Are you a creative individual looking to monetize your skills? Or perhaps you are an eCommerce site owner looking to add personalized products to your catalog. Either way, print on demand could help you achieve your creative and business goals.
But how exactly should the process be conducted? How do I set up a print-on-demand e-commerce site? What tools should you use?
This article answers all of these questions and more. We’ll illuminate the ins and outs of print-on-demand, offer tips on how to get started and provide information on the best services out there. By the end of this guide, you will have a solid understanding of the concept and be more confident in selling customizable products online.
What is print on demand?
Print on demand or (POD) is an e-commerce model that allows you to sell custom products printed after an order has been made. With print-on-demand, you don’t cling to any physical inventory. Instead, you sign up for a POD platform that handles the printing and fulfillment process for you.
Print-on-demand is a type of drop shipping practice, where the merchant does not have to deal with inventory management and shipping. All of those components are handled by a third party, and the seller incurs no holding fees because they are not charged for the cost of the goods until someone places an order.
Pod compliance services vs. pod markets
Before starting, it is essential to distinguish between POD fulfillment services and POD markets.
The first includes services like Printful and Printify, which serve as your back-end fulfillment partner. The services COMPLIANCE to POD allows you to connect your site e-commerce platform. Every time someone buys from your site, that request is sent to your service provider for printing and fulfillment.
On the other hand, POD markets handle both the front– and back-end of the process. Instead of connecting your store to a POD marketplace, just upload your design to the site, and the company will sell the items for you.
This means that you allow your drawings to be placed on physical products rather than selling them yourself. Sites like Redbubble and Zazzle fall into the marketplace category.
The right choice is dependent on your business model and preferences. If you want to sell your designs through your brand and have more control over your inventory, then a POD fulfillment service would be the ideal option. Note that this option needs more effort because it requires you to set up a customer-facing store.
On the other hand, if you would instead let someone else handle the selling, marketing, and printing, you’re better going with a POD market. With this business model, all you need to do is uploading your artwork and let the market do the rest. However, a significant drawback is that you don’t have access to buyers’ data and can’t directly contact your customers.
Note: this guide will concentrate on POD compliance services.
How the POD works
The specific steps in running a print-on-demand business will vary from platform to platform, but here is a general overview of how the print-on-demand process works.
- Set up your store
The first step in getting your print-on-demand business up and running is setting up your store. Depending on your POD platform, you can do this in one of two ways:
- Integrate an existing warehouse into the service. Print-on-demand services like Printful and Printify can connect to e-commerce platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Etsy. If you have your online store, you can integrate it with your POD platform of choice and start selling from there.
- Use the platform or marketplace of the POD site. Don’t have an e-commerce site? Choose a Print on demand service that has an existing market. For example, Redbubble allows you to create a seller profile on their platform. They will sell and deliver products on your behalf.
- select the type of products to sell and Upload your designs
Once you’ve selected a Print on demand service and have your online store or profile on one of the marketplace websites, the next step is to add different products to your store. If you are using a POD fulfillment service, the options of what types of items to sell are entirely up to you.
For example, if you are a painter who wants to continue selling wall art, then you can choose to add only framed canvas items to your store. On the other side, if you prefer to sell products like t-shirts and mugs, you can also opt for that.
- Sell your products
At this stage, your online store is open to the world and has products that are ready to print. If you are using a POD fulfillment service, you can start marketing your products and driving traffic to your site. If you use a marketplace, your provider will make most of the sales and marketing for you. However, you can still promote your profile by sharing product links with your customers.
In any case, the goal is to get people to find your items and buy them.
- The print on demand platform fulfills the order.
- When someone makes an order, your print on demand platform will print, pack, and ship it to the customer. Once the purchase has been settled, you will be paid.
Pros and cons of print on demand
As with any business model, print on demand comes with advantages and disadvantages. In this section, we are going to go through the pros and cons of POD. Go through the items below to find out if this is the right model for your e-commerce business.
Pros of POD
1. Easy to configure. The majority of POD platforms are super easy to use. For the most part, getting going involves signing up, creating a profile, and adding products to the cart. You can upload your designs in seconds, and you won’t have to worry about techie bits.
2. Minimal inventory headaches. The print-on-demand model eliminates the biggest downside to inventory-based e-commerce. Since items are only printed after the customer makes an order, you don’t have to worry about getting stuck with merchandise you can’t sell.
