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How to Start a Print On Demand Business: A Step-By-Step Guide (2022)

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If you are looking for a way to make money online, or maybe to grow your current online business, you might want to consider starting a print on demand business. A POD business is quite easy to set up and run and the industry has become increasingly popular, as it offers a wide range of products and services that can be customized to the customer’s needs.

In this guide, I am going to show you how to start a print on demand business and walk you through the necessary steps, from choosing a niche and finding products to sell, to setting up your website and marketing your business.

By the end of this guide, you will be ready to start selling your own products using your favorite POD platform, either on your own WordPress website or using an e-commerce platform like Shopify.

What is a print on demand business?

A print on demand business is a type of e-commerce business that allows you to sell custom printed products without having to invest in inventory upfront, which helps keep costs down.

This contrasts with traditional manufacturing, where products are mass-produced and then stored in a warehouse until they are sold. This type of business is recommended for those who are looking for fun and creative ways to make money online. This includes individuals and website owners, or companies looking to brand or promote their products/services.

How print on demand works

How print on demand works - Infographic
Infographic on how print on demand works. (image credit: greenhunt.io)

The way a print on demand business works is pretty straightforward:

Step 1: You create your shop using Woocommerce, an e-commerce platform like Shopify or Big Commerce, or through a third-party marketplace like Etsy.

Step 2: You pick a print on demand platform and sign up for an account. You can then proceed onconnecting your online shop with the chosen print on demand (I recommend Printful), either through a Woocommerce plugin, a Shopify app, or other similar methods provided by the chosen platform.

Step 3: You choose your products. I would say that the most popular products provided by the print on demand companies, are t-shirts and coffee mugs. But of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to these and you can explore the wide range of products that are available on each POD platform (hoodies, hats, phone cases, leggings, tote bags, pillows, and much more).

Step 4: You upload your designs. You can start creating your designs yourself if you have graphic design skills, or use ready-made designs from a stock platform like Vexels. Once you have created or acquired your designs, you can upload them to the print on demand platform – usually in a PNG or JPEG format image in high-resolution, 150 – 300DPI, with either RGB or CMYK color mode.

If none of the options above work for you, or you only need some quick, simple designs, you can use the online design tools provided by the POD platform (usually drag and drop). However, I personally do not recommend this method as it will limit your design options and the overall quality of your product.

Step 5: You finish your product. Once you have finished uploading and placing your designs, you can finish your product by providing a title, description, pricing, shipping, and other relevant options. The good thing is that you only need to create your product in one place, and that is on the print on demand (POD) platform. And because you have connected your shop with the platform in the first step I described above, every time you create a new product on the POD platform, it will be automatically imported to your shop.

Step 6: Your product is now ready to be sold in your shop! Every time an order is placed, the POD platform will be notified and they will take care of printing, packaging, and shipping your product.

This is a quick overview of how print-on-demand works. Below I will explain in more detail each of the steps required to start your print on demand business.

How to Start a Print On Demand Business

These are the steps you need to take in order to start your own print-on-demand business:

1. Research and business ideas

POD business products ideas
(source: printful.com)

Craft your online shop around your existing blog or website (recommended)

The best way to create your online shop and come up with ideas for your designs is if you already have a website or blog. You can use this to your advantage by setting up an online shop with Woocommerce or Shopify, around your blog’s niche. This way you “kill two birds with one stone” so to speak, as you can use your blog’s traffic to generate sales, and your visitors will be more likely to purchase products that are relevant to their interests.

For example, if you have a blog about traveling and backpacking, you could create a travel-themed store and sell t-shirts, coffee mugs, hoodies, tote bags, duffle bags, sweatshirts and all kinds of other products you may think of.

Travel themed POD shop
(source: bucketlistly.blog)

A good example of a travel blog with a POD online shop integrated is bucketlistly.blog, where the founder Pete R. sells apparel and accessories along with photo presets and travel gear guides. As you see the possibilities are endless. Is much easier to come up with product ideas when you have a focus or target market in mind.

