How to Start a Print on Demand Business in 8 Steps

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Ever wanted to create your own branded clothing? Mugs with your own designs on them, or other goodies – water bottles, tote bags, bluetooth speakers – with a unique look and feel?

Well, with print on demand, you can – and building your own online store might just be easier than you think.

Below, we’ll talk you through how to start a print on demand business – and why it’s so lucrative. Then, we’ll walk you through the eight stages of setting up, styling, and selling your print on demand business – step by step. Sound good? Let’s go!

What is Print on Demand?

A print on demand (POD) business is one where you customize white-label products – think t-shirts, hats, bags, and the like – with your own branding and designs.

Melanin Is Life website
Melanin is Life is a popular POD business, selling apparel designed to educate its wearers – and the wider community – about the issues facing African-American communities.

Because you can print and sell these items on a per-order basis, it helps you sidestep the costs traditionally associated with selling branded goods en masse – such as buying them in bulk, storing them in expensive warehouse spaces, and having to employ staff to pick and pack them. But there are a whole bunch of other good reasons why you should get into the POD business…

Why Print on Demand?

Getting into the print on demand business offers a range of benefits, including:

  • Zero inventory costs: you’ll only ever need to order stock when your customers order it – so you won’t pay anything to store a full warehouse of products, or end up saddled with a mound of stock you can’t sell.
  • Flexible product range: with POD, the wardrobe is your oyster. From yoga pants and posters to jackets and mugs, you can brand almost any item with your own, unique designs – and offer your customers plenty of variety.
  • Scalable: as your customer base grows, it’s easy for your POD business to grow with it. You can expand your production to meet burgeoning demand – without having to invest in extra staff or equipment.

Print on Demand: Step-by-Step

Ready to dip your toe into the world of print on demand? Excellent!

And good news – you’re only eight steps away from POD success…

1. Pick a Niche

First up? Choosing a print on demand niche to specialize in. Your niche is the specific part of the POD market you plan to target. Some things to consider include:

  • What products do I want to sell?
  • Who am I targeting? (Age, gender, occupation, interests, geographical location)
  • Who are my competitors?
  • Should I aim wider and target several different niches, or stick to one?

As part of your research into the different POD niches available, take a snoop at what your potential competitors are doing. What do they do well? What are they missing – and how can your business be better? Is there even a market for your particular idea at all?

To give you a headstart, we’ve listed below some of the top POD niches to target:

  • Animals and pets
  • Health and fitness
  • Humor and internet memes
  • Astrology
  • Books and literature
  • Mental health
  • Sports
  • Video games
  • Food

And remember – when considering a niche, always think about how you could get more specific. Food? Make it vegan food. Sports? Make it water polo. Astrology? Make it Sagittarius.

You get the picture!

Famous In Real Life website
POD business Famous In Real Life targets a niche that goes deeper than simply “t-shirts”, all the way to t-shirts with a particularly ironic or humorous leaning.

2. Define Your Audience

The process of defining your niche goes hand in hand with defining your audience – because you can’t have one without the other.

When we talk about your “audience”, we mean the ideal subsection of the market you’re targeting – the people who’ll be buying your POD products. So consider your ideal customer, and build up a profile of them in your mind that includes their:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Interests and pain points
  • Social media footprint
  • Geographical location

Once you’ve done this, you’ll already be well on your way to creating a tool that marketers and content creators love – a buyer persona.

Buyer personas are archetypes of your typical customer. You’ll give them names (“Price-conscious Percy”, for example, or “Savvy Sabrina”), and they’ll represent fictionalized portions of your target market.

What are they for? Well, any time you put out a piece of communication – advertising, information, whatever – you’ll need to be writing with at least one of these personas in mind. It’ll keep your messaging cohesive, coherent – and completely crystal clear.

3. Choose Your Products

Now, it’s time for a big decision – what are you actually going to be selling?

As we mentioned earlier, print on demand offers a wealth of product ideas. You can sell:

  • Mugs
  • T-shirts
  • Jackets
  • Pants
  • Shoes
  • Engraved jewelry
  • Posters
  • Phone cases
  • Socks
  • Bluetooth speakers
  • Hats
  • Tote bags
  • Water bottles
  • Towels

…the list goes on!

Our top tip for choosing a product? Make sure it’s a product you’re interested in. You’ll be the one driving your POD business – powering it through the early stages, and sticking with it even in the tough ones. So ideally, you need to be selling something you’re at least a little passionate about!

For more inspiration around picking a product to sell, check out our guide to the best print on demand products.

4. Find Your Supplier

The success of your fledgling POD business depends on many factors – and finding the right supplier is a key one. With a good supplier, you’ll be selling high-quality products, experiencing seamless communication, and living an easy life.

With a bad supplier? Well, let’s not even go there!

Some of the most reliable, reputable print on demand suppliers on the market include:

  • Printful
  • Teelaunch
  • Lulu Xpress
  • CustomCat
  • SPOD

When choosing a supplier, you’ll need to take into account things like cost, delivery times, and – of course – the quality of the goods provided. Here, we recommend requesting one or two samples from the suppliers you’ve shortlisted, of the stock you’re most interested in selling. Compare and contrast how they look, and how they feel – and make your choice accordingly.

