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How to start a print on demand business in 7 steps

how to start a print on demand business

It’s hard to believe that you can launch an eCommerce business with minimal up-front investment, zero on-hand inventory or a place to store your items.

But, that’s the beauty of print on demand business ideas (aka “POD”). Whether you’re a designer looking to sell your art on t-shirts, or a musician looking to sell custom merch—POD offers a low-risk way to get started.

In this article we’ll cover all the essential steps of building a print-on-demand business. From sourcing the right products to listing them for sales, here’s what you need to know.

What is print on demand?

Print on demand is when you work with a print on demand dropshipping service to design, sell and ship custom items.

You, the seller, are responsible for providing the design for these items and listing them to a sales channel.

Meanwhile, your POD partner provides you with a catalog of items to choose from, and usually offers a mockup generator so that you can design your products exactly as you want.

Once an order comes in, your POD service will handle manufacturing and order fulfillment for you. You will not have to handle the item or ship it yourself. Rather, your POD platform will send the finished product straight to your buyer.

POD is useful for types of businesses of all stages, ranging from those that are just learning how to start a business and those with existing stores that are looking to test new ideas.

how to start a print on demand business

How to start a print-on-demand business in 7 steps

01. Choose your niche

Your print-on-demand business can’t be all things to all people. That’s why the first step is choosing the right niche for your business.

A niche may include people in a certain profession (like nurses or teachers), folks who share a particular passion (like foodies or yoga enthusiasts), or people who participate in shared activities (like cyclists or pet owners).

You’ll want to be as specific as possible about your niche, while still reaching an audience that’s wide enough to let you earn profits. For example, you may want to sell to wine enthusiasts. But rather than targeting everyone over the age of 21 in the U.S., you may hone in on millennial moms who enjoy wine. This will help you to better define products, styles, and campaigns that speak directly to your buyers.

You may already have an ideal niche in mind. If not, here are several good places to start your research:

  • Scroll through your social media feeds: See what’s trending on TikTok or Twitter. Or, participate in Facebook Groups or Reddit forums to immerse yourself in conversations among potential buyers.

  • Ask the internet: Leverage free tools like Google Trends to gauge interest in particular topics. Keep an eye out for trends that show steady growth over a multi-year period, versus those that are short-lived fads.

  • Do keyword research: SEO software like Moz or Semrush can help you measure the amount of search traffic that shopping-related queries attract. Similarly, a solution like JungleScout can help you gauge interest and sales for items based on data from online marketplaces like Amazon.

  • Do a product search on popular marketplaces: Read product descriptions and reviews on Etsy, eBay, or Amazon and get intel into who’s buying what on each platform.

  • Follow your competitors: Visit competitors’ websites and catalogs. See who they’re targeting with their products and use that as a way to shape your own messaging or to identify a niche that’s not currently being served.

02. Select your print or demand products

There’s a chance that you landed on this blog with a certain product, like t-shirts, in mind. But POD platforms will give you access to a plethora of other items: hoodies, leggings, caps, water bottles, or smartphone cases (just to name a few).

For more inspiration, here’s a list of the top print-on-demand products to consider selling.

It goes without saying that the products you choose should be tightly aligned with your niche. If you’re targeting people who enjoy yoga and meditation, your product line may include full-print yoga pants, mats, and towels. If you’re creating products that appeal to beach lovers, you may choose to put your designs on beach chairs, blankets, and swimwear.

Another option: offer sustainable products. Eco-friendly and ethically-sourced items are especially appealing to today’s Gen Z consumers. Several print-on-demand suppliers offer a range of eco-friendly printed products, from apparel to lunch totes to pillowcases.

03. Create your design

This step can either be the most exhilarating or intimidating part of your journey, depending on your comfort level with design. If you were born with a gift for design, then starting a POD business can help you share your passion and give you an avenue to make money as an artist.

If you’re not an artist or graphic designer, there are other ways that you can close the “design gap.” You could, for example, choose from premade designs, images, and fonts within your POD platform. Or, use a design tool like DesignWizard or Piktochart to spark your creative juices. Alternatively, you could hire a designer from the Wix Marketplace to help you out.

If you’re struggling to find some artistic inspiration, look at popular designs that are already selling well on marketplaces or other sites. But be careful not to copy them. Avoid trademark infringement and other thorny legal issues by studying intellectual property for print on demand.

Whether you choose to create your own designs or work with another professional, carve out time to validate your ideas. Share your vision or early mockups with a trusted group of individuals or via channels like social media where you can gather honest feedback.