Use Google Trends and Pinterest

Another way to come up with ideas for your print-on-demand business is to research popular trends and design products that are on-trend. You can use sites like Pinterest and Google Trends to see what’s popular in the world of fashion, home decor, and more. Once you have an idea of what’s popular, you can design products that your target market will be interested in.

See what’s trending on global online marketplaces

Redbubble traveling t-shirts
Trendind traveling themed t-shirts (source: redbubble.com)

You could check what’s trending on global online marketplaces like Redbubble and Etsy. This way you can get an idea of what designs, products, and keywords are selling well. You can then use this information to improve your own online shop’s SEO and design based on what is popular. By that, I’m not talking about copying/pasting info or crafting identical designs, but rather get inspired by what’s already popular, and putting your own twist on it.

Focus on a specific niche

As I mentioned before, one of the advantages of starting a print-on-demand business is that you can sell all kinds of clothing and printable accessories. But for your business to be successful, you need to focus on a niche and target market. For example, let’s say you are in one of the following broad niches:

  • Fitness
  • Mom life
  • Business/Entrepreneurship
  • Travel
  • Foodies
  • Pets

Within each of these niches, you would further target a specific audience. For example, in the fitness niche, you could target weightlifting for vegans, gym trainers, at-home workouts for women, yoga for men over 40, runners, etc. And within the Business/Entrepreneurship niche, you could target solopreneurs, freelancers, startup founders, etc.

The point is, that the more specific you can get with your target market, the better. This way you can create designs, products, and marketing campaigns that are laser-focused and more likely to convert. Trying to be everything to everyone is a recipe for disaster.

2. Choose a print on demand company

There are a lot of different companies out there, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some companies specialize in certain products, like t-shirts or mugs, while others offer a more comprehensive range of products. Some might offer fewer integrations, or have a more limited range of mockups.

To help you make the best decision for your store, check out my previous article where I compare the eight best print on demand companies. However, the one I recommend most often is Printful – and that’s because they offer the most comprehensive range of products, the best integrations, and the most user-friendly interface.

3. Set up and connect your online store

supported e-commerce platforms integration with Printful
Printful e-commerce platforms integrations

Printful can be integrated with a wide range of online store platforms, including Shopify, Woocommerce, Etsy, Wix, and many others. To check if your e-commerce platform is supported, head over to your Printful account and click Stores -> and at the bottom of your screen, click “Choose Platform”.

This will take you to a page where you can see all the supported platforms. Clicking any of these will take you to a step-by-step guide on how to connect your platform with Printful.

For the sake of simplicity, I will only describe how to connect a Woocommerce shop with Printful.

How to connect your Woocommerce shop with Printful

Step 1: Enable the legacy REST API. With Woocommerce installed on your WordPress dashboard, go to WooCommerce -> Settings -> Advanced. Under the “Legacy API” tab, check “Enable the legacy REST API”, and click on the Save Changes button (see the image below).

WooCommerce enable legacy API

Step 2: Install and activate the Printful plugin. To do that, go to your WordPress admin panel and click on Plugins -> Add New. In the search field, type in “Printful” and install the first plugin that appears.

how to install the Printful plugin

Step 3: Click Connect and Approve. Once the Printful plugin is installed and activated, click the plugin in the left sidebar and then the “Connect” button. This will take you to a page where you need to click the “Approve” button. By doing that you will allow the connection between your WooCommerce store and the Printful platform.

connect WooCommerce store with Printful

Step 4: Add products. That’s all. Now that you have connected your shop with Printful, you can proceed to create products. Each time you add a new product to your online store, it will automatically be synced with Printful. More on this in the next steps below.

4. Decide what products to sell

When thinking about creating a POD online store, most of merchants limit themselves only to selling t-shirts. Yes, they are one of the most popular items to sell, but there are other products that you can sell as well. On most of the POD platforms, you can find products in a wide range of categories, including T-shirts, Hoodies & Sweatshirts, Hats, Mugs, Pillows, Stickers, Mouse Pads, Posters, and more.

