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Blog / Beginner's handbook / 17 Critical Print-on-Demand Mistakes to Avoid

Beginner's handbook

17 Critical Print-on-Demand Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

17 Critical Print-on-Demand Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Aleksandra Rosa

By Aleksandra Rosa

18 min read

Starting a print-on-demand (POD) dropshipping business is exciting. Ecommerce is a vibrant, ever-evolving landscape, and carving out your unique niche among the ecommerce giants can be a thrilling challenge.

The good news is that the journey to success is a shared one. All POD business owners face similar challenges in the ecommerce sphere when it comes to design, building an online store, and marketing. This is why it’s not only important to experiment and make your own mistakes, but also to embrace the collective wisdom of the community.

To discover the most common print-on-demand mistakes, we turned to our customers—successful print-on-demand store owners. We conducted a survey, asking 68 of them about their missteps and the impact they had on business.

When asked about the single most difficult part of starting a print-on-demand business, most customers said it was marketing. Here are the top 5 biggest POD challenges, according to our surveyed customers:

  • Coming up with a marketing strategy (29%)

  • Finding the right target audience (21%)

  • Creating designs (15%)

  • Setting up billing and understanding taxes (13%)

  • Setting up an online store (10%)

In fact, 96% of respondents believe they’d made some mistakes when building their brand. 

What kind? Read on to learn about the 17 most common print-on-demand mistakes and how you can avoid them as a newcomer to the POD industry.

Read also: Is Print-on-Demand Good for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide

Design mistakes

Designing a product is one of the first challenges you’ll face. Learn from these 7 common design mistakes to make your design process smoother and more efficient.

1. Designing without a target audience in mind

You have a great idea, the skills, and the tools to make your design come to life. What more do you need to create a successful product?

A target audience—also known as a niche in the ecommerce world.

It’s hard to design a bestselling product if you don’t know who you’re designing for. Every audience has its own interests, passions, product preferences, shopping habits, and pain points you can address in your product design. If you fail to do that, you’ll come up with a product that you might personally like, but there will be no customer demand.

If you’ve ever made a product that doesn’t speak to any niche audience, you’re not alone. In fact, 27% of our respondents believe that this mistake had a high to very high negative impact on their businesses.

Now, how can you avoid this? Start your design process by answering 2 simple questions: 

  • Who will wear/use/like this product?

  • Why will they wear/use/like this design (and not someone else’s)?

Learn more: 15 Print-on-Demand Niches to Watch in 2024: Exploring the Hottest Trends

Define your target audience before you start designing.

a person with a dart in the center of a target clipart

Source: Canva

Once you have a clear picture of your ideal customer, it’ll be much easier to get your design right. Moreover, if you dedicate enough time to audience research at this stage, you’ll have less trouble finding the right marketing channels to promote the product later on.

Understanding your audience’s demographics, interests, and buying behavior will guide you in creating even the most basic designs that will resonate with them emotionally and practically. It will also inform your choice of product types, color schemes, and messaging. 

Do your market research properly, look at trends within your niche, and even consider creating customer personas to refine your focus. By diving deep into the psyche of your potential customers, you’ll be better equipped to create designs that aren’t just aesthetically pleasing but also highly relevant to the people you want to attract. 

This will ultimately lead to stronger customer loyalty and higher conversion rates as your products begin to hit the mark more consistently.

2. Picking the wrong product for your design

Not all designs are a good fit for every product. Even if your design is ready to impress your niche audience, you have to carefully choose the right products to print it on.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when picking print-on-demand products:

  • Select products that are relevant to your niche audience

Don’t pick products just because they are cheap or have great margins. First, ask yourself if your target audience actually needs it. For example, it makes sense to promote an enamel mug or a rain jacket to campers. However, would these products be useful if your niche is movie lovers?

  • Pair seasonal designs with products that are relevant for that season

Fall-inspired designs? Print them on snuggly blankets and warm hoodies. Vacation-themed designs? Go for beachwear, tank tops, and flip flops.

Printful custom swim trunks

AOP swim trunks. Source: Printful

  • Patterns look best on all-over print products

All-over printing allows you to completely cover the garment with your design, leaving no white space. It’s the best choice for patterns because you’re not constrained by a particular printing area.
To find all-over print products—choose a category, like men’s t-shirts, then click on All filters and choose Cut & sew sublimation.

Printful's all-over print product catalog

Source: Printful’s product catalog

  • Photography is great for posters

Photography is a lot more nuanced than graphic art. Printing your photos on posters or canvases will guarantee crisper results, compared to any type of wearable garment.

If your designs contain graphics or text, DTG is the go-to option. It’s a printing method that sprays ink directly onto the garment. It allows you to print very detailed designs without color limitations.

