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Blog / Beginner's handbook / How to Start a Print-on-Demand Business in 2024 in 9 Steps

Beginner's handbook

How to Start a Print-on-Demand Business in 2024 in 9 Steps

How to Start a Print-on-Demand Business in 2024 in 9 Steps
Karlina Rozkalne

By Karlina Rozkalne

14 min read

This article will also be useful if you have an existing business and want to ensure you’ve taken the necessary steps to be successful.

After reading this article, you’ll know:

  • What is a print-on-demand business

  • How to choose between print-on-demand services

  • How to tell if the print-on-demand business model is right for you

  • How to start a print-on-demand business in 9 steps

  • . . . and much more

We’ve got a lot to cover, let’s begin!

What is a print-on-demand business?

A print-on-demand business is an ecommerce model where custom products are made only after an order is made. Unlike traditional retail, there’s no need to buy or store your own inventory in bulk. A business owner designs products like custom t-shirts and custom hoodies, and a print-on-demand company handles fulfillment and shipping.

How to know if print-on-demand business model is right for you

A print-on-demand business model is ideal if you seek minimal upfront investment and want to focus on designing products, marketing, and running your store without managing inventory. It suits artists, influencers, and entrepreneurs targeting a niche market who prefer flexibility in product offerings.

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How to start a print-on-demand business in 9 steps

Now, let’s get into the steps you must take to launch your print-on-demand store and sell custom products online.

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Deciding on your target audience and a profitable niche is pivotal in starting a print-on-demand business. Begin by identifying a specific group of shoppers whose interests, needs, or problems you understand and want to address. 

Valuable read: 15 Print-on-Demand Niches to Watch in 2024

There are considerable benefits of clearly defining and targeting a specific niche: 

  • Targeted marketing. Easier to create focused, persuasive campaigns that resonate with your target market.

  • Reduced competition. Standing out becomes simpler in a specialized market with fewer direct competitors.

  • Higher customer loyalty. A well-defined niche fosters a strong, loyal community around your brand.

  • Enhanced expertise. Allows you to become an expert in your area, boosting credibility and trust among potential customers. 

  • Better product fit. You can tailor products more closely to your audience’s needs, increasing satisfaction and sales.

Not being specific about the target audience is among the most common dropshipping mistakes ecommerce newcomers make. You’ll reach no one by targeting everyone, and your sales will suffer.

Here’s how to find your print-on-demand niche for your own store:

  • Use personal interests and expertise. Combining your passions or areas of expertise with market demand can lead to finding your ideal niche. Plus, having first-hand knowledge of your audience’s needs or pain points is a huge advantage.

  • Analyze market trends. Tools like Google Trends or social media analytics can help you identify popular and emerging trends. This can help you spot opportunities in real time and understand what potential customers are interested in.

  • Explore existing successful stores. Checking out successful print-on-demand stores on ecommerce platforms and marketplaces can inspire you for what you want to create. Once you’ve found a store you like, identify gaps in their product lines and read negative reviews on their ecommerce store to know how to deliver better products.

An excellent example of a brand that has a well-defined niche is The Philosopher’s Shirt. The brand creates products with a particular audience in mind: philosophy enthusiasts. The brand sells printed and embroidered apparel with funny philosophy memes, references to famous thinkers, and witty pop culture wordplay.

a man and woman standing in front of a yellow backgroundSource: The Philosopher’s Shirt

Understanding who you’re trying to reach will make it easier for you to create designs and connect with your audience. So, before you start selling custom products, research print-on-demand niches and decide who your customers are.

Valuable read: Profitable Dropshipping Niches in 2024: How to Find Them + Top Picks

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Create and sell custom products online
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The third-party supplier you choose directly impacts customer satisfaction and your business’s reputation. After all, your print provider is responsible for product and print quality and shipping, so do your due diligence before choosing your print-on-demand service.

No print-on-demand company stands out as the best because each has different perks and cons. These companies differ by fulfillment locations, available techniques, customer support availability, branding options, and other aspects. Check out our competitor comparison page for a clear overview of the differences. 

a screenshot of a computerSource: Printful

The main things to look for in a print-on-demand company are: 

  • Delivery times and prices

  • Customer reviews

  • Product quality and range

  • Integration with your ecommerce marketplace or platform

Always order samples! Get samples with different fulfillment techniques to see the overall product quality, shipping speed, and packaging your customers will receive.

Some online store owners use more than one print provider, but we suggest starting with one. That way, you can test the quality of their services before diversifying your supplier network.

You’ve got 2 options: build your print-on-demand store on an online marketplace or build your own website through an ecommerce platform.

What’s the difference between marketplaces and platforms? 

An online marketplace lets many merchants sell their products and services in one place. The marketplace serves as a mediator between the customer and retailer, facilitating the transaction process.

Valuable read: 10 Best Online Marketplaces for Print-on-Demand Sellers

Here are the online marketplace options Printful sellers get.

a screenshot of a websiteEcommerce marketplaces Printful integrates with. Source: Printful

Here are the benefits and drawbacks of building your print-on-demand online store through marketplaces.

