What is Print on Demand?

Your Guide to Print on Demand

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Over the last couple of years, POD, or Print on Demand business solutions have grown increasingly popular among would-be business owners looking for a simple way to get online. With POD solutions, you can cultivate a fantastic income, while showcasing your creative nature.

Although there’s always an option for artistic individuals to set up their own shops and manufacture their creations from scratch, this is often too expensive for many beginners. That’s where print on demand services, or “POD” solutions come in handy.

Much like a dropshipping company, a print on demand business hands many of the headaches of running a venture over to a third party. With the right digital printing support, and a list of unique products, you can build a lucrative brand online.

If you want to create a startup company which sells a number of different products, or you’re a graphic designer looking to add your custom designs to items, POD could be for you.

What is Print on Demand?

Print on Demand is a process similar to dropshipping, which involves working hand-in-hand with a supplier of white-label products. Your supplier not only gives you a wide range of potential products to choose from for your store, but they also allow you to customize those items with a range of “print” and other methods.

For instance, with Print on Demand, you can add a custom piece of art to a T-shirt, blanket, baseball hat, or something else entirely. With print on demand, otherwise known as “POD”, you can produce a range of high-quality products with unique features, so you’re not simply selling the same items as everyone else. This gives you an edge over other sellers in the dropshipping market.

Similar to dropshipping, you don’t pay for the cost of the product until you’ve actually made a sale. You don’t need to buy custom products in bulk or hold inventory yourself. This means entrepreneurs can keep the initial costs of running their business as low as possible.

What’s more, with POD, you also access the same dropshipping services to handle everything after the sale, from order fulfillment and packaging, to shipping items to your customer. You may, however, be responsible for liaising with your print provider on behalf of customers if anything goes wrong with an order.

The POD industry has grown by around 12% in the last four years, and 45% of POD store owners have seen a massive surge in sales since the pandemic. For those with a creative mindset, print-on-demand services offer a fantastic way to bypass the time, investment, and various risks associated with creating and shipping your own custom products.

Where Did Print on Demand Come From?

The art of printing and customizing textiles is nothing new – it’s been around for several centuries. In fact, there are some examples of printing techniques which exist from before the year 220. In the 12th century, Europe started discovering the benefits of printing custom demands onto materials.

Of course, print on demand as a solution for startup companies is a much newer concept. Since the 1960s, as new methods of printing for customer orders have become faster and more affordable, printing solutions have grown more available to the general public.

Today, there are various ways for a graphic designer or artist to add their designs to different products without spending a fortune on complex tools. For instance, there are specialist machines for everything from screen printing to direct-to-garment printing or digital printing.

You can add your own designs to quality products using machines which can handle embroidery on your behalf, or experiment with things like carving, if you’re working with harder materials. As new printing options emerge, the solutions for print on demand startups are growing every day.

How Does Print on Demand Work?

The print on demand industry is quickly accelerating to become one of the most reliable ways for creative professionals to start their own business. You can design everything from backpacks, or your own t-shirt business, without having to spend a fortune on professional machines or experts to design your items for you. 

The print on demand industry is quickly accelerating to become one of the most reliable ways for creative professionals to start their own business. You can design everything from backpacks, or your own t-shirt business, without having to spend a fortune on professional machines or experts to design your items for you. 

With minimal upfront costs, you can add your own designs to a host of great products. 

An print on demand service is part of a go-to-market strategy where creative individuals work with suppliers to create and customize white-label products. This could include everything from hoodies, to stickers, custom t-shirts and so much more.

This means that unlike building a store on Etsy, eBay, or Amazon, you only pay for the product after you’ve sold it. There’s no need to bulk-buy your inventory and store it yourself with a POD service.

Print on demand products are heavily managed by the supplier. Once you’ve earned your purchase, all it takes is a couple of clicks to fulfill an order and get it sent to your chosen customer. With print on demand services, you can:

  • Monetize an audience you’ve developed for your artwork. If you’re an artist, designer, or even an online influencer, you can use this service to create amazing products.
  • Print one-off items with ease: You can print virtually anything you like with a POD service, or even use the solution to create items for members of your team.
  • Test your business idea: If you have a desire to launch your own fashion or art business, a print on demand service gives you a chance to validate your plan before spending too much money.

