How to Start a Print on Demand Ecommerce Business on Shopify
If you’re interested in starting an ecommerce business on Shopify but aren’t quite ready to commit hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars for your first round of inventory, Print-on-Demand (POD) could be a good option for you.
Print-on-Demand is a simple way for graphic designers, influencers, artists, and even those with minimal artistic ability to quickly start an ecommerce business that sells physical products without having to purchase any inventory upfront.
In this guide, we’ll explain what Print-on-Demand is and how to set up your Print-on-Demand store on Shopify, and how to market and grow your Print-on-Demand business.
We may receive compensation from the tools featured in this guide. However, we do not recommend any tools or services that we do not use in our businesses, have not fully evaluated, or that are not successful for our clients.
What is Print on Demand?
Print-on-demand is an ecommerce model that allows you to sell physical white-label (customized) products such as shirts, posters and blankets with your custom designs without having to purchase a single piece of inventory upfront - instead, a print-on-demand supplier will hold blank inventory in their warehouse, print your custom design on products, and ship them directly to customers.
Print on demand companies typically hold hundreds of different types of blank products in their warehouses, have state-of-the-art printers that can print on all kinds of materials and surfaces, and leverage modern technology solutions. That way, when it comes time to print your order, all they have to do is pull the blank item off the shelf, throw it on the printer, and slap your design on. Common print on demand products include t-shirts, hats, socks, prints, posters, coffee mugs, and many more.
Here’s a Print on Demand Example:
- You create a unique illustration design of a dog riding a unicycle
- You upload the dog design onto a coffee mug mockup image through a print on demand supplier portal such as Printful
- You then add your title and description and publish the dog mug product to your Shopify site
- A customer places an order for said dog mug
- The order is automatically sent to Printful where they print your dog design on a mug
- Printful then packs the order, prints a shipping label, and mails the order directly to your customer
- The order tracking number is automatically sent to the customer’s email
In summary, the print on demand business model ensures that all you have to do is create the designs and upload them to your print on demand portal, publish them to your Shopify site, and get customers in the door. It also ensures that you can do all of this without having to worry about buying and managing inventory, shipping orders, and having to forecast and restock inventory. If you’re the creative type and you enjoy marketing, it’s a great business model for you.
Additionally, if you use the right software tools (which we explain later), you will ensure accurate and automatic synchronization of the blank product inventory in your suppliers warehouse with your Shopify store so you won’t sell something they can’t fulfill. Additionally, the right software tools will ensure consistent, automatic routing of customer orders to the printing centers. As a result, you’ll prevent overselling and fulfillment issues which can lead to unhappy customers, and no one wants that!
Why Use Print-on-Demand?
Print on Demand allows you to easily bring your design ideas to life with minimal investment. For example, if you wanted to start a t-shirt business prior to the print-on-demand era, you’d have to purchase a minimum of 12-24 units per design upfront which, depending on the design and number of colors in the design, could cost anywhere from $8-$15 per shirt. This means it could cost nearly $100 to get a few shirts for a single design printed and ready for the world to see. Let’s say you want more variety when you launch, so you want to start with 5 shirt designs and 12-24 units of each. That could end up costing you a minimum of $500 upfront! Instead, if you’re starting with print on demand on Shopify, your upfront investment would be $43 ($29 for Shopify and $14 for your custom domain name) assuming you’re not paying a designer to create your designs for you.
Further, you can evaluate and test a business idea, branding strategy, or a new product line for an existing business without paying for inventory upfront. If you have an existing audience, you can quickly monetize it without having to handle operational headaches and you can quickly take advantage of new market trends because you can launch a new product in a matter of minutes. For example, if the Chiefs win the Super Bowl, you could come up with a Chiefs-inspired design and post a t-shirt for sale within an hour to take advantage of the trend. This isn’t possible if you’re buying inventory in bulk.
How to Start a Print-on-Demand Business
Step 1: Select Your Niche and Products
Choosing a niche that matches your style, interests, or passion is very important for a successful print on demand business. It also ensures you’ll be committed for the long run since it’s something you truly care about. Finding a niche means defining the demographic that you want to reach and selecting the types of products that best aligns with their interests. For example, if you’re an artist, you may want to sell prints or shirts of your designs. If you love swimwear or if you’re a swimwear Instagram model, you may want to sell custom swimwear.