As you can see, there are many different products that you can sell using print on demand. So, when deciding what products to sell, think about what items would be most popular with your target audience.

5. Craft your designs or use a stock

When it comes to crafting your print-on-demand designs, you have two choices: creating them from scratch or using a stock design.

You can create your own designs if you have the skill and time, or if you are enough motivated to learn how to create your own designs from scratch. You can use a free vector graphics creation software like Inkscape, or a premium graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator. However, this method requires some technical skills and time to learn how to use these tools.

If you would rather not spend the time or money learning how to use graphic design software, or if you need a specific kind of design that you don’t think you can create yourself, you can use a stock graphic design website.

stock designs for POD business from Vexels
featured designs on Vexels

Vexels platform allows you to use and customize their wide collection of pre-made designs by buying a Merch monthly subscription. You can then sell your prints in unlimited amounts, on platforms like Printful. By becoming a merch subscriber, you also have a free design request (or more requests, depending on your chosen plan) that you can use to request a custom design for a product that is not already available in the Vexels collection.

6. Upload your design and create a product

Once you have created your store on the chosen POD platform and have your designs prepared, you can proceed with creating a product. Below I will explain the required steps in creating your first product with Printful:

How to create a product on Printful
Printful stores page

Step 1: Log into your Printful account and click “Stores” in the left sidebar menu. The store you have just created in my previous step (see step two above), will be visible on the right side of your screen.

Step 2: Click “Add Product”. This will take you to Printful’s catalog, where you can browse through different product types and choose the one you would like to sell in your store.

Step 3: Pick a product. You can choose from a wide range of products, including t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, phone cases, and more. For example, to pick a t-shirt, click on “Men’s Clothing” or “Women’s clothing” and in the “T-shirts” category, pick a popular model.

I personally like both, Gildan 64000 (cheaper but no color options, just black, gray, and white) and Bella + Canvas 3001 (a bit more expensive but many colors to choose from). Both have good quality, Bella + Canvas being a bit softer, Gildan having a bit more of a “classic t-shirt” feel to it, and the cotton material being a bit thicker.

Printful t-shirts catalog
Printful popular t-shirts catalog

Step 4: Customize your product. After you have chosen your product it’s time to choose the technique (embroidery or DTG printing) colors, and sizes. Embroidery is more expensive and requires more time to produce the product, but it’s a good option for placing a small logo or a small design on products like hats and polo shirts. For t-shirts, I recommend DTG printing, as it’s a bit cheaper, you have a wider area and options for placing your designs, and is also the most popular printing method.

Choosing colors, and sizes for Bella + Canvas 3001 t-shirt on Printful

Step 5: Upload your design.  This is the most important part – your design. You can either create it yourself, order it from a professional designer, or buy them from a stock platform like Vexels, as I mentioned before. Printful recommends a PNG file with a transparent background, and a high resolution between 150 DPI and maximum 300 DPI for the best printing results. The color space can be either sRGB or CMYK, as the platform will automatically convert your sRGB file in a CMYK file for printing.

By default, only one printing area is included in the price visible at the bottom of your screen. You will notice at the top of your screen, more options such as the back, outside label, inside label, left sleeve, right sleeve, and more (not all products have the same printing areas available). However, each of these additional placements comes with an extra cost and is automatically displayed below each label of the additional areas where you have uploaded your design.

To upload your design, click on the “Drop your design here” area and then the “Upload new design” button. Once your design is uploaded, mouse over it, and click “Apply”.

Step 6: Place your design properly. You can either use your mouse to drag, resize and move the design around or you can use the Transform and Position tabs which are located above your product canvas. Make sure that your design is in the printing area and that it is not too close to the product’s edge, as this might result in the design being cut off. It is also recommended to order samples of your products before selling them to make sure that the quality is as expected and that the design is placed properly.

Printful design placement on a product

If you are happy with how your design looks, you can proceed to the next step.

