You could decide you want to start a print on demand business by Monday, get your website up and running by Tuesday, and start making sales by the end of the week. In today’s article, we’re going to learn how you can start a print on demand business.
Print on demand is a low-risk simple way to start a hugely profitable business with no inventory. Whether you’re an artist, writer, designer, or entrepreneur, physical products can be a great way to monetize your creativity. You can put your own original spin on everyday products like t-shirts, posters, backpacks, books and sell them online.
However, if you go the traditional route of buying and holding your own inventory, you may be left with a pile of products that just aren’t selling. Print on demand services are an excellent way to avoid this problem. You won’t have to invest a ton of money on holding inventory, and it’ll save you time and dealing with logistics. Print on demand also allows you to start selling quickly and at a fraction of the cost.
Here are the things that we’ll be covering in this article.
- What is Print on Demand
- Pros and Cons of using Print on Demand
- Print on Demand Services
- Product Design and Sourcing Designers
- Expert Tips for Maximum Profitability
What is Print on Demand
Print on demand is a process where you work with a supplier to customize white-label products. White labeling is when a purchaser or a marketer uses its own branding rather than the manufacturer’s branding. But what makes print on demand so enticing is that you can sell the products on a preorder basis under your brand. That means you don’t have to pay for the product until after you’ve actually sold it. So there’s no need to buy in bulk or hold any inventory.
The nice thing about print on demand services is that everything after the sale is handled by your supplier, including everything from printing to shipping. We’re going to go over how to get all of this setup in detail, but once you make a sale, it’ll only take a few clicks to fulfill an order.
When to Use Print on Demand
Depending on your purpose, you can use print on demand services in a few different ways.
- Test a business idea
- Test a new product for an existing business
- Monetize an audience you’ve built
Printing on demand is also a great option if you’re an artist or an influencer, but you’d instead focus on doing what you love rather than fulfilling orders. It’s also a great business model to create original products for a niche of customers. For example, you can create apparel for people who are passionate about gaming.
Pros and Cons of Using Print on Demand
There are some Pros and Cons when it comes to print on demand. Print on demand sites can be used to build a business based on a drop shipping model where the products and shipping are all handled by a third party. It’s one of the most accessible ways to source products or start an online business. But you should know that there are perks and limitations before you dive in.
Print on demand is great for creating products quickly. Once you have the design, you can create the product and put it up for sale in minutes. This helps you be nimble, and it helps you capitalize on trends.
Another plus is shipping. Shipping and fulfillment are basically out of your hands. And it’s up to the supplier to take care of that. After the sale, you’re just responsible for customer service and marketing. Since you’re not physically carrying products, your cost to run your business will be lower.
And finally, there’s less risk involved. It’s easier to add or move products, test ideas, and pivot your approach.
Naturally, your cost per item will be higher than if you were to buy in bulk. On-demand products are known to have thinner profits. Depending on how you price them and how you acquire customers, making real money will require volume with print on demand.
You’ll have less control over your shipping costs, and your options may also be limited if you want to create a standout unboxing experience.
There are also limitations to customization. Your ability to customize products is going to depend on the vendor and the product. You’ll have to see what base costs are, what customization options are available, as well as printing techniques and size options when deciding on which product to customize.
Print on Demand Services
Now we’re going to jump into the services that I recommend. It might seem like all print on demand services are similar at first glance, but that’s actually not the case. You’re going to want to carefully consider who you go with based on the products you want to create, where you’ll be shipping to, the retail prices you’re going to offer are among other factors.
For example, you might be tempted to go with a company that has a low base cost for their products, but then you might realize that it takes 21 days for customers to get their orders. Do your research and make sure that you weigh out all the factors.
Here are some of the most popular services that all meet different needs. By the way, all of these services are free to set up, and you only pay when someone places an order for one of your products. And I should mention that they do integrate with Shopify.
Printful is a popular Shopify app because of its wide selection of products and brands to choose from. It allows you to mock up your designs quickly. You can add your own logos, stickers, custom notes, and inserts for a more customized unboxing experience.
For apparel products, in particular, printable offers some printing techniques. One of the more common techniques they have is direct to garment, which prints ink directly onto the material. This is good for simpler designs like slogan tees.
You can do a cut and sew, also known as that the all-over print. The article of clothing is printed on many pieces, and then it’s sewn together for seamless print across the entire piece. The base costs will be higher for this technique, but it also lets you create a more premium product at a higher price point.
Embroidery is perhaps the most complex printing technique because the final product is actually a threaded design with a 3D effect. This is best for simple designs that involve only a handful of colors and for products like hats that traditionally featured embroidered designs.
You should also be mindful of how additional customizations will affect the price. For example, printing on the sleeve will usually mean paying on top of the base costs. Besides, apparel printable also offers mugs, pillows, framed posters, beach towels, aprons, and more.
Lulu is a self-publishing print on demand service for books. With the Lulu xPress Shopify app, you can choose from a wide selection of books, sizes, binding types, and page quality for your readers. You can’t design your book within Lulu xPress, but they offer downloadable templates to get you started. It even has a transparent pricing calculator to help you cost out your project, including various shipping options. There are also discounts if you’d like to order in bulk.
Like Printful, Gooten is a Shopify app that offers a wide range of products you can customize. They have unique products like calendars, mugs, and dog beds. However, since Gooten uses an international network of vendors to print their products, there’s also a lot more variance between their quality and shipping items. But that also means that your product prices and shipping prices are lower as well. Gooten has an intuitive image editor that gives you a good sense of what your final product will look like.
