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Print-on-Demand Explained How to Sell Custom T-shirts, Accessories, or Merch

Print-on-Demand Explained: How to Sell Custom Products without Breaking the Bank

13 min read

Launching an online business might seem like an overwhelming endeavour. Where do you source products? Store them? What about shipping? Oh, and the startup costs… The fear of a risky upfront investment is enough to make any aspiring entrepreneur get a bad case of cold feet.

But what if we told you that you could start a business without spending a lot of money on start-up costs, all while delegating your inventory storing and shipping needs to professionals?

Sounds too good to be true, right? But we’re here to tell you: it’s not! With print-on-demand services, you can quickly start selling products that you design. No inventory or money upfront needed. With just an online store, you’re ready to go.

This blog post covers the basics for starting out selling print-on-demand shirts, jewelry, mugs, and anything else you can put a print on. Let’s get rolling!

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What Is Print-on-Demand?

Print-on-demand is an order fulfillment method where products are printed and paid for only when an order is made.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

  1. You come up with a design to print on your products.
  2. You set up an online store and connect it to a print-on-demand service.
  3. A customer places an order in your store.
  4. The print-on-demand service prints your design on the item the customer ordered and ships it to them.

As you can see, you don’t have to deal with inventory or shipping—the print-on-demand service takes care of all that. However, you do need to take care of the design, your website, marketing, and customer service.

The great thing about print-on-demand is that the order amount usually doesn’t matter for the POD service. If you got an order for just one T-shirt today, it would be sent to your customers.

You can choose products and upload your design on a print-on-demand service’s website (Image: Printful)

Pros and Cons of Having a Print-on-Demand Store

Not sure if a print-on-demand business is right for you? Consider the following advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of having a print-on-demand store:

  • Less stress: You don’t have to store and manage stock, package orders, deal with suppliers or shipping companies.
  • Mostly hands-off: Once you set up a store, you don’t have to invest a lot of time in keeping your business running.
  • No dead stock: As orders are printed after an order is placed, you don’t risk having a pile of dead stock (that you’ve already paid for!) lying around.

Cons of having a print-on-demand store:

  • More expensive compared to buying items in bulk: Since products are made to order, your profit margins are lower.
  • No control over packaging and shipping: Since you don’t manage shipping, it’s harder to customize your packaging and control the price of shipping, or how long it will take for your items to reach your customers.
  • No personal oversight/quality control: You don’t see the product before it’s shipped to your customers. However, you can order test batches to check the quality of items offered by a print-on-demand company before you commit to their services.

Is Print-on-Demand Right For You?

The specifics of a print-on-demand business make it a great option for some of the following types of online sellers:

  • Beginners who would like to open an online store, but don’t have time to source products and deal with inventory and shipping.
  • Influencers, artists, musicians, or anyone else with a following who want to sell their merchandise.
  • People who’d like to sell their own designs or whose business model involves sourcing designs from other artists.
  • Businesses and nonprofits that want to sell branded merchandise.
  • Aspiring entrepreneurs that can’t afford to make risky investments up front.
  • Businesses that want to test new products while staying on a budget.

Branded merchandise is a popular way to let your followers support you (Image: Pip The Beach Cat)

What Product You Can Sell in a Print-on-Demand Store

Print-on-demand companies offer a selection of items that you can customize with your design or brand. Basically any product you can put a design or logo on can be sold with print-on-demand.

The most common products are:

  • Clothes for adults and kids. For example, t-shirts, shirts, hoodies, caps, leggings, etc.
  • Accessories such as tote bags, phone cases, umbrellas, jewelry, face masks, etc.
  • Home decor, for instance, wall art, throw pillows, towels, stationery
  • Drinkware, say coffee mugs and water bottles
  • Product catalogs for mailing.

There are various products you can customize and sell

How to Set Up a Print-on-Demand Store

Print-on-demand is a powerful alternative for aspiring entrepreneurs to create and sell custom items without delegating resources to inventory storage and shipping. But how do you set it up, exactly?

1. Choose What to Sell

The choice and the range of products depends on what kind of store you’re thinking of starting. For example, if you’re dreaming about designing your own apparel line, you can sell all kinds of clothes and accessories with various custom prints in your store.

Pro-tip: start small! For influencers, nonprofits, and companies looking for branded print-on-demand merchandise, 3-5 products might be enough to start out with.

