If you think you can’t start a business without investing any money, then print-on-demand has a surprise for you. This interesting business model taps into the power of e-commerce and dropshipping, letting you manage the sales without the need to carry inventory or worry about order fulfillment.
If you’ve heard about print-on-demand or you’re completely new to this idea, read on. This guide will take you through various steps of running a print-on-demand business, showing you current trends in the industry and introducing the software that can help you manage your sales across many channels.
Print-on-demand and dropshipping – what’s that?
Print-on-demand and dropshipping go hand in hand. Let’s unpack these terms.
As you probably have guessed, print-on-demand (POD) is a process of selling a product that’s printed on demand i.e. when a customer orders it. So for example, if a client buys a shirt with a cool back design in your online store, it’s only after they make a purchase the design is printed onto the shirt. Hence, only once the money is transferred that the order is processed. That’s why you don’t need to invest any money into this type of business.
We’ve covered the technical term of print-on-demand but what about the design aspects of the job? Print-on-demand business, as opposed to other more standard types of e-commerce, lets you unleash your creativity. So if you’re having an interest in digital design or visual art, POD might be for you.
Most importantly, having custom designs is what makes print-on-demand items so attractive compared to mass-produced items.
Of course, you can employ a designer to take care of the creative part of the business or buy templates online. Just bear in mind that this requires continuous financial input.
Since it’s a third-party printing company and not the store owner who does the printing, product distribution is shouldered by those companies too.
That’s why the model of dropshipping is used with print-on-demand products. This means that as a third-party printing company makes the order, it’s directly shipped from there to your customers. Your store is a point of sale, but the storage and order fulfillment are managed separately by a third party.
That’s probably why this business model is called dropshipping since those companies ship and drop the product to your customers. As a side note, dropshipping works not only with print-on-demand products but with any items you want to sell, as it’s a storage and fulfillment method.
In summary, print-on-demand is a way for companies and individuals to offer products without carrying inventory. POD is believed to be one of the most accessible ways to start your own business as it doesn’t require a lot of initial investment.
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If creating custom designs speaks to you and the business model seems attractive enough, the next step is to find the kind of products you’d like to put your custom designs on.
There are many great items that you can sell within the print-on-demand model. They’re governed mainly by the type of printing surface and popularity. Of course, you don’t need to offer all those items in your online store to make a profit.
The list of print-on-demand trends will give you some ideas:
- T-Shirts and shirts
- Yoga Pants
- Fanny Packs
- Tote Bags
- Home Decor
- Wall art and posters
- Mobile cases
- Yoga mats
- T-shirts and shirts
When we think of print-on-demand products, a T-shirt is usually the first one that comes to mind. We can even say that a T-shirt is a poster child for print on demand.
More than clothing
Shirts sell all year round so they make a good staple product. From a customer’s perspective, custom design put on a shirt is more than just clothing. For many, shirt design is a representation of their values, personality, interests, or even political choices. Your design becomes a statement that resonates with the customers.
Be clear on sizes
We know this all too well, that the same sizes in various shops aren’t identical. That’s why apart from the usual sizes, do give all the measurements in an easy and accessible way so that your potential customers can buy the right size from the start. This keeps your clients happy and saves the hustle of refunds and returns.
Whether you choose just a front/back print or an all-over print, hoodies are a great product to sell. Make sure to choose a good quality material. Your customers expect hoodies to be both comfortable and long-lasting clothing.
- Yoga pants
The rise in popularity of yoga pants isn’t only due to the increase in physical activity but also the preference for comfort wear. Since many people work from home, office attire got switched to much more relaxed clothing.
The same caveat as with shirts, make sure to specify the dimensions of the yoga pants you sell. The material here is much more giving, due to the stretching qualities, but still do provide informative descriptions that assist in choosing the right size.
Printed socks, whether for women, men, or children, are mostly associated with Christmas but they‘re a good all-year-round choice for print on demand.
- Fanny packs
This product has really made a comeback in global fashion, a trend not many saw coming. From the print-on-demand point of view, it’s a popular accessory worth looking into. Just make sure to account for the angles that the fabric takes on a fanny pack, to make your design appealing.