Printify is another print on demand Shopify app that features the usual selection of tee shirts and hoodies. But what’s notable about Printify is that it has an international vendor network with many unique white-label products that you’re not likely to find anywhere else. They have items like jewelry, clocks, and shoes, and the platform has over 200 products that you can print on.
While Printify is free to use, you can pay $29 a month for a premium subscription that gives you 20% off all of their products, and this is a pretty solid option if you’re looking to scale up later and improve your profit margins.
This list is by no means exhaustive, so for more print-on-demand options, check out the Shopify app store.
How to Design Products When You’re Not a Designer
You don’t need to be a full-time designer to have a successful print on demand business. In the best-case scenario, you have a designer friend that you can work well with, but if you don’t, that’s what outsourcing is for.
Here’s how you can add clarity and context for a design project. You’ll want to begin by sharing insight into your audience, tell your designer what it’s for and who your audience is, showing them your website will help give more context and make sure that you’re clearly explaining what it is that you want. You’ll have time to explain this in your initial introduction and through revisions.
By the way, you’re going to want to include or two revisions in the project’s scope and be clear by over-communicating what it is that you’re looking for and provide guidelines. And finally, give examples of inspiration. It helps to show them a reference to base the design on or point to other works that you like.
When working with designers, you should specify that your design is for printing. This tells them that it should ideally be 300 digital pixels per inch and have a transparent background. The designer will know how to prepare these artwork files for prints properly, so you won’t have to worry about that.
Note that the print file specifications will change depending on the printer and the printing technique used. When in doubt, send the designer the print specs for the specific product and any printing guidelines to understand the context.
The designs you upload should be large enough for the printing area of the actual product. Remember that resizing a smaller image to make it bigger will result in a loss of quality, so you want to avoid doing that. And if you’re going to take a crack at designing and don’t have access to Photoshop, try using Pixlr for free.
Tips for Starting a Print on Demand Business
1. Order Samples
Always order samples. The best way to ensure quality is to be your customer so that you can experience firsthand what it’s like to receive your products. That said, you’re going to want to always order samples before sending products out to customers. It’s always possible that something gets lost in translation from the design you see on your screen to your printed product. And by ordering samples, you can double-check the overall quality of how it looks and feels.
If you find any discrepancies, reach out to your vendors’ customer service support for advice on fixing any issues. And beyond ensuring product quality, samples are also good to have on hand for making your product photos for your website and social media.
2. Be Strategic About Shipping
Even when you’re not shipping products yourself, you’re going to want to make sure that you’re getting the right expectations with your customers about costs and shipping time. Make sure that you’re accounting for how long it takes for something to print, first of all, and then adding that to shipping time.
The rule of thumb is to add anywhere from two to four days for production. It can sometimes be more depending on the product, always be upfront about your shipping times, or you’re going to get customers with questions and complaints and outline what to expect on your FAQ page. Or you can consider creating a separate shipping page to explain lead time customers.
If you can, try to partially or fully absorb your shipping costs into your retail price. Year after year, studies show that surprise shipping costs added at checkout deters customers from buying. On the flip side, you can use shipping deals as a tool to entice customers to make a purchase.
Free shipping is a great sales sweetener. Try using conditional free shipping to encourage customers to add more to their cart to reach a certain threshold. You can use free shipping to justify longer wait times.
At that point, you can go for less expensive, slower shipping services. As many consumers will wait a little longer for an order that they know will save them money on shipping.
3. Create Mockups to Show Off Products
Mockup pictures help drive sales, but mockups are also a useful alternative for your product photography. Many print on demand services can help you create your mockups by showing your products on a person or as a flat lay, but there are other services and plenty of free mockup templates that can clearly show your product. These mockups are what will sell your products to customers, so it can pay to go the extra mile.
Placeit is an easy to use mockup generator that lets you create photo and video mockups for $8 each. Check out mockup world or Behance for Photoshop templates if you’re comfortable in Photoshop.
4. Focus on a Niche for Easier Marketing
Marketing is what ultimately determines the success of your business. But if you’re targeting everyone, you’re not really marketing to anyone. That’s why niching in is so important. Having a clearly defined audience, like specifically targeting dog owners, can help you create products in demand. It lowers the cost to acquire customers and maximizes your potential profits.
Often people think that if they niche in, they’re going to lose potential customers, but the opposite is true. If your audience is too broad, you’ll appeal to no one and lose potential customers in that regard. There are countless possibilities for acquiring a niche audience with marketing, but here are some ideas to get you started.
First, start an Instagram account and create or curate content for your target audience. Get followers and build relationships among your prospective customers. Next, try running Facebook ads targeting the interests of your target customers. You can also use Facebook ads to test out your designs for as little as $10 to see which ones resonate with your audience.
One of my favorite tactics is collecting emails from visitors. Once you start to pick up some steam so that you can continue to market to them for free.
Finally, get your products into the hands of influencers who can introduce your products to their audience and help you make sales.
5. Design, Test, Sell and Grow
Print on demand services offer an accessible inventory source for new entrepreneurs or anyone who wants to test an idea before investing in it. If one of your online business ideas pans out and starts to generate a significant number of sales, you can always graduate from using a print on demand site to holding your inventory. So that should give you a pretty good head start and some insight into print on demand.
In today’s article, we covered what print on demand is, some services you could use, how to work with a designer, and some strategies to keep your business running smooth and profitable. I’m curious to know why you clicked on this article. Let me know in the comments what you plan to use print on demand for; I’m excited to see all of your creative ideas, and if you’ve already launched, drop me a link to your store so I can check it out.