Pros

Cons

Exposure to a large, established customer base

High competition among sellers

Ease of setup and use

Marketplace fees can reduce profit margins

Access to the marketplace’s SEO and marketing efforts

Limited control over branding and customer experience

No need for personal website maintenance

Dependence on the marketplace’s policies and changes

An ecommerce platform gives the business owner the tools to build their own website. Tools for everything from creating the website and tracking customer interactions to tools for marketing, analyzing, and reporting.

Valuable read: 10 Best Ecommerce Platforms for Dropshipping Business

Here are some of the most popular ecommerce platforms you can use with Printful.

a screenshot of a websiteTop ecommerce platforms sellers can use with Printful. Source: Printful

Consider these pros and cons of building a website through an ecommerce platform.

Pros

Cons

Complete control over branding and customer experience

Ongoing costs for platform use, hosting, and maintenance

Ability to customize store design and functionality

Requires more effort and time to set up and manage

Direct relationship with customers

Potentially slower start in building customer base

More flexibility in setting up pricing and promotions

Responsibility for SEO, marketing, and driving traffic

As with everything in business, there’s no one-size-fits-all. 3 aspects you should consider to decide which is the best fit for you:

  • How much time you’re willing to spend setting up and maintaining your store

  • How much control over branding you want

  • How you want to get traffic

Once you answer these questions, the choice should become clear.

The store setup process varies depending on whether you choose an online marketplace or an ecommerce platform. For marketplaces, the setup process will be faster as you have to personalize your storefront, and you’re good to go. For platforms, the building stage will take longer, but the result will be a unique website.

To find guides for different marketplaces and platforms, explore our YouTube channel and blog.

After your store is ready, connect it with a reliable print-on-demand service like Printful, so your orders can be automatically received, fulfilled, and shipped to your customers.

First, sign up for Printful for free using your email address or Facebook, Google, or Apple account.

a screenshot of a screen with a couple of t-shirtsSource: Printful

Next, from your Dashboard, click Stores > Choose platform.

a screenshot of a computerSource: Printful

You’ll be taken to a window with all the platform and marketplace options you have with Printful. Find the platform your store is on, click Connect, and follow the instructions.

a screenshot of a computerSource: Printful

Once you’ve connected your store to Printful, we’ll take care of your orders as they come in.

Your Printful Wallet is automatically created once you sign up with Printful. This helps to ensure quicker payment processing and fewer transaction errors or fees.

a close-up of a credit cardSource: Printful

You must add a primary billing method so Printful can charge you for your orders. From your Dashboard, go to Billing > Billing methods > Add new billing method.

You don’t have to add money to your Wallet if you have a primary payment set up to pay for orders automatically. But once you start getting a lot of orders, the Wallet is helpful to reduce the number of transactions.

If your Printful Wallet is empty and you haven’t set a primary billing method, your orders will show up as Failed and won’t go through until you’ve manually approved and paid for them.

To manually add funds to your Printful Wallet, go to your Dashboard > Billing > Printful Wallet > Add money. Then, choose the amount you want to deposit by credit card, PayPal, Klarna, or Sofort.

You can also pay for your orders with cryptocurrency. If you’re interested in this payment method, visit our cryptocurrency FAQ.

Now, it’s time to pick and create custom products for your online store. If you want to start a clothing brand, you can go for evergreen trending products like custom t-shirts and custom hoodies. Regardless of the type of business you want to create, explore the most sought-after products in your niche or experiment with items that reflect your brand’s personality and values.

Valuable read: 23 Bestselling Print-on-Demand Products

For additional inspiration, you can visit the bestseller section on Printful’s Catalog.

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Printful

We recommend choosing print-on-demand products that complement each other, creating a cohesive collection that encourages customers to make multiple purchases.

For example, if you’re targeting shoppers with active lifestyles, you could add your own designs to a t-shirt, leggings, sports bra, duffle bag, and water bottle.

Or, you can offer a home decor product line with wall art, tableware, candles, blankets, and pillows.

A cohesive collection ensures your brand identity is consistent, making your store more memorable and increasing the likelihood of repeat purchases. It also allows customers to mix and match items, enhancing their shopping experience. Plus, it positions your brand as a one-stop shop for specific lifestyle or decor needs, potentially boosting your average order value.

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Create and sell custom products online
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With Printful, you can design your products with our free Design Maker. You can either upload your existing designs or use Design Maker’s tools and resources:

  • 712 fonts

  • 20400+ clipart (300+ clipart collections)

  • 3100+ quick designs (ready-made designs)

  • 550+ background graphics and 175 colors

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Valuable read: 11 Things You Didn’t Know Printful’s Design Maker Could Do

To design products, you can either go to Printful’s Catalog, choose a product, and start designing from there, or go to your Dashboard > Product catalog, choose a product, and click Create product template.

a man wearing sunglasses and a black sweatshirtSource: Printful

You’ll be taken to a window where you can personalize your product. Once you’re happy with your design, click Save to templates. On the right side of the screen, you’ll see products you can add to your store with the same design. 

a screenshot of a computer screenSource: Printful

Once you’ve saved the template, you can access it from your Dashboard. Simply go to Product templates.

a screenshot of a website

From there, you can add it to your store by clicking the red button and following the instructions, or download mockups by clicking on the three dots in the upper right corner and selecting Download mockups.

a screenshot of a computerSource: Printful

You can choose between standardized templates (basic mockups) and customizable templates you can build yourself (custom mockups).

a screenshot of a computerSource: Printful

For this example, we’re selecting standard templates. All you need to do is select the product templates you like, choose PGN or JPG images, and click Generate mockups. The system will create the mockups, and the red button will change to Download mockups. Click on it, and you’ll get all the mockups you selected.

a screenshot of a computer screenSource: Printful

Use the mockups for your catalog or social media marketing.

