Posts tagged ‘design’

Print on Demand: Cafe Press

I’ve had a few artists in the Artist Alley community ask me about the print on demand companies that I use for Kimchi Kawaii so thought it could be helpful to write up some blog posts comparing the pro’s and con’s of the ones I’m familiar with. Usually, my explanations are a bit TL;DR for a Facebook comment or reply. I’m going to break this into a multipart series.

I started off the series with a general explanation about what print on demand is and how it works. The following posts will focus on the websites that I am familiar with through years of use.

Cafe Press was my introduction to the print on demand world and it is one of the first sites to offer this service to the general customer. They started in 1999, offering customizable t-shirts. It has since grown to include a wide variety of objects from clothing to electronics accessories like iPhone and Samsung cases, paper products, home decor, and even items for your pets and much more. According to the Cafe Press corporate site, there are over 2 million CafePress shops creating some 300 million unique products (with over 135,000 new designs added each week). And over 11 million people visit their sites each month to find products that express their personality

The main draw was for artists like me who wanted a way to access a wide audience that I would normally not be able to reach to at the get go and also offer a huge variety of products. It took me a few years from hearing about it to setting up shop, but finally in August of 2008, I got started. Cafe Press was where Kimchi Kawaii got its start and was the first location where I sold my pun-filled artwork.

As a newbie business owner, I did not have a ton of money to work with at the get go. Cafe Press was an affordable way to get started. At the time, there were two shop levels that you could pick from when opening up a store front on their site: basic and premium. Basic was pretty much what it sounds like and was (and still is) free. Premium allowed some more features that would allow me to run my shop easier, namely on the back end stuff like the uploading and organizing of my products. Premium shops do have a monthly fee attached to them and you choose the plan that works best for you. It’s been a while since I set up shop, but I think I started out at the annual rate of about $60 a year. I figured it was easier to just pay once a year and not have to worry about it every month. I was just getting started so I had a lot of other things to worry about, like art creation!

You upload your designs to the Image Basket and then go about setting your art on the items you want to sell and listing it in your shop. They have organized all the items available to customize into categories. There are some that overlap – I’ve found Kindle cases in both Bags and the Cases categories. You go into each category and click on the items you like to add them to your shop. One of the nice features of Cafe Press is that you can create a grouping of products. If you find that you’re offering your different designs on the same products (ex. shirts, mugs, phone cases, dishes), you can just select the group and then you don’t have to go through and select each one over and over. It’s a definite time saver!

Once you’ve selected everything, you are taken to a screen where you can then adjust the design on each item. Sometimes, the design needs to be scaled down a bit to make sure it fits in the safety zone (the area where it is guaranteed you won’t lose any part of your design when the item is printed/manufactured). Adjusting images can be a bit tedious, especially if you are adding your design to a lot of products. However, it’s highly recommended as you don’t want your artwork displayed poorly all because you didn’t want to take the time to do this step.

The design tools are where Cafe Press is a bit lacking in my opinion. They seem very limited vs. what I’ve been able to do on other sites. You can only scale up or down and scaling up is only to a set size predetermined by Cafe Press. Sometimes, I like to zoom in on an image for certain items – ex. a button can look really nice with a close up of the character’s face instead of the full piece where you’ll lose some detail on a 2.25″ button. You can upload multiple instances of the artwork, but who wants to save 5 different files of the same piece? Images are also placed in the dead center of the item with no ability to move it elsewhere. All sites have specific printable areas, but others offer more flexibility of placement within that window. Cafe Press’s scaling tools only allow you to enlarge or shrink the image placed in the center of this window.

Two pillows one from Cafe Press with a white background and a second one from Zazzle with a black background that I was able to add in the website.

Cafe Press Pillow on left with the white background and the same design on a pillow in Zazzle with a black background that I was able to add in-site.

Another design element that I find lacking is the ability to add a background color. I design my pieces once and in a 10×10″ square with a transparent background. Most of my artwork can stand alone without a background as it usually features a single character with a pun or humous caption. But sometimes, a simple background color can really make a design pop.