  • Embroidered designs are well-suited for frequently washed items 

For products that will endure regular laundering, such as work uniforms—which might include custom t-shirts, custom hoodies, aprons, towels, and more—opting for embroidery can be a smart move. Embroidered items hold up well under repeated washing, maintaining their quality and appearance. While DTG prints also last well with proper care, darker or more vividly colored fabrics may gradually fade over time due to the nature of fabric ink absorption.

Learn more: Choose Your Style: Embroidered vs. Printed Custom Clothing

preview play-button

3. Not researching competitors’ designs

A common beginner mistake is making assumptions about what an audience wants instead of researching what it really needs. There’s no need to guess when you can assess available market offers and draw solid conclusions about what works best. 

Researching competitors’ designs prior to creating yours will help you understand:

  • What type of colors, fonts, and design styles are popular within the niche

  • What type of products are available and what’s missing

  • How similar designs are priced and marketed

For example, if you want to sell custom gifts for teachers, start by googling “custom gifts for teachers.” See what’s available on marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, or Redbubble. Make a list of products that come up first and evaluate what makes them stand out. More importantly, think about how to make your designs better than those already available.

4. Copying someone else’s design

Printing someone else’s intellectual property puts you at risk of legal consequences for copyright infringement. In addition, you’ll waste time creating products that print-on-demand companies won’t fulfill.

In order to print your merch with Printful, you need to either own the content you submit, or have the rights to use, display, and resell it. Check out our Copyright and Trademark 101 blog and Acceptable Content Guidelines to be sure that your designs meet our requirements.

5. Not following print and embroidery file guidelines

When it comes to the quality of your products, it depends on the print and embroidery files you submit. Disregarding file size, resolution, color, and transparency requirements can only lead to one thing—lower quality.

The number of potential print file errors is endless, but here are some of the most common ones:

  • Using low-resolution images

  • Not removing backgrounds properly

  • Using transparency in designs

  • Including tiny text

  • Using fade, glow effects, or neon colors

Our in-house experts have rounded up the resources you’ll need to create quality print and embroidery files. These include:

how to avoid embroidery text design mistakes

Source: Printful

6. Not ordering product samples

Trying to sell products you’ve never seen in real life is a common rookie mistake. Many beginners think that seeing mockups is enough, and that samples are a waste of money. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

ordering product samples in Printful

Source: Printful

There are several reasons why ordering samples is a step you shouldn’t skip. It enables you to:

  • Check the design quality

  • Know how the garment fits

  • Take your own product photos

  • Answer customer questions

If you rely on mockups alone, you never know how your products will actually turn out. This could be costly in terms of customer satisfaction and your brand’s reputation. To build a sustainable long-term business that prioritizes quality, always order product samples.

a group of people with speech bubbles

Source: Canva 

7. Not asking for feedback

What’s the biggest product design mistake, according to Printful customers? Not asking for feedback. 71% of our respondents believe that this oversight negatively affected their businesses.

There are many reasons why beginners avoid asking for feedback on their designs. Some don’t know who to ask, others feel shy about sharing their business ideas, and others might even be afraid of their designs getting stolen.

A design is rarely perfect from the first attempt, so it’s essential to ask for input to improve it.

How can you get feedback?

Find Reddit threads, Facebook groups, or Discord channels that your target audience frequently interacts with. Post a photo of your product and ask what users think about it. Easy peasy! It takes only a couple of minutes, and costs nothing, but you’re likely to get constructive feedback that’ll help you improve your design and eventually make sales.

Read next: What’s the Key to a Successful Print-on-Demand Design? [Expert Tips]

Online store and marketing mistakes

Once your designs are ready, it’s all about building an online store and marketing it.

This process consists of many smaller steps: selecting an ecommerce platform, designing a store, importing products, setting up payments, and finally, promoting your store. The next 13 mistakes are the main challenges you’ll face in this process.

8. Choosing an unsuitable ecommerce platform

An ecommerce platform is the home of your print-on-demand store. It’s where you add and edit listings, and it’s what defines how your store looks and functions.

When you’re choosing an ecommerce platform, you’re committing to its rules, costs, and limitations. A common mistake is picking an ecommerce platform without properly researching it, only to later realize that it doesn’t quite meet your needs or budget.

If you’ve chosen Printful as your print-on-demand service, there are over 20 ecommerce platforms you can choose from. 

Printful's ecommerce integrations

Printful integrations. Source: Printful

What’s the best ecommerce platform for you? You’ll have to decide that yourself, but here are some things to consider before making up your mind:

  • How long does it take to set up a store?

  • Is it beginner-friendly?

  • What are the monthly fees and transaction charges?

