Judy Quintero painting in her studio.

You finally set up your new Spoonflower shop and are ready to upload your original designs and artwork for the world to see… but how will you draw buyers in? Join top-selling artist and surface pattern designer Judy Quintero of Shopcabin and RebelMod to learn how to sale-optimize your shop and designs using effective keyword research, tagging, communication and more.

5 Tips for Success as a Spoonflower Artist

Judy: Work smarter not harder. Lately, this motto has taken center stage in our business.

Back when shopcabin started, it was “Thank God for polka dots,” a reference to how Spoonflower first came to be and how fortunate we were to have found it. A platform that was so ahead of its time; with the most amazing innovative and supportive people you couldn’t help but feel right at home.

Soon thereafter, our motto came to be (and still is) “One swatch at a time” and we believe it is part of why we were successful since the early start. With one swatch at a time, we built and continued to grow our business, our brand and our loyal customers.

“We continue to this day to celebrate the swatch sales more than any other products sold because it means someone is giving us the opportunity, and if we get it right, it can turn into a relationship that lasts a lifetime.”

– Judy Quintero

I am a college dropout, but I’ve earned my MBA through mistakes (some bigger than others), YouTube video searches on how to do things (free and readily available), failing hard and picking myself up again, showing vulnerability, gratitude for the help I’m given and the hunger I have within me to succeed every single day I’m alive. Here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way and some things we believe are the pillars of shopcabin’s success.

1. Research Keyword Trends Before Designing

I admit I don’t have it all together and that’s okay. We all have that one thing we wish we did better. For me, it’s social media. I know the importance a good social media presence can have on any business so I’m constantly striving to get better at it. However, who says there’s only one way to reach your goals?

Here’s a video of Ralph (my husband and business partner) sharing one of the ways we drive customers to our shop, using tools like Pinterest and Ubersuggest to research trends and keywords. This research may influence what I design, or the keywords I use on Spoonflower.

Not only has this become an easy habit to implement in my day-to-day tasks, but it helps me to maintain current on what’s trending. By doing this we feel we are more in control of the target audience we want to reach instead of trusting a social media platform’s algorithm to determine who gets to see our posts and who doesn’t.

2. Spend Time Determining the Best Tags for Your Design

Now that you’ve learned an easy way to gather successful research, we can’t ignore the art of tagging. Tags make it possible for your audience to easily find you. There are hundreds of uses for tags but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just say it’s that one tool that reels customers in (if done correctly).

Once you’ve determined the correct tags for your product, they can be added when uploading your designs to make it easier for customers to find you. These same tags can be used as hashtags on your social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook among others you currently use. Use your keyword research to determine the best tags for your design.

Spoonflower Artist Judy Quintero sits at her computer while her husband and business partner, Ralph, stands behind her to review keyword research together.
Judy and Ralph review keyword research before determining tags for their next design.

Here’s an example of how keyword research and tags help me maximize my business. When cottagecore started appearing in my keyword search, I had no clue what this trend was. After a few times it appeared as a top trend, I decided to look into it. I did a search for cottagecore designs on Spoonflower and realized there weren’t many designs using this theme. I immediately went to work to create some designs based on the rustic old-fashioned decor that took over our industry in very little time.

When tagging, I made sure to include the most popular cottagecore keywords as my tags. If you’re like me and English isn’t your native language, pay close attention to your spelling as well. I could go on and on about this topic but this would be a book instead of a blog post!

3. Update Tags on Existing Designs

Remember when I said I’ve made plenty of mistakes on this journey? Not giving tags the importance they deserve has been that one mistake that has taught me the most. So if you’re thinking to yourself “With years of uploading work, how could I possibly go back and fix all those tags”? You’re not alone.

Here’s the thing… trends come and go and you will eventually need to refresh some of the tags that were great at a certain time. This past year has been dedicated to “fixing” my tagging mistake. I keep reminding myself that it’s not a race and two designs per day is an achievable task. Are my designs all perfectly tagged? Not even close! But every single tag we revise is an opportunity for someone new to find us.

4. Design for Your Customers, Not for Yourself

So now that I’ve covered the technical part of what we do that makes us successful, we must move on to the heart of the operation; the customers.

One of the most important lessons I learned very early on my business journey was that the smallest part of my business comes from what I create. I create for others, not for myself. I am not the customer. This sounds harsh but when we take our emotions out of the equation and give others what they want it is the most rewarding experience we will have.

I can share so many stories of how this has worked in our favor but I’ll share the original story of how I came to terms with this theory and the one we refer to as the “Girl, you know nothing!”.

Spoonflower Artist Judy Quintero stands in front of a wall with nine hand painted florals pinned up in a variety of soft colors.
Judy in front of a wall filled with her hand painted florals.

