EP 14: How to print and ship your own products

Today, we are back with Sarah Day on all the logistics that go into making products from your art. Where you get things printed? How do you fulfill and ship products to your customers? How can you actually set yourself up for success rather than loosing money on making products?

This interview is special where Sarah is coming to you from her inner sanctum slash home office, her bed. Why you may ask? Along with grappling the ins and outs of printing product and shipping, we thought we’d shed a little light on those living with chronic illnesses, and that, yes, conquering from a place of comfort is a completely viable option. Let's get intimate!

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What do you think is the easiest and best way to print products?

So you’re just beginning, you’re looking to save up some capital to perhaps print some bigger game down the road, but for now, the budget’s pretty tight. I’d say go with some postcards, stickers or art prints.

If you’ve got some digital or traditional pieces laying around, that’s potential profit right there! The only thing I’d say about postcards/greeting cards is that it takes around the same amount of time and effort as an actual art print, but you just can’t charge as much.

Depending on the quality of the print, bumping up your dimensions and choosing to go the route of prints instead of cards can be the difference between dealing in $4 postcards and $20 prints.

I also just want to plug Sticker Mule as a trustworthy go-to for those interested in getting their stuff down in sticker format. Not to discourage any people looking to print at-home, but I can vouch for the longevity of their products seeing as I’ve got one of their stickers on my car, two years and counting, and it’s looking pretty dang good.

Even Dina’s water bottle sticker stands testament to their quality as hers has been through the dishwasher several times, and there’s not a peel in sight.

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If you’re still on the fence or you’re not sold on the whole sticker scene, a good hack is to make use of Sticker Mule’s sample pack which allows you to order ten custom stickers for $8. There’s just something to be said about a durable, quality sticker, and this way you’re given the freedom to test your market without having to deal with any pesky bulk orders.

Stickers are also just really simplistic in creation and form, yet so fluid in the ways you can use them. Whether you use them on your water bottle, car, or notebook, it’s a fun kickstart to tangibly connecting with your consumer basis.

Seeing as we’ve spiraled this far into the stickersphere, we might as well keep going. Sticker App is another printing service that has the additional feature of allowing you to print holographic stickers. To all those sticker junkies out there, we see you. Also, how many times can we use the word “sticker”.

So, the underlying theme being, there’s so many more ways to get involved product that doesn’t include making t-shirts right off the bat!

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How did you start manufacturing your own clothing?

Really stemming from the troubles I’d been having with my right hand, and it’s current recovery from surgery, I was pushed to look at the ways in which I can create since drawing is a no go right now.

I had a few vectors on hand and I just really wanted to see them on some dresses. I knew I wanted to source my fabrics from Spoonflower, but what really stunted my progress was sourcing the labor. I have no skills in sewing and the creation of actual garments, so I was lucky when I came across Emma Bush on instagram. She’s a seamstress and runs her own brand of handmade pieces, Soapbox Clothing. She’s licensed to me a slightly modified version of one of her designs for a fee, and we’ll be producing the babydoll dresses per demand so I’ll pay her by the piece.

There’s also the option of reaching out to factories, usually overseas, on platforms such as Alibaba. The only issue with that was that I couldn’t be sure whether the pieces were being made in a humane and ethical way, which, for me, is definitely something I factor into the creation of my products.

As a result, the dresses are pricier and will only be available on a per demand basis.

I know I referenced Tuesday Bassen in the last episode, but she’s really such a force in that she literally made her clothing pieces from scratch and built it from the ground up. I always need to remember that she also started somewhere and that she definitely didn’t dish out on a full-on t-shirt line in the beginning either.

I think it really comes down to knowing what your product is going to be and being resourceful in the sourcing and production process. Geographically, that can play a major hand in who you know and what production services you have access to, but then again, that’s where the interwebs come in handy.

Don’t be afraid to hit people up for advice, because product in general, can be some really murky waters to navigate.

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What was your process like making enamel pins, because as far as I know, there are no US based manufacturers available?

I use The Pin Department which acts as an in between to a factory overseas, but I also know of Night Owls who offer a similar service.

I definitely had my moments of choosing which battle to fight. Whether it was, unfortunately, further sustaining the overseas production, or trying to find a place here on the ground, I had to look at what was accessible to me. Realistically, I am doing all I can with the that resources I have.

I find that with enamel pins, you need to find the right person to connect you with an overseas factory. Having that go-between person can make the whole production process a lot more fluid in that they’re handling the factory directly and instead of you. Sure, enamels may be small and simple, but between pouring the mold, the delicate details and the desired finishing of the design, I can only imagine all the things that can go wrong. And if you’re the one exposed to the barebones of the manufacturing process like that, you’re left to deal with some factory out in Singapore or China. And somewhere between the language barrier, financial transactions and your potential lack of experience, your cute enamel cats may come out looking like blobs.

Again, social media comes in handy here. Find your go-between person, be assertive as this is a business you’re running and know where your money’s going.

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Now we need to package our products. What’s the first piece of advice that comes to mind?

I immediately think of consistency. Like when we touched on style being a trademark, your packaging is just as much a part of this equation.

When we look at Apple, it’s a given that their packaging equates to the overall branding and experience of the purchase. We’re past the days of a thoughtless box or envelope being the means by which we deliver product.

So I’d say the overall structure of your packaging should be of quality and in alignment with your aesthetic, as well as further accessorizing it with perhaps same candies or stickers to give it that personal touch.

And you don’t have to break the bank to get on Apple’s level either. It’s more their ethos with which you need to approach your packaging.

As long as your customer is left feeling appreciated for having shopped with you, than that’s a job well done.

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When do you think is the right time to invest in a label printer?

Personally I want to be able to justify the expense of buying a label printer rather than simply the  convenience of having one. As of right now I allocate around an hour a week to labeling and hand packaging everything myself, but if I were to reach a point where I’d be receiving upwards of around a dozen orders a day, then I’d invest for sure.

And you also have to take into account whether or not your website is compatible with a label printer. I am currently on Squarespace, and even though I don’t own a label printer, I know that they will charge you extra for syncing your site up to it.

I am actually looking to make the move from Squarespace to Shopify seeing as all their useful features aren’t included in your payment plan anymore, but rather an extra in-app purchase.

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What’s your overall experience been like using Squarespace?

Compared to when I first started out on Squarespace, they’ve bumped up all their features as extra costs on top of what you’re already paying and I just think Shopify is a lot more seamless in offering businesses the tools they need.

Though I am also on Witchsy and have been selling through them for a while. Founded by Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, it’s an independent artist platform in response to Etsy’s rigid community guidelines on the matter of nipples, pubic hair, witchcraft...you get the gist.

And they also integrate with a label printer!

So while a hefty investment may not be momentarily viable for you, there are alternative means such as Ship Station. Easily linked to all the major platforms like Squarespace and Shopify, it automatically connects to your ecommerce setup allowing you to directly print your labels at home.

I think over time you’ll find a system which works for you, but until then it’s simply a matter of fine-tuning and having fun with it. It’s such a personal process, yet heavily linked in the presentation and conduction of your business. When you’ve found that you’re fulfilling the customers expectations, it’s in line with your brand, and you’re financially comfortable with the investment, then that’s your sweet spot right there.

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SARAH DAY

ILLUSTRATOR AND LETTERING ARTIST


Aftri Marrisk - Video Editor
Editor & Lettering Artist
Pontianak, Indonesia
Website | Instagram | Facebook

Rachel Campbell - Show Notes
Illustrator and Animator
Based in Amsterdam
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THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN AND EDITED BY OUR AMAZING VOLUNTEERS