  • What payment gateway services are available on this platform?

  • What design features are available?

You can also take a quiz to get our ecommerce platform recommendations for your needs.

a hand holding a phone with a credit card and a shopping bag

Source: Printful


9. Unprofessional online store design

The overall look and feel of your website can make or break a sale. For online shoppers, it’s the face of your business.

Let’s take a closer look at online store design principles you should pay attention to.

  • Simplify navigation

When it comes to online store navigation, make it as simple and straightforward as possible. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Remember that the sooner users can find answers to their questions, the sooner you’ll hear the coveted “cha-ching!”

  • Choose a one-step checkout process

If the checkout process is too long or complex, not all customers will complete their purchases. Data suggests that 18% of online shoppers abandon their carts if the checkout process is too lengthy.

  • Check your store’s mobile-friendliness

  1. Complete Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test

  2. Create a mobile version of your ecommerce store

  3. Improve your website’s speed

  4. Offer a variety of mobile payment options

Check out more tips for optimizing your store for mobile devices in our blog post.

10. Setting prices that are too low or too high

43% of our survey respondents believe that pricing their products too low or too high had a high negative impact on their businesses.

While it may take some trial and error to figure out the optimal prices for your products, here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Don’t try to compete in terms of price alone. Before you start comparing yourself to competitors, figure out a sustainable base price so you won’t be selling at a loss

  • When assessing product costs, consider production, design, and shipping costs, as well as transaction fees and taxes

  • Don’t forget about fixed costs like domain and ecommerce platform charges

Learn all about ecommerce pricing strategies in our Beginner’s Guide on How to Price Your Products Online.

preview play-button

11. Setting unclear policies

Customers need to be able to find your store’s policies and they should be clear.

“No one reads policies” is a common assumption that’s simply not true.

What happens if a parcel gets lost? What if the garment doesn’t fit? What’s the plan of action if the quality doesn’t match expectations? All of this has to be clearly communicated in your store’s policies.

Printful's privacy policies

Source: Printful

Make sure all the necessary policies (such as Shipping, Returns, Exchanges, and Privacy) and the Terms and Conditions, are easily accessible on your website. This will build trust and make customers feel more comfortable buying from you.

To further improve your customers’ experience, consider adding FAQs and a size guide.

Learn more: Printful Policies Your Store Should Copy blog post.

12. Unclear product descriptions

First and foremost, a product description should be informative.

What does that mean? It should provide all the relevant information a customer might need about a product in a concise format. This includes info on:

  • Sizing

  • Color options

  • Materials and care instructions

  • Production and shipping times

  • Shipping carrier information

  • Your store’s policies

Once your product description fulfills the basic informative function, you can get creative with the wording to make it more fun and engaging.

The second goal of a product description is to convert users into paying customers. Here’s how to do it:

  • Include power words to make your copy more emotional

  • Use bullet points instead of paragraphs

  • Avoid being overly wordy

  • SEO-optimize your descriptions to help your products rank on Google

  • Never copy-paste product descriptions for several listings—this gives a duplicate content signal to search engines

Take a look at how Startup Vitamins first explains the meaning behind their posters and then provides a detailed description of the paper, printer, and packaging they use.

Startup Vitamin's store example

Source: Startup Vitamins

13. Generic or low-quality product images

When shopping online, product images contribute massively to customers’ purchasing decisions. A high-quality photo can help buyers evaluate fabric and print quality, color, sizing, and fit. Product photos are also a good way to communicate your brand’s vision and identity.

Not creating your own product photos and using only generic mockups isn’t a crime, but it’s definitely a missed opportunity.

To create engaging, top-notch visuals, you don’t need to invest in expensive equipment. Start by ordering product samples and taking photos with your smartphone. Selfies, mirror pics and flatlays are popular formats. They resonate well with social media users as they showcase products in a realistic setting and help potential customers identify with your brand’s story.

Takeout order store example

Source: Takeout Order

Learn more: Striking Product Photography Trends to Follow This Year

14. Not optimizing for search engines

45% of the customers in our survey believe that not SEO-optimizing their stores had a high negative impact on their business. More than that, 14% believe that the impact was very high. If there’s one ecommerce mistake you should avoid at all costs, it’s ignoring SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of making your website rank higher on Google in order to bring in organic visitors. Content, including product descriptions, photos, your brand’s About us page and homepage, is your chance to get Google’s attention. Here’s what to do:

  1. Research keywords in your niche

  2. Optimize your listing titles, descriptions, and tags

  3. Have quality content (written and visual)

  4. Collect reviews and keep the scores high

  5. Build links to your website

It’s no secret that SEO takes some time to master. That’s why we share plenty of SEO tips for small businesses like yours on our blog:

15. Expecting sales without marketing

Creating a store and not marketing your products is a classic mistake.

