This is our complete guide on how to get started with print on demand in 2021.
If you want to learn how to get started with your own online store where you can sell custom products (such as t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, posters…) and start a real business — you came to the right place.
I’ll explain exactly how print on demand works, how you can start a print on demand store, how you can brand and market your store and give you some useful tips to get started.
- Chapter 1 — What Is Print On Demand?
- Chapter 2 — How To Start A Print On Demand Store
- Chapter 3 — How To Brand Your Print On Demand Store
What Is Print On Demand
Print on demand is essentially a creative spin on the traditional dropshipping model.
With regular dropshipping, you sell products that you don’t hold an inventory of, through a separate supplier that fulfills order for you.
Print on demand suppliers do exactly that but instead of finished products, they have an inventory full of blank products (t-shirts, mugs, posters,..) that they print your designs on.
Meaning that you can upload your designs onto their products and sell them on your store, without the hassle of holding an inventory or fulfilling the products.
This is perfect for entrepreneurs, designers, artists who want to get started selling online with their own product-line.
No upfront investments, no upfront risks, no shipping hassles,…
Anyone can start with print on demand.
How Print On Demand Works
So how does this work?
With print on demand, you are working together with a supplier (e.g. Printful). This supplier is connected to your store and gets notified automatically when someone orders a product from you.
Once a product is bought (from your store), your supplier will start printing your design on the ordered product and ship it to your customer. Without you needing to press any buttons or contacting them about this.
This means that your product isn’t printed until it is sold and you don’t have to pay until it is sold either. Hence the name ‘print on demand’.
Print on demand is great for:
- Monetizing an audience: Your favorite YouTuber sells merch doesn’t s/he? Guess what, they use print on demand to do this. If you have an audience on social media, print on demand is a great way to sell your personalized merch to this audience.
- Starting a niche store: Print on demand is a great way to sell personalized products within a certain niche. (e.g. selling ‘I love my lab’ t-shirts to labrador lovers)
- Testing a business/niche: Maybe you have the intention of starting a business within a certain niche but don’t know how well your products would do?
- Selling personalized goods: Ever wondered how Etsy sellers are selling personalized framed prints, canvasses, t-shirts and shipping them worldwide? Many of them use a print on demand supplier to fulfill these orders for them. So can you.
The possibilities are endless, print and demand opens a lot of door for creative internet entrepreneurs.
Print On Demand Marketplaces
There are two ways to sell through print on demand: by starting your own store and by uploading to a marketplace.
With a print on demand store, you are creating your own brand under your own umbrella. This means you have to take care of branding, advertising, customer service, refunds, and so on.
You are running an e-commerce business.
However, there is an easier way to get started with print on demand.
And that’s with print on demand marketplaces.
Examples of these marketplaces are: Redbubble, Teespring, Society6 and so on.
Read Also: Print on Demand Alternatives To Redbubble
As people go to these site with the intention to shop for gifts, it’s no surprise the majority of the goods sold here are funny or motivational quotes on t-shirts.
Anyone can upload their own designs to these marketplaces by creating a free account.
You can kind of compare it to eBay or Etsy, except that you don’t have to have the item yourself, you just need a digitally uploaded design. All you have to do is upload. Everything else (customer service, marketing, returns,..), is done for you.
The rest of this article will cover how print on demand for stores work.
Is Print On Demand Profitable?
From the examples above, I think it’s save to say that print on demand can be very profitable.
However, it’s definitely not easy.
Compared to buying products in bulk or conventional dropshipping, print on demand often leaves you with very small margins.
While the average AliExpress dropshipping product can easily be flipped for 5X, you cannot expect to do the same with print on demand.
With the average POD provider, you will make $11 per sold t-shirt if you sell it for $20, and you will still have to charge for shipping on top of that.
However, you can create a long-term niche-brand with print on demand. Something you cannot say for the average dropshipping product.
Print On Demand Success Stories
Black Fathers Exist: $100K per month with print on demand
A few years ago, Charles Smith, a loving father, left the corporate world in favor for entrepreneurism.
He tried multiple different ideas: building an app, selling on Amazon, conventional dropshipping but it wasn’t until he found Print on Demand that he found success.
With some experience under his belt, he knew he had to come up with something different so he did: he targeted the father niche, specifically black fathers.
He did so to fight a negative stereotype.
And it blew up.
Charles made $39 in his first month by selling to a friend. One year later he made $144,538 on a spectacular father’s day sale.
