how to: make stickers (beyond basics)

Stickers are a fantastic starting product for any creative who wants to reproduce their work on a tangible object without too high of an initial cost. They’re beautiful, versatile, lightweight, affordable, and easily collectible.

While a sticker is a seemingly simple product, producing stickers can be a total headache. From choosing the right supplies to struggling with the nuances of production, there are a million ways it could go wrong, forcing you to have wasted time, effort, and/or money.


So, I’m creating this guide so you DON'T have to go through that. (A reoccurring theme, if you haven't noticed by now. I'm here to share what I've learned so your artistic journey is easier!)

I’m breaking down the production process of (virtually) any product into steps:

1) Hammer down your vision. 2) Do your research.

3) Design your product.

4) Collect tools + materials.

5) Produce!


Basic steps, but HIGHLY important. I don't recommend half-assing (or worse, skipping) any of them! You don't want to end up with a subpar product. Once you've gone through the process a few times and you start to get a feel for it, that's when you can start to cut corners or even add steps-- whatever works best for you! But you DEFINITELY don't want to jump into this and potentially causing yourself to hate the end product (if there is one, at all).


Alright, I'm done with my exaggerated (sort of) warnings...let's get on with the explanation.


1) hammer down your vision


Ask yourself, what is *this* going to look like? I know ‘this’ is a very general term, so here’s a few guiding questions to help you build your vision:

- “What do I want my stickers to look like? Are they going to be big or small, detailed or simple, etc?

- ”What do I want people to use my stickers for? Permanent decoration? Or are they meant to have a shorter lifespan, like planner stickers?

- ”How many designs do I want to create?"

- "Do I want to make sets or sell individuals?” - “How well are they going to sell? How many should I produce?”

If you have answers for all of these, great! It means you know what you want. Knowing exactly what you want and are capable of will save you hours of wasted time due to indecision.


You don't have to have everything figured out, of course, but if the only thing you know is that you "want to make stickers"....I'd mull over it a little before continuing.

2) do your research.


Research is key. Everyone is always asking me what printer I use, what paper I use, etc.. but the fact is that it doesn’t really matter what I use. My vision is not necessarily your vision. My products aren’t going to be the same as yours.


Most importantly, my research isn't going to make YOU confident in your own decisions. It's never a good idea to make important decisions off of one person's work (how do you even know if they did good work? What if they just bought the first printer on the Amazon listings? Hm?).

So please, after reading this, do your OWN additional research.

But! obviously I didn’t write this just to tell you to go off into Google and drown yourself in other people’s blog posts. So here is all of my research that I am confident you CAN apply to yourself.


First, lets talk about production options.

There are two different options you have for general production of stickers:


1) You design and produce the stickers yourself, from scratch. Most smaller shops (like me) tend to go with this option. PROS:

- Because I can produce everything myself, I have complete control over stock levels. I can produce two sticker sheets OR two hundred. Versus if I got stickers outsourced, the minimum quantity is almost always more than I can sell. - Furthermore, I can quality check all my products and make sure that they look exactly how I want them to.

- Long-term cost effective. Outsourcing anything means it is marked up. So while a sticker may actually only cost a few cents to produce, a printing company like sticker app will charge half a dollar for it.

- Time efficient: If I have a design I want to make into a sticker, I can produce it as soon as I want. I tend to make sticker designs at whim, so it's nice to be able to produce them myself and not have to wait a few weeks to receive a physical product.


CONS:

- My printer can’t compare to an industrial level printer. The quality will still be a little bit worse. (But this doesn't usually bother me because my stickers are meant to be affordable and non-permanent-- just as a temporary decoration to enjoy.

- Less options. Again, big printing companies can print special effects, large volumes, tiny details, etc. So if you are a big artist with detailed and beautiful work, I would highly recommend outsourcing.

- Initial cost is hefty. Because I have to purchase all the technology and materials, the initial cost is not a pretty number. The cost of each sticker, however, is much cheaper than an outsourced sticker.

- Hard to produce in bulk.


2) You design the stickers, and outsource them.

I already touched on a lot of the pros and cons of outsourcing, so I’ll just quickly summarize them:

Pros: high quality, large volume, special effect options, low effort on your part, low initial cost

Cons: little control, won’t sell all of them if you’re a small shop, higher risk(ish), higher product/longterm cost

I’ve gone through both of these processes, and honestly there’s great reasons for both of them.


If you genuinely enjoy the shop owning and sticker making process and you’re willing to put all that time into it, I think making them yourself is valuable. But if your audience is already really huge, you’re swamped with work/don’t like shop work/don’t have time, and you just want some gorgeous merch-- outsource it!