2. Create Your Design

Design can be as simple or elaborate as you want. It can be a print, or a stylized tagline or slogan. It’s best to avoid using prints found online as you risk violating someone else’s copyright. Also because you want your product to be original.

You can create a unique print for your products, or hire a designer.

The first option is better if you have design skills or if you’re ready to edit ready-made prints from stock (such as Depositphotos or Unsplash). Still, it’s likely you’ll need basic skills for image editing. Another option is to use a service for graphic design like Canva or Artify.

Some print-on-demand services also offer design templates and mockup generators you can use to create and customize your prints. That might be enough if you’re looking for something simple, like a logo for some branded merch.

Designing a backpack via Printful’s built-in tool

Hiring a designer to create a custom print will likely cost you more than making it yourself or with a graphic design service. At the same time, it can help ensure you’ll get a quality print no matter how elaborate you want the design to be. To hire a freelance designer, you can always check out websites like Upwork or Dribble.

3. Set Up an Online Store

Now that you know what you’re going to sell, you need a place to sell it! Setting up an online store might sound like a challenge if you’ve never dealt with building a website and have zero coding experience. However, for the web-wary among us, there are ecommerce solutions like Ecwid that allow you to create an online store from scratch even if you have no tech skills.

When setting up your online store, make sure to provide relevant information about your brand, contact information, as well as Terms and Conditions, Return and Refund Policy. This way your new website will look more trustworthy to potential customers.

An example of a website you can quickly set up with Ecwid E-commerce

More: How to Build an Ecommerce Website: The Easiest Way That Requires No Experience

4. Choose a Print-on-Demand Service and Connect it to your Store

To start selling print-on-demand products, you need to connect your online store to a suitable POD service.

Here’s what you need to consider when choosing a print-on-demand company:

  • Price. When comparing prices, make sure to check out any additional charges or hidden fees that might be in the mix (reviews are your friend!).
  • Potential profit margin. A 10 to 20 percent profit margin is average for the print-on-demand industry. Determine how much you are willing to charge your customers for custom products, and make sure that your cost of goods sold doesn’t compromise your ability to become profitable.
  • A range of customizable products. Each print-on-demand company has a selection of items that you can customize with your designs. Make sure they offer the specific products you’d like to sell in your store. For example, if you want to sell t-shirts, don’t hire a print-on-demand service that specializes in ceramics.
  • Multiple stores per account. If you’re going to have several stores (say, for different target audiences), look for services that allow you to have multiple stores managed by one account.
  • Branding options. Find out if a supplier puts their brand on products or packaging before you commit to them. Check if there are any limitations in your branding options or designs.
  • Seamless integration with a store. Choose a provider that integrates easily with your ecommerce platform.
  • Fulfillment and shipping. To prevent customer complaints on delayed delivery, choose a print-on-demand service that ships from the same country or geographical area that you want to sell in. Keep in mind that the further your items have to travel, the higher the shipping costs.
  • The merchant policies. Check how and when you get paid from sales fulfilled by the print-on-demand service. Some of them don’t pay out until after their return period has ended, which could be up to a month.

We know you don’t want to offer bad quality items to your customers. That’s why it’s incredibly important to compare several services by ordering test batches. This way, you’ll be able to compare the quality of products and printing methods and choose the best service for your specific design needs.

After you decide on a service, it’s time to sync it to your online store. If you have an Ecwid store, you can easily connect it to Printful. This print-on-demand service has no order minimums, setup, or monthly fees. It offers free design templates which makes it a great choice for beginners. You can choose from 270+ customizable items and order samples of your products with 20% off.

Start Your Print-on-Demand Business Today

You might be interested in starting a brand new business, finding a new way to test new inventory for an existing store, or getting your company’s name out there with branded merchandise. No matter what you’re looking for, print-on-demand is a great way to do that, with minimal investment of both money and effort.

So what do you have in mind for your store? Maybe you want customized print-on-demand jewelry? Throw pillows featuring your brand’s signature tagline?

Share your ideas in our comment section. Or else you can use it to give advice to fellow merchants, or ask any questions about starting a print-on-demand store with Ecwid.

Do you want to learn more about the print-on-demand business?

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About the author

Anastasia Prokofieva is a content writer at Ecwid. She writes about online marketing and promotion to make entrepreneurs’ daily routine easier and more rewarding. She also has a soft spot for cats, chocolate, and making kombucha at home.

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