Physical goods can be the ideal canvas for monetizing your imagination, whether you’re an artist, writer, designer, or entrepreneur.
You can put your unique twist on everyday items and sell them online, from t-shirts to posters, backpacks to books. If you go the conventional route of purchasing and keeping your inventory, you could end up with a backlog of unsold products.
Print-on-demand services provide an alternative to avoiding the time, expense, and risk of handling inventory, allowing you to go from designing to selling custom items at a fraction of the cost.
What is “print on demand,” and how does it work?
Print on demand is a method of customizing white-label items (such as baseball caps or tote bags) with your designs and selling them under your name on a per-order basis.
That means you don’t have to pay for the product until after you’ve sold it, so there’s no need to buy in bulk or keep stock on hand.
Plus, with print-on-demand services, the provider handles anything from printing to shipping after the sale. It just takes a few clicks after you’ve set everything up to fulfill an order once you’ve made a sale.
Print-on-demand systems can be used to:
- Without the costs of purchasing inventory, you can test a business concept or a new product line for an existing company.
- Make money from a following you’ve built up. If you’re a YouTuber, cartoonist, or social media influencer who wants to spend more time making content than fulfilling orders, printing on demand is a fantastic choice.
- Create exclusive goods for a specific market. Clothing for gamers, for example.
- Print one-of-a-kind things like t-shirts, books, accessories, bags, wall art, phone cases, clocks, laptop skins, and mugs with ease. These can be given as gifts or kept for yourself and your team.
- Market images online by incorporating your photography into various items that you can sell on your website.
The pros and cons of print on demand
Print-on-demand sites may be used to start a dropshipping company, in which a third party handles the goods and delivery. It’s one of the simplest ways to find items or start an online shop, but you should be mindful of the advantages and disadvantages before jumping in.
- Develop products quickly: Once you’ve settled on a concept, you can quickly create the product and bring it to the market.
- Shipping is taken care of: Shipping and distribution are done by your supplier instead of you. You’re just responsible for customer service after the transaction.
- Since you’re not physically keeping any inventory, it’s much simpler to add or remove items, test ideas, and pivot your strategy.
- Lower profit margins: Obviously, the per-item prices would be higher than if you purchase in bulk. Depending on how you price and acquire customers, on-demand goods can yield lower profits.
- Shipping costs are more challenging to manage because they vary so much with different items. If you want to build a unique unboxing experience, your choices can be minimal.
- Limited customization: The manufacturer and the product determine the degree to which you can customize goods. When deciding which items to customize, consider the base costs, customization choices, printing techniques, and available sizes.
How to quickly start a profitable print-on-demand store
Limited customization: The manufacturer and the product decide the extent to which you can customize products. Consider the base costs, customization options, printing methods, and available sizes when deciding which products to customize.
Print-on-demand services for creating custom products
Although several print-on-demand services appear to be similar at first glance, you’ll need to carefully decide the ones you choose depending on the items you want to make, where you’ll ship them, and the retail rates you want to charge, among other things.
For example, a low base cost for one product might seem obvious until you remember that the most affordable shipping option will take 21 days to reach customers.
When deciding on the best forum for your needs, do your homework. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common services that cover a wide range of scenarios to assist you. These services are all free to set up (you only pay when you place an order), and they all integrate with Shopify.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Check out the Shopify App Store for more print-on-demand options.
Because of its broad range of products and brands (Gildan, American Apparel, etc.), easy-to-use mockup generators, and options for adding your branding to the unboxing experience through stickers, package inserts, and custom notes, Printful (Shopify app) is a common choice among print-on-demand services.
Printful provides a range of printing methods for fashion items in particular. Here is a couple that you should be aware of:
- Direct to Garment printing transfers ink directly to the fabric, ideal for basic designs (i.e., witty t-shirts). As a consequence, you can only print on certain parts of the product.
- Cut and Sew is often referred to as “all-over print.” The item of clothing is printed in parts for full coverage and then sewn together to create a seamless print throughout the entire piece. Although the initial costs will be higher, you will produce a more premium product that you can sell at a higher price.
- Since the end product is a threaded template with a 3D effect, embroidery is perhaps the most complicated printing technique. This works well with basic designs of just a few colors and items such as hats that typically have embroidered designs.
It would be best if you also understood the price effect of additional customizations. If you want to print on the sleeve, for example, you’ll have to pay a small fee on top of the base price.
Printful also sells mugs, pillows, framed posters, beach towels, aprons, and other items in addition to apparel.