04. Choose the right print-on-demand service

When it comes to picking the right printer for your designs, make sure to consider the following questions:

  • What type of products does the platform offer?

  • What kind of equipment, materials, and printing techniques do they use?

  • What are their average turnaround times?

  • Where do they ship your products from, and how are shipping rates calculated?

  • What type of packaging will be used?

  • Do they charge a monthly fee and/or a percentage of each sale?

  • How are returns, cancellations, and refunds handled?

  • Does the platform integrate with your eCommerce platform?

Check out online reviews to see what other online merchants are saying about their services.

Also, order a sample of your products so that you can evaluate product quality.

Check that the colors, materials, and texture meet your expectations. It’s possible for some designs to look better on a computer screen than in person. This step is therefore crucial for making sure that your design actually looks good when paired with the fabrics, ink, and printer that you choose.

There are several well-known print on demand companies that you can choose from, including Mondalyst, Printify and Printful.

how to start a print on demand business: modalyst platforn

05. Build your online store

Start selling your products in one of two popular ways:

  • Sell on a marketplace like Amazon, Etsy or eBay: Marketplaces offer large, established audiences that are already eager to buy. That said, marketplaces may charge subscription fees, listing fees, and/or transaction fees. They each have their own rules regarding branding, pricing, and listing products too, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with these to avoid any hiccups.

  • Build your own website using a platform like Wix eCommerce: This approach offers you the most freedom; you can design your store exactly how you want and stay in control of the entire buyer experience. The challenge here is that you’ll have to invest in marketing so that your products get seen, but platforms like Wix eCommerce offer built-in marketing tools, as well as automations to help you grow your business faster.

You don’t necessarily have to pick one or the other. In fact, a multichannel selling strategy has proven to increase sales. (Merchants who connect their stores to a sales channel like Amazon or Wish can increase sales up to 12%, according to Wix proprietary data.)

However, starting with a website can help you to build the right foundation for your brand. Aside from giving you total control over the user experience, a website allows you to test various prices and offers without limitation. It further gives you direct visibility into user behaviors, so you can better track what’s helping or hurting sales.

Wix eCommerce additionally integrates with marketplaces. So, if you decide to expand into marketplaces in the future, you can easily sync your products, inventory, and prices without having to log into each marketplace individually. There are other perks, too. For example, if you sign up for eBay through Wix, you’ll automatically receive a higher limit of zero insertion fee (read: free) listings.

06. Set the right pricing strategies

Finding the sweet spot in terms of pricing can be a challenge. But here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to get to the right answer:

  • What are my startup costs? Make sure that your pricing accounts for all of your expenses, including your marketing, labor, fees, and other costs.

  • What are other businesses charging for their products? It goes without saying that you’ll want to price competitively or have a strategy for justifying higher price points.

  • How unique are my products? As noted above, you may be able to charge more for your products if they're one-of-a-kind.

  • Will I offer free shipping to my customers? More than half (58%) of shoppers abandon their carts due to higher-than-expected shipping costs, so offering free shipping may be a good idea—given that it doesn’t kill your margins. There are various ways to offer fast and free shipping, whether that means folding it into the product price or offering free shipping at certain price points.

  • What will my profit margin be at this price? When all is said and done, you, of course, will want to make sure that you’re making money from every sale. Make sure that you calculate your profit margins accurately, taking into account all expenses and “hidden” costs (think: returns, taxes, transaction fees, etc.).

For more tips on how to set the right price, check out these nine product pricing strategies.

07. Develop a marketing plan

Your work doesn’t end once your online store goes live. To build a successful print-on-demand business, you’ll need to proactively drive attention to your products. Here are five great ways to start building an audience and creating positive buzz around your business:

  • Tell your friends and family members: All about your business and encourage them to share your products with their networks.

  • Engage with buyers on social media: Invest in learning the ins and outs of channels that are most strategic for your brand. Join in on relevant conversations and express your brand’s personality online.

  • Start a blog: Publish articles that showcase various ways to use your product and/or simply addresses questions people might have when searching for a brand like yours. A blog can help you to expand your SEO strategy and reach consumers organically.

  • Partner with influencers: Collaborate with influencers or other brands that target similar audiences as you. Be sure to offer something in return and to lean on their areas of expertise.

  • Create an email strategy: Plot out the emails you’d like to send, whether you’re looking to re-engage shoppers, reduce abandoned carts, or generate buzz around upcoming sales.

