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Cafepress or Skreened? Comparing Ethics, Base Price and Design Area, the Choice is Clear

There’s more than a little hyperbole out there about changes to the Terms of Service by the print-on-demand merchandiser CafePress, and some of it is more than a bit hypocritical. Buzz Edition tweets, “Artists get shafted by @cafepress Slave labor was abolished…Right?” and Lavender Liberal blogs:

If you recoil at the idea of buying a T-shirt from Wal-Mart because you know some eight-year-old Guatemalan was paid three cents to make it during a twelve-hour shift, you’ll stop buying stuff from CafePress. Including our stuff.

Another way to put it: CafePress shopkeepers are now the unwilling, un-unionized meat packers Upton Sinclair wrote about in The Jungle — and CP doesn’t care a whit how many fingers we lose in the process.

Sweatshop? Slave labor? Meat packers? Losing fingers? Perspective, people: Buzz Edition and Lavender Liberal are currently earning $6 to $10 in profit per t-shirt they sell via CafePress. The big profit margins they demand are made possible because some of the t-shirt brands they sell on are made by overseas factory workers who are paid less than $100 a month for long hours of hard physical labor putting thousands of shirts together. These shopkeepers couldn’t be bothered to limit their shirt offerings at CafePress to those brands with a demonstrable commitment to garment workers, but now that they’ll be losing some of their $5-$10 a pop markups, they’re crying “losing fingers!” and “slave labor!” Oh, cry me a river!

Look, folks, when a print-on-demand retailer like CafePress raises prices for shoppers and lowers payments to designers, it is not like the Middle Passage or the Stonewall Riots or Bull Connor turning fire hoses and dogs on kids during segregation. It is a significant change in the terms of agreement between a corporation and the designers, a change to the detriment of designers and consumers of swag. The most productive reaction to this change is to get through the gnashing of teeth and cries of “injustice!” fairly quickly, moving on to the point of considering practical alternatives.

For ethical, artistic and economic reasons, I suggest you offer your designs through Skreened.


It is true that CafePress offers a good number of American Apparel shirts, printed here in the USA with wage and safety protections for workers. But some of the shirts CafePress offers have demonstrable ethical problems associated with their production. CafePress hides the sourcing of other shirts produced overseas for suspiciously low prices.

If you are upset that CafePress won’t be paying you as much money as it used to in compensation for your design work, then you should give some consideration to the working conditions of people who actually make the shirts your designs are printed on. As a matter of ethics, Skreened has decided to exclusively offer shirts printed by American Apparel. These are shirts of high fabric quality as well as high ethical quality, and Skreened offers dozens and dozens of combinations in color, in size and in model (including ringer tees, organic cotton, baby onesies, kids’ tees and more).

Artistic Considerations

From an artistic point of view, Cafepress never really offered you much of a canvas to work with in the first place: a mere 10 inch by 10 inch square of fabric on a t-shirt. Here’s what V. Donaghue’s classic public domain WPA image, redesigned into an anti-McCain t-shirt, looks like on CafePress’ American Apparel Organic Men’s T-Shirt:

Why the Rush to War? Ask John McCain! Organic T-Shirt Offered by CafePress

Skreened lets designers print on an area of up to 11×17 inches, and that makes a big difference. Here’s the same image on the exact same brand American Apparel Organic Men’s T-Shirt, sold through Skreened:

Why the Rush to War in Iraq? Ask John McCain! Skreened T-Shirt

Isn’t that an incredible difference? The possibilities for you to express yourself through design are so much greater with the bigger canvas offered by Skreened.

Economic Considerations

Click through on each of those shirts and you’ll see that they’re being sold for different prices, even though the shirt itself is exactly the same. American Apparel sells its organic men’s fitted t-shirt wholesale for somewhere between $5-$7 a shirt. CafePress sets its “base price” for this organic shirt at $19.99. With a markup of $1.61, we retail the above shirt at CafePress for $21.60. Indications are that CafePress will hike the retail prices of shirts like this even higher come June 1, making the shirts more unaffordable to shoppers.

Skreened, on the other hand, sets its base price for the same shirt, with the same design, with a better print area, at $17.99. That’s $2 lower than CafePress, which lets us sell the shirt on Skreened for $20.99 — a cheaper price for shoppers — while we make a $3 commission on the shirt’s sale, nearly twice the profit per shirt.

Skreened is a better ethical choice, a better artistic choice, and a better economic choice than CafePress. On top of that, while CafePress is an impersonal corporation, Skreened is an intensely personal enterprise, a small business that is built on personal interaction and with personal attention to designers and customers alike. I don’t own any stock or share in Skreened, and nobody paid me to say all this. It’s just the honest truth as I see it.

The rhetoric suggesting that CafePress is running some kind of slave plantation is really overblown, but CafePress is souring the terms by which it treats designers. If you’re looking to move to a different POD t-shirt supplier, I strongly recommend that you give Skreened a look.

10 comments to Cafepress or Skreened? Comparing Ethics, Base Price and Design Area, the Choice is Clear

  • I *am* crying a river, pal. CP was my sole source of income. You can call me foolish, or dismiss my outrage, but this is a massive kick in the gut — I feel exactly the way I did when I was yanked into an all-hands meeting for the last corporation I worked for, when they announced they were shutting down the company at noon… and had the balls to hand each one of us a copy of “Who Moved My Cheese?” As for markups, I’m good at what I do, and I deserve to be paid for it. On the issue of overseas workers: You’re right. 100% right. So that’s one thing — the only thing — I can thank CP for: giving me no other choice but to leave. So now that I’m aware, and my conscience clear, lay off on the “cry me a river” crap, will you? You may not be hurting over this, but I *am*, and I don’t need more salt rubbed in my wounds… especially by a fellow lefty.

