The Secrets of Online Customization: 101 Tips and resources

Today with so many life-enhancing products on the market and the overflow of technological gadgets intended to make people’s lives easier, consumers are a little spoiled. Websites like Facebook, Myspace, and Blogger have given people the ability to set up their own little corners on the World Wide Web and the desire for personalization has definitely extended far into the marketplace as well. Today, many businesses are discovering that if they want to stay competitive they must narrow their focus to pleasing individuals, rather than groups. Read on about how mass customization and online customization is driving businesses today and then check out how some companies are making it work and driving big profits, as well.

Articles & Literature

  1. BizReport : A 2008 article detailing how customized products are the “it” thing. Consumers, according to this study, are sick of “cookie cutter” solutions. Allowing your customers to customize the product you are selling to their interests could increase the value by 18 percent.
  2. USA Today: A 2007 USA Today article about how fashion designers and online retailers are increasingly offering consumers more customizable products. According to this article, 72 percent of consumers will buy a product that they are allowed to personally design.
  3. : Interested in starting your own online custom shoe business? Check out this article, which addresses where to physically house your business, as well as how to promote your product.
  4. Shapeways : This is an article about a great online, 3D design software released by Shapeways, which allows both merchants and consumers to create 3D models of their own products. Consider employing similar software on your website or else create customizable products to sell.
  5. Failure of Customization : This 2002 article talks about why the online customization business will ultimately fail. While its hypothesis hasn’t been proven yet, it argues that customized products aren’t better than mass-produced products.
  6. Online-Offline: A helpful article about how online customization businesses can strengthen themselves by developing offline business partners.
  7. Sketchee : An article about how many shoe companies are allowing customers to design their own shoes online.
  8. Online Custom Jewelry Designs : Looking to design your own jewelry and get a deal at the same time? This article discusses how many jewelry merchants are offering customers the ability to design jewelry online while simultaneously comparing prices.
  9. New York Times : Another terrific article about how customized fashion is becoming the wave of the future.
  10. Mass Customization : This excellent book by Joseph Pine discusses how customized products are dominating the business world and how offering customization to customers gives a business a definite advantage.
  11. Wikipedia: An article defining the term ìMass Customizationî and tracing its roots in the business world.
  12. Harvard Business Review: This academic article from the Harvard Business Review outlines the four tenants of the online customization business and how businesses can incorporate them into their models easily, while offering low prices to consumers and reaping a profit.
  13. Making Mass Customization Work : A companion piece to Pineís earlier Harvard Business Review article, this journal reveals the secrets that make mass customization work.
  14. Markets of One : Another great resource for budding entrepreneurs, this book discusses the new trend of making products upon demand from a single customer.
  15. Mass Customization Blog: A super-handy and uber-detailed blog dedicated to the mass customization industry. Look for wordy entries and lots of links from this blogger.
  16. Cincom : Register with Cincom and get a library of business articles right at your fingertips, several of which discuss how different manufacturers can make mass customization work for them.
  17. International Institute on Mass Customization and Personalization : The online customization business has become so big that there is even an entire professional institute for both academics and professionals looking to compare notes on the industry. They’ve even begun holding an annual conference where customization-philes can meet in person.
  18. Business Week: An article reflecting on why consumers are so obsessed with making their own things.
  19. Made for One: This site is a terrific round-up resource that devotes itself to collecting trade articles on mass customization and posting them in one easy-to-find spot.
  20. Foodservice Magazine : So you can design your own Keds online, but can you create your own lasagna? This article talks about how mass customization may be targeting the food industry next.
  21. Pure Insight : A webinar about how mass customization is creating more customer value. The teachers have studied more than 250 mass customization businesses and touch upon how each have been able to prosper.
  22. Design Intelligence : What sort of effect will the mass customization boom have on purveyors and creators of high design? Find out by reading this great article by Design Intelligence.
  23. ZD Net: A strong article which discusses the correlation between widgets and product customization. While this article refers mostly to online software customization, it would still be helpful to brick-and-mortar customization businesses looking to expand their presence on the web.
  24. Hotel Online: An article about how mass customization has revolutionized thinking among leaders of the hospitality industry.
  25. Your Brain on MC : This is a funny blog entry on Treehugger which shows what happens when a person, using a customization site, turns his brain scan into a lamp.
  26. Dialogic : A series of webinars on how you can compete in a world of personalized objects.
  27. E-Commerce : Another informational article that traces mass customization back to its roots.
  28. Street Directory : Find out how mass customization in the Information Age is overtaking the model of mass production that was once the cornerstone of manufacturing.
  29. Build to Order: Another book, this one is by Dr. David Anderson and it claims to be the “ultimate” management strategy for on-demand manufacturing.
  30. Design4Manufactuability : Handy article on why producing un-customizable products is outdated.
  31. Scion : Want to swap out that ìcommonî nameplate on your vehicle for one a little more true to yourself? Check out this article about Scion’s newest feature personalized crests or logos for the back and front of your car.
  32. Martin Konrad: Artist Martin Konrad examines how mass customization corresponds with industrial design and points out that individuals are influencing design these days much more than actual designers.
  33. Eporia : An article about how one online custom printer achieved a more functional website by partnering with the company Eporia.