Alternatively, you can order product samples and make the images at home or in a studio.

Now it’s time to set prices for your dropshipping store.

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You can visit our pricing guide for valuable information on what you must pay for each product category and links to resources on taxes, shipping, and more.

a collage of people posing for a photo

Price breakdown for each product category. Source: Printful

When you add products to your store, pricing will be the last step you must complete. Here’s what you’ll see.

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Printful

You’ll see the Printful price (what you pay for the product), you’ll have to set your retail price (what your customers pay), and you’ll also see the estimated earnings you’ll get from each sale.

Online consumers are 6 times more likely to value free shipping over fast shipping. If you want to offer free shipping, include the shipping costs in your final price so your profit margins don’t suffer.

Setting the right product price involves several factors to ensure you cover costs, remain competitive, and make a profit. 

  • Calculate your costs. Sum up production, shipping, taxes, fees, and website or marketplace costs.

  • Research competitors. Compare prices for similar niche products to stay competitive.

  • Consider your brand positioning. Adjust prices based on quality and brand exclusivity.

  • Factor in profit margin. Aim for a 20%-50% markup on costs.

  • Test and adjust. Revise prices based on feedback and sales data.

Transparency with your customers about why your products are priced a certain way can also help justify higher prices, especially if you offer superior quality or time-consuming, unique designs.

Valuable read: 8 Ways to Market Expensive Products So They Look Like a Steal

Now, on to the last part of launching your POD business—the marketing. Creating a marketing strategy is a huge component of attracting customers to your print-on-demand business. 

Valuable read: How to Develop an Effective Marketing Strategy

Here’s how to get started:

  • Identify your target audience. Let your ideal customers’ demographics guide your marketing efforts: their demographics, interests, and buying behaviors.

  • Choose your channels. Pick and use the marketing channels that best reach your audience. Social media, email, and content marketing (like blogs and videos) are good starting points.

  • Create engaging content. Use visuals of your products, customer testimonials, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of your design process.

  • Leverage SEO. Optimize your store and content for search engines to increase visibility by using keywords related to your products and niche. If your store’s on a marketplace, the SEO will vary based on the site you’re on.

  • Run promotions. Offer introductory discounts or bundle deals to encourage first-time purchases.

  • Analyze and adjust. Use analytics to track the performance of your marketing activities and adapt your strategy based on what works best.

Engage actively with your audience by responding to comments and messages to foster a sense of community. Always collect feedback from your shoppers to continuously improve your products and marketing strategies.

Remember, marketing is about trial and error. Stay flexible, test different approaches, and refine your strategy based on results.

Printful logo
man with jacket
Printful logo
Create and sell custom products online
Let’s go

How to choose between print-on-demand services

When choosing between print-on-demand services, consider these five key factors:

  • Product quality and variety. Evaluate the range of products offered and assess the quality of samples. Also, consider print quality and your product’s packaging, which will contribute to customer satisfaction. High-quality products, prints, and packaging are crucial to be successful.

  • Printing and shipping costs. Compare and weigh out the costs associated with printing and shipping. While lower costs can increase your profit margins, you must check if the price point doesn’t come at the expense of quality. 

  • Integration capabilities. Look for an on-demand service that easily integrates with your online store platform (e.g., Shopify, Etsy). If you don’t have a store yet, look for the company offering the widest platform selection so you get the most options.

  • Customer service and support. Choose a print-on-demand service with reliable customer support. Efficient handling of issues, like order errors or shipping delays, is vital for customer satisfaction.

  • User reviews and reputation. Research reviews and the print-on-demand company’s reputation on Facebook groups, online forums, and industry-specific websites. This can give you a broader understanding of their reliability, product quality, customer service, and how they handle issues. 

Researching and comparing print-on-demand companies is fundamental to the success of your online business, so consider these factors carefully.

Read also: Is Print-on-Demand Worth It in 2024?

Time to launch your own online store and start selling

Equipped with this blueprint for launching a successful print-on-demand business, the only thing left is to take that leap. Don’t let hesitation hold you back. Launch your online store, bring your creative ideas to life, and start selling today. Your entrepreneurial journey begins now—embrace it with confidence and enthusiasm.

Read next: Print-on-Demand Statistics and Trends You Should Know in 2024

author

By Karlina Rozkalne on Feb 28, 2024

Karlina Rozkalne

SEO Content Writer

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.