You can read the full article on Printify’s blog.
Famous In Real Life: $700K in the first year
The next POD success story is from a designer named Mike Palsey, who founded Famous in Real Life.
To achieve his success, Mike dedicated 25 hours per week to this side hustle all the while working his full-time job.
Mike likes to tell you to “Always Be Ideating”. He believes anyone can get started with POD, provided that they are eager to learn, experiment, and are constantly scouring for new ideas.
By always ideating, experimenting, learning, and failing, Mike managed to make $700K in his first year of print on demand.
You can read the full article on this POD success story here.
More print on demand success stories:
- Life as a mom and successful Etsy print on demand store owner
- A pastor uses print on demand to generate 200k for do-good projects
- Selling art online, Alejandro Giraldo Print On Demand Success Story
How To Start A Print On Demand Store
Pick A Niche
The first thing you have to figure out to get started with print on demand is exactly what you want to sell and what audience you want to sell to.
In the POD success stories from earlier you may have noticed a pattern — they all had very specific niches.
Charles Smith found a really good niche by targeting Black Fathers. This niche is something that he could be truly passionate about as a loving, black father himself while also catering to a large and untapped audience.
This aligns with what Mike Palsey teaches in his POD success story:
“The importance of finding a niche that both excites you and has mass audience appeal”Mike Palsey, Famous In Real Life
Charles’ success is a great example of how you can create a successful brand by targeting an untapped niche.
Too often, entrepreneurs try their shot at e-commerce by copying another store or starting a niche brand without doing any type of research in the market.
This results in them struggling to get any sales due to the market being too saturated.
Good niche research prevents exactly that.
At first, picking a niche will prove difficult. I’ve been there. It’ll seem like there are barely any options and all the good ones are taken. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. For every broad niche out there, there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of microniches that you can target.
To give you a bit of an idea, here are some popular broad niches:
- Family and relationships niche
- Location and travel niche
- Lifestyle niche
- Hobby niche
Within these niches we have hundreds of microniches such as:
- Gifts for moms, gifts for a significant other, wedding gifts
- Architecture art, maps
- Motivational quotes, yoga, veganism
- Gaming, Gardening, Manga
Pick A Store Platform
There are many e-commerce platforms out there where you can host your own print on demand store.
Here are some of the big ones:
Which platform you pick is entirely up to you and you are free to do your own research.
This print on demand guide will focus primarily on using Shopify.
Shopify is the biggest e-commerce platform out there, is easy to use, requires no technical abilities, has 24/7 support, and is very inexpensive.
They can also easily integrate with every print on demand provider out there, for a seamless, print on demand operation.
You can try Shopify for free, for 14 days by using this link.
If you don’t want to create your own brand, you can also start an Etsy shop. More info on Etsy print on demand.
Choose A Print On Demand Supplier
Once you have your niche picked out, you can start looking for a provider.
The reason we look at niches first is that not every POD provider offers every product you may want to sell.
While every POD provider sells t-shirts, not every POD provider offers custom dog bowls, custom yoga mats, and other niche-specific items.
The go-to print on demand provider for most people is Printful.
This is because Printful does everything in-house, has multiple locations worldwide, can integrate with every platform, and is generally your safest bet if you have few technical skills.
However, they are known to be expensive and this can cut into your profit margins.
So while I do recommend checking Printful out, you can check out my other article on Printful alternatives.
Or here is a list of good print on demand providers that integrate with Shopify:
Create Your Designs (Or Hire A Designer)
Get inspiration from the competition
Good artists copy, great artists stealPablo Picasso
No, I’m not telling you to blatantly copy someone else (seriously, don’t), but you can draw a lot of inspiration from others’ work.
Let’s take a look at the “motivational” niche. When looking up the keywords on Redbubble I instantly see a bunch of shirts with the same ‘Rise and Grind’ quote, in a different design.
By the amount of ‘Rise and Grind’ designs on Redbubble, I have to assume it’s a popular design that I could potentially sell in my own store.
But aside from that, I can also draw inspiration from these sellers’ individual styles.
I particularly like the second and third design.
Now obviously I don’t want to steal it completely, but I can develop a similar style with a different quote. In doing so, I have created my own design by drawing inspiration from the competition.
Keep reading: find cool print on demand design ideas
Anyone starting a POD business should check out Printful’s video with the 7 most common beginner mistakes. Here they are summed up:
- Stay away from copyrighted and trademarked content
- Don’t create boring or unoriginal content
- Don’t make grammar mistakes (it does happen!)