Pictured are two similar pillows from my shops in Cafe Press and Zazzle featuring the same candycorn (get it?) design. I created the design in Illustrator and saved it as a png. This allows me to use one file across a wide variety of products. I can put it on a shirt and not have a colored square framing it. Anyway, in Cafe Press, I’m stuck with the background being the color of the pillow which is just white unless I upload a file with a background that fits the dimensions of the pillow. Zazzle has a way for me to add background color within their website (I even did a contrasting color on the flip side of the pillow for added fun). Considering I often sell my designs on 20-30 products each, you can imagine why I don’t want to have to create specific files that have backgrounds fitting the dimensions of each one.

Once you’ve fixed your designs to be the way you want, it’s time to put it up for sale! Items have their base price which is pre-set by Cafe Press and you determine the amount of markup you want to make. You can set either a specific dollar amount or a percentage. Average percent across the board from what I’ve seen online is 15%. I just do the percentage. Your items can sell in two different locations – directly from your shop site or through the Cafe Press Marketplace.

The Marketplace is where you are going to get a majority of your sales as this is where people discover your items through a general search. Joe Schmoe from across the country who does not know you from the next person goes into Cafe Press and knows he wants to buy something with a dog on it. He types in “dog” in the search bar and sees all the items with dogs on them. He likes your design the best and buys it right there. This is considered a marketplace sale. Shop sales are rarer unless you market the heck out of your shop as they are generated when people specifically buy from your shop page which has it’s own custom URL.

And this brings me to the biggest complaint I have with Cafe Press. Items sold through the Marketplace are set at a 10% markup and the artists do not have control over this. It is set by Cafe Press. Markup commissions from items sold directly from your shop are set by you. As I said earlier, I go with the average and have my items set at a 15% commission. When I first started, I had control over the markup in both the marketplace and my shop and so both were set at 15%. However, a few years ago, Cafe Press changed this policy to the current one. They also did a redesign and made it nearly impossible for customers to find my direct shop link unless they knew me directly either in person or through one of my social media sites. As a majority of my sales come through the marketplace, this means that I’m kind of stuck at the lower markup rate. I thought this was rather unfair and honestly, it took some of the magical glitter away from Cafe Press for me.

They did a more recent update and their site is more social media friendly. You can now follow an artist and my brand name is more prominent, however it still does not take the general customer to my shop where I have the higher commission rate. When they did the first change to the different commission rates, I started to look for other venues to sell my works and that was when I discovered Zazzle which I’ll talk about in the next post.


Summary: Cafe Press


  • Have been around longest of the ones I use, so therefore gets more traffic, is more well known
  • Adding products to your shop is very easy and quick.
  • I didn’t mention this earlier, but if you want to update an image in a section (I’ve updated some of my older designs to reflect the skills I’ve learned over the years), it’s very easy to do so, you don’t have to re-list the item or have doubles. This is especially helpful as I don’t lose link history that’s been building up on something that’s been around for a few years.
  • Ability to create custom groups of items for easy selection when adding new designs.
  • Large selection of products to customize. One of the coolest ones is the ability to print on mylar balloons. That’s just fun!


  • Design tools rather limited, no ability to add a background color within the site. Nearly all products are on white backgrounds. Only a few items come in different colors – namely shirts and phone cases.
  • Image always in the center of the object.
  • Majority of sales come from the Marketplace where CP controls the markup rate (set at 10%)
  • Extremely hard for the new shopper  to find your direct shop link where you have control over your markup percentage.



April 8, 2014 at 8:24 pm 3 comments

Five Year Old Kimchi: Part 2 – What’s in a Name?

Original design for the first promo card when I was working under Soy Happy.

Original design for the first promo card when I was working under Soy Happy.

When I first started the business, I chose the name Soy Happy. It came from one of my first designs of a happy soy sauce bottle and happy sushi sitting together. Wanting to be ‘legit’ I quickly made promotional post cards with my shop name and link on Cafe Press. I had done promo cards like this before at my full time job, but this was exciting for me cause they were going to be MINE and about MY shop! I operated under this name for about a year and then discovered that there is so much more to picking a business name than just randomly selecting a phrase or words what you like.