I have this one specific design, which I won’t name because that’s just calling your least attractive offspring ugly, but it’s what started it all. A sweet lady reached out asking if I would entertain the idea she had for wallpaper. She had just built her dream home and expressed how nothing she’d seen compared to what she had in her head. I made no promises but said I’d give it a go.

The further I went into her detailed explanation of what she was imagining it’d look like, the less certain I felt of having executed her vision. I kept going over her message because I felt there was a miscommunication or I just understood her theme all wrong.

When it was time to send her samples of my work, I sent her three options with slight variations which were made in an attempt to fix what I thought was just a trainwreck. As I hit send on my message, I immediately had regrets. I could picture her reading my message, shaking her head in dismay over the arrangement of colors and illustrations that made up what I had sent her. She’d take it as a loss and move on to a different artist that could interpret what she had in mind.

To my surprise, she wrote back within minutes saying I had made her emotional because one of the three versions was exactly what she had envisioned. After all these years, this one design continues to be a great seller for us.

“It is a reminder that my job is to listen, connect with the story, create, and build an experience for that one customer.”

If this is something you’d want to try out for yourself but are afraid it may be too time-consuming, here’s a simple way to determine if a customer’s request would be a good fit for you. When a customer reaches out about custom designs (not licensed work) I always answer with, “I would love to hear your idea for a new design. My time is very limited so if your idea isn’t too time-consuming and I find it may be a great addition to my portfolio, I’d be more than happy to work with you on making this idea a reality.” Once you know the assignment you can choose to respectfully decline or accept.  

Being open to customer suggestions has opened many doors to repeat business and client recommendations, it’s also given me the joy of working with several political figures, restaurateurs of well-known establishments, movie studios, amazing designers from whom I’ve learned so much, newscasters, among many beautiful people who have continued to correspond with me, and have shared their lives well after their wallpapers have been hung.

Our Second Shop, RebelMod

And this brings us to rebelmod, shopcabin’s wild child. This experimental project was started as a way to prove to myself and others that shopcabin’s success didn’t happen out of luck. Our secret project was kept secret for quite a while, during this time not even Spoonflower knew we were the team behind the brand.

RebelMod would be used as a true testament that if given the right tools (Spoonflower) and the lessons learned throughout the years, anyone can have a profitable business working from home.

It didn’t take us long to know we had created something very special. It’s a place that caters to being different and diverse. RebelMod celebrates our differences, freedom of expression and pushing the boundaries, but most of all it tells the stories our customers want to tell through art, quotes, mature language, slang words, and sayings among many other colorful and controversial themes. It is a place made out of love, respect, fun and no inhibitions. You’ll find art created not only by me but by my sons, Ralph, my dad and even my mother-in-law. Slowly but surely, it’s turned into my proudest business accomplishment because of how much love is poured into it by so many of us.

5. Never Stop Learning

And last but not least, my favorite tip is to never stop learning. We all strive for a business that is on autopilot, but while you’re working towards this goal or once you get there, what are you doing to stay relevant? Take time to learn something new each day.

My first design sold was a short line from a rap lyric. It was so successful, Buzzfeed picked it up as part of their Christmas wishlist item. I love all types of music but I hadn’t even heard the song when I decided to design the saying with florals all around it. I learn so much from my kids. They have kept me relevant when it comes to what is influencing the world through memes, songs, sayings, phrases, etc.

Judy hangs a color palette on an inspiration board in her office.

Speaking of never stop learning, have you been paying attention to the technological advances happening lately? Digital innovation has always been present in our lives, but the pandemic expedited what would have taken years to develop and now we’re seeing artificial intelligence (AI) play an everyday role in our lives, innovations in the blockchain, NFTs and a little something called Web3 that’s reinventing everything from the way we do business to the way we create. We are seeing AI-generated works of art being auctioned at Christie’s auction house in NYC for over $400K. Although AI is in its early stages, it’s already made an impact in our world. The announcement graphics for Viva Magenta, Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2023, were created with the help of an AI tool. Only time will tell how our industry will evolve but I am excited to see how Spoonflower continues to innovate in the years to come.

May we all find the success we dream of in 2023.
XO 🙂
Judy Quintero

Discover More Tips for Your Brand

Continue reading the Spoonflower Blog to find more helpful resources for your creative business, whether you’re selling art on Spoonflower or handmade items on Etsy, or simply researching trends.
Business Resources


How do I set up a Spoonflower shop?
Read our help center article for all the information you need to start up your first Spoonflower shop.
How many tags can I use on Spoonflower?
You can enter up to 13 tags for each of your designs. These tags will help our algorithm locate your designs. You want these tags to be unique enough that they stand out, but not so clever that customers fail to ever search by them.
How can I use social media to promote my Spoonflower Shop?
Click here to check out our top tips towards social media success.