2. Lulu Xpress
Lulu is a self-publishing website that allows you to print and distribute your books and ebooks.
Lulu Xpress (Shopify app) is the company’s print-on-demand service, which allows you to create your book product by choosing from a range of book sizes, binding styles, and page/print quality.
Although no built-in editor is available to design your book, Lulu Xpress does include downloadable templates to get you started. It also has a simple pricing calculator to estimate the cost of your project, which provides for different shipping options.
If you want to buy in bulk, there are also discounts available.
Gooten (Shopify app) provides a similar selection of items that you can customize, including those exclusive to its catalogs, such as calendars and dog beds.
However, since Gooten prints their goods using an international network of vendors, there is a lot more difference in quality and shipping between their pieces. However, you should expect lower commodity and shipping costs as a result.
Gooten also has an easy-to-use image editor that allows you to get a clear idea of how your finished product would look.
Printify (a Shopify app) is another print-on-demand service that offers the standard t-shirt and hoodie range.
Printify’s international vendor network allows it to offer various exclusive white-label items that you won’t find anywhere else, such as watches, clocks, shoes, and water bottles. In reality, the platform offers over 200 different items to print on.
Although Printify is free to use, there is a premium subscription available for $29 per month that gives you 20% off all items, which is a good choice if you want to scale up and increase your profit margins later.
Designing products when you’re not a designer
It should go without saying that design is critical to the success of print-on-demand products. However, you don’t have to be a full-time designer to find unique designs. You can commission or manufacture your creations in various ways as long as you grasp a few main principles to help you work efficiently with designers.
First, let’s talk about getting your print file ready. When working with designers, make it clear that your idea will be printed. This informs them that the resolution should be 300 digital pixels per inch (DPI or PPI), that the backdrop should be translucent, and that there are other differences in designing for print and online.
It’s essential to keep in mind that print file requirements vary depending on the printer and printing technique used. If in doubt, give the designer the print specs for the particular product and any printing instructions so that they have a complete understanding of the situation.
The designs you upload should be at least as large as the actual product’s printing area—resizing a smaller picture to make it larger would almost always result in a loss of quality. If you don’t have Photoshop, try Pixlr (free) or one of these photo editing apps.
Where to find design ideas and designers
The best-case scenario is that you are a designer or know someone who is. However, if you don’t have immediate access to design talent, don’t be discouraged. That is why outsourcing happens.
On Behance, 99 Designs, and other freelance platforms, you can find designers who can build functional designs if you have specific instructions. Here’s how to add meaning and clarification to a design project:
- Share information about your target audience. Tell them why you’re doing it and who your target audience is. Providing them with a link to your website, if you have one, can also be helpful.
- Make it clear what you want. Over-communicate what you’re looking for and the instructions to follow in your initial pitch and subsequent revisions (you can get at least one or two), and strive to provide concrete input every step of the way.
- Offer examples to serve as inspiration. Please give them a guide to work from or point them to previous work that you liked.
You should hire someone to bring your designs to life because there are so many talented designers out there. The tricky part is deciding what to build in the first place.
Your product’s target audience will determine this; however, you can get concept ideas from:
- Facebook Pages
- Wherever your potential customers hang out online
To generate ideas worth exploring, search for content, messaging, or styles that already resonate with your target audience. Only make sure you’re not plagiarizing anyone else’s job.
Social media is also an ideal place to put your thoughts to the test. Try the following if you want to transform the internet into a focus group:
- Post to your network on Facebook or groups
- Use Instagram’s Poll and Question stickers to solicit feedback.
- Share a rough version of your design idea with a relevant subreddit.
Tips for starting a print-on-demand business
While using a print-on-demand service can be more convenient than handling your inventory, some specific factors need to be considered. Fortunately, there are innovative solutions to the majority of the challenges you’ll face.
On Shopify, here’s how to start a print-on-demand company.
Print on demand is a low-risk, low-complexity way to launch a highly profitable company that requires no inventory. This print-on-demand tutorial will walk you through the entire process.
1. Always order samples
When using print-on-demand platforms to sell online, quality assurance is essential. It’s always likely that something will get lost in the translation from your computer to your printed product. However, you can contact your vendor’s customer service for assistance in resolving any issues.
You want to make sure your physical product looks and sounds exactly as you thought it would, and the only way to do so is to be your customer and see how your goods are received firsthand. Some services, such as Printful, also offer a sample discount of up to 20% off or free shipping, so take advantage of it if it’s offered.
