Blog / Beginner's handbook / What is Print-on-Demand
Blog / Beginner's handbook / What is Print-on-Demand
Money-making opportunities are everywhere. The challenge is finding one that fits your capabilities and wants. If you’re looking for ways to express your creativity and profit from the process, print-on-demand might be the answer.
With print-on-demand, you don’t have to wait months to get products printed or hold heaps of inventory in your own warehouse (or garage). To start your business, you just need a couple of design ideas.
So what is print-on-demand? In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to start an online business and make money with print-on-demand.
Print-on-demand (POD for short) is an order fulfillment method where you design products and your POD partner company prints and ships the goods to your customers on your behalf. This is a white-label approach, meaning that there’s no mention of your partner on the product or packaging—all the credit goes to you.
On-demand services fulfill a product only once an order has been made. This way, there’s no wasted stock that ends up in landfills. Plus, you automatically pay your print provider after the customer has paid you for their order. That’s why there’s no upfront cost to get started with print-on-demand.
To start selling:
Print-on-demand is a lucrative ecommerce business model for anyone looking to make some money on the side or even start a full-time business.
But before you dive into the POD business pond, you have to weigh all the challenges and benefits to understand whether this model is right for you or not.
Short answer: anyone with an idea. There are endless niches that unite communities of people who are passionate about the same thing. You can be the person who turns these passions into beautiful products.
Let’s get inspired by others who make money with high-quality print-on-demand products.
For artists and creators, print-on-demand can help with expanding their personal brand and building a stronger relationship with their communities through customized products. POD lifts all the weight off the shoulders from a logistical viewpoint while artists and creators can focus on creating their art. This way, they don’t have to lose themselves in time-consuming processes like shipping and packaging products.
For musicians, creating custom products for their audience is a no-brainer since print-on-demand opens up another income stream besides touring and earnings from royalties. Plus, imagine your fans wearing your merch on the street and posting it on social media channels. That’s a real-life advertisement. It’s a win-win situation.
Singer-songwriter RAIGN (Rachel Rabin) is a great example of this. Her road to creating RAIGN merch began with wanting to offer her fans pieces that’d visually represent her music but not knowing how to do it. RAIGN quickly came to understand that traditional fulfillment services weren’t the best solution due to design limitations and having to keep stock on hand.
During the pandemic, Rachel discovered Printful thanks to the advice of her friend. RAIGN realized that this business model is exactly what she needed—a print-on-demand company printing, packing, and shipping the products for her while she could focus on brainstorming design ideas and creating music. For her, Printful stood out with all the informational resources that helped her set her store up.
Artists can also benefit from having a print-on-demand business. British illustrator Alice Potter can vouch for this. While creating art was no problem for her creative mind—printing, prepping, and sending out products were a different story, quite an overwhelming one, in fact.
At one point, before using on-demand services, Alice even stopped selling online for a time. She was pregnant and making constant runs to the post office was too much of a pain. This was until she discovered the print-on-demand possibilities with Printful.
The “secret sauce,” as Alice puts it, was having the whole process automated. Printful takes care of everything from receiving the orders, to shipping them out to the illustrator’s customers.
Now Alice has more time to create and experiment with new designs without having to worry about how to get all the orders out. This is especially important because her family now lives between two countries—the UK and France. She’s said:
“[Without print-on-demand], I wouldn’t be able to have a shop. I’d have to have stuff here and stuff there and find someone who manages things in the country I wasn’t in.”
Partnering with a print-on-demand provider streamlined the process for her.
Print-on-demand and ecommerce entrepreneurs are like having ice cream on a hot day—they just make sense together. Selling custom products online is great for both beginners in the ecommerce world and someone looking to expand their existing business.
Just look at Carlos Ugalde’s store House of Chingasos. Carlos had previously worked in graphic design and marketing. After drawing inspiration from his father, he decided to start his own business venture.
After some time, he took a course on ecommerce and making money selling online to get the ball rolling. After trial and error with his first cat-themed online store, Carlos decided to focus on a niche closer to his heart and create a Latino t-shirt brand.
That’s how House of Chingasos was born. He chose Printful to print custom products for the brand as he was impressed with the service and quality Printful offers.
After hitting some roadblocks during the pandemic (like delays in production and shipping times due to restrictions in Printful facilities), Carlos still managed to make more than $200,000 in April 2020.
This was possible because he stayed true to his brand’s identity while also addressing what was going on. In an effort to lighten the mood, Carlos combined his trademark Latino humor and the current situation in the world—and his audience loved it.