The POD Process

The process for leveraging a print on demand solution is usually very straight forward. To begin with, you’ll need to decide which products you want to sell, and where you want to sell them. For instance, with POD, you can get involved with an online marketplace, like Redbubble, where you can create your POD products and list them alongside a range of other artists.

A marketplace allows you to access a wider range of potential customers, but you won’t have the same branding you’d get with building your own ecommerce store. If you want to build your own website to sell merch and other product designs from, you’ll need to choose a store building tool which can integrate with a POD solution.

Offerings like Shopify, Bigcommerce and WooCommerce are usually a good bet when you want to integrate a POD fulfillment process directly with your store. Once you have your store or marketplace, you’ll need to:

  • Design your POD products: You can even create designs yourself, using your own artistic skills, use the designs already available from a POD vendor, or consider working with freelancers. There are tons of designers out there who can offer affordable designs for your website, created specially for you.
  • Find a POD service: POD services are the state-of-the-art solutions which allow you to connect with POD manufacturers and retailers. These tools can give you a range of products to choose from to add your product designs too. You can even see what your items are going to look like using a mock-up generator.
  • Make mock-ups: Making your mock-ups will allow you to create a range of beautiful product images to show to your target audience either through your own website or the marketplace you choose to access. You will need to advertise your designs yourself in most cases, just as you would with any online business.
  • Choose pricing: You’ll be responsible for choosing the price of your product in most cases. You’ll need to consider the profit margins available based on how much you need to pay to make a new product with your printing services. When POD companies offer a range of products, the price you pay for each product can vary.
  • Accept customer orders: Your customers should be able place orders for your phone cases, hoodies, and other on-demand printing products on your website. If you have your integrated POD solution in place, this order will go straight to the print provider, so they can start working on the order. If you’re using a marketplace, the order goes to the printing partner associated with that marketplace. 

Once you accept your customer orders, the work of prepping and fulfilling those orders is passed onto your POD solution provider. You don’t have to create or package anything yourself. Instead, the provider handles everything from printing your new solution, to making sure it gets to your customers in the packaging you choose.

Print on Demand Pros and Cons

Using POD as the crux of your eCommerce business can be a powerful way to build opportunities based on the popular dropshipping mode. When all of your items are handled by a third-party, you can increase your profit margins and reduce your total costs.

Print on demand is also one of the most accessible ways for smaller companies to start an online store. However, it’s not going to be the right solution for everyone. Here are some of the pros and cons to consider.

Pros 👍

  • Create new products quickly and increase your profit potential
  • Spend less time on order fulfilment and more time on product development
  • Reduced investment means lower risk and more opportunities
  • No inventory headaches to worry about
  • Endless opportunities to grow with additional products
  • Access everything from mockups to suppliers online
  • Freedom to focus on what you do best, and let someone else handle the rest
  • Access the best printing technology to improve the quality of your items

What Are the Best Print on Demand Services?

If you decide that adding POD to your ecommerce platform is the best way to build your business, then you’ll need to start searching for the right solution. Just as you examined things like WordPress and Shopify for your original website, you’ll also need to evaluate the pros and cons of different POD services.

Remember, it’s important to exercise plenty of due diligence when deciding which platform is right for you. Going for the cheapest provider might seem like a good idea at first, but it’s no good if the shipping times and quality is so low that you’re going to end up losing customers. To help you jump in with confidence, here are some of the leading tools on the market.

1. Printful

printful homepage - what is print on demand

Printful is one of the leading print on demand apps in the Shopify App Store. This solution is a great choice for your business model because it has a wide selection of brands and products to offer. Additionally, you can tap into easy-to-use mockup generation tools, and various options for making your brand stand out through package inserts and notes.

For garment-based products in particular, Printful is extremely versatile. It offers everything from direct to garment printing, to cut and sew technology, and embroidery. The options that you choose will depend on the kind of effect you want to give your customers. For instance, Cut and sew gives you a more complete all-over print, while embroidery provides a textured effect.

