Do you have plenty of creative energy, but struggle to monetize it? Or are you an entrepreneur looking for a low-risk way to make money online?
Check out print on demand.
If you want to either run it as a standalone business or have it as part of an already existing enterprise, print on demand can be the go-to solution for both.
You can easily test out your ideas without a big up-front investment. Plus, it’s an easy way to make money online as more and more people look for uniquely designed products.
In this article, we’ll help you to fully understand what print on demand is, how you can set your own eCommerce store up, and which suppliers you should go with.
You could be running your very own print on demand empire before you know it.
✅ Running a print on demand business is for you if you are good at customer support and marketing.
❌ Don’t bother with print on demand if you want to sell custom products and build a strong brand.
What is print on demand?
Traditionally, if you wanted to set up your own store, you needed to invest lots of time and money to:
- Produce your product (factories $$)
- Store your product (warehouses $$$)
- Have a place to sell your products (retail space $$$$)
Luckily, that’s not the case anymore. You could start your own online store today if you want to, all thanks to the internet.
So, what are print on demand eCommerce services and how do they work?
It’s not that complicated:
- You need to have the designs that can be printed on various products, such as t-shirts, tote bags, and mugs ready. Also, make people aware of your awesome print on demand store by marketing it.
- Then, you’ll display these products in your online store and get orders in.
- Anytime someone makes a purchase, the order will get relayed to the print on demand supplier. They will print your design on the product and handle the shipping.
- Finally, be on standby to help your customers with any questions or concerns they may have.
The pros of print on demand
Since print on demand businesses are based on the dropshipping eCommerce model, you’ll only the face of the business.
Someone else will store the products, prepare, and ship them on your behalf.
And that’s great news for eCommerce novices, because:
- It’s low-risk. Since you won’t physically buy your products, you’ll take on very little risk in a print on demand business. If nobody wants to buy your products, you won’t be stuck with 1,000 pairs of jackets. 😳
- It’s quick to get started. All you need is to have your design at hand to create a new item. With a good mockup tool, you could have your listings appear on your eCommerce store in under an hour.
- It’s no-frills. No need to worry about the packaging or shipping. That’s particularly handy if you’re not very good at packaging or gift wrapping. Your supplier will print out the order (in the world of print on demand this is called order fulfillment) and ship it to the customer.
- It’s cheaper. Since most print on demand services can offer shipping rates across the world, you can cast your net wide even when you’re just starting out. This will help you keep your marketing costs reasonable too, since you don’t have to worry about running multiple campaigns at once.
The cons of print on demand
It’s not all a bed of roses in the print on demand world. Profit margins and drop shipping woes are but a few downsides to this type of eCommerce business.
Here are the main cons:
- It’s limiting. Customization is almost impossible in this business. Maybe you’d like to change the shape of the mugs you’re selling? Or would you like to get premium cotton t-shirts, but only regular ones are available? You don’t really call the shots – the service provider does.
- It’s less profitable. Since you’re not buying thousands of t-shirts in bulk from a manufacturer, but place single orders as they come in, you won’t get the best price per unit. And your print on demand supplier will also take a cut of the profits since you’re outsourcing some of the work to them (the printing and the shipping).
- You’ll have minimal control over shipping. Be careful with your print on demand vendors, because if a shipping price is too good to be true, it probably means crazy long shipping times. And although it’s your supplier who takes care of the shipping, your customers will still complain to you about having to wait for 5 weeks and about missing orders. You might also not be able to accept returns, depending on the print on demand partner.
Become a print on demand pro
If you’re reading on, it seems that we’ve convinced you that running a print on demand business is for you.
Ready to dive into the world of print on demand shirts, tote bags, and phone cases? Become your own boss and create that perfect side gig in 7 steps.
Step 1. Define your business idea and niche
Like with any other business, you need a strong and unique idea to get started.
While you can sell your products to anyone and everyone, usually only a particular group of people will be really interested.
Think about who’d be interested in your product? Make a detailed profile of your target market and ideal buyer.
Picking a niche could come in handy too; deciding on your particular focus or specialty within your market will help you stand out amongst the competition.
For example, rather than selling generic t-shirts, you could focus on making t-shirts geared towards fans of particular sports teams, TV series aficionados, or matching t-shirts for enamored couples.
Having a niche will also make it easier to:
- Decide on what kinds of designs you want to include in your shop
- Determine if you’ll make the designs yourself or outsource them to professionals
- Pick the best-suited print on demand service
Step 2. Brand your business
Branding is essential for your success in the world of print on demand.
And although it’s much harder to brand a print on demand business, you should still figure out:
- How you can stand out. What’s the main reason you’re better than the competition? Understand how you can position yourself within the market. Maybe your product has a feature others don’t have?
- The voice of your business. What’s the personality of your business like? You want to appeal to your target audience, not annoy them by having the wrong voice and tone that’d put them off from buying.