- Stay away from violence or graphic content
- Awesome design, wrong product
The following software can be used to create print on demand designs:
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Illustrator
- GIMP (free)
- Canva (free)
If you don’t want to design yourself, you can always hire a print on demand designer from Fiverr.
TIP: Most print on demand providers have downloadable design files on their individual product pages, use this to create your design in the correct format.
Create Your Shopify Store
The first thing you’ll need for your print on demand business is a storefront, in this guide we’ll focus mainly on Shopify as they are most commonly used.
If you want to follow along with this setup-tutorial, sign up for the free trial here.
How to setup your Shopify account
- Start your Shopify trial
- Enter your email address
- Add a password
- Add a store name (you can change this)
- Skip the next steps or fill them in if you want extra tips from Shopify
- Fill in your address & phone number
You’ll then have access to your dashboard where you can operate your entire Shopify from.
Setup Your POD Integration
Once you have created your Shopify store, it’s time to set up your integration. Most print on demand providers will have a Shopify app available for easy integration.
Here are some examples of POD providers that have Shopify apps:
To setup the integration, head over the the Shopify app store and search the print on demand provider of your choice. You can do so by navigation from your Shopify dashboard > Apps > Visit the Shopify app store
Once installed, sign up for a free account.
When the app is installed and you have an account with your POD supplier your products will then by synced up correctly.
This means that you can upload products through the app and publish them directly to your Shopify store. Once someone purchases any of these products, your supplier will be notified through the integration and fulfill the orders for you.
Publish Your Products
How To Brand Your Print On Demand Store
Why Branding Is Important To Your POD Success
Starting a store is honestly pretty easy. Anyone can create a Shopify account and throw some print on demand products on there.
However, by doing so, you are competing with tens of thousands of like-minded people. The way you can stand out from those, is by having a great branding.
Only with proper branding, you can set yourself apart from the competition.
- Tells your story
- Increases your recognition
- Creates trust (and emotional connection)
- Generates long-term growth
I could ramble on as to why branding is important, but I highly recommend you read this article by 99designs instead.
Unique Selling Proposition
To understand how we want to brand our print on demand business we need to learn about unique selling proposition or USP in short.
Today’s market is highly competitive and without a good and novel angle, you won’t be able to stand out in that market. That’s where unique selling proposition comes in place. With USP you can make your brand stand out instead of blending in.
Here’s how you can achieve a good unique selling proposition:
- Research the competition. What do they use for USPs? Often beginners will copy the USPs of competitors, but this defies the point. Instead, you should learn from your competitors and try to come up with a different angle.
- Look for what your customer needs. Not every market is as saturated as we first might believe. There are always customer pain points that you can fulfill. What can you offer that your competition doesn’t already offer?
- Take your time. USPs aren’t created in a day. Take your time, learn from the competition, write things down, and don’t be afraid to overhaul everything you’ve done once you find a better angle.
You can read all about USPs on Shopify’s blog.
Defining A Color Palette
One of the most identifying factors of your branding, next to the logo — is your color palette.
Your color palette should be complementary, arouse trust, authority and …
Therefore it’s important that you carefully pick out a color palette and not just throw 5 random colors together and call it a day.
Don’t worry though, you don’t have to be a designer to create a color palette. Sites like Adobe Color and Colourlovers are there to help you.
On colourlovers you can find an accumulation of color palettes to pick and choose from.
Adobe Color lets you find complementary colors and create color palettes starting from a color of your choice.
You can also extract a color palette from an image by uploading it to the Adobe website.
Creating A Brand Logo
Your logo is the face of your print on demand store, so you want to get it right.
A good logo..
You have two options when creating a logo: DIY or hire a designer to do it for you.
While I do recommend that beginners that lack design skills hire a designer (You can get a great logo on Fiverr for 50-100$), I understand that many are here to “bootstrap” their first business together.
Design your own print on demand logo (for free) with Canva!
For those of you on a budget that want to take a shot at creating your own logo, you can do so by using Canva. Canva is a free online tool with lots of design elements that is super easy to use!
Of course, you can also use professional software such as Illustrator and Photoshop to create a logo yourself.
When designing your own logo I recommend you check out the following articles:
You can also use resources from Freepik, Envato Elements, and other online libraries to help your design come alive.
The following are some of the steps I use myself whenever I create a new eCommerce store logo.
