Online businesses come in different shapes and sizes — from subscription boxes to dropshipping and everything in between.
But among these business models, print on demand is your best bet if you want to avoid the hassle and risk associated with inventory management.
But what is a print-on-demand business, and how do you start one? That’s what we’ll cover in this guide.
What is print on demand?
As the name implies, print on demand (POD) is a business model where customized designs are made on an order-by-order basis.
In this business model, you work with a POD company to print your design on a variety of products (e.g., t-shirts, books and cups) once a customer places an order. This means you don’t have to hold any inventory — the POD company prints your designs on request.
POD companies also handle all post-sale tasks, such as packaging and shipping, so you can focus on creating unique designs.
How does print on demand work?
In this eCommerce business model, you create a new design and choose a POD company that will print your design on your desired products. Next, you upload your design to the provider’s platform and create product listings on your online store.
A customer then visits your eCommerce store and orders an item with your design. The order is sent to the POD company, which prints your design on a new product and ships it to the customer. The difference between the sale price and the cost of production becomes your profit.
Benefits of the print-on-demand business model
Print-on-demand services allow you to adopt the white-label business approach. This means the print provider’s name isn’t mentioned anywhere on the items or packaging, and all the credit goes to your brand.
In addition to this primary benefit, here are more reasons why you should start a print-on-demand business:
- Low startup costs: You don’t have to invest in inventory or manufacturing equipment, as the print provider takes care of that. With low startup costs, it’s easier to launch your eCommerce business.
- Reduced financial risk: You don’t need to buy large quantities of products upfront. You can even test different designs to see what resonates with your audience. This reduces the financial risk often associated with unsold inventory.
- Automation: You can automate the printing and shipping processes. This gives you enough time to focus on design, marketing and customer service.
- Global reach: Most POD companies have printing facilities worldwide, making it easy to sell and ship your products internationally.
- Sustainability: On-demand printing is more sustainable than traditional bulk manufacturing, as the POD company only produces what’s needed, reducing waste.
- Scalability: You can scale your online store based on customer demand. This allows you to sell more products without the typical challenges of scaling a business.
Profitable print-on-demand products to sell
There’s no shortage of POD products to sell. But if you’re looking for high-demand products, consider these examples.
- Apparel: With a total value of $2,005 billion in 2022, the apparel market is one of the world’s largest. Specialize in clothing items like t-shirts, hoodies, socks and hats.
- Accessories: Print your custom designs on accessories such as phone cases, tote bags and jewelry.
- Home decor: Cater to interior design enthusiasts or those looking for personalized home items. You can specialize in products such as custom-printed pillows, blankets, wall art and mugs.
- Books: If you’re an author, you can print and sell your books without working with a traditional publisher.
- Art prints and posters: If you’re an artist or graphic designer, you can print your artwork on various products, like posters, wall canvas and even apparel.
- Gaming merchandise: Sell custom merch for gaming enthusiasts. These include mousepads, chair covers and other gaming accessories and collectibles.
- Pet products: You can sell items like pet tags, bowls and even pet clothing to pet owners who want personalized items for their pets.
How to create a print-on-demand store
Now that you know the different types of products to sell, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you create a profitable print-on-demand store.
Step 1. Create an account on a print-on-demand platform
The first step in starting a print-on-demand business is finding a POD platform that aligns with your goals. Popular options include Printful, Printify and Gelato (we’ll look at these later).
Once you find the ideal POD company, visit its website and search for a “Sign Up” or “Create Account” button, usually located at the top right corner of the homepage.
Read the platform’s terms and conditions to fully understand what you’re signing up for. If you agree to these terms, fill in the required fields to create your account. Once this is done, you’ll most likely receive a verification request via email. Follow the instructions to verify your account.
Step 2. Choose a store and domain name
Your store name is your brand’s visual identity — choose wisely. Choose a store name that resonates with your target audience, reflects your brand’s personality and doesn’t infringe on any trademarks. Once you’ve selected a store name, it’s time to create your website.
Website creation involves two major steps — registering a domain name and buying a web hosting plan. To increase your chances of success, choose a web host that prioritizes your security and guarantees excellent uptime, like Bluehost.
When you buy one of our hosting plans, you’ll get a free domain name for the first year so that you can cut down on startup costs.
Step 3. Design your store
With themes, templates and plugins, you can design a professional eCommerce store without writing a single line of code.