Check out these online businesses who offer customers the ability to customize the products they purchase!Clothes

  1. Customized Girl : This cute site lets you customize T-shirts and other clothing items for women, men and kids, though it has a specific focus on women’s clothes. The site has a wide variety of styles and trends one of the biggest on the web and has an easy-to-use site. You can even upload your own images to be printed on your merchandise. And expect nothing but the best-quality products this company sells garments from reputable manufacturers like American Apparel and Bella.
  2. Bridal Party Tees : A site full of customizable products for the bride and bridesmaids this is a must-see for all of you preparing for a wedding or bachelorette party. Are you a soon-to-be Mrs. Smith? Why not tell the world with a cute tank top or tote bag? Get your bridesmaids in on the action or create a shirt for your hubby in just a few instants.
  3. Zazzle: Want to start your own T-shirt business? Have an idea for a skateboard design? Check out, a site that lets you design everything from clothes to shoes to business cards you can even turn your photos into customizable posters on this thorough site.
  4. Custom Ink: Custom Ink is a company that puts your words on its products. Whether you’re a clothing designer or simply want to order some corporate T-shirts for your employees, Custom Ink can help you.
  5. Blue Cotton : Forget Photoshop, Blue Cotton lets you custom design T-shirts on the spot using itís online Design Studio. You can even elect to have your tops be it cotton T-shirt or cotton sweatshirt custom embroidered.
  6. Coco Myles : Forget fashion school! Coco Myles has a way for all you budding Donna Karan’s to create the dress you’ve always dreamed of with its online design studio. Pick your fabric, select your cut and color, and even add different accents.
  7. Lands End : Custom design your own affordable Oxford button downs and khaki pants using Lands Endís Custom Clothing website, which made big waves when it debuted four years ago.


  1. Reebok: Believe it or not, you can work as a designer for Reebok. You won’t get paid in fact, you’ll be charged but youíll get a kick out of designing your own Reebok sneakers. Pick a style, choose your best colors, and then go wild adding your own flair.
  2. NikeiD: Like Reebok, Nike offers consumers the option of designing their own shoes. The freedom here is mostly limited to color choices, but Nikeís interactive design studio will let you design a shoe right before your eyes.
  3. Puma Mongolian BBQ : Playing off the popular style of eating in ancient Mongolia, Puma has created the Mongolian Shoe BBQ, allowing consumers to mish-mash together different styles and colors to create their ideal shoe. The site offers a “menu” of seasonal choices and is fun and easy to use.
  4. Vans: Similar to Puma, Reebok and Nike, Vans has an online portal that allows customers to design their own slingback sneakers or old-school shoes.
  5. Timberland : Timbaland the rapper probably had a heart attack when he heard that Timberland, the boot manufacturer so loved in the hip hop community, announced it was allowing customers to design their own heavy-duty boots. You can start from scratch or just add to a template shoe.

Jewelry & Crystal

  1. Crystal Images: Who knew you could personalize even crystal vases? This is actually very popular idea among corporations looking for alternatives to trophies for golf tournaments. Also, customizing a vase is an excellent option for a wedding gift.
  2. Engraving Creations : Customize glass, crystal, marble and much more through Engraving Creations website which customizes through engraving. The company even makes individually-specified Christmas ornaments.
  3. You Design We Create : This company makes everyone into an instant jewelry designer. Harry Winston beware now people can get what they really want. Choose from several pre-made custom designs or call the company to discuss what you have in mind.
  4. Diamond Designs : Diamond Designs will create the piece of jewelry you’re dreaming of by looking at your sketch and going from there. They can even guarantee a turnaround in just a few days.
  5. Personalized Boutique : If you lusted after Carrie Bradshawís “Carrie” necklace in Sex in the City, then you’ll definitely want to check out Personalized Boutique, which makes similar gold necklaces in every name for the bargain price of $175. You can also get your childrenís names on a ring or a locket.
  6. Jewels for Me: Design your own jewelry on this site that allows you to select the stones and gems that suit your fancy. Start by picking a style you like then finish by filling it with beautiful jewels.
  7. A Diamond is Forever : Design your own engagement ring using this online tool.


