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Blog / Beginner's handbook / How Much Money Do I Need to Start a Print-on-Demand Business

Beginner's handbook

How Much Money Do I Need to Start a Print-on-Demand Business

How Much Money Do I Need to Start a Print-on-Demand Business
Ilze Elizabete Strazda

By Ilze Elizabete Strazda

10 min read

Everyone, listen up. We’re finally tackling the big question: how much does it cost to start a print-on-demand business?

As a business model, print-on-demand isn’t a whole lot different from dropshipping. However, starting your print-on-demand business will require a bit more effort. The good news—if you do it right, you have a better chance of creating a real brand that people want to return to time and time again.

So buckle up—in this article, we’ll review all the costs involved in creating your own store using the print-on-demand business model.

The costs of starting a print-on-demand business

When it comes to print-on-demand business ideas, the cost really depends on your own skills and needs. For example, if you’re confident in your design skills, you’ll be able to save some money on designs. But if you don’t have much free time and want to outsource as much as possible, you’ll be spending more.

In this list, we’ll look at very rough estimates—these numbers are just here to help you get a sense of the full picture, but they’re definitely not set in stone.

Read also: How to Start a Print-on-Demand Business in 9 Steps

Design costs

If you want best-selling print-on-demand products, you’ll first need eye-catching designs, so you’ll have to think about who will create designs for your print-on-demand products.

If your print-on-demand designs are simple—let’s say, you’re planning to sell custom t-shirts with a catchy slogan—you can create your own designs. However, if you’re not confident in your skills or want to speed up the designing process, you can hire a designer.

a woman with blonde hair wearing a white shirt with a sun and a sun on itSource: Printful

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Create your own designs

There are many beginner-friendly design tools out there. One of the most popular options is Canva—it’s easy to use and has a ton of free fonts and graphics. If you’re aiming for simple text-based designs, you can easily get them done with the free version of Canva.

However, if you want more options, you can go with the Canva Pro plan, which will cost you a $12.99 monthly fee.

A cost-effective solution is to use Printful’s Design Maker. It has many of the same features you’ll find in Canva but will be quicker and easier to use since it’s already connected to your Printful account.

Hire a graphic designer

You don’t necessarily have to spend all your free time creating your own t-shirt designs. If your goal is to build passive income from your online store, you can always hire freelance designers to do the work for you.

You can hire good designers on Fiverr—we recommend budgeting up to $35 for each design. Make sure to choose designers with good reviews whose style you like.

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Fiverr

When you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t overload your store with a ton of different artwork—three to five different designs will work just fine. So, if you decide to outsource creating designs, it should cost you roughly $100–$175.

Tech costs

You need an online presence to run an online store. Your website will be the first thing your customers see, so you should put in a lot of effort to make sure it draws the shoppers in instead of putting them off.

You have two options—you can open your store using an ecommerce platform like Shopify or Etsy, or you can build your own website.

Use an online marketplace

If you don’t have a lot of tech knowledge, you should consider using a third-party marketplace. Online marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon offer many strong sales features and will let you connect with customers without having to build everything from scratch.

Remember that an online marketplace will cost something—most have several monthly plans you can choose from, depending on the size and needs of your ecommerce business. Others, like Etsy, are free, but there are additional fees you’ll have to take into account. If you’re a beginner and go with a basic plan, a marketplace could cost you around $30 a month.

Build your own website

Building your website will be more expensive and time-consuming; however, it can end up being cheaper in the long run. Plus, when you build everything from scratch, you’ll have more control over how your website looks and performs.

Some of the most popular website-building ecommerce platforms include Shopify, WooCommerce, Squarespace, and Wix. If you don’t consider yourself a tech pro, you can hire developers to create the site for you. Or, you can also go with more beginner-friendly and intuitive ecommerce platforms like Shopify. 

If you’re not sure which option you should choose, take a look at this article that goes into detail about the pros and cons of both online marketplaces and ecommerce platforms.

Sample costs

An essential part of running a print-on-demand business is making sure your product is up to your standards before you start selling it. That’s why you should order a sample of every new item you plan to add to your ecommerce store, so you can make sure you know what it looks like in real life.

With Printful, you can use the sample order program that allows you to order samples with a 20% discount. As a Printful user, you qualify for 1 sample order every month, with a maximum of 3 products per order. Learn more about sample orders here.

The costs will really depend on how many products you have in your store, how many samples you want to order, and how frequently. Your budget for samples could be as low as $50 or reach into the thousands.

You can also join the Printful Insiders group on Facebook, where Printful users from all over the world share their feedback on various Printful products. When you’re considering adding new custom products, you can save money on samples by asking other sellers for their experiences.

Production costs

Another thing you’ll have to think about is the fulfillment and shipping costs that come with running a print-on-demand business.

When a customer makes an order, your print-on-demand company will fulfill and ship out the order, charging you the production costs. Most print-on-demand companies will only start working on the order after production costs have been paid.

So, if you’re working with Printful and somebody buys from your store, two separate transactions take place. The customer pays you your retail price and shipping costs while you pay Printful for product fulfillment.

a man and woman holding a phoneSource: Printful

In order to pay Printful the product costs, you’ll have to use our internal payments system, the Printful Wallet. To learn more about the Printful Wallet, watch this video, where we answer the most frequently asked questions about Printful’s billing.

preview play-button

You can also take a look at the billing section in our Help Center.