Common problems like overstock and stock are virtually non-existent. You won’t have to worry about minimum order quantities and lead times.
3. Hands-free compliance. Another big challenge in retail is order fulfillment. The process of packing and shipping items has many moving parts. It can be challenging to handle, particularly for small businesses and individuals.
POD platforms can take care of this side of the business, so you won’t have to deal with getting items into your customers’ hands.
4. Freedom to focus on what you are good at. All of the above leads to print-on-demand’s main advantage: You have more time and freedom to concentrate on the things you love to do in your business.
So instead of packing products or worrying about shipping logistics, you can spend more time on the tasks you’re good at creating art, building a community, and/or developing your business strategy.
Cons of POD
1. Lower profit margins. When you work with a print-on-demand service, your cost of goods will be higher than buying in bulk, which means your margins will be lower. For example, a white V-neck shirt costs $ 24.95 at Printful. Meantime, you can buy a similar product from a wholesale site like Alibaba for as little as $ 6.23, with a minimum order of 1,000 pieces.
Alibaba is undoubtedly cheaper, but it comes with higher risk and order quantity requirements.
2. Limited control over the customer experience. While having a hands-free fulfillment process has its benefits, it gives you less control over how your items are packaged and shipped. Print on demand platforms has generic fulfillment processes, which means you can’t create memorable unboxing experiences or add a personal touch (like gifts and business cards) to your orders.
So, if you’re trying to build a strong brand that makes an impression at every touchpoint, then print on demand may not be the best option for you.
3. Limited data (compared to dropshipping non-personalized items ). This point refers to POD platforms versus “traditional” dropshipping sites like Alibaba. If you are the type of marketer who likes to make decisions based on market data, POD is probably not the best route.
Sites like Alibaba have more data on Ratings, Opinions, Order Volumes, and Topsellers, so you can get information on which products to sell in your store. POD platforms do not always offer these details, so you cannot easily predict top sellers and market winners.
4. Limited product types. The product types you can sell will be limited to your POD vendor’s offerings. This will not be a problem if you are selling everyday items like T-shirts and mugs. But POD doesn’t work well for marketers who want to customize extremely specific or niche items.
For example, if you want to customize, say, window blinds, you will have a hard time finding a print-on-demand platform that does. Suppose you’re going to sell custom clothing made from a particular fabric. In that case, you may find it challenging to get that through a POD supplier.
Common print on demand products
Speaking of products to sell, let’s take a look at the most popular items you’ll find on print-on-demand sites.
- Men’s Tops
- Women tops
- Wall decals
- Canvas prints
- Framed art
- Wall hangings
- Smartphone cases
How to Start a Print on Demand Ecommerce Business
Now that you have a good understanding of print-on-demand let’s discuss how you can successfully get started with print-on-demand. Here are some tips to remember before starting your POD business.
Choose the right provider.
Consider the following factors when weighing different vendors:
Integration with your existing systems
This is an essential factor if you are selling through your e-commerce website. You want your print-on-demand platform to play well with your shopping cart.
Look for solutions that integrate with your e-commerce platform. Whether you choose Shopify, Bigcommerce, Woocommerce, or any other online shopping platform, set your sights on print on demand services that have an existing integration. Doing that will not only make it easier to get going. It will also create a smooth experience for you and your customers.
Review the vendor policies for the POD solutions you are considering. What is your response time? When do you get paid? How much does your share cost? These things significantly impact your business, so choose a platform with policies that you can embed with.
You’ll also want to see how products are created, packaged, and delivered. Some Print on demand sites has in-house facilities that handle the creation, packaging, and shipping of the item. Others depend on third-party networks. They’re not necessarily better than each other.
It all depends on the types of products you are selling.
You will want to look at the costs of using the POD service. In addition to the charges per item, you also need to factor in the subscription fees. Some print-on-demand services contain monthly payments to use their platform. This is something you will need to consider when selecting a provider.
Think about the product types you want to customize and sell, then make sure your POD platform has those items. Again, this shouldn’t be a problem for common merchandise and t-shirts, as virtually all major print on demand solutions offer them.
But if you’re selling to niche markets, you may need to search a little more challenging.
