You Don't Need To Be An Artist To Design Products for CafePress, Zazzle and Other POD Sites
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
A friend of mine was giving me some feedback on my suggestions about product creation and said that she'd like to be able to develop for vendors like CafePress and Zazzle. But even though she was a crafter, she wasn't an artist. She just used other people's designs and templates to make her handmade crafts she sold at craft fairs. And those are only licensed to be used on such handmade, limited production items.
That's a common problem. So many people have the ability and patience to create great-looking products. They have the "eye" for good design and the judgment and experience in what sells. They just don't produce new designs from scratch.
Surprise! Other than good judgment of design, all you need is 1) a supply of other people's designs that you can use without limitations, and/or 2) writing ability or a supply of other people's words.
Three Ways To Make Designs
Words are enough. If you search the print-on-demand product sites, you'll notice that most of the designs are more dependent on words than on artwork. And a great deal of those use quotes, especially famous quotes. Heck, you don't even have to think up something great to say. Just pick inspiring or humorous quotes and you can have a popular t-shirt. Make a run for the "quotations sites" anyone? (Also, by the way, t-shirts are the best-sellers on the POD sites.)
The fabulous public domain. You can get so many free images from the public domain that you'll never need to pay for designs for your projects online or offline. Public domain image sources are easy to find. There are extensive collections in print books and online. Just "Google" "public domain images" and you'll get a whole new outlook. Again, search through the images already in use on the POD sites and you'll find everything from classic paintings to comic clip art to inspirational photos.
Use your camera. If you're a good photographer, you'll be able to use your photos directly. They make wonderful images for POD products. If your photos aren't top notch, don't worry. Most people can take good enough photos to extract "photo objects" from them. Then you can combine photo objects into coherent pictures For example, you might take a so-so pic of your dog looking at his food bowl. If the dog looks good but the background is uninteresting, just use Photoshop or GIMP to extract the image of the dog. If you also have a pic of a butterfly on a blade of grass, you could insert the dog into the butterfly pic as if he's looking at the butterfly and -- voila! You have an interesting photo that might make a nice mug or mousepad.
You Don't Need Expensive Software, But You Do Need Software Skills And Composition Skills.
I'll keep reminding folks until they get it: Adobe Photoshop may be the best image manipulation program, but you don't have to find the money for it. The free, open-source GIMP is excellent and can even use brushes, plug-ins, etc. that are made for Photoshop. Get it at http://www.gimp.org/ .
Yes, you will have to learn to use the software and it is complex and powerful. There is free documentation and there are free tutorials online.
I've said that you can get along without art skills, but you do need to be able to do basic composition. That is, you need to be able to arrange the elements of your design in a pleasing way. You only need to understand the very basics to get started.
Google search "composition balance art" and "composition balance photography," to find a wealth of free articles to give you ideas on how to make your designs work. Again, you only need a good basic understanding of composition to be able to put together simple elements for the simple designs required for POD products.