- How your business looks. Put together an amazing logo, pick a few simple fonts that work well together, and choose a color palette that would appeal to your target audience.
Don’t forget, as with any new business, you will also have to take care of the formal business registration with your local authorities.
Step 3. Pour all your energy into the designs
It’s time to get creative and come up with the designs for your print on demand products.
You have two ways to go about doing this:
- Do it yourself. Think you can handle coming up with the designs that fit your niche and that will sell? Think creatively, capitalize on new trends, and appeal to your target market.
- Pay someone else to do it. Not everyone will feel comfortable with designing. No judgment here. You can either collaborate with a designer you already know or find a freelancer through creative agencies. You can also give online job ad boards such as Upwork and Fiverr a go.
No matter which way you go, the first version of any design probably won’t be good enough.
If you opt to create the designs yourself, make sure to run them by friends and family to get feedback and make changes.
If you have hired a professional, you will need to go through several rounds of edits to make the necessary adjustments.
And don’t forget to check if the designer has any rights reserved when it comes to the finished product. You wouldn’t want to infringe them and face a potential lawsuit.
Step 4. Set up your eCommerce store
Next, it’s time to pick your eCommerce platform and put your online store together.
And as for your eCommerce store, look for a platform that makes it easy for you to get going right away.
It needs to provide you with:
- A domain. The web address of your business shouldn’t be too long or hard to remember.
- Web hosting. You need somewhere to store your website and all the related files.
- An online website creator. Unless you can code yourself, a builder tool will save you time and headache.
- eCommerce functionality. This refers to the shopping cart and payment features that you’ll need for selling your print on demand products online.
Step 5. Pick your print on demand company and order samples
You should let your niche and business focus determine which print on demand supplier is the best fit for you.
Pay attention to things like shipping costs, available products, and customer service. You want to work with a partner that is there for you if you need help.
If you’re looking to feature more custom products in your store (say, speakers and watches), a print on demand company offering only apparel obviously won’t cut it.
Once you’re convinced of your supplier, order some samples of your products.
After your samples have reached you, inspect the products thoroughly, and note down any faults. Your samples can be used in product photography for superb product listings in your store.
It’s also good to get first-hand experience in the shipping process.
Some print on demand suppliers also offer impressive mockup tools that let you see how your design will look on the products without having to wait for the order to arrive.
Step 6. Run awesome marketing campaigns
Now that you have your store and your print on demand supplier ready, it’s time to start driving traffic to your eCommerce store.
There are lots of ways to market your on demand print store, but some work better for eCommerce than others.
- Have a strong content marketing strategy. Write good-quality blog posts about your niche and optimize your eCommerce store for search engines. It will take a while to pick up speed, but content marketing can be done very cheaply and with outstanding results too.
- Pay for ad space. Pop up at the top of Google’s search results and all across Facebook and Instagram by paying for ad space. This, naturally, requires some money to be invested up-front, but the best print shops all do it – don’t get left behind.
- Build a social media presence. Similar to content marketing, you can create a buzz by running active social media accounts. Creating an account is free, but you will have to be strategic with your posts and engage with your audience, or even provide them with customer support via Facebook and Instagram. Anything goes.
Whichever approach you choose, stay at it when you sell products online.
The world of digital marketing changes constantly and you’ll want to be the first to hear about any new marketing tips that could help propel your printing business forward.
Step 7. It’s sale o’clock
You’ve made your first sale – congratulations!
It’s an achievement worth celebrating and should act as a little motivator for you to keep up the good work.
The order will now be relayed to your print on demand partner, who will print your design on the ordered product, package it, and ship it to the customer.
Don’t forget to get feedback on the order process from your customers. You want to make sure that any issues are dealt with immediately, or you’ll risk getting bad reviews and tarnishing the reputation of your business.
Best print on demand companies: 9 options
You should now have a firm idea of how print on demand eCommerce works, but one thing remains – choosing a print on demand partner.
Depending on your product and your printing needs, one company might be better suited than some other one. For example, if you want to sell children’s books, a supplier specializing in clothing will not be the right choice.
To help you decide what’s the best partner for your store, here are 9 print on demand companies that you can choose from.
Printful is probably one of the biggest print on demand companies around.
The brand boasts a wide selection of different products (almost anything from clothing to phone cases) and offers worldwide shipping. And, with print houses in both the US and Europe, Printful is able to keep their shipping costs low as well.
The company isn’t only widely integrated with many eCommerce platforms, but it also offers various printing services such as direct-to-product, cut and sew, and even embroidery.
While the platform itself is free to use, you can customize your labels and packaging for an additional fee.
Printful is a great partner for:
- Absolute eCommerce beginners
- Anyone looking for a simplified and automated print on demand supplier
- Entrepreneurs that want a large and reliable partner
What sets Printify apart is its wide supplier network.
This helps the platform keep their prices low and their selection varied. You won’t find print on demand shower curtains too often – what an opportunity!
