What Is Print on Demand and How Does It Work?

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There are all different types of ecommerce businesses that prove popular online.

From dropshipping stores to handmade items, subscription boxes, and everything in between, there are multiple options if you’re thinking of starting your own ecommerce store.

One of those options is print on demand products. 

If you’ve come across print on demand products during your ecommerce research or you’re wondering whether they’re the right route for you to go down then you’ve come to the right place.

Our experts have put together everything you need to know about print on demand including what it is, how it works, and how you can sell print on demand products for a profit. 

What Is Print On Demand?

Print on demand is a process where you work with a third-party supplier of white-label products (think anything from t-shirts to mugs) to customize items and sell them on a per-order basis.

Print on demand products are created only when the item has been ordered by a customer meaning you don’t need to have a budget set aside to buy large amounts of stock.

The process also removes the need for storage and inventory management – instead, you’ll only purchase items when you already have a customer for them.

One of the biggest perks of print on demand is that the process results in little to no waste, because items are only created once a customer has ordered them.

Alternative processes can often result in a large build-up of unsold items that end up in landfills.

Almost every part of the process from the creation of the products to the fulfillment of orders is handled by your supplier.

Pros and Cons of Print On Demand For Your Online Business

Pros of Print On Demand Cons of Print On Demand
Products can be created quickly once you’ve chosen your design. Your cost per item will be higher than if you were buying in bulk which will result in lower profit margins.
There’s no need for you to purchase equipment since everything is created by your chosen supplier. Your products and customization options will depend on what your supplier offers, there may be some limitations.
Packaging and shipping are taken care of for you, allowing you to dedicate time to other areas of your business. You have almost no control over shipping costs and the unboxing experience for customers as this is handled by your supplier.
Lower investment and risk as you don’t need to bulk order large quantities of products before you’ve even made a sale.
You can create your own bespoke designs allowing you to offer a unique product to customers.

How Does Print On Demand Work?

Print on demand is a type of dropshipping model, however the process is different from traditional dropshipping methods (more on that later).

Print on demand allows you to add your label or customized design to an array of products but ensures you only have to purchase a product when a customer has placed an order.

Printiful is a popular print on demand supplier.

The print on demand process is simple, but to make it even easier to get your head around we’ve listed the stages below:

  1. Set up your online store.
  2. Choose a print on demand supplier and connect this to your online store.
  3. List the products you wish to sell on your online store.
  4. A customer visits your ecommerce site and places an order.
  5. This order is automatically passed to your chosen print on demand supplier.
  6. Your supplier prints the specified design onto the chosen product.
  7. The order is packaged and shipped directly to the customer by your print on demand supplier.

Print On Demand vs Dropshipping

While print on demand is a type of dropshipping, there are certain key differences between the two processes.

Both processes operate by passing customer orders directly on to a chosen supplier who will produce, package, and ship the items.

Dropshipping, however, focuses on items that are manufactured in bulk (for example a plain red baseball cap) whilst print on demand is for products that are custom made to meet the customer’s order (for example a red baseball cap featuring a custom logo).

The big difference between dropshipping and print on demand is the time it takes to fulfill the order.

With a dropshipping model, once a customer’s order comes in your supplier can simply get the item out of storage, package, and ship it. However, with print on demand they need to print the item first. Printing takes time which can slow down the overall process.

Types of Products for Print On Demand

When it comes to print on demand products there are literally hundreds of options available.

We’ve listed some of the most popular print on demand products below but make sure you check out our article on the best selling print on demand products for more inspiration.

  • Apparel (men’s and women’s clothing including tops, hoodies, jackets, dresses, and shorts).
  • Accessories (such as hats, bags, jewelry, caps, visors, scarves, and socks)
  • Wall art (including canvas, posters, framed prints, and wall tapestries)
  • Homeware (pillows, candles, throws, mugs, and towels)
  • Tech accessories (such as phone cases, speakers, pop sockets, and storage devices)

How to Find Design Ideas for Print On Demand Products

When it comes to print on demand products, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing the right designs for your products.

You can either opt to create your own custom designs or you can work with a designer to help turn your ideas into reality.

Whichever option you choose you’ll first need to find your design ideas. Once you’ve collated your ideas you can test them out by undertaking some audience research.

Pinterest is a particularly useful platform for visual inspiration, while sharing your potential design ideas with your audience on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is a great way to receive feedback from the very people who hope will buy your products.

Use websites such as 99designs to help you find a designer.