- Create a Pinterest mood board with logo’s and design elements I like
- Research the competition and take notes from their design elements and styles
- Start sketching (try different styles and add different design elements)
- Start creating mockups with your design software
- Pick the mockup you like the most and improve it with suitable typography
Hire a designer on Fiverr
For those with a little extra cash (at least $50) on hand, you can find a designer on Fiverr that you like and hire them to create a professional logo for you.
I recommend this to everyone that lacks design skills.
Here’s how you can safely order from Fiverr in 4 easy steps:
Step 1: Set the price to 50 and above.
Why do we do this? Because there are many unprofessional sellers on Fiverr. Yes, you can get a logo made for $5 but no it won’t be any good. Can you imagine how little time they will spend on it? Do you really want your ‘successful’ store logo to be made in minutes instead of hours or even days? Don’t waste your time and money and set a decent budget aside for your logo.
Step 2: Look for design styles
Every Fiverr seller will have a certain style. Some make modern logo’s, some make handdrawn logo’s so make vintage logo’s and so on. Find a couple of sellers that have a style that fits your branding and favorite their gigs.
Step 3: Check reviews
If you’re going to spend money on a designer, you want to make sure they’re legit. Lucky for us, Fiverr has a very good review system that will help us out here. Check the reviews for each and every single seller you hearted and delete those bad reviews or too little reviews (less than 10).
Step 4: Message them
On Fiverr, sellers prefer that you message them before ordering. So definitely do that. This way, you can discuss the order, maybe even ask for a custom offer and even discuss pricing and delivery times. This is also a great way to check whether the designer is polite and responsive. Once you think you’ve the right one, order your logo!
Market Your Print On Demand Business
Of course, traffic isn’t organic. In an ideal world, you would create your store, and customers would just stumble upon it. But the online world is far from ideal. In order to turn your print on demand business into a success, you need to market it properly.
I define marketing in 3 categories: social media, search traffic and paid traffic.
Social Media Advertising
When doing social media marketing you want to target the platforms where your audience spends time. For example, TikTok has risen and become very popular with teens and young adults but not so much with anyone above 25.
Besides age, certain niches have a more established audience on different platforms as well. Pinterest, for example, is largely used by women over 20 that frequent niches such as DIY & craft, home decor, health & fitness, and so on.
Knowing this, you should carefully consider which social media platforms you will target for your specific niche. If you can’t tell where your audience spends time online, a quick google search should answer that for you.
The following social media platforms are popular for print on demand:
Developing a content strategy
Your social media pages should NOT just contain posts advertising your products, this is the complete wrong mentality and won’t convert into followers.
Instead, your content strategy should focus on a number of factors such as providing value, increasing social proof, and engaging your followers.
Let’s take a look at @beardbrand‘s Instagram strategy
Now Beardbrand may not be a print on demand brand, we can still learn a lot from their social media marketing strategy.
In just two years, beardbrand has catapulted itself into a brand that consistently makes $100k per month in revenue. They’ve done so by consistently uploading to social media (mainly IG) and blogging about their products.
As you can see, they have over 3,000 posts published on Instagram alone.
Also note their catch phrase (think about USP!) ‘Keep on Growing’. It’s short and it works.
Your beard can keep on growing, with beardbrand. That’s what people associate them with!
Considering the brand was originally founded in 2012, that means they have consistently posted at least 1 post per day.
And they definitely do not just post random product pictures.
Let’s take a look.
Beardbrand provides value by teaching their following different ways of maintaining your beard from home. Are they selling products here? Nope! They are focusing on educating and in turn, growing their audience.
What better way to market your products on Fathers day then to have a video of a father talk about his father, his kids and how beards are such a big part of their lives? Beardbrand knows how to get social proof.
Engaging with your audience is important, and Beardbrand knows that. Asking a simple question like “So, What’s your story” can lead to a bunch of answers from your following. This creates a domino effect because the more engagement a post has, the higher it will be ranked on the platform.
This is also why giveaways (often including tag your friends’ challenges) so often go viral.
Next to providing value, social proof, and audience engagement you should also optimize your posts by including niche-relevant hashtags.
If you scroll back up a bit, you’ll notice that each and every single post on Beardbrand’s Instagram has a couple of hashtags. These hashtags are handpicked and help them reach an even bigger audience.
On every post, you can add a maximum of 30 hashtags. Though experts have found that 11 niche-relevant hashtags, is the sweet spot.