One day, I got an email from another business who said that they actually owned the trademark to Soy Happy. They were totally polite about it, but I was still kind of upset that a whole year’s worth of promoting was going down the drain. This was my introduction the US Patent and Trademark Office’s site. I checked their database search and sure enough, this person was for real so it was back to the drawing board for me. Since my marketing efforts had largely fallen short, I wasn’t totally heartbroken.

Second Promo Card

This was my second promo card made for when I changed to Kimchi Kawaii.

So I started brainstorming again and eventually came up with Kimchi Kawaii, the name I’ve stuck with ever since. I like this one so much better. It represents my Korean heritage and pulls in the Japanese ‘cute’ inspiration in the use of the word ‘kawaii’. Plus, I’m just a sucker for alliteration, lol! I changed the name of my shops (I had now jumped on board with Zazzle in addition to Cafe Press), and also purchased my domain name. I also filed for my trademark once I had sold at a few anime cons and had some money to afford it (trademarking isn’t cheap).

I came up with a new mascot, my Korean tiger who was named Roary through a fan contest I held on Facebook. Originally, he was sitting in the lucky cat pose with one paw up and one on a traditional kimchi jar, but no one knew what that was. I also wanted something more lively and dynamic to represent my artwork. I knew I wanted to do other pieces with Roary in them, not just reserve him as a logo for business cards only. One day, I did a design with Roary leaping in the air and looking totally happy. I liked it so much that I now use that on all my promotional stuff like my business cards, banners and social media imagery.

About two years ago, I found that I was doing a lot of sweets crafts in addition to my digital art designs. It was becoming a bit hard to market them as those appealed to a different crowd than my punny art. I decided to split the crafts part off into a sub brand under the name Frosted Fleur de Lis. When I got the new website done, Fleur got it’s own sub-page. I also created a FB page for it and a new business card design which I currently print on the backside of my Kimchi cards.

So there is the break down of my name and why I have this other brand that I mention from time to time. I don’t anticipate any more splits, mostly cause I have my hands full keeping up with just these two!

This is the current business card for Kimchi Kawaii.

This is the current business card for Kimchi Kawaii.

Frosted Fleur de Lis Business Card

Frosted Fleur de Lis Business Card

August 15, 2013 at 6:30 am Leave a comment

Artsy Fartsy

This weekend I have no plans to go anywhere. I will come home from work, shut the door and not open it until I leave for work Monday morning. Unless I have to. Like an emergency or if Ben and Jerry’s is being given out for free. I have been looking forward to this for a while – it’s going to be my art retreat weekend. Sometimes, I really need these types of weekends. Hopefully, I can get a lot of designs done for the shops (holiday and general), take care of some housekeeping in there (one of them needs a section icon) and work on some of my craft projects. There are so many sketches sitting on my hard drive just ready to be finished and colored in Illustrator. Let’s just say that if I was to stop sketching now and just focus on clearing out the sketches folder, I would have enough stuff to keep me busy for a year.

Since I intend to be working on projects that already have the basics laid out, I am hoping it won’t be like the picture on this entry. I came up with the idea for this one a while ago. Do you ever have those days where you really want to do something creative or arty, but when you actually sit down, nothing comes to mind? It’s like the paper stares at you, daring you to put a mark on it’s blank, white surface. You have ideas running rampant throughout your day when you are doing other things, but then, poof! they are all gone when you actually have some creative time.

Anyway, there will be pictures uploaded to my various accounts (Facebook, Flickr, deviantART, etc.) with whatever I get done. Hopefully, it will be a lot! See ya on the other side! 🙂

November 5, 2010 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

Who Needs Sleep Anyway??

I know, it’s been a while since I posted on here. It’s been a very busy few weeks!

