Print On Demand (commonly called POD) is one of the hottest e-commerce opportunities right now. It’s booming market that allows anyone, from individuals to large brands, to create custom products for their customers.
The advantage to someone as an entrepreneur or creative person is that you can use Print On Demand to create personalized products that people will love. All you need to understand is what your audience is passionate about, and then design for them. This uniquely custom approach to designing products on demand allows you to compete with bigger brands by being more personal to a specific audience.
The advantage to the brand or company is that you can use Print On Demand to create customized products for your customers that open up new revenue opportunities and strengthen your branding. For example, if you have a brand selling pet products, adding t-shirts with designs for pet lovers is an easy way to start making more sales online.
One of the great things about Print On Demand is that you can test unlimited ideas with almost no risk. And now with the technology to print on popular items like shirts and canvases, and have them shipped around the world to customers with no up front cost to you, this is one of the best ways to make sales online.
In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look into the different parts of Print On Demand as a business.
What is Print On Demand?
Let’s start with the definition. Print On Demand is the custom printing of designs onto blank products on a per order basis.
The type of products that you sell is based on your fulfillment partner. There are companies that offer products ranging in hundreds of categories. Apparel, accessories, wall art, home goods, and stationary are some of the main ones. But you can find a printing partner for almost anything these days.
Your job as the seller is to get designs made and build an online store with something like Shopify or WooCommerce. Once you have that, your fulfillment partner(s) will provide an online app that you can use to upload designs to products. You upload your design, and then the app creates a mockup for you to use as a product on your store.
When somebody buys your product, the fulfillment partner will automatically use your design to print on the product, and then ship it to your customer. The customer pays you, you pay a portion to the fulfillment partner.
This type of on-demand printing ensures you are always able to offer a variety of sizes, colors, and styles. And since your fulfillment partner is the one carrying inventory of all the products, you don’t have to carry any inventory. Which reduces the risk of traditional custom products, because you never have to order inventory up front.
What is Dropshipping?
A lot of people who search for Print On Demand also search for Dropshipping. So let’s clarify the difference…
Print On Demand is actually a form of dropshipping. It’s a more specialized way to dropship products. Because dropshipping just refers to a business model of selling.
When you dropship products, it means that you are not the one creating the product. You find wholesale products produced by a 3rd party supplier, and then you offer them for sale as part of your store with a markup for profit. The customer pays you, you pay the supplier, the supplier ships your order to the customer, and you keep the profits.
With Print On Demand, the only difference is that your design is being printed on the products first. That’s what makes your products unique in the market is the design that you use.
So your supplier is your fulfillment partner, like Merch Hero, and they will offer you a range of products you can access for wholesale cost. Like a blank hoodie at the price of $14 + shipping. Then you upload your design of a Pitbull to that blank hoodie, and upload that product to your store for the retail price of $40 + shipping.
Now when someone orders that hoodie, you pay the fulfillment partner the wholesale cost of the hoodie, while keeping the profits. Then your fulfillment partner prints your design on the hoodie and ships it to your customers.
No Inventory Risk With Print On Demand
Customized products are not a new way of making money. But Print On Demand has revolutionized things by making it possible to offer a range of custom printed products without ever touching any inventory or investing any money up front.
This creates a low barrier to entry. Anyone can get started with Print On Demand. All you need is design ideas, a store to host your products, and a fulfillment partner to print your products.
In a traditional business, managing inventory means carrying large quantities of each product. This is one of the most challenging parts of a business, and something even veterans can get wrong by ordering too much inventory of the wrong item. It happens in the fashion industry all the time.
But with the avenue of social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, you can actually build an online store and make large amounts of sales without ever needing a retail store. In fact, many retail stores are dying because the inventory model is so cash intensive, when more people are simply ordering online these days.
Print On Demand has made the apparel and home goods business accessible to anyone with some creative ideas.
The Print On Demand Process
There are a few steps involved in setting up a successful Print On Demand store, or creating a Print On Demand channel for your brand. Let’s look at the different things you need to know.
Find Your Fulfillment Partner
Your fulfillment partner is your wholesale supplier. But they do more than just offer you products, they will also print your designs on those products when you have an order, and ship them to your customers. So not only do they handle the supplying of the items, they handle the fulfillment of the orders.
This makes your fulfillment partner one of the most important parts of your entire business. That’s why we call it a “partner”, because you will have to rely on them just like you would a partner.