If you decide to work with a designer to create your custom designs then this can be a great way of ensuring the finished piece is high quality. Some of our top tips for working with designers are:

  • Be clear about what you want from the very beginning, put together a detailed brief.
  • Make sure your designer knows the designs will be printed on specific items. This will help them to scale and design the prints accordingly.
  • Provide your designer with inspiration and examples.
  • Remind your designer that the finished design must be high resolution.
  • Provide your designer with the relevant dimensions for each product.

When it comes to finding a designer to help you with your custom designs check out popular marketplaces such as Upwork, Fiverr, and 99designs. Always opt for someone who has good reviews and remember to ask for examples of their work before you commit.

The Best Platforms to Sell Print On Demand Products

Now that you know what print on demand is and how you can create custom designs, you need to decide how you want to sell your products.

There are two main options when it comes to selling products online. You can either choose to sell them via a marketplace or on your own website.

Popular marketplaces include Amazon, eBay, and Etsy and have various benefits including reputation and a ready-made audience.

Setting up your own online store, however, gives you complete control over how you sell your items. You’re able to fully customize your online store and create a buying experience that your customers will enjoy. Take a look at existing print on demand online stores for inspiration.

Website builders such as Shopify allow you to fully customize your own online store.

Website builders such as Wix, Shopify, and BigCommerce all allow you to create amazing online stores and have payment plans and features that are suitable for all budgets and skill levels.

Tips for Starting Your Print On Demand Online Business

Print on demand is a great way to sell bespoke items online without needing to manage your own inventory of stock.

If you’ve decided that selling print on demand products online is the right ecommerce business model for you then these tips will help you to ensure it’s a success.

  1. Choose products that will sell well. Undertake audience research to get an idea of the type of products your target audience will buy.
  2. Order samples from your supplier in order to get an idea of the quality of the printing and specific items.
  3. Create mockups of the products to feature on the product listings on your website. People will be more likely to make a purchase if they can see what the item will look like.
  4. Choose both your ecommerce store and print on demand supplier carefully. It’s important that they can communicate and are compatible with each other.
  5. Set up a returns policy before making any sales. Remember that these are bespoke-made items so it’s a good idea to have strict terms and conditions for customer returns.

Print On Demand: Summary

Print on demand models are the perfect option for ecommerce newcomers or those who want to try out an item before investing in large quantities. 

The good news is that there are hundreds of different white-label products that you can customize to sell to your customers and your design opportunities are endless.

To recap, some of the most important things to remember when it comes to setting up a print on demand ecommerce business are:

  • You only purchase a print on demand item when a customer has made a purchase.
  • Prices can sometimes be higher than if you were to bulk order the items.
  • Your print on demand supplier will manage the printing, packaging, and shipping of your items.
  • You can sell your print on demand products through a marketplace or on your own ecommerce website.
  • If your skills aren’t up to scratch hire a designer to create your custom designs.
  • Remember to set a clear returns policy for your bespoke items. 

Now that you’ve got to grips with print on demand items and how the process works we think you’re ready to take the next step and begin creating your online store. Get design inspiration from these print on demand online stores, and find the best suppliers here. We’ve also written a handy guide on how to start a print on demand business too. 

If so, be sure to check out some of our other articles for help including our guide to the best ecommerce website builders and our top web design tips. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The great thing about selling print on demand products is that you don’t need to invest any money into inventory before you get started. Instead, you’ll only purchase and pay for an item once it has been ordered by a customer.

There are other areas such as setting up your online store that may require a small amount of initial investment, however.

You can either create your designs yourself or you can hire a designer to help you out. If you opt to use a designer make sure you find one with good previous work examples and ensure you provide them with a clear and detailed brief.
You can either sell your products through popular marketplaces such as Amazon or Etsy or you can create your own online store via platforms such as Shopify, Wix, or BigCommerce.
Your options for what print on demand products to sell are endless. Depending on the supplier you choose you can sell everything from clothing to homeware and tech accessories. 
Written by:
Black and white headshot of Lucy Nixon smiling at the camera
I’ve been a content writer for Website Builder Expert since 2021. Through almost a decade in the digital marketing industry, I’ve built up knowledge on everything from growing ecommerce businesses to building websites. I love breaking down tricky topics into digestible and engaging content for readers. Breaking down the jargon and uncovering the best platforms, tools, and strategies, I’m a meticulous researcher who’s committed to providing our readers with tips and advice that’s tried and tested.


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