Order samples first
At this stage, you should have a list of your options for a print-on-demand provider. Before signing up for a solution, it is a good idea to order samples first. This will allow you to get a first look at the items to assess the quality of the prints and the caliber of the materials.
The product sampling process varies from supplier to supplier. Some solutions may offer discounts if you are purchasing samples, while others will take the full price.
This is a critical step. The products you sell directly affect your reputation with your customers, so you want to make sure they are there when you are on call. Low-quality prints and items also lead to higher returns and refund rates, which you want to minimize.
Come with great mockups.
Ready to start selling? Make sure to create high-quality mockups for your products. Mockups allow your customers to visualize what a design would look like when placed on a product. Done right, mockups can be prod by people to make a purchase, so be sure to choose high-quality ones for your store.
The good news is that most print-on-demand sites offer mockup generators that you can use for your site. You also can go a step further and use specialized packaging software to create your assets. PlaceIt provides a broader range of models and environments and helps you generate mockups that stand out.
Be smart about pricing.
For your online business to be profitable, you need to set the right price for your products. Your profit margins are up to you, but a healthy margin would be around 40% or more, depending on your costs.
This means that if your cost is $ 10 for an item, you should sell it for $ 16.67 to achieve a 40% profit margin.
Use a markup calculator and enter your cost and profit information to determine the correct price. Some print-on-demand sites offer this cool tool for free. For example, Printful has a Profit Calculator page for its various items. The page shows the cost of each product, and you can enter the price at which you plan to sell it. Printful will automatically calculate your earnings based on your contributions.
PlaceIt is also a useful profit calculator for on-demand t-shirt printing services. It’s a Google sheet that lists common POD sites, along with each product’s base cost and the profit you can make. It’s an excellent tool for comparing multiple print on demand providers at the same time.
Note that the tool is made for print on demand markets (e.g., Teespring, Redbubble, etc.) and only includes T-shirt data.
Top Print-on-Demand Platforms for E-commerce
Need help deciding on a print-on-demand solution provider for your business? Here are some of the print on demand platforms to look at:
Printful is the best print on demand services on the web. Printful, a highly established and reputable company, has locations in Los Angeles, CA, Charlotte, North Carolina, and more.
Printful has a variety of product offerings, from clothing to homeware and art. The solution also integrates with many e-commerce platforms and online marketplaces, making it an excellent option for online marketers.
Another notable thing about Printful is that it does not outsource any part of the fulfillment process. The company handles everything in-house, from printing and packaging to fulfilling. Printful also offers custom branding solutions to the sellers to add your logo to the packing slip and packaging.
Prices: No subscription fees. Click here to view Printful costs per item.
- Square space
- Launch cart
- Great Poster
Launched in 2015, Printify is a transparent Print on demand solutions that manage a chain of printing facilities in the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. Since the production of goods is grown for third parties (rather than being handled internally like Printful), the cost is relatively lower.
Printify is free to use for smaller sellers, though it charges a subscription for additional features and benefits. The company also has an extensive catalog of products to print on, including men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, and more.
Pricing: Printify has a free package that offers unlimited product designs and five stores per month. The subscription also includes a mockup generator, shopping cart integrations, manual order creation, and 24/7 business support.
You can go for a Premium subscription for $ 29 per month. It comes with all the above features, plus customer order entry and 20% off all products. You can have up to 10 stores on the account.
Merchants processing more than 10,000 orders per day can opt for an Enterprise account that comes with an unlimited number of stores per account and additional benefits such as early access to new features, custom API integration, a lot more features. Pricing information for the Printify Enterprise option is available upon request.
- Printify API
Another popular eCommerce pod service, Gooten handles product printing, packaging, and shipping, so merchants don’t have to worry about compliance. Like Printify, Gooten uses “a network of experienced and hand-researched manufacturers and suppliers” to manage orders. The company uses its API to route orders to the best supplier to ensure orders are fulfilled efficiently.
Gooten prints on more than 140 types of products, covering categories like clothing, home goods, accessories, and more. It also integrates with many e-commerce platforms, has an API, and supports custom order forms.
- Mobile app
- Custom order form
Whether you’re an artist trying to sell your artworks or you’re an e-commerce marketer looking to add personalization to your offerings, print on demand could be a viable option for you. Remember that your print on demand business’s success depends on your print and fulfillment partner. That is why it is essential to do your research and find the best solution for your business.