One thing to keep in mind when choosing products to sell with Printful, is that additional customizations to your items can sometimes ramp up the price.

Aside from clothing, Printful can also offer a range of other options, like:

  • Framed artwork
  • Pillows
  • Bugs
  • Towels
  • Aprons

💰 Pricing: Signing up with Printful is free, with no subscription costs to worry about. However, you will need to pay for the cost of every product that you want to send to your customer, and the shipping.

Best for: Printful is an excellent tool to add to your existing store, as it integrates with WooCommerce, Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix, and many other store builders. It’s also an excellent choice if you’re looking for a flexible way to take your products to market.

2. Printify

Printify is a print on demand service that features everything you would expect from this category of go-to-market products. You get things like shirts, hoodies, and even phone cases.

What really makes Printify stand out for most business leaders is that they have a fantastic vendor network that allows you to access other forms of white label products that you can’t find elsewhere. For instance, you may be able to create your own clocks, shoes, and even jewelry. There are more than 200 items available for customization.

This POD platform makes it notoriously easy to build a powerful store on the web, Nowhere else can you find the same opportunities for selling unique products online. Items include:

  • Jewelry
  • Socks
  • Home accessories
  • Phone cases
  • Bags
  • Water bottles

Printing options for apparel items run the gamut with Printify too. You can choose embroidery, sublimation, direct to garment printing, and cut and sew.

💰 Pricing: Although it is free to use Printify, you can access a discount of 20% off all products if you choose to acquire the premium subscription for $29 per month. Using this option can be helpful if you want to boost your profit margins.

Best for: Printify offers one of the largest ranges of any print on demand provider, making it an excellent choice for those who want to let their creativity reign.

3. Lulu Xpress

Lulu Xpress is a popular self-publishing tool, designed to help you design and distribute the creative products that appeal to your target audience. This service is unique in that it focuses very heavily on book creation. You can’t choose a wide selection of products, but you can choose from different styles for your book.

There are different book sizes available, as well as distinct binding types, and print/page quality solutions to help you build the perfect book product. Although there isn’t any built-in editor for designing your book, Lulu Xpress does give you a range of downloadable templates to help you begin.

There’s also a transparent pricing calculator that will help you to figure out exactly how much your project is going to cost. Here, you can even check things like shipping. If you order in bulk, then the prices reduce significantly.

💰 Pricing: Like with most print on demand companies, Lulu Xpress charges you for the kind of items that you buy, and the shipping costs involved in getting your books to other people around the world. The transparent pricing calculator will help you plan your expenses.

Best for: People who want to publish their own books, graphic novels, and other creative literary works. This company focuses exclusively on books, so it’s not ideal if you’re looking to start a fashion brand.

4. Gooten

Gooten is one of the more popular print on demand solutions on the market today for a reason. Just like Printful, this company offers businesses a range of products to customize and transform to suit their brand personality. There are even several items in the Gooten list that are unique to the catalogue, like dog beds.

Gooten uses an international network of vendors for printing products, which does mean that there are some variances in the quality and shipping speeds that you get. However, because there’s such a wide selection of printers, you can rest assured that your prices remain relatively low.

Another big bonus of Gooten is that it can integrate with major platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Shopify. Regardless of how you choose to build your business, Gooten can help you to make some serious progress.

Gooten has an intuitive image editor that gives you an excellent sense of what your product is going to look like too, with the option to choose from things like:

  • Journals and notebooks
  • Tote bags
  • Holiday décor
  • Home accessories
  • Prints and canvasses
  • Apparel and kids clothing

💰 Pricing: Gooten’s prices are often quite low thanks to the vast network of international creators and suppliers that you have access to. There’s no cost for signing up to this environment either, which helps to reduce your overall spend.

Best for: Gooten is best for people who want a wide range of products that they can’t find anywhere else. Additionally, you can add your Gooten solution to a range of existing services that you’re using for ecommerce, like Amazon and eBay.