If you have an order that doesn’t get shipped, then your customer will come to you. If you have an order that gets shipped wrong, then your customer will come to you. The customer will take any blame or refunds against your store, not the fulfillment partner. So make sure you choose the right one.
Things you need to consider when looking for the right fulfillment partner:
- Range of products they offer
- Price of those products with printing included
- Shipping price for those products
- Shipping time to different regions of the world
- Print quality
- Customer service and support
- User experience of their app
- Quality of their product mockups
One really important thing to consider is where you want to sell your items. Because with social media and online store capabilities, it’s easy to sell items to customers all around the world. But not every fulfillment partner offers the same type of worldwide shipping.
Many printing companies are located either in the US or in China. They have one central location that will print and ship items. So for example, if you sell worldwide but you use a printing partner that is based in the US, then shipping to customers in Europe will be longer and more expensive.
Some companies like Merch Hero offer multiple printing partners in different regions of the world. Europe and the US being the biggest. So if someone orders in the US, it’s shipped from the US. If someone orders in Europe, it’s shipped from Europe. Making shipping costs and time normalized for your customers.
Also, it’s a good idea to order a few test products before going live to customers. This will let you see exactly what the delivery process is like, and the quality of the items.
Decide The Products You Want To Sell
Apparel and accessories are the largest selling category of products online. In fact, t-shirts still reigns as one of the number one things purchased by people all around the world every year. So just about every fulfillment partner offers t-shirts, hoodies, and basic apparel items.
Other apparel items that are becoming available now include All Over Print, which is where you can literally print all over the apparel. This applies to things like shirts, hoodies, and leggings. And some fulfillment partners even offer custom printing on sneakers and shoes, which is a really cool product to offer.
Accessories include things like phone cases, mugs, wallets, watches, and necklaces. These are really great things to offer as part of your brand, because major brands and stores don’t offer personalized items in these categories.
Then you have the rising category of home goods. This is becoming wildly popular and profitable. It includes printing on products such as canvas, towels, posters, pillow cases, and more.
You should research your market to decide what type of items are good to offer. Don’t start out by trying to offer everything, choose a core line of products to establish your POD brand first.
Get Your Designs Made
After you choose what types of products you want to sell, then it’s time to start getting your designs made. This part is all about understanding your audience, and what type of designs they resonate with best.
Some of the best selling designs for apparel and mugs are simple, text-based messages. Because the audience responds to the message with no fancy art needed.
Other niches like Veteran and Gamers love big designs. Some niches like are based on All Over Print designs that are abstract and colorful.
Whether you choose to make your own, outsource, or use your company’s existing brand, the important thing here is to make sure your designs are made to the correct specs for each product. This is information your printing partner should provide in their app.
Determine Your Profit Margin
This part is a balance between your base cost and acceptable market value for the completed product. You calculate your gross profit margin by taking your sale price minus your base cost. But that doesn’t account for advertising costs to acquire a customer.
So you want a profit margin that makes sense. But depending on your audience, you also might have limits to what you can charge. For example, the accepted cost of a t-shirt in America for a non-luxury brand is around $20. Charging more than that will be tough without some significant value adds in your branding or delivery.
But if you are doing something extremely unique, then you may be able to charge more.
Also, you can look to items like hoodies or canvas that offer higher profit margins. For example, the base cost of a hoodie is generally around $14-$19, but in America you can sell a hoodie for $40-$50.
Upload Products To Your Store
Once you have your designs made and know how much you want to charge, then it’s time to get your designs uploaded to your store as products. This process will be specific to the type of store platform you are using, and the type of app your fulfillment partner creates.
The basic process is that you will upload your design to the fulfillment app, and then the fulfillment app will create a mockup of your design on the product. You publish the completed mockup to your store with price and product description, and then you are ready to sell.
Orders and Shipping
You also want to check the shipping costs for your fulfilment partner(s). That way you can adjust your shipping costs accordingly for your store.
When a person makes an order, then the payment will be collected by your store. The order automatically syncs to your fulfillment partner’s app where you can confirm payment and track it’s status from pending to printing to shipped.
Most fulfillment partners provide you the tracking number once it’s shipped, which you can then sync to the customer’s order in your store so that your customer can track the shipping as well.