Check out these 14 eCommerce marketing ideas for more inspiration (see our guide on what is eCommerce).

How much does it cost to start a print on demand business?

Starting a print-on-demand (POD) business is generally low-cost compared to traditional retail models, as it eliminates the need for inventory and large upfront investments. Here's a breakdown of potential costs:

eCommerce website builder fees

If you're setting up an online store, platforms like Wix, have monthly fees ranging from $0 to $149 depending on the plan and features you choose.

Domain name

A custom domain enhances your brand's professionalism and costs anywhere from free up to hundreds of dollars a year. Create an eCommerce website with Wix and a domain name is free with a paid plan.

Graphic assets

Investing in high-quality design assets or hiring freelance designers can cost anywhere from $5 to hundreds of dollars per design, depending on complexity and licensing.

Sample products

Ordering samples to check quality before selling is crucial. This varies based on the products but expect to spend $20 to $100.

Marketing and advertising

This varies widely with strategy and scale. Initial budgets for ads might start around $50 to $500 to gain traction. Organic marketing through social media can be low-cost but demands time.

Business registration and licenses

The cost to register a business varies by state and country, usually around $50 to $800. However, some POD platforms don’t require formal business registration initially.

A rough estimate for starting a small-scale POD business might range from $100 to $1000 or more. However, costs can be kept low by using free trials, open-source software and organic marketing strategies initially. The primary investment is time and creativity to create appealing designs and a strong brand. Ongoing success in POD also requires reinvestment in marketing and new designs to stay competitive and keep capturing customer interest.

Pros of starting a print on demand business

  • Fast and easy to get started: Once you pick a service and a design, you can start selling in minutes.

  • Avoid buying in bulk: Only pay for what gets sold, whether you sell a single unit of an item or thousands. This reduces your initial inventory costs and the risk involved.

  • Instant access to a variety of products: Most POD platforms connect you with a wide range of products and brands to choose from.

  • Don’t worry about shipping or storage: Your print on demand partner handles the logistics for you.

Pro tip: Kevin D'Souza, Director, Product Experience at Vista Corporate Solutions shares, "Custom merchandise is not just a revenue channel; it's a conversation starter that deepens your audience's connection to your brand."

Partnering with a reputed print-on-demand service unlocks the potential for unmatched quality and an eclectic mix of products, empowering you to venture beyond the conventional. Envision creating unique, memorable pieces — think water bottles, lunchboxes or tote bags — that not only stand out but become integral to your customers’ daily lives.

Check out some more pro tips from VistaPrint about branded merch and how to leverage it.

Cons of starting a POD business

  • You can’t customize everything - While you can personalize your design, you can’t necessarily select any material you’d like or manufacture products in non-standard sizes.

  • Quality control is trickier - You must vet and monitor vendors carefully to ensure that product quality, shipping, and the overall buyer experience consistently meet expectations.

  • Lower margins - You’re likely to pay higher per-unit costs in exchange for outsourced logistics and the ability to manufacture in small batches.

How to create designs for print on demand

Creating designs for print on demand (POD) without a background in design can be accomplished with the following steps:

  • Leverage graphic elements: Make use of existing graphic elements and templates provided by design tools. These elements can be customized to create unique designs without starting from scratch. Look for graphics, icons, and fonts that align with your vision.

  • Simple and impactful designs: Embrace simplicity. Clean and straightforward designs can often be more effective. Focus on conveying a clear message or aesthetic rather than overcomplicating the design.

  • Typography and color palette: Experiment with typography. Play with different fonts, sizes, and arrangements to create visually appealing text-based designs. Ensure that the text is easy to read and complements the overall design. Additionally, choose a cohesive color palette. Consistent and well-chosen colors can enhance the visual appeal of your designs.

  • Incorporate personal photography: If relevant, incorporate personal photographs or images. Authenticity can resonate with customers, and personal images can add a unique touch to your designs.

  • Outsource: If you find design overwhelming, consider outsourcing. Connect with freelance designers who can bring your ideas to life at an affordable cost.

How to start a print on demand business FAQ

Is print on demand a profitable business?

Print on demand (POD) can be a profitable business model for some entrepreneurs, but its success depends on various factors. It depends however on the following - the product niche you choose and how successful it is, how unique your designs are, the effectiveness of marketing and promoting your business, the quality of your products, profit margins, how good your customer service is, the platform you use to sell your goods and its integrations, seasonal trends, as well as how much competition you have.

Is it possible to make a living from a print on demand business?

Is print on demand easy?

Can I start print on demand with no money?

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