If you are aiming to start an online income stream at low or no cost then you will need to know how to start a print on demand business. Print on demand (POD) is one of the easiest ways for beginners to start creating an online business.
Many entrepreneurs running big e-commerce sites had their humble beginnings with print on demand. This is where you will learn the skills required to aim for a bigger online business and therefore a bigger income.
Jump to the section by clicking the link in the index below.
- What is print on demand (POD)
- Is print on demand still popular?
- How much does it cost to start a print on demand business?
- Popular print on demand products trending now
- How to start a print on demand business from home
- Selecting your print on demand niche
- 10 Tips for starting a print on demand niche
- Find a reliable print on demand supplier
- Sourcing print on demand designs
- How do you price print on demand products?
- Develop a marketing strategy for your print on demand shop
- How to start a print on demand business – Conclusion
What is print on demand (POD)?
Print on demand is a business model that will put creators and producers together in order to supply market demand. You the seller will be responsible for creating the designs that will end up on the end product.
Similar then a drop shipping service you will create and upload your designs to the service provider who will then complete the rest of the process. They will manufacture, supply and handle after-sales services on your behalf for their part of the product income.
Is print on demand still popular?
Print on demand will always remain the most popular business model on the web because it is the easiest to start. Although these print-on-demand platforms are perceived to be over-saturated it still provides a solid base for an online business.
Why is print on demand so popular?
- It is easy to start
- You need no experience
- Can be started with no money input
- A massive inventory available across platforms
- Easy linking to your storefronts and products
- Skills to master it can be developed for free
How much does it cost to start a print on demand business?
Print on demand can be approached by anyone and the cost will depend on your needs. Most beginners will follow the no input cost method until some income can be applied for faster growth.
As a beginner, it will cost you nothing to start except some hard work, time and lots of patience. This is if you really want to do everything for free and all by yourself. Of course, this is not difficult but it does require a lot of your free time.
Popular print on demand products trending now
The products that are the most popular will depend on your niche and the skills to produce something unique. Many of the products trending have done so through the years and that is why designers have targeted these markets extensively.
There are also many products that can be regarded as seasonal especially when it comes to clothing and accessories. For example, the Covid-19 epidemic created a new market for facemasks and neck gators turning them into fashion. How long this will last we will have to wait and see.
Historical Print on demand trends
Over the last ten years, the following products have peaked regularly and should be a good target market for beginners.
- Kids clothing
- Coffee and Travel mugs
- Wall art
- Notebooks and journals
- Skateboard decks
How to start a print on demand business from home
This business model is so simple to set up from home that anyone with a creative or business mind can start within minutes. No experience just patience needed.
It is easy because you do not need any special resources. Most of the resources you will already have or will be available for free online.
Basics needed to start your print on demand business from home
- A PC, tablet or smartphone
- An internet connection
- Graphics design software ( Free, paid or online )
- A payment channel such as a bank account, Paypal or Payoneer ( Depending on your location )
That is all you will need to start earning some income online. Just a word of caution, Print on Demand is not a get-rich-quick scheme and it can take some time to show results.
Don’t be put off by this as once you have built it up over time it will start paying you back as a fairly passive income. Treat it as a real business and it will develop into a real business over time.
Selecting your print on demand niche
Most beginners struggle to find the niche they want to start at the beginning. The general advice is to do something you love to do which is an important factor but will it make you money? Further advice is to follow trends but the problem is that trends blow over quickly.
That is why when you start you will be very tempted to flood your storefront with everything that comes to mind. Unless you market designs individually it will leave visitors to your storefront confused.
Important factors to consider when selecting your niche
- How popular is the specific niche?
- Is there a demand for specific products?
- How easy is it to stay on topic?
- Does your design style fit the product?
- Is the niche evergreen or short term?
- What is the competition like for this niche?
How popular is the specific niche?
First of all, you need to do your research to find out if the niche has a decent following online. Often you will find that what is popular in real life does not always have the same following online.