Types of Printing
There was a time when screen printing was the most economical way to print t-shirts. However, this was a complicated process that didn’t allow for custom items to be printed on demand. In order for screen printing to work, you needed to order a minimum order for the printer to create a screen and print your shirts. Plus you then needed to figure out which sizes and colors you wanted in advance, as well as type of shirt.
Now technology has made the process so much easier. There are a variety of print options available, based on the type of product and the printing partner you have.
Direct to Garment
Direct To Garment (DTG) printing is one of the most commonly used printing methods for online orders.
DTG prints your designs directly onto the garment with ink jet technology. It works so well for the on demand industry, because just like your printer at home, the printer can easily switch files to print as orders are made. And that printing technology has revolutionized the apparel industry.
Unlike screen printing, there is no minimum needed. And your design doesn’t cost any more to print with 30 colors than it does with one color. Your design prints directly to the garment’s fibers using specialty inks.
Technical considerations of DTG printing include:
- Batch size – Print On Demand orders are more cost-effective than large batches.
- Placement – DTG uses print areas. Your design has to stay within the print area.
- Print size – Single logos or designs in a set location work best.
- Colors – Make use of the ability to print unlimited colors.
- Creativity – DTG can print any type of design
Direct To Garment is the most popular type of items sold in online stores. It’s easy, fast, and the quality is really good as long as you’re using a fulfillment partner with industry size DTG machines.
Cut and Sew
Cut and Sew is a process of taking one large print over a big area, and then cutting smaller pre-designed shapes from that large print, and finally sewing them together into the desired garment.
This is a popular method for printing on leggings, as well as All Over Print on items like shirts and hoodies. Because the garment can’t just be run through a DTG machine to cover the entire print area evenly, so it has to be cut and sewed. With DTG printing, you are limited to a print area.
This printing process often used in this method is called Dye-Sublimation. Dye-Sub is a process of transferring ink to the garment through heat. So you can covered wide and uneven areas without messing up the design. Dye-Sub can also be used to print on plastic, card, and paper.
By using this process, you are able to completely cover the surface of a garment without worrying about irregular prints due to folds, wrinkles, or seems. The surface area of the item will absorb the ink uniformly.
The cost of printing this way is much more expensive than the wholesale cost for a typical shirt or hoodie, but the unique look of All Over Print means you can also charge higher prices too.
Technical considerations for Cut and Sew include:
- Print size – Best for patterns or full-bleed landscapes that completely cover a garment.
- Creativity – Humor and unique designs are best for all over print shirts.
- Placement – Exact placement, alignment, and wrap around design is not guaranteed.
Cut and Sew Dye-Sub printing is great for creating standout products that people can’t find anywhere else.
Embroidery printing is the process of machine sewing designs into garments. This has traditionally been popular for corporations as an option to get their logo embroidered onto company shirts. It’s also popular for printing on hats.
While not as commonly used on general Print On Demand items, it’s still a great option you can offer for uniquely traditional products on your store. But finding a fulfillment partner as a reasonable cost may be difficult, as there are only a few of these types of printers that will integrate with online stores.
Technical considerations for Embroidery:
- Design – Limit colors and design intricacy.
- Simplicity – Simple and sharp designs pop when embroidered.
- Detail – Avoid fine lines to ensure clarity from a distance.
Embroidered merchandise is still something more commonly found in the business world, but hats and jackets are items that could be unique selling opportunities.
Pros and Cons of Print On Demand
The possibilities for Print on Demand are endless. There are literally thousands of markets with hundreds of products that you could build a business around. And if you already have a business, then Print On Demand is a natural way to expand your products and create more sales opportunities.
But there are both pros and cons to Print On Demand. Here are some of them:
Pros of Print on Demand
The pros of Print On Demand merchandise center around ease, customization, and limitless options with no inventory risk to getting started or testing ideas.
Testing Products With No Risk
Selling products online can be largely subjective. Meaning it’s about what the market responds to, and often times difficult to predict. Especially as a newcomer. Print On Demand creates the opportunity to test product ideas without a lot of money or risk. Upload a test design, launch it, and see how it sells. If it’s not a hot item, the only loss is the time it took to design and launch the product.
No Inventory Risk
Whether the product is hit or miss, you never have to worry about inventory. This is huge advantage in two ways. First, because it means there is no upfront investment needed. You can create and sell products without ever touching the product. And second, because it means you can scale hot products without worrying about cash flow issues. Since you are getting paid in advance and the printer is printing one at a time, you can continue to scale without worries.