List your ideas out and do some brainstorming. Select a narrow niche so you can focus on your customer persona but don’t limit yourself from future category expansion.
Additionally, you could consider a product-based niche or a subject-based niche. A product-niche business is focused on a single-product such as coffee mugs and aims to become the go-to coffee mug shop. A subject-niche business is focused on a single subject theme and aims to develop a range of products with designs representing this subject niche-only, such as pet-lovers gear. You can make mugs, hats, shirts, prints with a variety of different pet designs.
Choose and design items that serve the target audience's demands but still have the opportunity to draw a secondary audience. Conduct research and stay active on social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook or Reddit to keep up with your audience's trends and needs.
Once you’ve selected your niche, it is time to formulate and design your products. While there are a wide range of options available, adhere to your market's needs, and ensure that the designs will be printed on products that match your niche’s interests.
Step 2: Creating Designs
Once the niche and audience demographic is decided, it’s time to start creating your designs.
Here are some design tools to help you bring your designs to life:
- Canva - a simple and easy to use design tool
- Photoshop - a more intuitive design tool for more advanced designers
- Illustrator - built by the same creators of Photoshop for a different style of designing
- Design Bundles - buy commercial use design packs to incorporate into your designs
- Font Bundles - buy commercial use fonts packs to incorporate into your designs
- Shutterstock - stock photos you can license for use in designs or on your site
- PixaBay - free stock photos you can license and download for use
You’ll want to ensure you’re removing backgrounds from your designs and exporting in PNG format. This will help ensure you’re able to create high quality mockups when it comes time to upload your designs into the print on demand supplier’s portal.
What if I’m not artistic or don’t know how to create designs?
That’s OK! Many of us lack artistic ability. Your best bet is to find a graphic designer that can bring your designs to life for you. A popular service to find graphic design freelancers is Fiverr. Create an account and search for “t-shirt designers”. Look through reviews and the designer’s portfolios and pick a designer that best matches your intended style.
Another option is to purchase existing t-shirt designs from Buy T-shirt Designs if you plan on starting a print on demand t-shirt business. However, you may want to customize the designs a bit to ensure they’re tailored to your brand style.
Step 3: Create Mockups
You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you’re using the standard mockups provided by your print on demand company - they look generic and give the impression that your products are low quality. If you have the time and can afford to do so, we highly recommend creating more realistic looking mockups of your products. Placeit has thousands of mockups you can purchase and easily import your designs into.
Step 4. Set up Your Shopify Store
Once you have settled on your product designs, create your Shopify print on demand store, select a theme, and add your personal touches. Spend some time exploring popular websites in your niche to get inspiration for your site. Your website should act as your brand's face, inspire trust, and excite your target audience to browse around.
Building on Shopify is much more convenient than any other “shopping cart” or than having to code your own website. Ensure you address all of your customers needs, questions, or concerns by the following pages:
- About Us
- FAQ (accepted payment, shipping information, returns, etc)
Next, you’ll want to purchase a domain name through Shopify to ensure you’re creating a trustworthy, professional, and memorable brand experience.
As you build your Shopify store, you'll need to install apps to help you improve the customer experience and generate more revenue. View our Shopify apps directory to find the best Shopify apps to add to your store.
Step 5: Select Your Print-on-Demand Company
The reputation of your business and brand depends upon the print on demand supplier. Thus, the importance of selecting a reliable print company cannot be overlooked. A print-on-demand company ultimately brings your vision to reality. You partner with a print provider for design printing, order shipment, and providing your customers with an effortless order experience. Be sure to read their reviews, contact their support team, note their lead times and pricing.
All major print-on-demand providers are natively integrated with Shopify to ensure complete automation.
Here are the best print on demand companies:
Here's a full outline of the best print-on-demand apps for Shopify and suppliers for print-on-demand sports jerseys.