Starting a Print on Demand Business: Top Tips

Now that you have an insight into some of the best print on demand services, we can start to look at the steps you should take to create your business. There’s more to Print on Demand than choosing the right supplier for offset printing or overcoming the stress of warehousing.

You’ll need to think about everything from what kind of ecommerce platform you’re going to use, to which niches you’re going to look at. Here are some top tips to help you get started.

1. Find the Right Niche

As you explore the selection of print on demand sites available online today, you’ll discover that there are many great ways to build a business in this environment. A lot of people choose to focus on things like clothes and apparel. However, you can also explore things like book printing and artwork for the home too. Before you can choose the products that work for you, you need to think about your niche.

In other words, who are you going to be trying to sell to with this company? Do you want to develop merchandise for a pre-existing audience – like the fans of your YouTube show? If so, then you can create items that are distinct to your brand. On the other hand, if you’re focusing on eco-friendly people, then you might want to choose a print on demand company that can provide the most environmentally-friendly printing options.

If you’re not sure which niche is right for you, start by looking at Google Trends. This is a great way to find out what people are talking about in your community. You can also join various forums online to find out what kind of industries are seeing the most growth.

Once you’ve chosen a niche that seems right for you, exploring everything from social media, to the best sellers online for inspiration, you can choose the products that fit that niche. Remember, the print on demand service that you choose will dictate what kind of products you can access. Most providers include things like clothing, mugs, accessories, and home décor.

2. Choose Your Ecommerce Platform

When you enter the world of print on demand, you’ll learn that there are two different go-to-market strategies to choose from. The first option is POD marketplaces, and the second is Print on Demand fulfillment services. Fulfilment services are the ones that allow you to develop your own brand and build your company with freedom, like Printful, Printify, and Gooten.

On the other hand, marketplaces handle the front and backend of your business processes. Companies like Zazzle and Redbubble allow you to sell your own products, but they don’t give you much room for brand growth, as you won’t have your own website.

Sticking with fulfilment services is the best way to make your business as scalable as possible. However, you will need to build your own website to bring this strategy to life. The best option here is usually to go with an ecommerce platform that’s known for being successful for print on demand businesses. For instance, Shopify is one of the top choices.

Shopify is an excellent ecommerce platform for POD business owners because it already integrates with many of the leading services that you need, like Printify and Printful. You can find extensions on the app store that you can automatically add into your website in no time!

Additionally, Shopify offers multiple ways for brands to grow, through excellent marketing and landing page tools, as well as various customization options for your website. You can take payments through a range of strategies, and watch your business grow rapidly over the years.

Although there are other options out there, like WooCommerce and BigCommerce, Shopify will give you the most freedom to jump into your print on demand strategy as quickly as possible.

3. Find the Best Mockups

Quality assurance is one of the most important steps in building a fantastic print on demand business. Whether you’re selling leggings or hoodies, the best store owners know that they have to deliver quality of they want their customers to keep coming back.

Mockup generators are excellent for this process. They allow you to see what your designs are going to look like in real life, so you can make sure that they work before you send them to your customers. For instance, tools like Placeit and GraphiRiver are excellent for developing mockups. You can use these tools to place your creations on a range of different items, to see how they look before you send them to your print on demand company suppliers.

Remember, you’ll want to ensure that your physical products look and feel just as you intend. The best way to do this is to step into the shoes of your customer and see what you can expect. It might even be worth it to buy some of your own products after you’ve developed your mockups, so you can see first-hand what the items will look like.

Creating your own mockups on a service like GraphiRiver and Placeit also means that you can create highly professional looking images to place on your store product pages. This can make it a lot easier for you to attract customers and show them what to expect from your brand.

4. Decide on your Shipping Strategy

With print on demand companies, order fulfilment is managed by the suppliers that you work with through your POD system. However, you still need to make sure that you have a good shipping strategy in mind. Most publishing companies and creators will offer you different kinds of shipping depending on how much you want to pay.

Remember, you need to account for printing times when it comes to buying shipping options. Whatever the shipping times are, you’ll need to add a few days for production, even if your customers are only ordering small quantities.