That is why following what you love does not always pay off. What you perceive to be popular is based on real-life and a small following of friends. Nothing wrong with that as with a bit of entrepreneurship it will still work for you.
Remember that you are preparing to enter a worldwide market and need to do proper research to be successful. Visit where niche followers hang out and look at the activity overall. Just keep in mind following does not always indicate passion.
You can check popularity by:
- Niche related forums on the web
- Quora spaces
- Facebook groups
See what active participation is like and make sure it is not just a passive following. These spaces will also be a perfect opportunity to pick up design ideas.
Is there a demand for specific products?
You are in luck if you find a niche where specific print-on-demand products are in demand. By following a specific niche you will save a lot of time and money designing for specific products only.
For example, if the niche is snowboarding then you will already know that designing decks, hoodies, sweatshirts, travel mugs, etc. are a good place to start. Designing flip flops and notebooks is an aftermarket product for a niche like this so why focus on products that might not sell?
How easy is it to stay on topic?
If you start designing for a specific niche it is good to know that it is a wide enough topic that will keep you going. There must be enough scope for you to build up a large inventory of quality designs for your market.
Running out of options after 20 or 30 designs will not be good enough to ensure that you get returning buyers. A following in the niche is what is needed to ensure a long-term shelf life for your product.
Does your design style fit the product?
If you create product designs for a specific niche you have to make sure it suits the product. Making designs for cyclists does not always go well together with baby clothing. This will mean that you have to be selective in product selection.
Very often you see designers trying to force-fit a design on the whole range available from your print-on-demand platform. Unless you are lucky it will never sell and you would’ve wasted your time.
Rather spend your time on quality and uniqueness to ensure you build up an authoritative storefront for niche followers.
Is the niche evergreen or short term?
When you are spending so much time on starting a print-on-demand business it needs to be a long-term investment. Make sure the niche you select is not something that will blow away in 6 months.
Taking advantage of trends is not something you must ignore because it can provide a very good burst of income. As a beginner, it is essential to use this to your advantage by creating an evergreen niche storefront.
As you grow it will become easier to incorporate trending designs into your niche.
What is the competition like for this niche?
Competition within a niche is very important but it must never be the ultimate decider. Most popular niches are flooded with designs and you will find stiff competition. Rather focus on a micro-niche within these niches to try to get your slice of the cake first.
In real life, there is always competition and you have to overcome it by delivering something better and more useful. The same goes for print on demand and the effort you put in will make you stand out.
As said the initial task is for you to create an authority in the niche and this can only be done through your designs. Finding ways to make yourself unique is better time spent than worrying about what the competition is doing.
10 Tips for starting a print on demand niche
For beginners to print on demand it will take a while to come across all the pitfalls of the business. Before you start it is advisable to take note of some tips from experienced sellers. It will save you a lot of time and energy in the long run.
You will not immediately get sales so you might as well focus on doing things correctly.
10 Print on Demand tips for beginners
- Be different
- Read terms and conditions
- Study the design guidelines
- Avoid copyright strikes
- Have a good looking storefront
- Spend time on Title, Product Description and Keywords
- Share on social media
- Explore other print-on-demand platforms
- Be patient
- Pay attention to colours
Create your own design style if you want to stand out above the masses. Copying ideas or creating similar designs will make selling your designs more difficult than established sellers.
Read Terms and Conditions
It is important to read the terms and conditions carefully as you do not want your account suspended or closed down. After putting so much effort into creating your online presence it is just not worth it.
Study the design guidelines
Although most print-on-demand design requirements are similar they might not all be the same so pay attention. Special attention must be given to the file format, minimum sizes, colours and DPI requirements.
Not uploading your designs in the correct format will deliver poor quality prints. This will mean a lot of customer returns and loss of income. It is also important that your design placement on the product is a good fit.
Avoid copyright strikes
Although you will see many copyright infringements on these platforms it is best to stay clear. It is a quick buck but eventually, you will be shut down without the opportunity to create a long term income stream.