  1. Custom Silicone Bracelets : Now you can be just as popular as Lance Armstrong by creating silicone bracelets for your business or cause. Pick your color, upload your catchphrase, and spread the word via wrists everywhere.
  2. Crazy Custom Caps : Some people live in baseball caps, and those people need variety. Never fear sites like Crazy Custom Caps allow customers to design their own hats in just three easy steps.
  3. Bari J. : Bari J. handbags has some of the coolest prints and templates from which to choose when creating your dream bag online. Vintage is the name of the game on this site.
  4. Freddy & Ma: Give all your friends a jealous streak by designing your own handbags, pillows, and dishes on this hipper-than-thou site.
  5. BPurses : Such a fun site for women who are obsessed with purses. BPurses lets you easily design your own handbags at an affordable price.
  6. Paula Julia Designs : Another online merchant that allows clients to design their own purses online. This company is somewhat cheaper than BPurses, but tends to have less in the way of selection.


  1. Toybuilders : Have a great idea for a board game, but donít feel like breaking out the construction paper and glue? Check out, which makes custom plush toys, board games, and wood toys.
  2. Build-a-Bear: Everyoneís heard of Build-a-Bear, the popular store and online website that lets customers design their own stuffed bear. Popular among children, a gift certificate to Build-a-Bear is the perfect Christmas gift for the wee ones in your family. The good news is you can build the bear online, without needing to go to the store.
  3. Custom Game Company: Custom Game Company creates board games and other physical games for companies, organizations, and communities.
  4. Doll Wizard : Make your own dolls on this customizable site.


  1. California Faucets : Wow you can even design your own water faucets for your home through California Faucetsí online portal. This is online customization at it’s finest!
  2. Bemz : Customize your Ikea sofas by ordering from one of the many upholstery designs on Since your choices are limited at Ikea, Bemz offers Ikea sofa owners a chance at a more creative and personalized living room.
  3. Custom Furniture Design : The guys over at Custom Furniture Design don’t need much just hand them your napkin scribblings of that armoire you designed and they’ll get it built in no time. This company has been working with architects and designers for many years on custom designs.
  4. Smart Furniture : Design on Demand is the name Smart Furniture has given to its custom design section on its website. You can either edit template designs or start from scratch using their online design tool.


  1. Shapeways : Remember the Treehugger blog about the brain lamp? Well, that innovative host of electricity was created with Shapewaysí 3-D modeling system that allows customers to create totally from scratch their own product designs. Check out their You Tube video on how it works.
  2. Cafe Press: Cafe Press is perhaps the most popular customized good site and itís a great resource for small businesses who want to be able to sell products on-demand. Design your clothes and other products and set up an online store. Through Cafe Press you can order certain items on-demand, preventing the need to commit significant overhead to products that may or may not sell.
  3. Branders: An apt name for a company that allows many companies to sell and promote their brand through products. They claim to be the largest online seller of promotional products and even offer a turnaround on some products as quick as five days.
  4. Redesign Me: This innovative website has partnered with several manufacturers who offer monetary rewards to designers who can improve upon existing products or help them create new ones. Truly a fun and interactive marketplace for the creative among us.
  5. Stem Cell : Need some customized cells or plasma samples? Who doesnít, really? Well, look no further. Stem Cell is here to help you out with its host of customized genetic products.
  6. Design Your Own Card : Business cards will be bland no more! Now with this easy website you can design your own business card easily and quickly.

Design Principles

If you are going to start your own online customized product business or start creating your own products for purchase, youíll want to read up on how to be a good designer. With all the artistic and creative minds in the product business today, competition is stiff.