Shipping times and costs are calculated based on the location of the supplier, so if you do your research, you’re bound to find some real gems.
The platform itself is free to use and offers a premium subscription with discounted prices for products.
Overall, Printify is particularly good for:
- Anyone looking to scale up their business later
- Anyone keen on trying lots of different products
- Those who want to access as many suppliers as possible
Looking to sell self-published books?
Lulu Express is the go-to print on demand company for all aspiring authors and anyone else wanting to publish their work in print format.
Print on demand books suit many niches, even if your online shop’s main products aren’t related to literature. For example, if you run a cooking shop, you could create an annual recipe book based on the top recipes you’ve published on your shop’s blog.
Lulu Express offers discounts for bulk purchases and has various printing and binding options to choose from.
The platform also boasts a wide selection of print products like books and calendars, and competitive shipping costs and shipping locations.
Lulu Express is a great printing partner for:
- Authors and writers
- Illustrators and photographers
- Educators and teachers
Want to position yourself as the eCommerce store with faster-than-lighting shipping? Look into partnering with SPOD.
SPOD’s main promise is to have all products printed and on their way to customers from the US warehouses within 48 hours.
This means that if you’re planning on having a slice of the American market, SPOD could be a strong contender to help you keep your customers happy.
The product selection is not as wide as on a few of the other print on demand platforms, but the high quality of the products makes up for it.
The platform comes with a handy product designer tool, too.
Pick SPOD, if:
- Fast shipping is a must for a competitive edge in your niche
- Your eCommerce store focuses on quality over quantity
- You’re primarily serving US customers
Good news for all the European eCommerce shop owners: T-Pop has your clothing and accessory needs covered.
The print on demand company has a couple of unique selling points to their services. Not only do they offer a 100% automated service, but they have competitive shipping costs and a variety of branding options too.
So, if you’re concerned about the unboxing experience, T-Pop might be the perfect partner for you.
Or, if you’re building an environmentally friendly brand, you’ll be happy to know that T-Pop has a zero-plastic packaging policy.
And, they source their product suppliers from ethical manufacturers whenever possible.
Sell online with T-Pop, if you:
- Are aiming to build a climate-conscious brand
- Think that product packaging is very important
- Have a lot of European customers
Did you think that all print on demand businesses only do hoodies and mugs?
It’s one of those print on demand companies that has quite the niche within the industry itself. Anyone setting up an online watch shop will probably go for JetPrint.
Boasting a selection of different straps, designs, clock faces, and colors, the platform automatically generates multiple product photos for you.
All orders are covered by the simplified international shipping options (free and express), meaning that you can pamper your customers with no additional fees.
JetPrint is the best print on demand supplier for you, if:
- You’re already selling watches on your eCommerce store
- You’re wanting to run an online watch shop
- You want to try new products
Is your product going to need a big canvas? Big enough to cover a whole shirt or a pair of leggings?
AOP+ specializes in all-over-print products. You’ll only need to upload your design and select the product you want.
Printing everything in their own factory, you won’t have to worry about third-party printing quality, either.
You can get started for free, but the company also offers a paid membership with perks like discounts and more customization options.
Sell online with AOP+ as your printing partner, if:
- You scoff at small logos on t-shirts
- Your niche focuses on prints that cover the whole product
- You need to get started fast
Teeleaunch has based their print on demand services around (you guessed it) t-shirts.
And they clearly know what they’re doing, since their high-quality mockup tool gets praised frequently among print on demand shop owner chasing the best profit margins.
But don’t be fooled.
Teelaunch offers much more than mere t-shirts; choose from backpacks to speakers, and from plates to power banks.
The brand doesn’t offer that many different printing options (you can only choose from direct-to-product or cut and sew), but you can get laser etching for travel mugs and chopping boards.
Check out Teelaunch, if:
- You want to use mockups rather than sample photos in your eCommerce product listings
- You need a partner with an easy-to-navigate platform
- You need help liaising with your customers
Are you looking for a print on demand partner with a substantial product catalog?
If you aren’t relying on a mockup tool for your eCommerce store’s listings, you should consider getting familiar with CustomCat.
While their services are aimed at online stores with bigger order volumes, you could find some interesting products like sports duffel bags and laptop cases in their catalog.
Consider joining their paid subscription plan, which gives you great discounts across the entire website.
Go with CustomCat, if:
- You need a partner with a big product catalog
- You want to do most of the product photography yourself
- Your eCommerce store gets in relatively big order volumes
Start your print on demand business the right way
It doesn’t matter whether your dream is to run an online marketplace for customized phone cases or have a t-shirt empire to your name.
With print on demand, you can start selling your dream products fast.
- Decide on your designs
- Pick the best partner for your needs
- Integrate your eCommerce store with the printing partner’s platform
- You’re ready to go live
Can you afford to not give it a shot?