So many beginners invest time in building the perfect store and publishing hundreds of designs, yet treat marketing as an afterthought. It’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting immediate success without putting in the effort to attract visitors to your newly minted online shop.

Getting the coveted first sale is all about marketing. In order to bring in paying customers to your store, you need a clearly defined marketing strategy. Why? It keeps your promotional efforts focused and goal-oriented.

A solid marketing strategy helps you:

  • Set up measurable goals for your business

  • Better define your target market

  • Help your business stand out from the competition

If you’re new to marketing, these resources will get you on your way and provide some inspiration:

Check out our free course Product Marketing 101 to up your marketing game.

Developing a marketing strategy may sound like a lot, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need a long, elaborate plan. Just ask yourself the right questions and jot down some quick notes. Once you have a clear strategic view of your marketing plan of attack, you can experiment with different tactics to see what works. Remember to always stay true to the vision and long-term goals of your brand.

a group of green icons of social media

Source: Canva

16. Not using social media to its full potential

Your brand’s success online depends a great deal on how you use social media. It’s a powerful tool for attracting customers and what you put in you’ll get out.

Here’s something to think about: 93% of our surveyed customers believe that not using social media to its full potential has negatively impacted their business. Don’t let that be you.

How can you take advantage of social media to the fullest? Here are a couple of tips:

  • Be consistent

Social media is your chance to build real relationships with your customers. To build trust you have to be there for your followers: post regularly, engage with comments, and respond to questions. Not posting content just because you don’t feel like it is not the best way to approach social media as a business.

To ensure the consistency of your social media content, develop a posting schedule. It’ll give you a clear overview of post ideas and dates, plus give you backup content for days when you’re not feeling creative.

  • Curate user-generated content

UGC (user-generated content) is not only authentic content that takes no time to create, it also provides social proof and convinces new customers to buy from your brand. If you’re not collecting reviews on social media, you’re missing out on a powerful (and free) content opportunity. Encourage your followers to share reviews, photos, and videos, and make the most of UGC by showcasing it regularly.

Here’s how Fir and Needle not only shares a customer photo but also encourages users to submit more content.

Fir and Needle brand's Instagram post

Source: @firandneedle Instagram

preview play-button
  • Focus on quality over quantity

Posting multiple times per day isn’t necessary. If you focus on creating a single piece of top-notch content a day, you’ll have a higher chance of increasing reach and engagement than with lots of lower-quality content.

  • Don’t attempt to use all of the platforms out there

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest… If you’re building a print-on-demand business alone or with a small team, you can’t possibly find the time to post on all of them regularly. And you don’t have to.

Instead of trying to be everywhere, choose only a couple of platforms that you’re willing to master. Develop content specifically for those social platforms and engage with your audience. This’ll be much more effective than dropping the same copy-paste content on every platform out there.

17. Not analyzing traffic and sales results

You don’t need a background in data analytics to look at your store’s performance and figure out what has worked best. Assessing the highs and lows of your business tactics is the best way to make informed decisions about what to do next.

Analytics helps you understand your customers’ behavior so you can plan product launches and marketing campaigns more effectively.

Here are some of the key online store metrics you should evaluate:

  • Website traffic (how many people visit your website)

  • Conversion rate (the percentage of website visitors who made a purchase)

  • Average order value (revenue divided by the number of orders)

  • Cart abandonment rate (the percentage of visitors who started the checkout process and didn’t complete the purchase)

How can you track and collect all this data? When it comes to traffic, Google Analytics is your best friend. Another free tool from Google that’ll help you analyze your site’s SEO performance is Search Console. Everything you need to know about conversions will be available via your ecommerce platform’s dashboard.

If you’re using Shopify, there are many great apps that will do the analysis for you.

The success of your store is in your hands

Now that you know the most common mistakes and how to avoid them, it’s time to put this knowledge into practice. Start building your own online store and let us know how it goes.

One last thing before you go. Since you know what can go wrong when setting up a POD brand, you should check our customer success stories to see what it takes to get it right. Here are our most popular stories:

We’d love to hear from you. Have you made any of the mistakes we’ve discussed? Which mistakes have affected your ecommerce business the most? Share your insights in the comments!


By Aleksandra Rosa on May 3, 2024

Aleksandra Rosa

Aleksandra is the editor of the Printful Blog. Coming from a background in communication studies, she's passionate about all things marketing. In her spare time, she runs her own print-on-demand business.

Aleksandra is the editor of the Printful Blog. Coming from a background in communication studies, she's passionate about all things marketing. In her spare time, she runs her own print-on-demand business.