5. Decide Where to Sell

Now you know what you’re selling, it’s time to figure out where to sell.

Fortunately, you’ve got plenty of options:

  • Sell through your own online store: ecommerce website builders such as Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify all let you create, and start selling through, an online store. They’re all easy to use, and some are even available for free – although you’ll need to be on paid plans to enjoy an ad-free website, and enjoy your chosen builder’s advanced features and settings.
  • Sell through an online marketplace: Etsy, Amazon, and eBay are all established, tried-and-tested platforms to sell through – with a readymade audience of millions. The downside? That you’ll face fierce competition – and won’t have creative control over the branding of your POD business.
  • Sell through social media: fancy making some money through social media? Facebook and Instagram can prove lucrative places to sell your POD wares but be warned – social commerce can be finicky to set up and, like with selling through an online marketplace, there’s little scope to set your brand apart from the rest.
Shopify signup page
With Shopify, you can start building your online print on demand store for just $1/month.

6. Set up Your Store

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t sell across multiple platforms – including your own online store, a marketplace like Etsy or eBay, and social media.

But whichever route you take, we recommend you set up an online store. Why? Because a good online store isn’t just a place to sell through – it’s the hub of your POD business, its base, its home on the internet. Meaning it’s not only for making money but for building your brand – and engaging with your audience.

As for the logistical side – actually setting up your online store – that’s easy. Simply create an account on Wix, Squarespace, Shopify – or any website builder of your choice, really – and select the pricing tier you want.

From there, you can start building out your site’s unique look and feel, adding products, and writing copy that showcases the brilliant features and benefits of your POD wares. Enjoy!

7. Create a Pricing Strategy

Before you can start marketing your products, you’ll need to figure out how much you’re selling them for.

Pricing your products correctly is somewhere between an art and a science – and knowing exactly how much to charge will come with time. However, we can offer a couple of quickfire tips to help you out:

  • Always cover your costs. Not making a loss should be the very least of your ambitions!
  • Research your competitors. Finding out how much other print on demand businesses are charging for similar items will help you understand the state of the market. From there, you can price accordingly – do you undercut your rivals with slightly cheaper prices? Or go higher to position your POD business as a premium brand?

8. Market Your Store

With everything set up, it’s time to market your store – to shout about it to the world, and spread the news to all corners of the internet.

But, err… how? Get started by:

  • Writing blogs and press releases to publicize your store’s opening. Content marketing is a brilliant way of connecting with new customers, staying top of mind with your existing customers, and helping your POD store rank in Google’s search engine results pages.
  • Creating engaging email marketing campaigns. As a new POD business, it may take you a little while to build up a large email database of contacts and customers. But keep plugging away at it – and be sure to engage that database with regular content that’s relevant, engaging, and compelling.
  • Shouting about your store on social media. Again, it might take some time for you to drum up the number of followers you need to make social media marketing worthwhile. But stay at it! Run competitions, reply to comments from your followers, and keep flooding your social media channels with entertaining and engaging content that adds genuine value to your audience.

For more hints and techniques for marketing your online POD store, explore our list of the best digital marketing tips.

How to Start a Print on Demand Business: Summary

How to start a print on demand business? Let’s recap:

  1. Pick a niche
  2. Define your audience
  3. Choose your products
  4. Find your supplier
  5. Decide where to sell
  6. Set up your store
  7. Create a pricing strategy
  8. Market your store

Now, all you need to do is, well…get started! But if you’re struggling to imagine how your online print on demand store might look, let us help. We’ve pulled together our top 6 print on demand store examples for you to flick through and borrow from.

And who knows? One day, we might see your POD store up on that list!

FAQs

Earlier, we explored the many benefits of the print on demand model – but there are some downsides to selling this way. These include:
  • Longer delivery times: because POD items are, by their very nature, made to order, they can take longer to create and ship to your customer. This can result in consumer frustration and impact their buying experience.
  • Quality control: as with any relationship with a third-party white-labeling supplier, the POD model makes it difficult to ensure full quality control over the products you’re putting out. This means that issues – such as misprints or color inaccuracies – can creep in. And lead to dissatisfied customers!

Dropshipping is a business model where, instead of holding your own inventory, you outsource its storage, picking, packing, and shipping to a third-party supplier. When a customer places an order on your site, you simply relay it to your supplier, who does the rest.

Print on demand isn’t the same thing as dropshipping. But you can build a print on demand business that, in essence, relies on the dropshipping model.

Fancy starting a dropshipping business? Excellent!

Written by:
I’ve written for brands and businesses all over the world – empowering everyone from solopreneurs and micro-businesses to enterprises to some of the ecommerce industry’s best-known brands: including Yahoo!, Ecwid, and Entrepreneur. My commitment for the future is to empower my audience to make better, more effective decisions: whether that’s helping you pick the right platform to build your website with, the best hosting provider for your needs, or offering recommendations as to what – and how – to sell.

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