Starting On A Bootstrap Budget
Because there is no inventory to manage, there are no major expenses to purchase inventory and store it. This is a great way to start an online business with a bootstrap budget. Print On Demand allows a business owner to avoid any upfront purchase costs for products, printing, and shipping. So the anyone can do this, and any business can easily add this to their product offering.
Selling On Social Media
It used to be that in order to sell your designs or start a custom product company, you either needed to get into retail stores or do never-ending trunk shows to get seen and build brand awareness. Now with social media, it’s so easy to make sales online that the retail stores are actually dying a slow death.
With platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest you can create ads for your products that are visual and engaging. Then use the platform’s advertising options to show those ads to the exact audience you know would be interested. For example, showing a shirt about Dogs to people who love dogs.
With a hot product, the potential for scale is massive. There are many shirt campaigns that have done 6 or even 7 figures in a matter of months. Because you can reach millions of people around the world every day.
Cons of Print on Demand
There are not many cons to Print On Demand. But here are a few considerations.
The Designs Are Up To You
While it’s true that one design can potentially generate 6 or 7 figures in sales, it’s also true that a design can not produce any sales. In fact, the latter is often the case. This is based entirely upon the niche you choose, and the type of designs you get made. It takes time and testing to get good at selling Print On Demand items.
Smaller Profit Margins
When comparing Print On Demand to other e-commerce business models like Dropshipping, Private Labeling, or Subscriptions, the POD model often has lower margins. Some items like hoodies, canvas, and jewelry can offer better margins. But since most POD items follow a general trend of prices, there is only so much you can charge.
How To Get Started With Print On Demand
Like any online business, there are multiple steps involved to create success. With Print On Demand, you need to consider all of the following while getting started.
Your Online Store
A successful store is more than just a template, you need to create the feeling of a brand. A brand can be simple or complex, but it requires attention to the details. Your store should tell a story of brand, and your products should be unique and well displayed.
Essential pages for your store:
- Home Page- Tell the story of your brand, showcase your best products and achievements.
- About Page- Give your brand a personality, talk about the reason behind your store and products.
- Contact Page- Make it easy for people to contact you.
- Shipping and/or FAQs Page- Make it easy for people to understand the ordering and delivery process.
- Returns and Refunds- Always have a guarantee on your products.
- Legal Pages- Often comes standard with a store theme, but make sure you have them.
Branding to look like a real business:
- Have a professional logo
- Make your colors match throughout the store
- Professional looking header and footer
- Company address and phone number (use online virtual services)
- Give your brand a personality that shows through your words and images
Some other important things to consider when designing your store:
Page Load Speed
One of the key elements to a successful store is fast load speeds for your pages. People’s attention spans are shorter than ever. So it doesn’t matter how great your products are, or how nice your design is- if your page takes too long to load, people will leave.
That is called a “bounce”. And if your bounce rate is high, it means people are leaving your site within a few seconds.
Google PageSpeed Insights offers a great place to start in determining site load time. The faster the better, but anything over three seconds will usually get a buyer to bounce.
Color Theory Plays An Important Role In Branding
Detailed resources are available to guide a business in color theory for web design and suggest which colors influence the mind. The basic concept behind all color theory is to not offend the eye while still creating certain emotions that relate to your audience.
Clashing colors, aggressive color schemes, and/or poor contrast are the equivalent of a dirty grocery store floor. Customers are going to leave.
Great brands use color to build a subliminal feeling that viewers get when seeing the company logo or website. Building your Print On Demand store should use color to help create consumer confidence, urgency, and authority.
Have a Clear Call to Action
A Call To Action (CTA) is what gives a customer a push to do something. Buy Now! Free Download! Claim Your Coupon! – are all examples of a CTA.
For your Print On Demand store, the idea is to convert visitors into buyers. So every page, including and especially the product pages, should have very clear and enticing CTA’s to engage the customer in buying.
This includes what to write as your CTA on your product page cart button- some like “Add To Cart” and some like “Buy Now!”. You can split test different ideas to see which works best.
This also includes the above mention of color theory. The role of color in your buttons is important. You want to make your buttons stand out in contrast to the rest of your page, so people are more likely to click them.