Step 6: Upload Your Designs and Create Listings
Once you’ve selected your print on demand company, it’s time to upload your designs and publish them to your store. All print on demand suppliers will have some type of portal that you can upload your design into, create a mockup (if you don’t create your own), then publish to Shopify. You will create your titles, descriptions, and set pricing from within either the print supplier portal or from within Shopify after you’ve published the listings.
It’s critical you build high quality, optimized listings to ensure you’re ranking on Google and so that customers will be able to find all the necessary product information to feel comfortable purchasing from you. Provide some detail on what the product is, what it’s made out of, how it’s used, and any additional information that may be helpful for the customer.
Step 7: Marketing
Marketing is the final aspect of getting your print-on-demand ecommerce business off the ground. The objective is to get noticed, drive traffic to your Shopify site, give them a reason to buy, and convert them into customers.
Here are a few ways to market your new print-on-demand Shopify store:
1. Social Media
Maintaining a social media presence is ideal for finding and engaging your target audience. Customers are continually finding brands on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and more and you want to ensure you’re getting in front of them.
Don’t want to spread yourself too thin by trying to maintain accounts on every single social media channel - you can always optimize others later. However, at the very least, create accounts and secure your @ handle on all relevant platforms so when you’re ready to start expanding, you’ll have consistent branding across all touch points.
Post consistently, reply to other account’s photos, and engage with users as much as you can.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a strategy to increase your organic ranking on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) such as Google or Bing. This means putting out quality content, researching target keywords, getting backlinks, and more. It’s a long-term strategy so remain patient if you don’t see results immediately.
3. Influencer Marketing
Influencers have a substantial audience that can help your business gain instant and broader exposure. You can collaborate with influencers willing to support and endorse your product that suits their style and values. They will help you gain trust with your prospective audience very quickly.
4. Content Marketing
Content marketing is a common strategy deployed by big ecommerce players to assist their SEO efforts. Publish relevant content consistently and share on social media to generate more traffic to your Shopify site.
Blogs and articles keep your community updated and informed about your latest products, designs, and values. This will help show your expertise and gain your audience’s trust as they learn from and engage with your content, which will make them more likely to buy from you in the future.
5.Testimonials for Trustworthiness
Although it will take time to get your customer’s honest feedback and have them leave reviews, it is a perfect way to solidify your business’s credibility and trustworthiness. Use our Shopify App Directory to find the best Shopify apps to help generate reviews. Tip: Okendo is our favorite!
Pros & Cons of Print-on-Demand Business Model
The print-on-demand ecommerce business model is a very popular model for starting an ecommerce business. Here are the pros and cons.
- Easy setup, low investment, low risks
- No inventory management and no shipment hassle
- Ability to customize designs and products
- Scale and test the designs without any significant financial risk
- Faster production than buying inventory in bulk
- Quickly expand catalog and take advantage of market trends
- Lower profit margins
- Less control of order shipment
- Limited control over the post-purchase customer experience
- More difficult to properly brand items (custom tags and packaging)
Tips for Starting Your Print on Demand Business
There are a few pointers that you may want to consider before starting your print-on-demand ecommerce business:
- Conduct proper due diligence on print on demand companies
- Review the merchant policies of the provider before finalizing
- Enquire about the provider’s product handling infrastructure and in-house facilities
- Compare the cost of different service providers to find the best deal.
- Get the samples to assess the quality and material
- Create high-quality mockups. There are mockup generators available on most POD platforms
- Set friendly pricing to attract customers while ensuring sufficient margin
Print-on-Demand is an easy method to start an ecommerce business with minimal monetary investment and relatively lower risk. Although this business model demands less time than conventional ecommerce, it is typically less profitable and less brandable.
On-demand printing could be a viable choice for artists who want to sell their artwork or ecommerce retailers looking to add customization to their offerings. This ecommerce business framework removes the burden of inventory handling and logistics management. Need help setting up print on demand or selecting a print on demand company? Book a meeting with us and one of our experts will help you.
Should your business grow beyond print-on-demand and require inventory, Sourcing Nova has access to the same manufacturers of brands like Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Ralph Lauren, Bugatchi and Arnold Palmer. Same manufacturing, same materials, but a fraction of the cost.