Elmira's sketchbook sits on a table with her inspiration

Inspiration and preliminary sketches for elmira_art’s first-place winning design Zen Jungle from Spoonflower’s 500th Design Challenge “Your Artistic Voice.”

At Spoonflower, we are so impressed by and grateful to every artist that enters our Design Challenges. The submissions highlight the immeasurable creativity of our community and allow anyone to vote for their favorite designs, allowing the related artists to win prizes. 

We love that artists use the themes to get their creative gears turning and that it provides a platform for designs to shine. If you’ve been hesitant to join a challenge, we encourage you to read more about the benefits of participating in this previous post

In this post, we’d like to help you make sure the designs you’ve put time and energy into creating are not in danger of being disqualified. There are four main reasons an entry can be withdrawn from a contest: 

1. An entry was uploaded to the Spoonflower Marketplace before the challenge was announced. 

2. An entry does not fit the challenge theme. 

3. An entry has a copyright issue or uses either text-to-image AI tools or someone else’s intellectual property. 

4. It’s not set to the proper repeat type. 

Before we get into the rules, let’s go over the basics of how to enter a Design Challenge.

How to Enter a Spoonflower Design Challenge

• Review the challenges that are open for entries. 

Sign into your account or create an account if you don’t already have one. 

• Adjust your entry on the design layout page and click ‘Save Changes.’ 

• Click the ‘Enter a Challenge’ button on the left.

• Select the correct Design Challenge from the dropdown menu under ‘What challenge do you want to enter?’

• Review the voting preview image to make sure your design is displaying properly.

• Confirm your design fits the prompt by clicking ‘Yes’ and adding a thoughtful title and description. 

• Happy? Click ‘Submit Entry.’ 

• Not quite perfect? Click ‘Edit Design Thumbnail’ or ‘Cancel’ and return to your Design Library to adjust and re-save the settings and review the design until you are happy.

• After you submit your entry, your design will automatically be saved as a public design so it can be seen during voting. If you mark your design as private after entering it, your design will be removed from being seen in the challenge. 

Pro tip: Each Design Challenge theme page has a brief rundown of the rules in the Details portion, as well as a button to ‘See Challenge Terms & Conditions.’ There’s quite a bit to take in in our full Terms & Conditions, so we’d like to break down the three most frequent ways a design can be disqualified by our moderation team. 

Top 4 Ways a Design Challenge Entry Can Be Disqualified

1. An entry was uploaded to the Spoonflower Marketplace before the challenge was announced. 

The spirit of the Design Challenge is to give a creative prompt that inspires designers to introduce a new design to the Marketplace that speaks specifically to the theme we have crafted.  

For example, in May you worked on a design featuring hippos in baseball caps and you uploaded it to your Spoonflower shop. A few months later, Spoonflower announced their next set of challenges and “Animals in Hats” is a theme. 

First off, pat yourself on the back—you were ahead of the trends! While you may be inclined to enter this design into our “Animals in Hats” challenge, this would disqualify your entry because it is not a new design to the Marketplace. However, you can use your hatted hippos as inspiration (maybe even create a collection!), but the design you enter into the challenge must be completely fresh and new. 

What if you uploaded a design for the challenge over an existing design? Our platform is only able to detect the previous upload date associated with the design, so to avoid being wrongly disqualified, please always use a brand new design slot for your challenge entries.  

Design Challenge Tip: See what challenges are coming up next

2. An entry does not fit the challenge theme.

We realize that there are many creative ways to interpret the themes, so this one can get a bit tricky! Be sure to use the Design Challenge title and the description to inspire your design and connect it to the theme. Sometimes this is pretty cut and dry—say the challenge theme is “Dogs” and you draw corgis in a variety of poses. Great! Very cute and very on theme. Here are two scenarios where a title and description can make all the difference. 

Let’s stick with the same theme of “Dogs.” The challenge moderator is scrolling through entries and comes across what looks like at first glance to be lions and not dogs. The moderator looks to the title to confirm. The title “IMG03232” isn’t super helpful. If the design’s title is the more concrete, “Doggie Dress-Up,” the moderator will then go to the description to find the following: “My golden retriever wearing a lion’s mane for her Halloween costume.” You don’t say! It was a dog in a lion’s costume all along. The moderator may have a hard time figuring out it’s a dog in disguise if it weren’t for the design’s title and description. 