Other ways to help create a Call To Action include urgency and scarcity. And most store platforms have apps of features you can use to add things to your product page like promotions, countdown timers, and discounts. This all plays a part in creating a reason for your visitors to buy now.
Establishing Your Store’s Brand
Great branding helps create loyalty to your Print On Demand store with the products you sell. Your niche might be sports teams, funny sayings, comical characters, or any of 1000 niche ideas. But your brand is what sets you apart and helps you get repeat purchases. Your brand not only defines the niche, but creates a personality within that niche.
To help build a strong brand, you should have a plan before starting your store. Know your mission statement, target audience, and color scheme. Because A successful brand is rarely stumbled upon by chance. Create strategically, remain purpose driven, and convey the mission through your products and ads.
Product Lines are Niches Too
Don’t try to sell everything, especially when you first launch your Print On Demand business. Choose a few cornerstone products to focus on. For example, selling shirts, printed hoodies, and hats.
Build your product line by testing new products with the same designs, or slowly add new designs across different products. Your designs are an asset in Print On Demand, and you can create an entire collection based around one good design that works on multiple products.
Identify your audience, know the niche and their language, and target the product line to fit your ideal customer.
Once you have customers, use their input to determine what new products to add. Happy customers are usually willing to participate in surveys or social media questions about what they want. Give them what they want and you will sell more items to them because they feel part of the process.
Marketing Plans for Success
Develop a marketing plan to get visitors in your niche (traffic) to your store. A good marketing plan identifies how to target new customers, drive traffic to the website, and convert that traffic into sales.
The essential parts to your marketing plan are:
- Market Research – See what your competitors are doing. What can you do better, or model?
- Niche Research – Understand your audience and know your ideal customer.
- Marketing Message – How will your brand stand out to attract people?
- Marketing Medium – Where can you best reach your ideal customer? (Facebook, Instagram, etc)
- Marketing Budget – How much can you spend per month, and what is the most effective way to use it?
- Marketing Resources – How will you create graphics, videos, ads, etc?
- Unique Value Proposition – What makes you different, and how can you show/tell people?
- Marketing Plan – Put it all together with goals and timelines for launching and growing
Take An Honest Look At Your Product
Figuring out what product to sell and why is the first step to launching a successful Print On Demand business. Doing this requires an honest and unbiased look at the product, its pricing, and all of the features and benefits.
It’s not about what you like, it’s about what the market will buy. Many hopeful sellers get caught in a trap of designing for their own bias, which is often a quick path to nowhere in e-commerce.
Look at competitors and other hot products, notice what’s working and what isn’t working. Get to know your audience, and then really look at your products and think about this:
- Is this product exciting to my audience?
- Will my audience feel a connection with this product?
- Are people going to enjoy owning this product?
If you cannot answer YES to all 3 questions, then you may need to rethink your designs.
Target Your Audience
Two key words you should understand when it comes to online marketing:
- Target – This is identifying interests, demographics, and behaviors you can use to identify your audience in advertising platforms, so you know who to show your ads to.
- Traffic – This is what marketers call visitors on your store or website. Traffic is people on your store.
So when we talk about targeting your audience, it means that you want to identify everything you can to understand your audience. That way you can buy ads on social media to get quality traffic to your store.
Without the right targeting, your product could be great but get shown to the wrong people. If you show an ad about Deer Hunting shirts to a Vegan, it doesn’t matter how great the ads are because it’s not the right audience. So you always need to make sure you do your research to show your ads to the right people.
Set S.M.A.R.T Goals
Launch your product with predetermined goals that are:
- Specific: The more details, the better when it comes to specific goals. Don’t say you want to sell a lot of hoodies; instead say you want to sell 300 hoodies. Make a plan for growth.
- Measurable: You should be able to see if you achieved your goal or not, and by what amount. If you sold 298 hoodies instead of 300, you missed your goal by 2.
- Attainable: Big goals are great, but set yourself up for success. If you have zero traffic and are brand new, then start with 30 sales in the next month rather than 300.
- Relevant: Goals can be a secondary part of the sales process, such as how many clicks do you get from an ad. As long as it is relevant to the process of the sale, it counts and is helpful.
- Timely: Specify a time frame to complete the goal which makes sense with where the business is at. Selling 300 hoodies is great, but how long do you expect that will take? Set timelines to check in on progress goal accomplishment.