There are a few available sites where you can check patents and copyright for free so use them if not sure. Also, familiarize yourself with how you can use public domain images the correct way.
Have a good looking storefront
Your storefront is the entrance to your shop and you have to put in the effort to make it look engaging. It mirrors the quality of the content you will be trying to sell.
If you need a quick solution you can visit Canva to create a professional-looking banner for free.
Spend time on Title, Product Description and Keywords
This is as important as your design because this is how potential buyers will find your product among thousands of others.
Put extra effort in when you are giving the title and description for your designs. It is also important to know who you are targeting as it will give you the best idea for keywords. Keywords can also be picked up by search engines which will provide organic traffic.
From experience, it shows the best is to have your keyword included in your title and description as well.
Share on social media
The whole idea behind sharing is to let people know that you are there. Social media provided the perfect platform for beginners to introduce their products to the market. Don’t overload yourself to start with and select a maximum of three platforms to start with.
If you already have a following on your social media it will just make your choices easier. Otherwise, there are multiple social media platforms you can start with which I can recommend:
- A Facebook page
At a later stage when it becomes more manageable you can spread your wings to other platforms such as:
- Many others you can experiment with to get the best exposure
Explore other print-on-demand platforms
It is advisable to explore other print on demand platforms as a backup and also for expansion. Once you have a decent amount of designs placing them on other platforms will just ensure your business is long term.
Print-on-demand platforms unfortunately are in no way reliable in how they operate and should anything happens all your hard work can be undone in an instant. They can close down suddenly, change algorithms or merge with other platforms overnight.
Not having all your eggs in one basket will help you recover loss of income quicker.
How to start a print on demand business successfully will all depend on your patience. It does not show success overnight unless you are very lucky. It is a long term business that will eventually provide a fairly passive income stream if your designs are quality.
Some sellers started seeing sales after only 10 designs while others have a thousand before seeing constant sales coming in. Keep in mind each design represents a product that is waiting for the right person to buy.
Pay attention to colours
Most beginners make the mistake to upload a design and putting it on all the available products without looking at the end result.
It is important to change the product colour to match the design or it will not be pleasing to look at. This is especially true where designs contain white, black or shades of grey because some product backgrounds have that as the default colour.
Find a reliable print on demand supplier
As already discussed print on demand platforms can be unreliable as a long term business. It is, therefore, better to go with well-established print-on-demand platforms that have been around for a while.
It does not mean they are more reliable but with the income, they made through the years they will not just give it up suddenly.
There is however two print on demand platforms I highly recommend for beginners as they are easy and a good learning place for developing your skills. They also have a big presence on Google and do their own advertising for driving traffic to their platform.
Sourcing print on demand designs
Once you have set up your account it is time for serious business and good designs will be required. Here you will only have three options and it will all depend on your available time, budget and skills.
- Create your own designs
- Purchase from freelancers
- Buy ready-made design packages
Create your own designs
If you are fortunate enough to have the graphic design skills needed then you can create your own unique designs which will sell better. By using your own graphic design software which you are familiar with you can create new designs easily.
All you have to do is to take notice of the design specifications of the platform and let your creative mind take over.
Purchase from freelancers
If you have a creative mind but no skills you can still start your own print on demand business. I would suggest Fiverr because there are many graphic designers with exceptional skills that can bring your idea to life.
Pricing is fair and a good relationship can be built between you and your designer. Make sure you receive all your designs with sole proprietor and commercial rights use.
Pricing normally changes with complexity and quantity so keep it slow until you find the designer you can work with easily.
Buy ready-made design packages
There are plenty of offers you will see for ready-made designs and most of these are good designs at a low price. You will also find many packages available for specific niches.
The problem with ready-made designs is that many others before you would’ve purchased the same package. You might find they are already uploaded to your print-on-demand platform. This means if someone complains about duplicated content it will be removed if you were not first.
I would strongly recommend buying these designs for your niche only if you have your own stand-alone website. In this way, you can still sell it as it was purchased with commercial rights but you will have to source your own print on demand supplier such as Printful.