    • Jim

      Who says I’m not impacted by this? For the past three years, sales from this website have been the sole source of my income, and yes, my income from CafePress is way down this year. I expect it to fall further. I’m not rich, and this will cause a hard time for me.

      The position I have little sympathy is the position of those who cry a river for themselves and the loss of their $6-$10 profit margins per shirt, who have the audacity to compare themselves to meatpackers from an Upton Sinclair book, who have the audacity to compare themselves to Guatemalan kids making pennies an hour, and who have been making their big profit margins for years off the backs of those same actual Guatemalan kids. I can see what shirts you’re selling through the Lavender Liberal CafePress shop. Have you bothered to find out how much the people who make those “value shirts” are paid?

      It is entirely appropriate for people to be concerned for their personal situation. But if you’re going to profit off the backs of actual third world sweatshop workers, referring to yourself as one of them for losing part of your inflated profit margin is at the very least a tacky maneuver.

  • fifilaroach

    got ya, and i pretty much agree. but this move by cafepress is tantamount to firing us from our full time jobs. and no matter if you’re from guatemala or the good ol’ us of a, you gotta eat. the ethical question is important, and i always felt cp was fudging on the issue of who was making what and i didn’t feel great about that… but this just happened today, so of course there’s going to be a loud round of teeth gnashing. in a few days things should calm down as people accept the inevitable, but it took me 3 years of work to make my cp store pay enough to justify the work i put in. and by the way, for months I too, was making pennies an hour, dude, so its not like i haven’t worked hard for nothing too!

  • I just have to say, that your above example shows that you were already doing a markup under 10% on the t-shirt you name. Cafepress changing policy will net you a raise in the marketplace ( you’ll get 2 bucks instead of $1.61 ) making you one of few shopkeepers who won’t get hurt. Thanks for the tip on skreened, and points taken on comparisons to sweatshop labor, but you know– you could actually benefit from staying with cafepress while encouraging everyone else to bail, so you’re not really in a position to criticize a couple of thousand people who in many cases just lost their entire income.

    By way of coming clean– I’m on cafepress but the income has been pretty insignificant. We put up over 400 designs and they all took hours to complete. We’re the lucky ones! I’m not going to lose my home over this. I don’t have 4000 designs up like some shop keepers. I’m not going to lose thousands of dollars per month income (or even hundreds) and you’re getting a raise. That’s perspective.

    • Jim

      Paul, thanks for the comment. But it’s not safe to make assumptions on the basis of one example. Most of the money we make through CafePress we make on the sale of bumper stickers and buttons, not shirts; some time ago we moved the emphasis in our shirt sales over to Skreened because we felt they were more in line with what we wanted to do. Because we focus on bumper sticker and button sales, we will definitely lose income, big time, when this change goes through.

  • Ok, my mistake. I just think it’s better to let people rant a bit when they just got screwed by a big corporation.

    Considering the low cost of stickers and buttons, if I were in your shoes I might shop for decent bulk pricing on such items, or better yet, get a button press and a printer and make your own buttons and stickers too: be your own POD company.

    My partner is right now doing research about how to deal with this. In the very least this story should get attention from the Media, if it’s properly fed to them. Some people are saying it’s like being fired, but no, it’s more like your business partner stealing your business out from under you after you’ve built it up to what it is over the course of many years. When thousands of enterprising entrepenuers lose some 70% of their income due to a greedy corporate grab– that should be fuel enough even for the mainstream media.

  • Good analysis, and moving our designs from Cafepress to Skreened is exactly what we’ve been doing. Skreened also offers shoppers a more boutique-like look and feel, vs the fleamarket/Walmart like atmosphere at other on-demand giants.

  • Very interesting review. I never really like Cafe Press mainly because I found it weak in their printing process, and confusing
    4 years ago I decided to start working with it was ok, but every time I order something a printing mistake was made. 8 out of 10 orders I did come out wrong. I couldn’t imagine what my clients were getting. Beside, they had many some murky changes, eliminating T-shirt Options, erasing Volume sells, rising the prices of their products, and a very weak costumer service. So I decided to get all my t-shirt out of it and start using Skreened. So far, I’m very happy about it, still a lot of work to do. I was wonder if they still have the option to work with Tabloid ? 11x 17 It’s been few years since you wrote this article, so I was wonder. It would be amazing if they do.

    Thanks for the info. Totally agreed with you.


  • hh

    Skreened prints never come out clearly. be aware. 20 yrs of garment printing

  • O

    I read Skreened USER AGREEMENT / TERMS OF SERVICE and decided that it’s not safe to work with them. Don’t know if anybody ever reads this kind of stuff, but it’s the first thing one should look at before working with a company or buying anything from it, not the templates or the colors of T-shirts they provide. Don’t yet know if CP or other PODs have it any different. Probably not. Ill be reading all POD user agreements before making up my mind where to print my designs, but looks like giving up on the idea of working with PODs could be a better choice.


    “You acknowledge and agree that you will not use any product ordered from the Site in a way that would be damaging to Skreened’s public reputation or that of its employees, board members, shareholders, licensors, or solution partners. Additionally, you acknowledge that if you choose to display any product ordered from Skreened, in a public setting, including on the Internet, in a way which disparages Skreened, Skreened’s board members, employees, shareholders or partners, Skreened reserves the right to demand immediate return of the product, to furthermore pursue all recourses and remedies available under the law.”

    “You agree that Skreened, in its sole discretion, may terminate your password, account (or any part thereof), ledger ballance or use of the Site, and remove and discard any Content you may have contributed to the Site, at any time for any reason or no reason.”

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