In August, Kimchi Kawaii turned 1 year old. It was a rather quiet birthday as I hope to throw a Kawaii party later in the Fall once things calm down around here. To celebrate, I designed a logo for the name, bought a website, made new promo cards and opened another online shop. Whew.

First – the logo. It took me a while and a few scrapped ideas before I came up with something I liked. Being that the name combines Korean and Japanese cultures, I wanted a logo that also reflected this. I looked through my books on Korean art and flipped through my scrapbooks of my trip to Seoul to get inspiration. I decided on the tiger since Korean tigers (now extinct) are so prevelant in traditional Korean art. The tiger is sitting upright with it’s right paw raised in the style of the Japanese beckoning cats. The other paw rests on a traditional kimchi jar. Now if only I could figure out how to post pictures in the blog here, I would have an example. You can see it in the shop if you click on the links to the right.

Which brings me to the shop….where to start?? If you read one of the previous posts, you would come across a brief grumble about Cafe Press’s new marketplace pricing policy that started in June this year. Basically, all items I sell through the marketplace (where 99% of my sales come from) are set by Cafe Press at a 10% profit for me. They also took away all the links to the sellers’ shops, making it pretty impossible for strangers to find the actual shop where the seller still controls the markup. My brief grumble has turned into a large dissatisfaction, especially when I found out the gross difference in what they made and what I made for the three months after this new policy. Let’s just say, they could go on vacation somewhere and I couldn’t even afford a round trip flight to L.A.. I started researching other print on demand sites and a lot of forums were recommending Zazzle. After reading through nearly their entire help desk and legal stuff, I decided to give them a try. So far, they aren’t screwing over their sellers… For the last few days, I have been working on getting the Zazzle shop up and with a decent inventory. Currently, there isn’t the variety in my shop that there is in the Cafe Press one, but I’m slowly getting there.

The website is still a work in progress, but I hope to possibly have things up in time for the holidays.

I still work a full time job at the university which means that I put in my 8 hours there and then come home and put in another 5-6 hours on Kimchi Kawaii. This translates into little sleep for me. I can’t remember burning this much midnight oil in a long time. I think I even got to bed earlier and more consistantly when I was in college!

September 2, 2009 at 4:38 am Leave a comment

New Name, Same Art

I’m still on Cafe Press, just under a new name (for those of you who knew it by Soy Happy). The new name is Kimchi Kawaii, which actually I think will work out better. Yes, I know that not everyone knows what ‘kawaii’ means, but I think that those who do, are the type of people who may like my stuff – hopefully! Maybe this will help me hone in on my target demographic. My stuff is Japanese pop art inspired, thus the kawaii part, but where does the kimchi come in? I was born in Daegu, South Korea, so I liked being able to tie in the Korean heritage a bit. Plus, I just liked how it sounded all together 🙂 If you want to see the art and judge for yourself if it truly is ‘kawaii’ the link is

The shop is plugging along. Back in June, Cafe Press announced that they were changing their search engine – the way it searched things. Supposedly, it is to weed out the repetitious art and bring more focus on to the original stuff. Believe me, I was a bit discouraged once when I did a search for one of my designs and found it on page 13 after about 6 pages of some clip art cupcake that had ‘Johnny is turning 1’, ‘Anna is turning 1’, ‘Peter is turning 1’, etc. etc. Each of these names had an entry!! Drove me crazy. No wonder my stuff was languishing in Anonymous Land. I was skeptical about this search thing at first. Internet business is a bit of a hit and miss I’m finding. On the one hand, you have the advantage of not having to pay rent for a physical building, but on the flip side, you don’t have said physical building to catch passerby’s attention. I am at the whim of search engines and put my designs in there and just hope that I put in the right tags and that they actually show in the marketplace (hopefully, before page 22). However, I’ve been noticing a slow increase in sales to random strangers which means that my stuff IS showing up. Since the economy still stinks here in America, I can only think that the search engines are actually doing what they promised. Makes up for the lousy marketplace commission policy of 10% – almost….

July 21, 2009 at 4:30 am Leave a comment


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