- Tote bags
These reusable and eco-friendly bags are versatile and easy to print on. Similarly to shirts, tote bags also act as a statement and capture a more personal side of the customer’s views. Capitalize on that by offering various custom designs.
- Wall art and posters
Home decor items like posters can be easily framed and put on a wall making it a solid print-on-demand contender. Make sure the quality of the print is high as large items are less forgiving.
- Mobile cases
Other popular items to sell with print-on-demand are mobile cases. They can be both practical and appealing, giving a way to many interesting custom designs.
- Yoga mats
The market for yoga mats keeps growing partially due to increased awareness of the health benefits of physical exercise, making it a good product to sell.
Another great staple for a print-on-demand product is a mug. Very popular, especially around gift-giving festivities, think Valentine’s mugs, Christmas mugs, and many more.
Whether it’s a car sticker or a travel bag sticker, these products are fun to make and use. However, since the price tag is usually not high, check your profit margins when accounting for the printing, material, and order fulfillment costs.
How to find a potential niche
You can do market research to see which niches aren’t saturated yet and try to build designs around them. There’s a lot of competition for the most popular products but there are always new avenues.
Find a current trend
Print-on-demand shirts are perfect for capturing recent events and emerging trends. The same goes for current viral quotes by famous individuals. A particular craze won’t last long, but as it’s trending, it can be monetized. It’s a great way to jump onto that trend, even if it’s short-lived.
How to find trends
There are many tools to help you find current trends, like Google’s Trends for example. But if you want to be more specific, you can check hashtags on Twitter, or more general trends like Pinterest Trends for the upcoming year.
How to start a print-on-demand business
The global print-on-demand market size is expected to increase by almost 25% by the year 2030. That’s a remarkable number. All the more reasons to consider starting a print-on-demand business.
When evaluating the sustainability of this model, take into account these four factors: cost, turnaround time, quality, and profit margins.
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Create a unique design
If you have a background in visual arts and are skilled in producing digital prints, creating your own designs will be easy and enjoyable, giving you an opportunity to put your talents to practice.
However, if you have a keen interest in designing but no formal or informal education in this matter, there are ways to go around it. With the help of free software like Canva for example, you can create your own designs even without prior experience. And if you’re short on budget for creative tools, you can access free procreate painting brushes. With these tools, you can create intuitive and sparkling designs for your prints.
When designing, you can add your own text or a photo. There are plenty of videos online that show you how to choose a font or color palette to make visually pleasing designs.
Choose the right material
One of the first decisions that you need to make when you think about printing is what type of material you want to use.
Naturally, the type of items that you’ll be selling determines it a lot (ceramic mugs vs. waterproof canvas, for example). But do check the quality of those base products. It’s true that with print on demand, people mostly look for those custom prints, but the overall quality is also important.
If you’re choosing to sell print-on-demand clothing, take some time to decide which material will be consistent with your business’s vision. Consider the source from where your materials come. To test the quality, you should be able to receive a free sample so do ask the producers for those.
Verify your designs
When you’re creating a design, you need to make sure you don’t infringe on any trademark rights. We all know stealing is illegal, so there’s no need for further discussion about that. But we’re talking here about something else actually.
Even though you design your custom print by yourself, there’s a chance that someone has already thought of a similar phrase for example, and trademarked it. Also, after seeing hundreds of different designs, your mind might simply merge ideas that you’ve already seen without you realizing it, putting you at risk of infringement.
To avoid paying a high price for a genuine mistake, make sure to check your designs with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Watch for print quality
One of the pitfalls of the print-on-demand dropshipping model is that you don’t see the product that’s shipped to your clients. The quality of printing can be the main reason for a negative customer experience.
Research reputable printing companies that can guarantee the quality of their prints. Have a clear and easy refund policy in case of issues with prints.
How to sell with print-on-demand?
To start selling your print-on-demand products, you need to have a place to do it, and we don’t mean a physical place, but an online one. However, choosing a single e-commerce store doesn’t give you enough options to grow your business.