Now Carlos runs House of Chingasos as his full-time job. He believes that anyone can start a print-on-demand business with enough passion and work, even without having a one-of-a-kind idea:
“I’m not the only Latino brand out there. All you need is a piece of the pie. I’m even friends with some of my competitors. So you don’t need to be the only person at the party, you just need to carve out a niche in the space. Anyone can do it.”
The power of community is also what made Kim Guerra of Badass x Bonita start building her own store and brand.
It all started with changes in Kim’s personal life when she moved to Seattle after growing up in L.A. and Mexico. In the new city, Kim felt out of her element, missing her community of Latine people of color, and even just having someone she could speak Spanish with. She was isolated and lacked connection with her environment.
Then, she started thinking of words to celebrate and uplift herself. The terms brown, badass, and bonita came to mind, and Kim immediately knew she had to put that on a t-shirt.
She posted the shirt on her social media channels and the design blew up—women from all over the world were asking where they could get one. From there, Kim ordered 100 t-shirts in bulk and spent a whole weekend prepping, packaging, and shipping all the orders with the help of her friends.
After years of doing it alone, Kim realized she was not happy with inconsistent product quality from the suppliers and handling so much inventory on her own. So in 2021, she and her team switched to print-on-demand services and haven’t looked back.
Here are the main benefits Kim’s found from using print-on-demand:
If you’re a creative, you definitely understand the struggle between the creative and managing side of a business. Don’t be discouraged by how time-consuming it might seem, because print-on-demand can solve that problem for you. We hope that the learnings of the creators above gave you a nudge in the right direction—you can do it!
Have an established brand but don’t want to waste resources on old-school fulfillment methods anymore? No problem. Print-on-demand is the quickest way how to make merch without losing your precious money and time.
Ferdinand Beck is a vegan fitness creator with more than 294,000 followers on Instagram and 33,600 subscribers on YouTube. His main focus is inspiring others to start a healthy, plant-based lifestyle.
To expand his brand, he decided to get help from POD services. Since veganism is often thought of as a way to be kinder to the planet, it was important for Ferdinand to find a production method that aligns with the same values. That’s how he chose print-on-demand instead of other methods that waste natural resources and significantly contribute to climate change.
Ferdinand now uses Printful to sell custom products to his audience and anyone interested in spreading the healthy lifestyle message.
Whether you already create your own art or have a global brand, print-on-demand is your choice if you want to offer merch online. It saves you time, and money, and lets you focus on things you’re passionate about, be it creating art or leading communities.
So, we’ve figured out all the benefits print-on-demand companies can offer you. Now, let’s choose the technique for your product fulfillment. What’s the difference between direct-to-garment and screen printing and what do they even mean?
Let’s have a peek at what’s best for your online business needs.
Another method used in the print-on-demand space is screen printing. This method involves ink being pushed onto fabric through a woven screen. Unlike with DTG, the ink doesn’t soak into the fabric but rather lays on top of it.
An ink-blocking stencil is put under the mesh screen to create different designs with screen printing. Since each design requires its own stencil, this process can take quite a long time to complete. You’re also limited to minimalistic designs since you can use approx. 9 colors (the more colors you use, the more you’ll have to add to the product price).
Screen printing uses a lot of water and often employs non-biodegradable inks in the printing process, making it a less sustainable choice than DTG printing.
Learn More: DTG vs. Screen Printing: Choosing the Right Apparel Printing Method for You
Direct-to-garment, or DTG, is a printing method where ink is printed onto a garment and then left to soak into the fabric. With this technique, you can print highly detailed and vibrant designs.
To achieve the best DTG print results in terms of colors, use the sRGB profile. This color model is based on three colors—red, green, and blue, hence the sRGB in the name (s stands for standard). When these colors mix together, they create an array of different colors. The sRGB color profile holds data on all of these colors, so they’re streamlined across different screens, printers, and other devices.
One thing to steer clear of when creating DTG designs is gradients. If you want to customize white-label products like t-shirts with the help of DTG, these kinds of graphics don’t print well with this method. Printers will attempt to make up the missing color by spreading the ink, causing the design to have gaps.
Other than that, you can pretty much use any kind of design you like, be it photorealistic images or colorful patterns.
DTG is also a more sustainable business model than, for example, screen printing. These printers are developed with advanced tech that creates almost zero wastewater and uses less energy, all of which lowers the carbon footprint.
With DTG, you can create as many one-off designs as you like and you’re also not limited in terms of color count. Want to print the whole rainbow on a hoodie? Go ahead!