When checking to see if your suppliers offer things like limited print runs and a great price, so that you can make the most profit on your retail price, examine their shipping solutions carefully. You may also want to look into customer support and find out what you need to do if a customer doesn’t receive an order for any reason.

While it’s sometimes tempting to go for the cheapest shipping solution, things like fast and free shipping are more likely to appeal to your target audience and give you a wider selection of people to sell to. Try strategies like:

  • Expedited shipping: The option for your customers to pay a little extra if they want to get their items as quickly as possible.
  • Free shipping: Free shipping is a great way to push your customers away from the fence when they’re not sure whether to buy from you.
  • Conditional free shipping, like free shipping when your customer spends a certain amount, can encourage clients to add more to their baskets than they originally intended.
  • Free shipping with longer wait times: Let your customers know that they can have free shipping if they’re willing to wait longer for their items.

Whatever you choose, make sure that you outline what your customers can expect when they buy from you on your product pages and terms and conditions area of your website. You could even create a “frequently asked questions” section.

5. Figure Out Your Returns System

Hopefully, most of your customers will be over the moon with the items that you send them. However, in the world of print on demand companies, there’s always a chance that you could end up with some returns to handle. This is often the case if your customers find that their items don’t fit, or they’re not printed according to their expectations.

Using tools for mockups to ensure that your items look as good as you intend can help to reduce your risk of handling too many returns. However, you’ll still need to make sure that you have a strategy in place for handling returns if necessary.

In some cases, if the problem is with the quality of the print, then you might be able to reach out to the person or company that managed your printing for you. They can sometimes give you a refund if you feel that the item isn’t up to standards.

However, if your customer decides that they just don’t want the item anymore, then you might need to absorb the cost of it yourself. This could mean finding a way to sell off the items that you end up having “in stock” through other things, like Facebook pages, or eBay.

Make sure that you know exactly what you’re going to do about returns in advance, so you’re not left holding a massive bill.

6. Promote your Store

Finally, once you’ve got all the nitty gritty aspects of your Print on Demand store figured out, you can begin to promote it. This means finding ways to advertise your goods, just as you would with any other ecommerce venture.

You might decide that you’re going to set up several social media accounts, so that you can connect with your target niche wherever they hang out most frequently. For many creative companies, Instagram, Pinterest, and other visually-focused platforms are often a good idea. Remember, there are multiple ways to spread the word using social media, including:

  • Joining groups and posting regularly to keep yourself at the top of the feed
  • Creating relevant hashtags for your store and products and encouraging your clients to use them whenever they’re posting pictures of themselves using your products.
  • Using influencer marketing: Sending free versions of your products to influencers is an excellent way to get valuable people talking about what you have to sell.
  • Using paid marketing: Paid ads on platforms like Instagram and Facebook can ramp up your promotional methods. You can even use tools like Facebook audiences to make sure that you’re targeting the right people.

There are also dozens of other ways that you can promote your store outside of social media. Joining community forums on locations like Reddit is a good way to get started. There’s also PPC ads where you can pay to rank on the search engines for your chosen keywords.

Some companies even find that implementing content marketing strategies and using a blog to attract customers is one of the best ways to generate the most organic traffic over time. If you can attract people to your ecommerce website with valuable content, you could even get them to sign up for an email marketing newsletter. This could return one-off customers into repeat sales.

Print on Demand: Finishing Thoughts

Print on demand is one of the best ways for creative people to launch their own ecommerce experience in today’s fast-paced market. With this strategy, you can leave order fulfillment and shipping to the pros, and focus on what you do best – designing amazing products that capture the hearts and minds of your audience.

Just remember, succeeding in the print on demand world means creating a reliable sales plan, deciding which niche you’re going to sell to, and even finding the right print on demand service to support you.

It takes time and planning, but if you’re willing to commit, you could have a valuable, profitable store, with a lower total cost of ownership in no time.

Rebekah Carter

Rebekah Carter is an experienced content creator, news reporter, and blogger specializing in marketing, business development, and technology. Her expertise covers everything from artificial intelligence to email marketing software and extended reality devices. When she’s not writing, Rebekah spends most of her time reading, exploring the great outdoors, and gaming.