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What Is Print On Demand? Your Guide to Selling Custom Products In 2021

Article by Adeel Qayum

The business of custom products is hot right now. 

Don’t believe us? Look around, and you’ll see people walking about in t-shirts plastered with sayings or the faces of popular celebrities. 

It turns out that consumers love customized products—and so much so that they’re OK with paying 20% more to own them. 

The question now is: How do you create and sell your own custom products?

If you go the traditional route of buying, customizing, and holding your own inventory, you face the risk of being left with a pile of products that aren’t selling. 

Fortunately, you can always turn to print on demand and bypass the time, risk, and investment associated with managing inventory.

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What is print on demand?

what is print on demand

Print on demand (POD) is a dropshipping fulfillment method that allows you to customize white-label products (like mugs and tote bags) that are printed and shipped only after an order is placed.

A print-on-demand company offers the products, usually as a blank slate. You put your own original design on the items and sell them under your own brand on a per-order basis.

Because they’re printed after they’re sold, the company doesn’t ask for any payment upfront. That means you don’t need to buy in bulk or meet a minimum order quantity to start selling.

In fact, the best print-on-demand companies handle everything after the sale, from printing to shipping. Once you’re connected to their platform, it takes just a few clicks to fulfill an order after a customer buys a product.

Print-on-demand services allow you to:

  • Test a new product line. List products on your website and see how your audience responds without the risks that come with purchasing inventory.
  • Monetize your social media following. Print on demand is a great option for creating and selling branded merchandise on YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms.
  • Print one-off products. Customize shoes, bags, t-shirts, phone cases, mugs, wall art, and so much more. You can keep these for yourself or distribute the products as gifts.  
  • Sell jewelry online. Engrave jewelry with a personal message shared by the customer at the time of purchase. Some POD suppliers even entertain requests to add photos, increasing the perceived value of your products.
  • Create exclusive products for a segment of customers. For instance, backpacks for people with a passion for motorcycles.

The pros and cons of print on demand

Print-on-demand stores run on a dropshipping model—where the warehousing, printing, and shipping are all handled by a third party. It’s one of the most accessible ways to start an ecommerce business, but you should consider the perks and limitations of POD before you take the leap.

Pros

  • Create and print products quickly. Designs can be uploaded and printed as soon as you come up with them. There’s no downtime, and you can edit your designs freely between orders. 
  • Allows for branding. POD products are white-labeled, meaning you can customize them with your branding so that when your customers get their orders, there’s no confusion about the seller.
  • Low investment required. Since you don’t need to buy and store inventory, a print-on-demand business has lower startup costs than a traditional ecommerce business.

Cons

  • Lower margins. As all orders are charged at an individual rate, you don't get a lower cost per item as you would for bulk orders. This could result in lower margins, depending on how you price the products and acquire customers.
  • Pricing can change without notice. With POD, you have no control over the cost of the manufacturer’s printing. If they raise their prices, you will have no choice but to go with it. 
  • Limited customization. Your ability to customize items depends on the product and the vendor. You’ll have to weigh mockup tools, base costs, available sizes, and printing techniques when deciding which products to customize.

What products can I print to sell?

As the popularity of print on demand continues to grow, the number of customizable products you can create grows with it. Today, you can use POD services to print and ship everything from phone cases to custom jewelry. Some of the most popular print- on- demand products include:

1. T-shirts

what products can i print to sell

Widely regarded as the number one POD product, t-shirts are an affordable and convenient way to show off your designs. 

Depending on the printing company you’re working with, you’ll be able to create a range of products with methods like embroidery, direct-to-garment printing, and screen printing. You should also be able to offer different t-shirts, like V-neck, polo-neck, and shirts with pockets.

Almost every print-on-demand company offers t-shirt printing, including:

Keep in mind that different companies will have different printing styles to offer. Some will allow you to cover an entire shirt in your design, while others will only let you fill a small amount of space. 

2. Aprons

sell aprons print on demand

Aprons are a fun print-on-demand product for those looking for something unconventional to sell. With this item, you can establish a presence in the homeware market and capture the attention of consumers. 

Aprons, like t-shirts, are easy to customize, with many POD companies offering different printing methods to make your design stand out, like cut-and-sew or embroidery. You can even let customers create their own personalized aprons for gifting

Some of the POD websites offering apron printing include:

3. Luggage tags

print on demand product idea: luggage tag

Luggage tags are a great product for promoting your designs worldwide. Whenever someone purchases and uses your luggage tag, they’ll be advertising your creations in every city or country they visit. 

Luggage tags are a popular purchase among consumers who travel often. They help people find their baggage when they’re rushing through terminals. They’re also a lot more affordable than fully customized suitcases. 

You can create your luggage tags on:

4. Wall art

Wall art is a versatile and highly desirable product that appeals to all kinds of customers. With wall art, you would have no shortage of options for the types of products you can sell. 

Plus, there’s flexibility in how you design the products. For instance, you can put your own designs to replicate on canvases, posters, and framed pieces, or license and print the art of other creators. 

POD solutions for selling wall art include:

  1. Kite.ly
  2. Printify

5. Pet apparel


print pet apparel

With pet industry expenditures reaching $103.6 billion in 2020, many POD companies have started offering pet apparel. As with human apparel, you can choose from different printing methods to create your products, such as sublimation, direct-to-garment printing, and more. 