A screenshot of the Design Challenge entry review page, which allows artists to select a challenge to enter, check a box stating the design reflects the theme/prompt well, and type in the design's title and description. The Garden Bedding challenge has been selected to enter and the checkbox as to whether the design reflects the challenge theme well is checked yes. Floral Botanica has been typed in the design title box. “This design was inspired by the peaceful and immaculate gardens of Italy” is typed in the design description box. This screenshot shares what to do when entering a design in a challenge having a title and description showing the design is related to the theme indicates this design was created for this challenge.
An example of how to fill out the Design Challenge entry review page.


A screenshot of the Design Challenge entry review page, which allows artists to select a challenge to enter, check a box stating the design reflects the theme/prompt well, and type in the design's title and description. This is an example of what not to do on this page. “Challenge_RED” is typed in the design title box; the design description box is empty. This screenshot is an example of what not to do when entering a design challenge, as having a title and description showing the design is related to the theme lets our team know this design was created for this challenge.
An example of how not to fill out the Design Challenge entry review page.

Now using the same theme, “Dogs,” let’s examine a more abstract entry. Artists can have a more expressive style that is less figurative and they are welcome to enter our challenges as well. If this applies to you, titles and descriptions are essential. Let’s say instead of illustrating a dog in a traditional way, you are inspired by the dog’s leash. Your design may look like multi-colored stripes at first, but if you look very closely, you can see the clips of the leashes are also included. While this is a visual clue, it’s helpful to go one step further and title your design “Dog Leashes” to make the moderator’s job easier with a more concrete clue. 

3. An entry is flagged for copyright infringement, appropriates another artists’ or entity’s intellectual property or is generated using AI (Artificial Intelligence). 

The Design Challenges are meant to inspire fresh, original ideas, so using anything in your design that isn’t uniquely yours will be disqualified. Here are some design elements to avoid in order to stay in the game. 

Clip Art and Public Domain: While you can upload designs to Spoonflower that include clip art elements you purchased and have a license for, as well as imagery in the public domain, these types of designs are not allowed in Design Challenges. We want to see things you created exclusively for these challenges. 

Something traced or copied: Making a direct copy of another artist’s work can be a nice assignment, but it should remain in your sketchbook and is not something to be used for your entry. Perhaps you made a few tweaks, but it is not really yours to enter. For example, say you copy a famous drawing of a pig and add wings to it—it still contains copied elements and would be withdrawn from the challenge.  

The likeness of a celebrity: A celebrity sighting in your artwork is cause for disqualification. The unauthorized use of the likeness and/or name of a recognizable figure is against the rules of our Design Challenges. 

Copyrights, trademarks and logos: Using anything copyrighted or trademarked in your design or title is also not allowed in our challenges for similar reasons. By entering designs with anything protected like this, you stand to benefit professionally and financially from something you did not create. On top of that, using familiar and recognizable imagery can give designs an unfair advantage. 

You can be inspired by popular culture, but copying it directly or using it as is will leave you disqualified from the challenges. This might also look familiar as you have to confirm the copyright of your design when you upload it. 

Images generated using AI (Artificial Intelligence): AI art is created using machine learning. This is very often done by using a text-to-image tool with a text prompt you can enter, and a machine will create or edit an image using an algorithm. To stay within the spirit of our Design Challenges, which is to create original artwork that is uniquely yours, AI art is strictly prohibited.  

It’s also good practice outside of our Design Challenges to make sure everything you create is uniquely yours. It can be tough to find your visual voice and language, but that is what will make you stand out from the crowd. You can filter and remix all the inspiration that you collect every day to find your own artistic path and identity. More information on what types of images can be uploaded to Spoonflower is available in the Help Center article “What Images May I Print with Spoonflower?” 

4. An entry will be removed if it is not set to the proper repeat type.

Therefore, please read all briefs and information about each challenge, found on each Design Challenge page, carefully. When you select the type of repeat for your Design Challenge entry, ensure the repeat matches the type of repeat mentioned in the Design Challenge page. If your design is not set to an accepted repeat for a particular challenge you will receive a pop-up notification letting you know when you click ‘Submit Entry.’

We hope these guidelines help clarify why a design can be disqualified from a Spoonflower Design Challenge. The goal of the Design Challenges is to inspire new designs that are unique to Spoonflower, fit the theme, and highlight the many unique creative voices in our community. 

Shop elmira_art’s challenge-winning design Zen Jungle on wallpaper and home decor and learn more about her process.

Do You Know the Benefits of Entering Design Challenges?

Hear tips from Spoonflower artists on how participating in Design Challenges can help you, including by strengthening your creative practice, building your brand and getting out of a rut.
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