Here’s a quick tutorial on how to design your store:
- Choose a theme that reflects your brand’s personality.
- Install plugins and extensions to enhance your store’s functionality.
- Customize design elements (e.g., layout, fonts and colors) to create a recognizable brand identity.
- Create essential pages, like the contact page, about us page and a homepage.
- Optimize your online store for more conversions by using a responsive design that adjusts to fit different screen sizes.
If you’re a beginner, our ultimate web design tutorial will guide you through the entire process. And, if you’re short on time, consider hiring an expert web designer to handle all the technical aspects of building your online store while you focus on core business activities.
Step 4. Add products to your store
After designing your online store, create unique designs that appeal to your target audience. This requires a solid understanding of who your potential customers are, their needs and pain points.
Once your designs are ready, upload them to your chosen print-on-demand platform and generate mockup images.
Finally, add your newly designed products to your store. Upload high-quality images, write detailed product descriptions and set competitive prices. A combination of these strategies presents your product in its best light, significantly increasing your chances of making a sale.
Step 5. Set up payment options
Most POD companies handle shipping. So, you only need to set up payment gateways so customers can purchase items on your website.
Choose secure payment gateways that support different currencies. Popular options include PayPal, Stripe and credit card processors.
Once you’ve chosen your payment gateways, integrate them into your eCommerce platform so shoppers can select their preferred payment method during checkout.
According to a 2023 report by Baymard Institute, 11% of online shoppers abandon their carts if they can’t find their preferred payment methods. So, providing multiple payment methods is a great way to drive conversions.
Step 6. Promote your print-on-demand store
Now that your POD business is up and running, it’s time to market it to your target audience. If you’re on a budget, consider free digital marketing strategies like email marketing, social media marketing and search engine optimization.
On the other hand, paid marketing strategies include influencer marketing and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns on platforms like Google, Facebook and Instagram.
You can also grow your POD store through effective content marketing — creating valuable content that resonates with your target audience. This includes how-to guides, style tips or trend insights. Share this content on your blog, social media platforms and newsletters to build authority in your niche and boost customer engagement.
Factors to consider when choosing a print-on-demand platform
The print-on-demand company you select can make or break your online business. So, here are factors you should consider when investing in a print-on-demand platform.
Product range and quality
Choose a POD platform that offers a wide range of products in your niche, especially if you plan to diversify. For example, if your brand focuses on eco-friendly products, the company should offer sustainable options.
Product quality is equally important, as it directly impacts customer satisfaction and brand reputation. You can order samples to assess product quality and only invest in the platform if satisfied.
Pricing and profit margins
The platform’s pricing structure can affect your overall profitability. To boost your earning potential, compare each platform’s shipping and production costs before settling on a print provider.
Some platforms offer bulk order discounts and subscription models. Take advantage of these offers to cut costs and make more profit.
Integration with eCommerce platforms
Seamless integration between your preferred eCommerce platform and POD company enables you to automate the selling process and minimize manual work.
For instance, if you plan to sell on Etsy, you may find that some POD companies don’t integrate with the marketplace. Therefore, if you want to avoid handling customer orders manually, choose a POD company that integrates with your chosen eCommerce platform.
Shipping times and location
Different print-on-demand platforms have varying shipping times. These can depend on factors like production time, their shipping partners’ efficiency and your customers’ location.
Choose a platform that offers reasonable shipping times and delivers orders on time. On-time delivery reduces cart abandonment, enhances customer satisfaction and gives you an advantage over competitors that take longer to deliver orders.
Also, consider the location of the print provider in relation to your customer base to reduce shipping times and costs.
Popular print-on-demand platforms
Choosing the right print-on-demand company is crucial to your success as an eCommerce entrepreneur. When it comes to product quality and order fulfillment accuracy, here are five popular POD companies to choose from.
Platform 1. Printful
Printful is a popular print-on-demand platform that consistently produces high-quality prints. The company offers a wide range of products, like apparel, home decor and accessories. It also provides multiple printing options and allows you to order product samples for quality assessment.
- Offers order fulfillment services, including packaging and international delivery.
- Integrates with all major eCommerce platforms and online marketplaces such as Shopify, WooCommerce, Wix, Amazon and eBay.
- Provides multiple printing options, such as digital printing, screen printing and embroidery.
- Offers 341 high-quality products to customize.
- Offers a built-in design maker and templates for creating product designs and mockups.
