Pros: A ton of useful information; well-organized; entertaining
Cons: Some information will go out-of-date quickly; one or two confusing details
Rating: 4 out of 5
Technorati Tags: book reviews, books, cafe press, cafepress.com, reviews, t-shirts
Not that long ago I decided to try out cafepress.com. The idea is pretty simple–you upload image files, “paste” them onto various products such as T-shirts, caps, mugs, buttons, coasters, pillows, books and mousepads (among other things!), and set up a shop. Then visitors can purchase the items you’ve created one at a time, and they’ll be printed on demand–i.e., only when someone wants to buy one, which means you don’t have to purchase a bunch of merchandise that might or might not sell.
While it’s incredibly easy to get started–seriously, almost anyone could do it–there’s a lot of handy information that’s scattered throughout FAQs, help files, tutorials, forums, etc. that you’ll need in order to actually get anywhere. This isn’t the most efficient way to get down to business and make the most of this business model. Hence, Daniel M. Clark’s book “Success with Cafepress.com.” I decided to pick up a copy, and I’m very glad that I did!
Information that will go out of date?
Just in case you’re the basest beginner, Clark walks you through things such as the signup process for stores, premium stores, the affiliate program, and so on. Obviously this kind of information can go out of date fairly quickly, and I’m betting there’s a good chance that if you have this book then you’ve already done this, but it’s good that he isn’t assuming any kind of experience on the reader’s part (nor technical know-how). Also, while the details of signin pages may change, some of the basic tips about the kind of information you’ll need to provide and why shouldn’t change much. Clark does include directions for finding his online supplementary information as well as the CP forums, too, so you can find updated information as things change.
Apparently the availability of black T-shirts came about just barely in time for Clark to include information in the book. So, rather than edit the book wholesale and delay it significantly, he chose to write up a new chapter on black T-shirts and their separate concerns (there really are some unusual considerations to take into account when designing for them) and put it up front, highlighting the new information, so you wouldn’t be confused when later info apparently contradicted this chapter (for instance, later information says you can’t use transparent images; the black T-shirt chapter, since it was added last-minute, points out that this isn’t the case with black T-shirts, which at the moment are the only items you can use transparent images with). This seems to me to be a good compromise.
One chapter includes question-and-answer sessions with various people from the company, and another includes notes on the company history. This is rather a fun part to read, and gives you a sense of the people behind the site, which can be nice. It gives you an idea of their personalities, goals, and desires for the company.
There’s a frequently asked questions chapter, including information about scams that folks have tried to perpetrate on shopkeepers, whether or not you’re really likely to make money doing this, whether or not there’s a way to track your visitor traffic, and so on.
Products and images
I found the information on products and images to be particularly helpful. The print process notes make it easier to understand how your images translate into a finished product. The image information covers everything from resolution (minimum, ideal, and the point beyond which you won’t see any improvement in your products) to color, transparency and white ink to file formats, image sizes to bleeds. After reading this information I remade every single image I’d created for my shop to date and I’m much more pleased with the results. I know that the things I’ve done will look far better on the finished products now because of what I’ve learned from this book. The only problem I had in this chapter is that it specified that you should use CMYK colors rather than RGB–while the Cafepress image upload instructions specify the opposite. Typo? Change in the intervening time? I don’t know, but for the moment I’m sticking with RGB.
Selling your stuff
In addition to the technical information, there’s a ton of useful material on selling your stuff. Whether you want to optimize your metadata for search engines, list your shop in directories, market your designs via advertising or join the affiliate program, you’ll find helpful information in here that will make a real difference.
You’ll also find a great section entitled “Ten Unpopular Truths” that I think every shopkeeper (or potential shopkeeper) should read .
There’s an entire huge part of the book dedicated to helping you customize a premium shop, including notes on templates, colors, fonts, custom HTML, basic CSS, and a number of funky tips and tricks.
Whether you’re looking for a primer to get you started, tips to help you make the most of what you’ve already got, technical information, marketing savvy… it doesn’t matter. It’s all in here. This is an invaluable resource for anyone thinking of working with Cafepress.com.
I wanted to comment on the CMYK/RGB discrepancy. The issue is this:
All printing is done using CMYK. RGB is used for on-screen graphics, which can display more vibrant colors. Cafepress, however, does not accept CMYK images because they automatically do their own RGB->CMYK conversion. This is supposed to make things more idiot proof, since everyone is required to upload one kind of file (RGB), but really it’s annoying, because you should still DESIGN in CMYK.
What do I mean by this? Well, since Cafepress will in fact print your images using CMYK, you should use only CMYK colors when designing your products. Yes, they’re duller than RGB, but that’s the point–you cannot print better, so you should design for how it will print, not how it will look on your screen.
However, when it comes time to upload to Cafepress, you should convert BACK to RGB file format and send that. What will this do? Well, the CMYK gamut fits (mostly) within RGB, so you won’t have a dramatic shift in color. And then when Cafepress converts back from RGB to CMYK, it won’t change much, since the colors are already in the CMYK gamut (even though they’re saved inside an RGB file).
The advantage is that you will follow Cafepress’s rules, but also design with colors that actually print how you designed them. No surprising and disappointing conversions into mud.
Sorry if this seems complicated; unfortunately color management one of the things that makes pros tear their hair out and go to bed crying. Cafepress tries to make things simpler, but that actually makes things harder if you want to do things right.
Thank you—that’s a very concise and helpful description!
Recently found this again when searching for something else… funny how that works.
Anyway, I am glad you found my comment helpful. I just wanted to add that there is probably a better method than designing in CMYK, converting to RGB, and uploading (so that CafePress will then do its own RGB to CMYK conversion), as I recommended (amateurishly) above. Instead, you can work in RGB, but select “proof colors” in the view panel of Photoshop, and select “CMYK” as your proofing option. That way you don’t convert back-and-forth (losing data) but you still design while seeing more realistic colors.
Even though the previous posts are years old, I might mention that Color Match RGB is a great RGB profile to deliver in if you know that your images will be converted to CMYK, or if you suspect that the printers don’t have it together with their color profiles. Of the RGB profiles, it most comes closest to the CMYK color space. I generally work in ProPhoto RGB, then convert to Color Match for delivery to the printer.