Step 7: Proceed to mockups. This is an important step, as you want to make sure that your products look good and attracive to potential customers. For this you will need high-quality product photos on which your design is placed. Using the mockups provided by Printful or any other POD platform, is fine, but for a more proffesional look, you will want to use your own high-quality product photos. You can take these yourself, hire a photographer, or the method I recommend, an online mockup generator.

Step 8: Title and description. Type a unique title for your product and provide as much detail as possible. This is important, as potential customers will be able to find your product more easily and will know exactly what they are getting, and it will also help your product rank higher in search results.

Step 9: Set your price. The Revenue column represents the money you will make when someone buys your product, whereas the Retail price is the price your customers will pay for your product, including Printful’s price. It is important to find a balance between the revenue and the retail price, as you want to make a profit, but at the same time, you don’t want to price your products too high, as potential customers might be discouraged from buying.

Pricing your products can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The best way to decide the pricing for your products is to check your competitors and see what they are selling their products for. After you have an idea, you can start to set your prices a little bit higher or lower depending on what you think your products are worth.

Pro Tip

Remember to keep in mind all the other costs that go into running your business, such as shipping, platform manufacturing fees, and any monthly subscriptions for tools and software you might have. With proper pricing, you can make a good profit margin on your products.

Step 10: Submit to store. In this last step, click “Submit to store”. By doing so, your product will automatically be published on your website. To modify your product, you can either do it on the POD platform or on your website. To add more products, repeat the same steps I described above.

7. Check your products before selling them

Unfortunately, this is a necessary step. It is wise to order samples of your products before selling them to your customers. This will help avoid any potential issues with quality and allow you to inspect the products for any possible defects. By doing this, you can avoid any potential customer complaints and refund requests.

I personally think that this is a time and money-consuming task, and it could be avoided if print-on-demand platforms would improve their design editors. Most of these platforms do not offer precise measurements or do not offer them at all, which makes it difficult to place your design right, without ordering a sample product first. It is no doubt a marketing tactic to make more money out of their customers, but it is what it is.

8. Promote your products

Promoting your products is vitally important if you want to make sales and grow your business. These are some of the best ways to promote your products:

Social media contests and giveaways: You can use social media contests and giveaways tools to attract more followers and promote your products. If you have a Woocomerce store, or you want to host the contests on your website, you can use the RafflePress WordPress plugin, which is easy to use and set up. For Shopify or any other e-commerce platform, you can use SweepWidget.

Email marketing: This is a fantastic way to stay in touch with your customers and to let them know about new products, discounts, and coupons. You can use a tool like MailChimp to create and send newsletters to your subscribers.

Social media marketing tools: Using a social media bio link tool like Shorby is also a clever idea as you could create a simple mobile-friendly landing page with links to some of your most popular products. Then you can include the generated link in your Instagram bio or any other social media platforms you prefer.

In addition to this, being active on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, and sharing high-quality and unique photos of your products, can help you attract more potential customers to your store.

Facebook Ads and Google AdWords:  Both Facebook ads and Google AdWords are effective paid ways to reach a wider audience and promote your products. To avoid wasting money, make sure to target your ads properly and set a limit on your daily budget.

Blogging: This is the best free way to get organic and constant traffic to your online store and attract potential customers. You can create a blog and write about your products or other related topics, which will help you attract more visitors to your website. However, it requires more time and effort as you need to write high-quality blog posts that rank well in google search results.

Affiliate marketing: You can use a platform like Goaffpro and offer a percentage of each sale (e.g. 10-15%) to anyone who promotes your print-on-demand products on their social media accounts, website, or blog. Goaffpro can be fully integrated with all the major e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Woocommerce, BigCommerce, Wix, and more.

9. Start making sales

Now that you have set up your store and started promoting your products, it is time to start making sales. The best way to do this is to offer discounts and coupons to potential customers. You can also offer free shipping to customers who spend a certain amount of money in your store. This is a great way to increase the average order value and to make more sales.