How do you price print on demand products?
How you price your products will depend on the platform you choose as all are not the same.
If you are using Teepublic you have no choice as prices are set and you cannot change them. I prefer it for three reasons.
- It takes the pressure on you to determine prices
- You enter a level playing field
- Motivates you to create better designs than others
If you are using Redbubble or other print on demand platforms that will allow price-setting it becomes a bit more difficult. Here it will come down solely to your choice and what works for you from experience.
Factors to consider when pricing your product
- Your target market
- Your design
- Pricing of competitors
Your target market
Your market will always determine your price which in turn will depend on your niche. What can the people in the niche afford to pay and will they be willing to pay the price you want?
If your niche is aimed at people frequented by the lower-income bracket it is no use overpricing the product. It is a certain guarantee of no sales. That is why your initial niche research is so important before you start.
The composition and visual appearance of your design can also determine the price you have to ask. This is also more important if you are paying freelancers to create your designs. Even so, if the design is of good quality you will make back the designer cost through quantity.
Simple text designs required not much effort so should be priced lower than a full-blown artistic design. At the end of the day, it is the number of sales you are looking for that will provide you with a consistent passive income so think carefully.
Pricing of competitors
Your impact on the niche will be determined by how many competitors you have charging the same price. It does not matter if you think your design is better and should fetch a higher price. Your visitor is the one making the ultimate decision and will select the second best if it saves a couple of dollars.
Keep your price with 5% of others if you do feel you want to not charge the average price. If your design is truly unique and outshines the others 10% can be acceptable but only your sales will give you the true answer.
Develop a marketing strategy for your print on demand shop
With your print on demand shopfront set up, it will be required of you to constantly remind the web that you are open for business. Unfortunately today no marketing will mean no sales.
Most of your best selling print on demand entrepreneurs have mastered the art of marketing rather than design. That is why they sell designs by the hour and make good money.
For a beginner in this business, it will be difficult to pay attention to the marketing aspect of the business while growing your inventory. That is why I recommended starting off by focusing on social media only.
Once experienced and settled there will be many other marketing channels to explore. There are basically three marketing strategies that can be used over time and it is good to prepare your skillsets for them.
Online marketing is in a ballpark of its own and will require an article on its own which will come in the future. For now, I will just give you an overall idea of what it entails.
3 marketing strategies for your print on demand business
- Manual marketing
- Automated marketing
- Paid advertising
If you are a beginner with no budget then unfortunately manual marketing is your only option for now. Don’t stress about it as with money coming in and skills developing to another level you will soon be able to upgrade yourself.
The 5 best and easiest ways for you to do manual marketing are:
- Fine-tuning SEO for organic traffic
- Guest posting on sites within your niche
- Give valuable input on niche forums you join
- Social media
- Create a space on Quora with summarized posts
When you have some funds coming in you can reinvest some of them into your business. This will relieve some pressure on you by freeing up some time that can be spent on growing your business.
You can automate your marketing in three ways
- Automated scheduling software for social media posting
- Email Marketing
- Hire a freelancer to do your marketing
Although paid advertising must be approached with caution because of the low print-on-demand profit margins it must not be ruled out completely. Today basically every social media platform offers paid advertising.
The advantage of paid advertising on these platforms is the personal profiles that the secretly collected from everyone using it. Your advertising can be very niche specific and reach the right market quickly.
Most of the time paid advertising in print on demand is only cost-effective if it is part of a bigger niche business you already run from your own website. In this case, it is more about driving more traffic to other offers on your site as well.
How to start a print on demand business – Conclusion
For beginners print on demand as a business is the easiest to set up and run. It has the potential to be built up into a very consistent passive income stream.
The advantage of print on demand is that you will soon develop online business skills that will enable you to look at and implement other online business ideas. Print on demand is the perfect opportunity to learn the skills needed by a full-time online entrepreneur.
Although it will not be an overnight success story the skills you will learn will outclass the value of the sales you make. Patience and persistence will be required but joy and inspiration will follow with your first sale.
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