Large e-commerce marketplaces
Consider venturing out into top e-commerce platforms. You can open an online store on Shopify, eBay, WooCommerce, Etsy, or another marketplace. You could also create an Amazon account and sell your designs there. Merch by Amazon might be a good choice for print-on-demand.
Running an online store in those marketplaces is usually not free, so check each platform for the applicable fees. Whether the monthly fees or per-transaction fees, find out what you’ll need to pay and use that to estimate your profit margins and expenses accurately.
The printing companies whose services you’ll need to use, integrate with most of the above e-commerce platforms. This makes selling your custom designs that much easier. Search for printing companies that you’d like to build a business relationship with. Printful and Printify are good places to start.
Your own online store
While there are many opportunities to sell on the top marketplaces in the world, it’s still a good idea to build your own online store. It gives you more control over the items you sell and keeps you closer to your customers.
To start, you need to create a website and connect it to the payment gateways of your choice. Your website and social media presence can help generate awareness and sales for your product selection.
How to manage all those sales channels as one business?
This is an important issue to solve when you sell products on more than a single platform. One problem is uniting your sales transactions so that they reflect your business as a whole. The second one is getting reliable information about the health of your business and your customers’ purchase behavior that can help in building successful marketing strategies based on data, not hunches.
While all those sales channels give you a chance to sell your products, they won’t treat your business as one entity, financially speaking. If you have your own website where you run your store and also have several stores on those popular online markets, you need to have software that’ll integrate all that data into your accounting books.
Synder Sync acts like a bridge between all your sales channels (e.g. Amazon, eBay, Shopify, Etsy, WooCommerce, and many more), payment getaways, and your accounting software. It brings all that data together, making sure that all transactions are accounted for and there are no duplicates. In Synder Sync, you can easily see the fees you pay from all those online platforms helping you access all your expenses in one place.
If you’re selling goods like print-on-demand, you see that oftentimes it’s trial and error. One design might be popular while another – not at all. Selling products on various online sites makes the comparison even harder. Which products are your top sellers? What is your most refunded product?
As your business grows, it’s hard to keep track of all those measures without software help. Synder Insights gives you answers to the above questions and much more. It provides information in the form of insights so you don’t have to calculate anything yourself to produce a report.
Synder Insights has a user-friendly interface that lists data under specific headings, for example, top-performing products, least-performing products, products most purchased together, gross sales, customer lifetime value (CLV), and many more.
The software not only provides answers about the health of your business but can also be the basis of your marketing strategies. Thinking of bundling 2 products together? Synder Sync already knows what your customers bought as a natural set, both across all sales channels and in each of them, giving you reliable insights about your business.
How to market your custom designs
There are many popular marketing strategies that can be used to help you grow your print-on-demand business. So let’s review both paid and free options.
Marketing with marketplaces
If you sell your products on those top sales channels, you can always opt for ads that those platforms offer. Of course, this marketing strategy isn’t a free option, but you can check how that works for your online store. Find out what the cost-benefit analysis is for the money spent on the ads compared to the money brought into the business through an increase in sales.
Marketing with social media
Turning now to free marketing opportunities, we must mention social media. This form of digital marketing requires consistency and engagement to be successful. So regardless of which social media platform you choose, post regularly and speak to your audience. This can even provide you with testimonials, reviews, or helpful feedback that can further your business.
Marketing with SEO
Another free strategy that might not come immediately to mind when thinking about marketing is SEO (Search Engine Optimization). When you upload a product to your online store, make sure to use both short-tailed and long-tailed keywords in the provided fields. Keywords help you rank higher in search, increasing the chances of your products being seen by potential customers.
Print-on-demand business has many attractive qualities and that’s why its popularity is expected to grow even further, making it a perfect moment to jump into this trend.
It’s a great combination for entrepreneurs who don’t want to risk the initial investment, and at the same time, want to put their creativity to practice and turn it into a business.
We hope that with the help of our guide, we’ve shed some light on various elements of running a print-on-demand business, from opening an online store to choosing the right software.