This system might seem complex at first, but remember that most orders we fulfill are made on third-party online platforms. Since Printful doesn’t host these platforms, we don’t really have access to the transactions that take place between you and, for example, your Etsy customers.

This means you’ll need some money to deposit in your Printful Wallet before you start to make sales. We recommend budgeting around $100 for this purpose. You can adjust this sum later, depending on your sales.

Marketing costs

A successful print-on-demand business has to be able to attract customers online, so you’ll need to think about some marketing costs as well.

But before you spend a ton of money on paid ads, make sure your social media presence is attractive and well-thought-out. Do thorough research on popular print-on-demand niches to find one that works for you. Also, don’t forget to conduct market research regarding your target audience: what kind of content do they consume on social media platforms? Which platforms do they use most frequently?

If you know what kind of content your potential customers like, you’ll have a better chance of getting high-quality traffic that will help with conversion, and your social media advertising will be more successful, too.

Of course, you should also invest in high-quality content—attractive, high-quality product photos and videos, as well as catchy, SEO-friendly copywriting. These will help with organic free traffic and, with time, might just get you atop the search engine results pages.

When it comes to paid ads, it can get tricky. If your strategy isn’t right, you can end up spending a lot of money with very little results. If you’re a newbie in paid advertising, take a look at this video for tips on how to start.

preview play-button

We recommend going with a low starting budget of around $25–$50 and adjusting it later, according to your needs.

Optional costs

That’s not all, folks. We’ve gone through the costs involved in building the core of your business—your print-on-demand product designs, your website, and your basic marketing costs.

But there are a bunch of other optional costs that you should consider. If you’re just starting out, you’ll likely do most of this yourself. However, if you see that your print-on-demand business is growing, investing in these will make your shop look more professional and can help you earn more money online.

Custom mockups

Original mockups can really make or break a sale. Think about it: when we’re online, we’re bombarded with images every second. When you’re scrolling on Etsy or Pinterest, do generic print-on-demand mockups catch your eye? Most likely, the answer is no.

That’s why it’s smart to think about creating custom mockups. Just like designs, you can do this for free on Canva or a more advanced photo editing program. There are also a ton of online tools for custom mockups, for example, Placeit.

However, if you’re planning to work with Printful as your print-on-demand provider, you can easily create mockups with our Custom Mockup Maker. It’s a drag-and-drop mockup creator that gives you access to different backgrounds, our entire clipart library, your own uploaded files, and more. And the best part? It’s free!

a water bottle next to lemonsSource: Printful

Product visuals

Similar to custom mockups, it’s good to think about original product photos and videos for your print-on-demand store. These will help your ecommerce business connect with your target audience and stand out from the crowd.

a collage of images of women in skirtsSource: CostureroReal on Etsy

One way to do it is to hire a professional artist—when it comes to product photos and videos, it’s best to look for local artists rather than turning to Fiverr. Working with a local artist will allow you to have a more hands-on approach and will give you more control over the end result.

But in a world where social media algorithms increasingly favor authentic content, you don’t necessarily need overproduced visuals that cost a lot. If you have an eye for design and want to do it yourself, you easily can. Here’s a guide on how you can take good product photos with your own phone without having to spend money.

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Good copywriting is often an underrated part of building an online business. Sure, visuals and website design are responsible for creating the first impression of your print-on-demand store, but if your product description isn’t clear enough, potential shoppers might just move on.

So, if writing isn’t your best friend, or maybe English isn’t your first language, you can always hire someone to help you with copywriting. You can head over to Fiverr—it has a separate category dedicated entirely to business copywriting, so you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.

a screenshot of a phoneSource: Fiverr

Brand identity

Another important aspect of building a print-on-demand store is brand image and identity. Having a clear, defined brand will help with customer loyalty and earn you more sales.

If you’re someone who isn’t familiar with marketing, this can seem daunting at first. It’s understandable you’d want to hire someone to help you build a solid brand identity for your online store.

However, remember that your brand identity should be authentic to you. Defining your brand identity can be done with some research—take a look at our Printful Academy course that goes in-depth into finding your brand identity, personality, voice, and image.

So, how much does it cost to start an online store?

While starting a print-on-demand business is technically free, you need some funds to have a successful start. Based on everything we’ve covered in this article, our rough estimate is that you’d need around $400–$500 to cover everything, from your designs to your website, to things like samples and marketing.

But really, it depends. There’s no specific number because it comes down to your needs and priorities. Plus, as your store and knowledge grow, you’ll be able to adjust your spending, too. Make sure to learn from industry experts and seek out advice and guides on running your store.

You can subscribe to our blog or YouTube channel—we regularly post valuable insights about the print-on-demand industry and info on how to grow your business.

So—that’s all from me. Good luck with your business idea!

Read next: What is a Good Profit Margin for Print-on-Demand?


By Ilze Elizabete Strazda on Mar 7, 2024

Ilze Elizabete Strazda

Guest author

Ilze Elizabete is a freelance writer with a background in law and international relations. In her free time, Ilze is an avid reader and painter.

Ilze Elizabete is a freelance writer with a background in law and international relations. In her free time, Ilze is an avid reader and painter.