- 24/7 support in multiple languages through live chat and email.
Pricing: Printful is a free-to-use platform. You only pay after a customer orders your products.
Platform 2. Printify
Printify is a print-on-demand platform that boasts one of the largest catalogs of custom products. Once you sign up on Printify, you’ll have access to over 900 customizable products, including t-shirts, stickers and decors. The company provides printing options like direct-to-garment (DTG) printing, sublimation and embroidery.
In addition, Printify gives you access to a global network of printing facilities. So, you can select the closest facility to your customer’s location for fast and cost-effective shipping.
- Free design tools allow you to add your custom designs to products easily.
- Integrates seamlessly with major eCommerce platforms and marketplaces like Etsy, WooCommerce, Shopify and Wix.
- Over 90 printing facilities, primarily in the U.S., UK and China.
- Offers 900+ high-quality products, including mugs, t-shirts, hoodies, stickers and decor.
- 24/7 merchant support.
Pricing: Free plan with limited features. Premium plans start at $24.99 per month.
Platform 3. JetPrint
JetPrint is a Chinese POD company that offers over 400 products, including watches, shoes and t-shirts.
With its mockup generator, you can upload designs onto your desired products to see how they look before production. Printing options include screen printing, DTG printing, sublimation and heat transfer.
- 400+ quality products, including shoes, t-shirts, bags and watches.
- Offers a mockup generator.
- 24/7 customer support.
- Three-day production and seven-day express global shipping.
- Integrates with Shopify, Etsy and WooCommerce.
Pricing: The platform is free to use. However, you’re responsible for paying customization fees, shipping costs and taxes.
Platform 4. Gelato
Gelato is a POD company that seamlessly integrates with top eCommerce platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce within seconds. The company offers a vast product catalog, including wall art, apparel and stationery.
With over 130 production partners in 32 countries, Gelato enables you to sell products globally.
- Integrates with major eCommerce platforms like Shopify, Wix, WooCommerce and BigCommerce.
- Over 130 production partners in 32 countries.
- Offers a wide range of products, including apparel, phone cases, mugs and tote bags.
- No minimum order requirements.
- 24/7 customer support.
Pricing: Free plan with limited features. Premium plans start at $24 per month.
Platform 5. SPOD
SPOD is a print-on-demand platform that offers one of the fastest production times in the industry. The company produces 95% of all orders within 48 hours and gives you an exclusive discount of up to 20% when you order product samples.
SPOD offers different printing options, including digital direct, laser transfer, special flex and sublimation.
- Fulfills orders within 48 hours.
- Gives a 20% discount on product samples.
- Integrates with major eCommerce platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce. It also offers an API for custom integrations.
- Has production and delivery centers in the U.S. and Europe.
- Offers over 200 high-quality products, including mugs, hoodies and t-shirts.
- Offers different printing options such as digital direct, laser transfer and special flex.
Pricing: Free to use. You only pay when a customer orders a product.
Final thoughts: What is print on demand + how to create a store
Print on demand is the perfect option for entrepreneurs who want a low-risk business model before going deep into the eCommerce waters. It’s quick to set up, has low startup costs and doesn’t require inventory storage.
Building an eCommerce store is one of the first steps in starting a POD business. If you’re new to web design, you can get help from a reliable web hosting company like Bluehost. With 99.9% uptime and robust security, our WooCommerce hosting services enable you to sell with confidence.
Plus, we provide professional web design services so you can focus on growing your business while we create a user-friendly store your customers will love.
Yes, you can start a print-on-demand business with no money. Print providers like Printful and SPOD handle production and order fulfillment without charging upfront fees. You only pay for the products after you make a sale.
And, with third-party platforms like Etsy and Amazon, you can sell POD products without owning an eCommerce website.
However, while you can start a POD business for free, you must invest significant time and effort to make your designs, set up your store and market your brand.
If you live in the United States, you can earn between $4,639 and $9,833 per month. That said, the profitability of your POD business depends on several factors, including product pricing, marketing costs and your chosen print provider.
When calculating your total cost, factor in POD platform fees, taxes, marketing expenses and any additional charges (like transaction fees on platforms like Etsy or Shopify, if applicable).
Next, analyze your competitors’ prices to gauge how much customers are willing to pay. Then, choose a sustainable profit margin — the amount of money you’re left with after deducting expenses from your revenue.