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

Starting a print on demand business is a very low-cost endeavor, which is one of the reasons why it is so popular. Below I will list some of the necessary things and costs associated with starting your business:

  1. A computer with an internet connection
  2. Print-on-demand company fees: with Printful there are no upfront costs, but you will be charged for the cost of manufacturing and shipping.
  3. A domain name for your store (you can buy on Namecheap for $6-$14/year)
  4. Web hosting, if you create your online store with Woocommerce. (I recommend Cloudways which starts at $10/month)
  5. WordPress and Wocommerce to be installed on your server (free), or you can use an e-commerce platform like Shopify (the Basic plan is $29/month)
  6. A Shopify or Woocommerce theme. You can use free themes, but I highly recommend investing in a premium theme. They are more secure and optimized for SEO. A premium theme for Shopify could range between $140 – $180. Woocommerce premium themes are usually cheaper, around $60 – $100.
  7. A credit card and/or PayPal account for payments and funds to cover the cost of your first orders.
  8. Graphic design software like Inkscape (free) or Adobe Illustrator (around $20.99/month ).
  9. A merch subscription on Vexels, which will allow you to commercially use their ready-made high-quality designs for your products ($21.99/month)

Is print on demand worth it?

Print on demand trend over past five years
Google trends graph of past 5 years of print on demand

As we can see, the print-on-demand trend has been constantly on the rise in past five years, which is a clear sign that in the near future, the print-on-demand industry is only going to grow bigger. Another thing worth mentioning is that the print on demand industry was valued at USD 4.90 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.1% from 2022 to 2030.

With that being said, it’s safe to say that print on demand is definitely worth it. But don’t just take my word for it, let’s look at the numbers:

The average print on demand product sells for $15-20. The average cost of goods is $5-7. This means that you’re looking at a profit margin of $8-13 per product. If you sell just 10 products per day, that’s a profit of $80-130. Per month, that’s a profit of $2400-3900. And that’s just for 10 sales per day. If you can scale your business and sell more products, the sky is the limit.

Print on demand pros:

  • Low investment to start
  • Can be done from anywhere in the world
  • No need to carry inventory
  • Product is only made after it is sold
  • Great way to test out product ideas
  • You can easily establish your brand by white labeling your products

Print on demand cons:

  • Slightly higher prices than mass production
  • Order fulfillment can take a bit longer
  • You are reliant on the POD platform you use
  • Returns management may be more complex

Inspiring Stories: Successful Print on Demand Businesses

House of Chingasos

House of Chingasos shop
(source: houseofchingasos.com)

House of Chingasos is a great example of a successful print-on-demand business. Carlos, the founder and CEO of House of Chingasos, has built a strong brand by focusing on customer service and creating designs that appeal to his Latino audience. He has also grown his business by investing in advertising and email marketing. In April 2020, he made over $200,000 in sales with his store. He was also featured on Shopify’s “Build a Bigger Business” podcast.

Conclusion

To have a successful print-on-demand business, you don’t need to have a completely original idea. You just need to be passionate about your niche and believe in what you’re doing. With enough passion and hard work, anyone can have a successful print-on-demand business. Happy Printing!

How to Start a Print On Demand Business FAQs

Is print on demand dead?

No, print on demand is not dead. In fact, it is still trending in 2022. Businesses and individual entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to print-on-demand services to create a passive income stream or to supplement their primary income.

What do you need to start a print on demand business?

The only things you really need to start a print-on-demand business are a design for your product and an online shop. Of course, it would also be helpful if you had some basic knowledge of graphic design and marketing, but it is not necessary.

Where to sell print on demand products?

You have three main options: you can set up your own online store with WordPress and WooCommerce, on an e-commerce platform like Shopify, or sell through a third-party platform like Etsy, eBay or Amazon.

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Cosmin is a full-time blogger and has been designing and developing websites for over 8 years. He's a crypto enthusiast and loves anything tech-related. This led him to start greenhunt.io, where he helps people launch and grow their own online businesses, through comprehensive how-to guides and reviews.