The sublimation printing process starts with your design being printed on a sheet of paper. Then, the paper is soaked with sublimation ink and transferred to the product via a heat press. It’s like those old-school heat-transfer designs you could iron onto your t-shirts—but much better.
Learn More: What is Sublimation Printing and How Does it Work
Heat is a must to achieve the best design results with this method since it activates the sublimation ink and bonds it to the surface. For ink to completely soak into the fabric, it’s put under pressure and exposed to high temperatures of 350–400ºF (176–205ºC).
Sublimation works great on both hard and soft materials so you can use this method to print t-shirts, socks, mugs, and much more.
Whichever technique you choose, be sure to think about what works best with your designs and the products you select. More on that next.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the abundance of product choices, especially with all the different collections that print-on-demand companies offer. In this section, we’ll look at some of the trending products to sell online, as well as timeless classics you should have on your online store.
You can’t go wrong with a durable, cozy hoodie—it’s a wardrobe staple. Since they’re in high demand all year round, hoodies are perfect to sell for all online stores.
Plus, hoodies are super versatile: you can adapt the style and design to fit your print-on-demand business niche and market different pieces for any occasion.
Sustainability is important for today’s consumers (especially among Gen Z) and store owners have to keep up with the demand. A good way to show your print-on-demand store cares about sustainable production is to offer eco-friendly products.
Check Printful’s eco-friendly product collection for inspiration—there’s everything from t-shirts to hats and bags.
Another print-on-demand product category that’s in high demand all year round is stationary. It includes items that everyone needs, from students and office workers to doodling enthusiasts. We can all use some creative, original stationary in our lives.
Drinkware, especially mugs, has always been a best-selling category for print-on-demand businesses. Printful has drinkware for all occasions:
Look at these popular products and think about the niche you want to enter. For example, if you’re opening a store for book lovers, understand what products and, most importantly, designs this audience will appreciate. Maybe a book-inspired fan art on a mug? How about a painfully relatable bookworm pun for a notebook?
Another decision to make before you start to sell online is picking a print-on-demand company to be your partner through thick and thin. Maybe you’ll even go with multiple? Let’s have a look at what you should pay attention to when working with print-on-demand services.
As we’ve discussed, there are a bunch of different product customization techniques to choose from. When you research print-on-demand companies, see what methods they offer and decide whether or not it aligns with your business needs.
Not sure if you prefer DTG or screen printing? Totally fine. That’s exactly why you should always order product samples. Only by testing different companies and seeing the products in real life will you be able to understand if it’s what you’re looking for.
Some print-on-demand businesses offer samples with a discount, but with others, you’ll have to pay the full price—so keep an eye out for that too.
See where the fulfillment facilities of POD companies are located. Ideally, they should be in multiple locations all over the globe because that minimizes shipping costs for your global customers. Sure, you might be okay with a print shop just around the corner of your house, but don’t forget about the future.
What happens if your business grows? Will your print-on-demand partner be able to provide the best service for your global customer base? These are things to keep in mind.
Fulfillment time is the time spent creating your products, like physically printing and packing a t-shirt for shipment. At Printful, we promise to fulfill your products in 2–5 business days, but not everyone will promise such a quick turnaround.
Smaller printing partners might be able to offer short fulfillment times, but then shipping to a customer far away could take a hot minute. With bigger print-on-demand companies, the fulfillment times will be longer, but if the print providers are available in many locations, shipping times are often shorter.
This is the most important thing to be on the lookout for in your print-on-demand partner. Without quality products, your business can’t thrive.
No fast fulfillment times or never-before-seen customization techniques will save your brand’s reputation if the quality of the product itself is just . . . bad. The golden rule, as we’ve said before, is to always order samples. Make sure the products you’re selling are high-quality items you can be proud of.
At Printful, we take pride in our reshipment rate of 0.26%. Many other companies don’t even disclaim this number.
With so much noise around, it might be difficult to settle on a print-on-demand partner you truly want to work with. We want to make it easier for you.
Here’s how Printful is different from other POD providers:
Yes! Print-on-demand requires no upfront investment in stock or equipment. You can upload your designs and start selling in minutes.
Absolutely! Some print-on-demand businesses started small and have grown into 6-figure companies. Make sure you pick a niche you’re interested in and do research on different print-on-demand companies to partner with. Anything’s possible with print-on-demand. Even quitting your 9–5 job and becoming a business owner. You just have to start ?
Laura is a Content Marketing Specialist at Printful. She speaks 5 languages and her professional passion lies in translating, copywriting, and the overall art of marketing.
Printful is a printing and dropshipping service with fulfillment centers located all over the world. We help people follow their passion and turn ideas into brands and products.
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