts or Facebook posts.
      5. To fix minor issues with a design you purchased.  (Often times you will “see” something once you have a design.  Many changes are very simple to make and doing it yourself can cut days and even weeks off of the back and forth process of working with a remote designer.
      6. To make different versions of a design you paid for.  For example you may outsource a design that says “Dear Sister” and the design would work just as well for “Dear Son”, “Dear Mom”, “Dear Dad”, “Dear Grandma”, and so on.  If you can make these changes yourself you can turn one product image into many products and all but the first one are free.
    2. Online editors – There are sites like, and where you can create designs.  I tend to run into the upper limits of these sites very quickly, but they are a good starting place.
    3. Google Slides and PowerPoint – Again there is an upper limit, but these tools can be used for simple designs.
    4. WordSwag – WordSwag is a $5 app that works on your smart phone.  While it can’t do some of the editing, resizing and cropping that you will eventually need, it does allow you to create stunning text based designs.   At least half of the best selling designs are text based, so this is a very powerful tool.  Everyone should have it so that you can create design images when you find you are in a waiting room or a commuter train.  Here is an WordSwag Blog Post and a WordSwag eBook.  Both of these reference a video that shows you how to use WordSwag.


I’ve been talking about the design PNG file as if you just needed one image file.   There is a little more to it than that.   You need to specify some criteria when you ask someone to create a design for you.  Many graphic designers know these, but now and then you will run into one that does not.

  1. Image Type – Most sites want PNG image files
  2. Background – the background must be transparent.
  3. Image Size – Different partner companies want different sizes.  For most you can upload an image that is too big and the website will reduce it.  If you upload low resolution images, you products and look crude where people can actually see the dots.  This is call “pixelated.”
    For example Merch by Amazon insists on 4500 px x 5400 px.
    Gearbubble want the image size to be less than 5 megabytes.

    1. Shirts – 14″ x 16″ which is 4200 px X 4800 px (300 dpi)- transparent background
    2. Mugs – 9 x 3.5 which is 2700 px X 1050 px (300 dpi)
    3. Necklaces – square  – I use 1200 px X 1200 px (300 dpi)
    4. If you can’t stay below the 5 megabytes change to 72 dpi
  4. Image Color – Dark shirts, necklaces with black backgrounds and white mugs tend to sell the best.  This means that we need transparent images with the text in different colors.  I like to get four files from my designer when I pay for a design.
    1. White Text PNG file- goes on dark shirts or mugs
    2. Back Text PNG file- goes on white mugs or shirts
    3. Grey Text PNG file- goes on etched glass mugs on partner sites like
    4. PSD file – this is the PhotoShop Document file.  It is the editable version of the design.  The various pictures and lines of text are kept in layers.  You can turn off existing layers and replace them with new layers or drag layers around.  Compared to the PNG image file, the editable version of the design is MUCH easier to modify.


You will need the same files mentioned above.  It is usually worth creating these all at the same time while you are editing a design.  There are some additional resources you will need when you create your own design.  It is worth making an effort to collect these over time.

  1. TEMPLATES – some products (like heart shaped necklaces with text around the inside edge) are tricky.  Obtaining a template cane make this task much easier.  Here is an article on creating a heart template for Gearbubble.  The article contains a link to a heart template.
  2. FONTS – While there are thousands of fonts that you can download from the Internet, many of them are marked as “For Personal Use Only”.  Here is an eBook that shows over 100 specialty fonts that are free for commercial use, which means that you can use them legally on your Print on Demand designs.  Included is a zip file with the install files for each of the fonts shown.  You see fonts with fire on the letters, ice on the letters, fancy script, shadowed text and a whole lot more.
  3. IMAGES – You will also find that you need images for your designs.  Again, you must be careful to use images that are legal for commercial use.   For example, sites like Shutterstock and Dreamstime will sell you images for a few dollars and you can use the images in blog posts or advertising.  However, as soon as you put the same image on a product that you sell (a shirt, mug, necklace, or more) they want you to have the commercial licence which is usually $80 or more.  Here is an eBook with over 20 sites that offer free images that you can use commercially.  The eBook also talks about sites like where you can search for phrases like clipart Christmas and find bundles on theme related images that you can use on your designs.  Most of these bundles cost between $3 and $7 dollars.  This is a great site if you need candy canes, wrapped packages, Christmas Trees, Santa Claus, ornaments and other small extras for your design.
  4. REMOVING BACKGROUNDS – When you start to merge several images onto your main design (or merge several mock-ups for an advertising image) you often need to remove a background and make it transparent.  Most of the editors can do this, but sometimes you need something more powerful.  Here is a short description of, an inexpensive way to remove fairly complex backgrounds.  (For really complex backgrounds, Google for companies that do this for a living.  It usually only costs a couple of dollars and will be done in a day or two.)

Obviously there is a lot more to creating your own designs, but that is beyond the scope of this introductory blog post.


In summary, the design phase of Print on Demand has two phases 1) what to design and 2) actually doing the design.  This post has covered some of this and given you links to resources that cover parts of it in much more detail.

Until Next Time – Have a Great Day!   Oh Hale Yes!

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