Samples help make your product images for your website and social media accounts, in addition to maintaining product quality.
2. Be strategic about shipping
Even if you don’t ship your goods, shipping can be complicated due to shipping times, prices, and customers’ correct standards.
When it comes to delivery, you’ll want to make sure you account for printing times. Add anywhere from 2 to 4 days for production, or more, depending on the commodity, to whatever shipping times you have.
If you’re not upfront about shipping times, you’ll get many shipping questions in your support inbox. Create a separate Shipping page to illustrate shipping to customers or outline what to expect on your FAQ page.
If possible, try to incorporate your shipping costs into your retail price, either partially or entirely. Year after year, studies show that unexpected shipping costs added at checkout will cause customers to abandon their purchases. Free shipping also helps you with a host of other marketing efforts:
- Even if you can only offer it in some areas, free shipping is a fantastic sales opportunity that gives consumers another reason to shop.
- Conditional free shipping (for example, “Get free shipping when you spend $30 or more”) allows consumers to add more items to their cart to meet the mark, and it usually lets you get a higher average shipping rate by shipping everything together.
- Free shipping can be used to explain longer wait times. Many customers are willing to wait a little longer for an order if it means they can save money on shipping.
3. Create mockups that show off your products
Although models will assist you in convincing product photographs, mockups are also a viable choice and will be displayed prominently on your product pages.
Many print-on-demand platforms will assist you in making your mockups, which will show your items on an individual or in a flat lay. Other resources, as well as a plethora of free mockup models, will help you bring your products to life.
These mockups will sell the goods to consumers, so going the extra mile will pay off.
It’s a simple mockup maker that allows you to make picture and video mockups for just $8 each. You may also look for models on Mockup World or Behance if you know the fundamentals of Photoshop or other picture editing software.
4. Focus on a niche to make marketing easier
Your company’s success is largely determined by marketing. However, if you sell to anyone, you’re not selling to anybody. That’s why, no matter what strategies you use, maintaining concentration is crucial.
Since your marketing choices would be that much more accurate, having a specifically identified demographic (e.g., dog owners) will help you produce goods that are in demand, lower your consumer acquisition costs, and increase your potential income.
Better still, if you can develop your audience through marketing, you will have created a long-term asset for your company, even if your goods change.
There are numerous marketing options available, but here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Create/curate content for your target audience by starting an Instagram account. Obtain fans, learn which hashtags receive the most views, and cultivate relationships with potential customers.
- Develop Facebook advertisements that are targeted to the interests of your target audience. For as little as $10, you can try out your designs using Facebook ads to see which ones resonate with your audience.
- Collect email addresses from tourists so you can sell to them for free in the future.
- Get the goods into the hands of influencers who can help you make sales by adding some of their clouts.
Building a long-term market, whether print-on-demand or not, requires growing an audience of your ideal customers.
Design, test, sell and grow.
As you can see, a print-on-demand company can be a lucrative online venture. For new entrepreneurs or someone who wants to test an idea before investing in it, the available resources provide an open-source inventory.
You can always graduate from using a print-on-demand platform to keeping your inventory if one of your ideas takes off and you start to produce a large number of sales, or you can continue to use these sites when searching for new ways to broaden your audience. It’s all up to you.
Frequently asked questions about print on demand.
How do I start a print on demand?
Start by deciding on a niche and the items you want to sell if you’re going to start a print-on-demand company. Then start working on your designs and website. Then, find a print-on-demand service and integrate the items into your store. You’ll begin receiving orders once you start selling your website, and your print provider will handle the delivery.
How much money can you make with print on demand?
The amount of money you make with your print-on-demand company is determined by your target market’s needs, product demand, and seasonality. You’ll need to weigh the selling price, your print provider’s costs, and the number of orders when estimating how much you can produce.
What are the best print-on-demand products to sell?
Print on demand can be used to market a variety of items. T-shirts, caps, mugs, wall prints and posters, drawstring and cloth bags, hoodies, towels, phone covers, notebooks, cushion covers, sweatshirts, and leggings are some of the most common print-on-demand items.
How do you price print on demand products?
How well you market your brand would have a significant effect on your print-on-demand product prices. Consider what the consumer is charging as a starting point when pricing the goods. Print-on-demand items with customizations may be sold at a higher price. If you want to cover a broader target market and make a profit, you can price the goods similarly to your rivals as a safer bet.