Yes, I have sold my first product online, leggings with the "Big Yellow Man" design (above) on Zazzle. I am now about $4.60 richer. And therein lies the problem, because these leggings cost $92.40 CAD. In my estimation, too high. This cost factor, though, is just one facet in the very convoluted topic of print-on-demand services online. For those unacquainted, these are companies that allow you to place your images on to various products. You can then order those products yourself, and/or make them publicly available for purchase. There are many such services out there, some reviewed better than others. My own experience has been with Zazzle and Society6, and each has so many pros and cons in different areas that it is difficult to compare them. In general, Society6 presents as a more serious, art and artist-focused endeavour, while Zazzle is a bit more casual and consumer-grade. In other words, Society6 is more likely to host an artist who already has a body of work and is looking for a way to sell prints online and why not also put those designs on t-shirts, wall-tapestries and shower curtains, while Zazzle is more likely to be used to print gag t-shirts for the bridesmaids' Hen Night or the office barbecue.
One of the most important comparisons, though, is price.
Zazzle (prices in CAD):
Leggings - 92.40
Print-all-over tank top - 61.60
Print-all-over tote bag - 30.75
Classic coffee mug - 23.05
iPhone case - 53.60
Society6 (prices in USD):
Leggings - 39.99
Print-all-over tee - 38.00
Print-all-over tote bag - 24.99
Coffee mug - 16.99
iPhone case - 35.99
Seems like a slam dunk for Society6, if quality and customer services are roughly equivalent (a question I can't currently answer - more later). It's much more complicated than that, though.
Let's consider these leggings by Zazzle. Pros: The virtual model is very effective, with views from all sides (see above image). The design interface uses a simple fabric pattern consisting of one piece. Regarding the design process - it's great! You can add layers, add text, rotate and flip layers, resize, crop, filter (to a limited degree). The preview of the product on the virtual model as you are designing is instantaneous, as are the views of the product on the store page for the product. That's all very good. But on the con side, $92.40, which is a pretty big drawback.
This is what the Zazzle design interface looks like. That preview in the bottom right changes in real time as you make changes, and you can click on it any time to be taken to a full-size preview page. Super useful.
Now, let's consider a pair of leggings on Society6.
This design is called, "Waiting in Close View." As you can see, the layout involves four pieces of fabric, which involves a little more work. It is not possible to customize designs on the fly - no layers, no flipping/rotating, no cropping, no filtering. The only controls you have over your image using their interface are scale and position. Regarding the virtual model: I don't like that the feet are crossed - I can't see part of the design. Even worse, Society6 has real lag issues for me when it comes to previews, to the point that some views/previews hang forever. There are two views of these leggings that I haven't seen since I made them months ago, because those views just won't load. There are other issues, such as being unable to view or preview the back side of their all-over graphic tees. Interface and performance issues. On the other hand, I like the look and style of some of their products more, e.g, their backpacks. But back on the first hand, the only view/preview of the backpack that contains any graphic is the front view - you can't see the side panels. You get the idea. Still, the price, so much lower. As is often the case with these types of situations, I would like to cherry pick the good features from each and create my own custom blend.
I should make clear here that I have never ordered anything from either service, neither have I interacted with their Customer Service. The former is something I have to rectify, for first-hand quality control if nothing else. Unfortunately, we don't have much extra cash, and that has definitely been the main reason we're not wearing or using products with my designs. Society6 has some good sales, though, and it gets the price of a shirt or whatever down to something reasonable. At any rate, the only experience I have with Zazzle and Society6 is as an artist using their website to put graphics on virtual models of products.
Of course, you can't make sales without eyeballs, right? One way to get eyeballs on your stuff is to participate actively in the artist communities that these print services offer. I have been a part of a few such communities in my time (though not for over a decade), mostly involving electronic music (Mp3.com and ElectronicScene.com) and photography (Flickr), so I have some idea of how they work. It requires a lot of time and engagement, following other users, commenting on their work, making collections, etc. It can be very gratifying, or at least it was for me. But it is time consuming, and I only have so many hours in the day. Instagram is demanding enough in that way.
Instead, I'm using these services purely as a learning and development tool. The immediate feedback from placing an image on something and seeing what it looks like right away is invaluable. From this, I can put together a portfolio. With a portfolio I can approach printers who actually manufacture their products and distribute them. That's the goal, to be able to freelance selling designs to companies that then put products using those images on shelves, virtual or otherwise. To be able to work from home doing what I love, with maximum flexibility for my family. Dream big!