You can also experiment with a range of pet apparel products, like collars, bandanas, dog coats, and even custom pet tags. 

Various POD services offer the option to make pet products, including:

Common misconceptions about print on demand

When you start researching print on demand, you’ll encounter several myths that can leave you confused and overwhelmed. 

Below, we’ll try to clear up the biggest misconceptions surrounding POD so you know what you’re actually signing up for. Let’s find out what’s true and what you can safely ignore.

1. Print on demand doesn’t sell

Realistically speaking, nothing will sell well without the right strategy. For instance, Beanie Babies were all the rage in the late 1990s, but if you opened a store selling them now, you’d probably struggle to stay afloat. 

Print on demand is a fully flexible service, meaning you can sell exactly what people want, when they want it. All you need to do is keep up with consumer interests and know what’s hot at any given moment. If you meet your customers' expectations, you will make sales.

2. Little to no work is required

While print on demand saves you the effort of stocking and shipping products, you don’t get to just sit aroundi.

You’re still responsible for setting up a storefront, promoting your business, and managing sales. Plus, customer service has to be provided, so be prepared to put in the work.

3. The quality of products is low

When it comes to print on demand, most manufacturers have good incentive to keep up the quality of what they sell. Since all orders are made in small batches, usually one or two items, it’s easier to check the quality of their products. 

That said, it’s still good to conduct your own checks. Place a few test orders with all potential manufacturers first to ensure you find the one that provides the quality you want. 

4. You need to be a graphic designer

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need special design skills to succeed in the POD industry. With just plain text, you can create designs that stand out in the market.

Some of the most popular items sold on POD stores feature nothing but plain text. You can make a cool text design in under five minutes. Use popular jokes, slang, puns, phrases—whatever you think will resonate with customers.

Tips for starting a print-on-demand business

Starting a print-on-demand business is often much easier than managing your own inventory. However, there are still some challenges to overcome, like choosing the right market and earning your audience’s attention. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Target a niche market


In business, if you’re targeting everyone, you’re not really reaching anyone. That’s why choosing your niche is so important. Having a clearly defined audience can actually help you create better products, as your designs will be aligned to their passions and interests.  

After choosing a niche, think of ways to market your business. You can try these ideas in the beginning:

  • Run Facebook ads that target the interests of your potential customers. You can also use ads to test out your designs to see which ones resonate with your audience. 
  • Collect emails from visitors so you can inform them about new products for free.
  • Send your products to Instagram influencers who can lend some of their clout and generate interest in your business.

2. Create mockups to show off your products

Mockups are a great way to bring your products to life. While compelling product images can help you improve your customer experience, mockups give people a better idea of exactly what they’re buying. 

Many print-on-demand services let you create your own mockups, showing your products from different angles. But if you’re unable to access a mockup generator on your print provider’s website, there are plenty of free mockup templates available online to help. 

mockups print on demand

3. Order samples validate product quality

Quality assurance is essential for print-on-demand businesses. If your t-shirts and accessories don’t look well -made when they arrive on your customer’s doorstep, your online reputation will quickly crumble. 

Ordering samples ensures you know exactly what you’re going to be sending your audience. Plus, you can use samples to take your own product photos for your website and social media pages. 

Some print-on-demand services offer a discount when you order samples of the products you create on their website. For instance, Printful gives you up to 20% off or free shipping when you place a sample order. 

Check with your print provider to see whether any discounts are applicable on product samples so you can acquire them for less.

4. Be strategic about shipping 

Print on demand reduces the stress of running your business by removing the need to ship products yourself. However, you’re still responsible for communicating shipping times and setting the right expectations with customers. 

Always be transparent about shipping times, and don’t forget to account for production times involved in making your item. If possible, create a separate shipping page on your website to answer customer questions.

print on demand shipping tips

It’s also worth looking for ways to use shipping to build customer loyalty. For instance, free shipping is an excellent way to convert customers who might be on the fence. You can even use this tactic to justify longer wait times (many customers will wait a bit longer for orders when they can save money on shipping).

As you can see, a print-on-demand store can be a profitable business venture to pursue. With so many accessible sources of inventory, almost anyone can start their own POD business or test out products before taking them to the market. 

If one of your designs becomes popular and you start to receive a large number of orders, you can easily switch from using a print- on- demand company to holding your own inventory. Or, you can continue using their platforms while finding new ways to expand your business. Do whatever works for you!

How do I start with print on demand?

If you want to start a print-on-demand business, proceed by selecting a niche and the products you want to sell. Then set up a website and get your designs ready. Once done, search for a print provider and add the products to your online store. The last step is to market your POD brand, after which you’ll start receiving orders and your print-on-demand supplier will begin fulfilling them.

How much money can you make with print on demand?

This will always depend on your target market and the kinds of products you sell. If you choose a popular niche heavily saturated with other sellers, you may not be able to earn as much as you hoped. On the flip side, selling products with unique, original designs could earn you a bigger profit. There is no specific monetary figure to compare againstit all comes down to how hard you work and research to get the sales you need.

What are the best print-on-demand products to sell?

There’s no shortage of products you can sell with print on demand. Popular POD products include t-shirts, tote bags, wall art, mugs, backpacks, phone covers, yoga pants, notebooks, leggings, and hats.

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