TNDN #7:  Print-on-Demand No-Go Zones Niches to Avoid At All Costs 

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Miroslav Novohradsky
Founder of NechEmpire

I'm Miroslav, a passionate graphic designer, Etsy seller and AI enthusiast. At NechEmpire, I'm here to share my knowledge and skills. I want to turn...Read more

So you want to start a print-on-demand business?

That’s great!

Print-on-demand allows entrepreneurs to offer unique designs without having to carry inventory.

However, there are certain niches and types of designs you’ll want to avoid if you hope to maintain a safe and successful print-on-demand shop.

When choosing your niche, you’ll need to be extra cautious about trademarked content and inappropriate themes.

One wrong move could get your account terminated by the likes of Amazon Merch, Redbubble, and other major print-on-demand platforms.

Tread carefully when it comes to these hazardous niches.

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Trademarked Characters

Trademark on POD

Some of the biggest no-nos in print-on-demand involve using trademarked characters and brands.

For example, you can’t just slap Spiderman or Batman on a t-shirt and call it a day. Superheroes like these are intellectual property owned by companies like Marvel and DC. Trying to profit off their iconic characters will land you in legal trouble real quick.

The same rules apply to super-popular movie and TV franchises.

Making merch featuring Darth Vader or Baby Yoda from Star Wars without permission is a surefire way to get smacked with a cease and desist.

And you can forget about putting Harry Potter, Mario, Pikachu, or other famous characters in your designs. Their owners are extremely protective of their intellectual property.

Trademark on POD

Major sports leagues also have air-tight trademarks on their team names, logos, and imagery. So if you had hopes of setting up an online shop selling NFL, NBA, or MLS merch, you’re out of luck unless you get explicit approval.

The main point is this: if a character, franchise, sports team, or brand is globally recognizable, you should avoid basing print-on-demand designs around it. The legal ramifications aren’t worth the temporary profits.

Trademarked Slogans and Imagery

It’s not just famous characters and logos you have to watch out for either. Companies also have trademarks on popular slogans, phrases, and other proprietary imagery associated with their brand.

Trademark on POD

For example, Nike’s famous “Just Do It” slogan is off-limits, as is the iconic McDonald’s “Golden Arches” logo. You’ll also want to avoid designs referencing Apple’s iPad, Google’s Pixel phone or any other product strongly linked to a major company. While these types of shirts or mugs may seem harmless, trademark law still applies.

The harsh reality is that entrepreneurs can’t legally profit off recognizable brands and intellectual property without explicit permission. So be original and come up with your own slogans and imagery instead of “borrowing” from mega-corporations.

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Mature Content

Another set of niches requiring extra caution are those involving drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, or offensive language. While print-on-demand platforms do sometimes allow for “mature” designs, you need to tread extremely carefully in these areas.

For example, a shirt with a subtle cannabis leaf pattern may be approved on some sites, but you risk account termination if you go overboard promoting drug use.

Likewise, vague sexual innuendos can be permissible in certain contexts, but explicit or derogatory content will quickly get you banned. Designs involving guns, violence, or slurs are best avoided altogether.

When in doubt, keep it PG-13.

Remember, platforms like Amazon Merch also enable designers to create youth apparel and merchandise.

So if one of your edgy designs slips through the cracks, you could find yourself in serious trouble for exposing kids to inappropriate content. Don’t let it happen accidentally.

The bottom line is that drugs, sex, violence, and foul language are all yellow flags when it comes to print-on-demand.

While some mild references may be allowed on certain products, it’s smarter to just avoid these niches entirely. The risk of accidentally violating policies is extremely high.

Controversial Political and News Figures

Here’s another niche requiring extra caution: anything involving political figures or controversial news stories.

While political and news-based designs can grab attention during major events like elections or scandals, they come with substantial risks. You could face backlash or accusations of bias, defamation, or copyright infringement.

For example, putting Trump’s face on a t-shirt without permission is illegal. And if you created shirts showcasing support or opposition to controversial figures like Putin, Musk or Depp, you’d likely incite anger from those who feel differently.

It’s best just to avoid politics and news figures altogether when starting a print-on-demand business. Stick to lighthearted, universal themes that the majority can appreciate.

Pop culture references are fair game, just stay away from anything divisive.

Don’t Copy Other Designers

This should go without saying, but completely ripping off another designer’s work is an obvious no-no.

While taking inspiration from trends is fine, outright stealing someone’s design idea and calling it your own is unethical and illegal.

Original artists pour their skills, creativity, and emotions into each design. So when another printer steals their work and undercuts them on price, it just ruins things for everyone.

Aside from being morally corrupt, plagiarism can also get your print-on-demand accounts suspended.

The smart approach is collaborating to create designs, not steal them. Build relationships with talented artists who can help take your merch to the next level through partnership.

Just be sure proper credit and royalties are provided.

Why You Must Avoid These Niches

At this point, the reasons to avoid problematic niches should be clear.

Staying away from trademarked content, controversial themes, and plagiarized designs helps safeguard your print-on-demand accounts from termination.

One slip-up like using a protected slogan or exposing kids to R-rated content can quickly get you banned from money-making platforms. So avoiding legal and policy minefields is essential for long-term business viability.

Focusing on original, non-offensive designs also ensures you maintain a positive brand image. Aligning yourself with drug culture, violence or politics can alienate potential customers. A clean brand reputation leads to more sales over time.

Finally, staying clear of infringing on others’ intellectual property is simply the right thing to do. As an entrepreneur, you understand the time, skill, and passion that goes into creating quality designs.

So extend the same courtesy towards fellow artists by avoiding their work.

While print-on-demand has incredible potential for entrepreneurs, you must avoid problematic niches to succeed long-term. Focus on original designs featuring inoffensive themes.

Build strategic relationships with talented creators. And above all else, keep your brand reputation spotless through smart niche selection.

Personal picutre
Miroslav NovohradskyFounder of NechEmpire

I'm Miroslav, a passionate graphic designer, Etsy seller and AI enthusiast. At NechEmpire, I'm here to share my knowledge and skills. I want to turn your design passion into a successful online business.

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