  1. Marvin Bartel : This professor gives a nice, easy-to-read and simple discourse on important things to consider when designing, such as line weight, color, and placement.
  2. Want to be a fashion designer? Check out this helpful article with tips on good design schools and an inside glimpse into the business side.
  3. Amazon List: While there are plenty of free resources online, Amazon has put together this thorough list of different books that speak to designing and creativity.
  4. 50 Ways to Be a Better Designer : A great list from Computer Arts that aims to help designers of all backgrounds get better at their craft.
  5. Furniture Design : You’ll be able to find lots of design plans and furniture patterns online, but it might also help to get some inspiration from the furniture designers in this list who have helped set many trends.
  6. Graphic Design Principles: A simple site that goes over the principles of good graphic design.
  7. Product Design & Development : This industry website aims to improve product design across the board. A great resource for anyone with an idea on how to make something better.
  8. Beautiful and Original Designs : Check out this fabulous article about innovative product designs for both inspiration and information.
  9. Best Product Design 2007 : This article from Business Week will help you wrap your head around what has worked in the past and why.
  10. Best Product Design 2006 : Business Week’s 2006 article on the same subject.
  11. Product Design Forums: An excellent forum and chat board for all designers to connect and share.


While many customization sites have their own design tools built in, those of you who really want to start from scratch are going to need some software to get your ideas onto the computer.

  1. Photoshop: If you want to make a design using a pre-existing image, then check out Photoshop from Adobe. Manipulate images as much as you want and then save it down to a .jpeg file for easy uploading to most websites.
  2. Photoshop Tutorials : Tripped up on Photoshop? No need to worry. This website has lots of useful information to get you over the hump.
  3. Illustrator: True artists will want to get their hands on a copy of Adobe Illustrator, which allows people to draw freehand on the computer, as well as create wild patterns and shapes.
  4. Adobe InDesign: Not the most flexible design software, InDesign is mostly a page-layout tool. But if you’re working on creating your own business cards or stationary it will be very intuitive to use.
  5. Punch Software : Punch Software is perfect for the creative person aiming to design their own furniture or home product. Get the result you want without needing an ounce of sketching know-how.
  6. Cute Draw : This software lets you easily create 3D shapes, as well as logos.
  7. 3Ds Max : You may have to go to architecture school to master this software, but once you do you won’t be sorry, as it allows you to make 3D renderings of practically anything. And just kidding on the whole architecture school thing there are plenty of tutorials to help you navigate the system.


A quick list of design magazines that will help you get inspiration. Good luck!

  1. HOW Design : Find blogs and in-depth articles in this hailed magazine.
  2. PRINT Magazine : The leading magazine for graphic arts.
  3. I.D. Magazine : The International Design Magazine is the international bible on design, which will keep you abreast of every design competition on the horizon.
  4. Core 77 : For product designers, Core 77 is a wealth of information on industrial design.
  5. Dezeen : Dezeen bills itself as the most influential architecture and design magazine out there.
  6. Wallpaper : A popular and best-selling fashion and design magazine.
  7. Curve : An Australian design magazine that is available online.
  8. New Design : A British design magazine focusing on product and industrial design in Europe.
  9. Communication Arts : Focuses on the best design used in the communication industry.
  10. Ready Made : A great design magazine that tells readers how to make hip products all on their own a true subscriber to the customization theory.

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Hurricane Ike

UPDATE, September 16th:

Power has been restored. Orders are now on schedule. If you have any questions, please call in or use the live chat feature at the top of the homepage. Thank you.

September 15th:

Hurricane Ike has knocked out power and phones at our customer service center. We are working to get all orders out on time. Please check back tomorrow for updates.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Our best wishes to all those in the path of Hurricane Ike.  Thank you.

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Contest 7 Launches: Win a $250 Gift Card!

Contest 7 is officially underway.  Thanks again to all of our past contest entrants.  The turnout and quality of work has been terrific.

To enter the contest, simply create a design, save it, and tag it “Contest 7”.  It’s completely free and quite simple.

The winning design will be featured in US Weekly Magazine and we’ll send the winning designer a $250 Customized Girl Gift Card.

This contest will last through the month of September.


If you’ve never saved a design before, here’s a quick lesson:

Choose any piece of apparel from one of our many categories (we recommend Her Tops and Undies). In the Design Center you can add text, clipart, and your own images. Everything is adjustable, so feel free to experiment with the text styles, colors, sizes, etc.

Most importantly, be sure to save your design once you’re finished. Just click the save button in the Design Center, which looks like this:


(If you’re not already logged in, you’ll have to log in or create an account at this point. Don’t worry it’s super easy and takes 5 seconds.)

On the next page name your design, choose the first tag from the drop down menu, and add “Contest 7” as an additional tag.


Be sure to leave your Share Option as “share”. Then click “Save” and you’re done!

*See the Design Contest Policies here.

* This contest lasts through the month of September.  We’ve been holding regular contests for a while now, but our contest calendar is about to change.  Once this one is finished, we’ll launch contests on a seasonal or special event basis.

Past contest winners:


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