PLACES TO OUTSOURCE YOUR STICKERS:

stickerapp.com *cheapest! quality is great too! I can personally vouch for them.

stickermule.com (want $10 of stickermule credit? Click here!) *amazing quality!

stickergiant.com

..and so many more! Just google ’custom stickers’ or ‘custom did cut stickers’.



3. design your product

Now that you have a basic plan, it’s time to design your stickers!


I design all my stickers on Procreate with my iPad Pro, but there is no need for this! Many artist hand-draw their sticker designs and either scan or take a photo of them, and then convert it into sticker form.


All you need to do it put your artwork/creation into a sticker-friendly shape(try to avoid crevices (like a v shape)), add a white border*, and export it as a .png. *you don’t always need a white border when using outsourcing sites, sometimes they’ll add it for you! If you want to get fancy and add bleed, cutlines, etc. and make .pdf proofs you can do that too.


You can google "how to set up my sticker files" or something similar for tutorials on that, but (again) it depends on what site you're using. So do your research for that!


things to consider when designing stickers:

- Complexity of artwork: is it too detailed? Imagine a silhouette around the design— is it too complicated or ugly?


- Size: now big do you want your sticker to be? Think about size in relation to complexity— will the details even be noticed at the size of the sticker? Or, on the flip side, is your sticker design too simple to look interesting at a big size?

- Special effects: do you want to make some parts of your sticker clear, gold foiled, holographic, etc? Sticker outsourcing companies often have great teams that can help you bring an extra-awesome sticker to life.

My advice? Keep it simple. Not super simple, if that’s not your style, but simple enough so that people aren’t squinting at the sticker an inch away from their face trying to see that teeny moon earring you added to a full body angel girl.


Not. Necessary.


Sell those artworks as a print instead! Don’t cannibalize that sale by making a print-suited artwork into a sticker...you’re just making yourself less money.


4. collect tools + materials

You need significantly more materials if you’re making stickers by hand rather than outsourcing them. To outsource stickers all you need is the first item on the following list:


what you’ll need:

- something to design your stickers on

- sticker paper

- a quality printer

- a cutting machine OR scissors


I already briefly discussed what to design your stickers on. Whether that’s paper and scanner/camera, or some sort of tablet, just get something that you can create with!


STICKER PAPER:

There’s a lot of options when it comes to sticker paper. Stickers can be put on a variety of materials to get different effects+outcomes.


Usually stickers (the actual, physical sticker) have three different components to them:

base paper:

- plain paper (uncoated)

- vinyl paper

- removable paper

- recycled paper

- frosted/translucent paper (think washi stickers)

- transfer paper (i.e. transfer stickers)

(etc...)


+


durability (optional)

- waterproof

- weatherproof (think bumper stickers)


+


paper finish / extra detailing/effects: (note: some of these are mix and match, i.e. you can have a holographic glossy sticker).

- clear

- matte

- glossy

- gold/silver foil - shimmer

- holographic

- embossing... and so much more! But keep in mind that extra detailing is difficult to do by hand..I personally haven’t bothered with any of it yet.


The most common type of sticker, in my experience, is a glossy, vinyl sticker on opaque white paper. Vinyl paper is a bit costly, but the quality is amazing and the stickers will usually turn out relatively waterproof.

As for the paper I personally use, I get white matte sticker paper from onlinelabels.com . I usually use uncoated paper-- a personal choice that goes back to my shop values— in addition to quality, I value affordability. Usually people who use my stickers don’t use them as permanent decoration, so I don't need to spend extra on weatherproof stickers (though I do have that option in my shop).


But reminder not to take my word as law! I highly recommend you do your own research about paper! YouTube has plenty of videos about choosing sticker paper, and a quick google search can also do you wonders. Or just nosy around and find what paper other sticker shop owners use!

In the end, just try to find the materials that best suit your vision and your values.


PRINTER:

A good quality printer is arguably the most important supply for stickers (and prints).


I'm starting to sound like a broken record but YOU NEED TO DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. Everyone’s budget is different. Printers can be anywhere from $100 to $1000, okay? On top of the differences in price, each printer has unique pros and cons too.


I’ll leave you guys some jumping off points, but there are no shortcuts to finding your perfect photo printer.

The most COMMON BRANDS for photo printers are:

- Canon

- Epson

- HP


A proven favorite: through all my research, the Canon Pixma Pro 100 seems to be the most popular and best photo printer for artists. This was the one I wanted, but t