Cafe Press: TOS is POS

Recently, Cafepress made some changes to their Terms of Service (TOS or member agreement) – a move that has prompted a slew of angry messages, emails, and even anti-Cafepress sites. This has also prompted many folks to look for alternatives for Cafepress. In the following article (originally a rant on my site), I offer my own Cafepress experience, reasons for leaving Cafepress and some of the math involved in the "do-it-yourself" approach that I will most likely be perusing.

In recent news, it has hit the web that Cafepress will be changing their TOS on July 1st. Basically, folks are up in arms over the idea that the new TOS seems to indicate that Cafepress will get ownership and copyright rights over any and all artwork submitted to them. I myself disagree. I think people are getting worked up over some VERY POORLY-written legal speak. I break down the potentially offending segments in this thread on the message board (you might have to scroll a bit, but it’s there).

But that’s not the reason I left Cafepress. My reason was the price gouging. Along with lots of new reasons they have come up with to keep your money that I won’t get into here, I’ve always had a BIG problem with the pricing structure. Their July 1 changes only made it worse.

You may think that $12.99 (plus S&H) is a lot to pay for a mug. Heck, one guy even mentioned how I must be getting rich off selling stuff. I’ll tell you what. Last month I made $251.85 on store purchases. Guess how much I got to keep?

Thirty dollars.

Yep – I made myself the tidy sum of 30 whole dollars, while the rest ($221.85) went into CafePress’ pockets. How? Well, they charge a base rate per item and you get to keep what’s over that. Let’s take the mug, for example. They charge an initial $10.99 for the mug. I add $2 to that to give myself $2 per mug sold. So for every $12.99 mug sold, $2 goes to me. That makes for roughly an 85% to 15% split… and that’s with charging the exorbitant amount of $12.99 for the mug. If I lower myself to $1 profit, it’s a 92% to 8% split.

But wait, it gets better. Starting July 1st, Cafepress will now start taking a percentage of my $2 profit! Yes, that’s right. 85% just doesn’t cut it in the Cafepress world. They will now take 5% of my profits (5 cents per dollar) as well, which means that now I will get $1.90 profit for the overpriced mug.

This is definitely going the eZboard "greed" route. And hell, I was even more loyal to eZboard. This is just too much.

Still, I’m not done yet. I decided to look into what it would cost to make mugs on my own. The thing about Cafepress is … they prey on the lazy artist. I admit it – I used Cafepress because I wanted to leave the production, mailing, etc. hassles up to them. Plus I didn’t have to worry about keeping inventory, the right-sized shirts on stock, etc. On top of that, with one-offs, you don’t need to worry about investing money up front, as is usually required when getting stuff printed.

But what if I did?

Again, I’ll use the mugs as an example. How much do you think those white, ceramic mugs they offer cost? $3? $4, perhaps?

Try 95 cents.

Yep. A modest amount of research showed me that, in bulk, those types of mugs cost 95 cents. Even when not bought in bulk, they go for around a $1.31. I did a quick Google search on "Promotional Materials" (you know, all those pens and buttons and tote bags they give out at trade shows) and went with the first site I saw. They have TONS of crap to put your images on. And not all in white, either.

So I checked the mugs. The smallest run they would do was 72 (meaning you need to buy a case of 72 printed mugs minimum). I figure I can sell 72 mugs over my lifetime, so I agree and go to the next step. Now, printing one color is cheap, and gets more expensive as you add more colors. But you know what? Money is no object. This is InkTank after all – I have $30 whopping Cafepress dollars to go hog wild with, remember? In any case, I could always just use some of my Kings of Chaos gold.

I opt for the most expensive print job I can find. Three colors, wraparound-style (all the way around the cup), on an 11oz cup (like the biggest ones Cafepress offers).

What is the grand total?

Quantity 72 (mugs)
UnitPrice $1.31 (per mug)

SubTotal $94.32 (for all the plain white mugs)

+ Setup Charge $6.25 (to set up the screens)
+ Screen Charge
(1. color) $50.00 (one time charge, not per cup)
+ Screen Charge
(2. color) $50.00 (one time charge, not per cup)
+ Screen Charge
(3. color) $50.00 (one time charge, not per cup)
+ 2 additional colors
Unit (0*$0.80) $57.60
Total $308.17 (for one box of printed mugs, not including S/H to my house)

That is $308.17 I have to put out of pocket up front to get all my mugs. That is a total of $4.20 per cup, all printed up with the best design options (I could have gone the cheap route of one color, front only, and the mugs would have been half that cost, or about $2.09 a cup).

Well below the $11.99 Cafepress charges for their 11 oz. mugs.

What about overhead? Okay – let’s say I will handle the shipping from my house. I have asked around and researched, and without going into all the nitty-gritty of the postal/UPS services and rates, discovered that it costs about $2 to ship the mugs (including postage, a box and some packing material). That brings the cost for the mugs to about $6.20 each now, (this is also with single shipping rates, not bulk shipping, which is still cheaper. Besides, remember that money is no object). Of course, the customer generally pays S/H, so I’ll leave that out of the equation – but at least the numbers are there if you are of the mind to include S/H in the purchase price.

So… I want to sell the mugs for the base rate Cafepress charges (aww hell, let’s go cheaper). I’ll charge a straight $9 – that’s three dollars less than Cafepress’ base rate. That means that for every mug sold, I get back $4.80 per mug (almost $5). So if I sell all the mugs on line (this isn’t even counting mugs sold at conventions where I can sell them for even cheaper and not worry about S/H) this is my breakdown:

72 mugs X $9.00 = $648 total

After taking out the $308.17 for the initial purchase, that leaves me with $339.83. That’s a 52% profit margin for me. More than half of the money goes back into my pocket. And that is through using the most expensive printing options, keeping the sale price relatively low, not buying in bulk, and not even looking for any special deals.

Now what if I sold 72 mugs through Cafepress? Well I would have made $1,007.28. And how much of that $1000+ dollars would I get to keep?


$339.83 vs. $93.60

What seems like a better deal to you? 


  1. Links to some of the vendors for bulk mugs, t-shirts, etc., that people are finding in their research would be much appreciated from this corner. I’m just now looking into the whole merchandising thing, and was never happy enough with the CafePress deal in the first place to go with them, but I’ve been too busy (lazy?) to do the research on my own.


  2. good article dude!

    Also don’t forget the clause where they can pocket all the money made by the little guys. Mind you, that $25.00 means $25 of YOUR profit, so, if you only make $2 a mug, then you gotta sell $162 (12.5 mugs) within six months or else they won’t pay you at all!

    5.6 If has not made a payment of money to you for any 180 day period because you have not earned a total of at least $25.00, and without any limitation of’s other rights to terminate, may terminate your account. will use commercially reasonable efforts to notify you 30 days prior to such termination. If you sell a Product within such 30 days, will not terminate your account in accordance with this Section, and a new 180 day period (for the purpose of this Section) will commence on the first day of the month following the month in which such Product is sold.

    5.7 If you or terminate your account, and you have less than $25.00 in accrued but unpaid credits then outstanding, may charge you a termination fee equal to the amount of such credits to cover its administrative costs.

  3. I’ve just put up the announcement on my forum that I’m pulling out of Cafe Press, with my thoughts on it. I know, what do I expect when I stop drawing for eight months? But I still think of those ten bucks as rightfully mine. I could eat a good meal for that.

  4. Thanks for breaking it down, Barry. Legal talks confuses me, and I wasn’t sure what this new agreement all boiled down to.
    I’m gonna look for alternatives to CafePress too.
    -Scotty A

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