Add your hashtags, but don’t overdo it.
With print on demand, there are many ways to spice up your content and not just have to post continuous product pictures.
Here’s an example of your average print on demand store’s IG page
What’s wrong with this? It has no personality or branding, get’s very stale and doesn’t focus on providing value, creating engagement, social proof, or anything else I’ve mentioned before.
I don’t have to tell you that this store is likely doing very poorly.
Now let’s take a look at the strategy of Mike’s succesful POD brand famousinrealife
Big difference, right? What you see here is a combination of lifestyle photography, social proof (here in the form of customer pictures), design close-ups and a sale.
They are still advertising their products in every picture, but they are doing so very differently from the last store.
Creating your content
A good way to get lifestyle pictures is to buy samples of your products and get friends and family members to use/wear them.
Alternatively, you can also use online mockups to do this for you.
If you don’t have access to Photoshop you can use Placeit instead. Placeit is an online library with tens of thousands of lifestyle and product mockups to pick and choose from. All you have to do is upload your design file(s) on the site and a mockup will automatically be generated for you.
You will have to pay a monthly fee of $14.95 if you want to download and use these images watermark-free. But for a print on demand store, Placeit is almost irreplaceable. See it as an investment!
Social media marketing for print on demand
By now, you should have a pretty good foundation to get started with social media marketing for print on demand.
Here’s a quick sum-up:
- Focus on 1-3 social media platforms that fit your niche and audience
- Shoot lifestyle pictures or use mockups for your social media content
- Focus on the big three: social proof, providing value, and user engagement
- Use niche-relevant hashtags
Starter tip: The first 100 followers are the hardest on any social media platform. And you’ll really struggle if you plan to get these just through content. To get your first followers you should locate and follow accounts within your niche. On social media, people are likely to follow you back if your content aligns with theirs. Try to follow at least 20-50 accounts per day and don’t do it all at once to avoid getting blocked!
Read more about social media marketing for eCommerce.
Paid advertising is the best way to get instant traffic and sales to your store. However, paid advertising cuts into your profits and requires a good amount of investment to get started.
Many eCommerce beginners believe paid advertising works like this:
- Step 1: You put money in the machine
- Step 2: You pull the lever and more money comes out
In reality it’s more something like this:
- Step 1: You put money in the machine
- Step 2: You put more money in the machine
- Step 3: You put even more money in the machine
- Step 4: You break even
- Step 5: You start seeing profits
This is the deal with Facebook Ads especially, where the FB pixel you install on your store, needs to be warmed up to your audience.
The algorithm doesn’t know exactly who the best audience for your store is untill they have tested your products and landing pages on different audiences and you have spend hundreds of dollars on doing so.
Facebook with its gigantic audience and relatively low ad rates and great conversion rates, has become the obvious choice for many marketers.
Facebook has an ad spend minimum of $1 a day meaning you can start with a very low budget. Ideally, though, you spend at least $10-20 a day.
The setup for Facebook is very easy and straight forward. All you need is a business manager account and a Facebook page (for your shop).
Once that’s done, you’re ready to get started with Facebook Ads.
If Facebook Ads is something you’re interested in, I recommend you give this article by Shopify a read. It will explain everything you need to get started.
Next to Facebook, Google is commonly used by eCommerce marketers to drive visitors and sales to their store.
Google Ads are often used for retargeting purposes. Think about this: how often have you looked up a product, went through checkout, and abandoned your cart only to get spammed that exact product on Youtube ads and through display ads for the next couple of days?
Those are retargeting ads and they are a great way to drive customers who abandoned their carts, back to your store to complete the order.
Google Ads are divided in three sections:
- Search Ads (the sponsored ads on top of almost every search)
- Display Ads (the ads you see on blogs and websites)
- Shopping Ads (the carousel you see when you google a certain product)
For your print on demand store, you’ll want to stick to the bottom two: Display and Shopping Ads.
I would not recommend driving cold traffic (traffic that doesn’t know your brand or your product) through display ads and only use them for retargeting purposes.
Cold traffic converts better on Facebook Ads and other social media advertising platforms.
This article covers Google Ads and examples of its different campaign types.
With paid advertising, just like with organic Social Media advertising, you best spend your money where your audience spends their time.
This extensive print on demand guide should give you a good base layer to get started with your own eCommerce store/business in 2021.
If you have any questions or feel like something is missing from this guide, let me know by posting a comment below and I’ll get back to you.