Print-on-Demand is a process where you work with a supplier to customize their existing products (such as t-shirts, mugs, baseball caps, etc) with your own designs to sell under your brand. It is a form of dropshipping wherein product production, order fulfillment and shipping are all taken care of by the supplier on a made per order basis.
Print-on-demand can be used in a number of ways. You can use the print-on-demand business model to rest your business ideas or a new line of products for an existing business without having to invest in inventory. This limits the amount of investment risk when you are trying out new ideas.
Print-on-demand has proven to be quite effective for people in different creative lines of work as well. Writers, artists, cartoonists, meme creators and influencers have all found print-on-demand to be great for creating merchandise for their already established pieces of work.
Shopify has a number of integrations with suppliers that offer print-on-demand services. It is important to practice due diligence when considering which supplier to go with. Variables to consider would include product options, cost, shipping time, quality, and your target audience. For example, if your target audience is based primarily in Australia you would be better off going with a service that is based in/near Australia as opposed to Europe or North America. A full list of our print-on-demand apps can be found here. The following print-on-demand sites are free to start with and only require you to pay for the cost of the product and shipping after someone has placed an order:
I would highly recommend checking out our breakdown of each app here and shopping around between the apps to find a service that fits your needs in terms of products and shipping times.
Designing your Flagship Products:
Best-case scenario, you are a designer who is comfortable with using Adobe Photoshop to create stunning designs that you can sell. Adobe Photoshop is a great option if you already have access to it. If you are not familiar with Adobe Photoshop it can be a steep learning curve with a high time investment, luckily there are alternatives for those of us who are not there yet. If you want to create your own designs but do not have the time/funds to invest in Adobe Photoshop some great alternatives include: Hatchful, Sketch, Pixlr, Canva, and Google Draw. You can also get a host of fonts from online resources such as Dafont and Fonts. Be sure to check out the rights and licensing for these fonts. Some fonts will be free to use whereas others will require you to purchase commercial rights as you intend to use them to make a profit.
You can also buy premade designs for your products from design marketplaces such as Envato Market and Creative Market. Free designs are available from these sources but bear in mind that the cheaper the design the more likely it is that other stores are already using them. You will want to be using a design that is not used by tonnes of other stores in order to reduce the competition and make your store stand out. Paid designs range from $10 - $200+.
There are two options when it comes to buying custom designs; Running a Creative Contest or Hiring a designer. To run a creative contest you would post the job with as much detail as you can on a crowdsourced design board such as 99Designs or DesignCrowd. Designers would create mockup designs for you and you would then choose the design/s you would like to go with and work one-on-one with the designer to make whatever adjustments you need before purchasing the design and paying the designer for their work. The costs of designs vary greatly but you should be prepared to pay between $100-$500.
Hiring a designer straight out would work a little differently. You would work one-on-one with a designer directly and provide them with a design brief. I would recommend taking a look at designers on Upwork and Fiverr. Start by creating a list of designers you would like to work with and compare their portfolios, reviews, and ratings. Some newer designers will not have as many reviews or ratings and will often be less expensive to hire and will work hard to gain those reviews and ratings.
You’re not going to get your design absolutely right on the first go, it will be a bit of trial and error as you determine what designs actually speak to your niche audience and what designs work on what products. It is ok to fail while you figure these things out.
Top Tips for Starting Your Print on Demand Business:
Quality Assurance: Always order samples from any supplier you intend on working with. It is crucial that the quality of your products is of a standard that you would be happy for your brand associated with. You will want to make sure that your products look as you want them too and that they match the mockups generated by your supplier. You can also use these samples to photograph your products for your store and marketing purposes! Many suppliers will provide you with a discount for these samples, Printful, for example, offer a 20% discount on their samples.
Finding an Evergreen Niche: A niche is a subsection of the population that can be identified by sharing a common value or interest as other people. Evergreen refers to a consistently relevant type of product. For example, “comic book lovers” or “fishing enthusiasts” or “flower arranging specialists” are topics that will be consistently relevant to buyers. Finding a niche will make marketing your store and defining your target audience that much easier. Your target market could be anything from cat lovers, gamers, new mums to comic book enthusiasts. You are more likely to make sales to those who click on your ads if your other products are similar. I would highly recommend checking out our guides on defining your audience here.
There are some fantastic resources out there to help you find your own niche. You can use Facebook Audience Insights and Google Trends to find out what it is your audience is looking for and create products to cater to that demand. You can learn how to use Google Trends here on their homepage and learn more about Facebook’s Audience Insights here.
Shipping Strategy: It is important to take the printing time and shipping time into account when creating your shipping rates and strategy. You will need to be transparent with your customers regarding how long it will take for them to receive their orders. In times such as now where there is a global pandemic, fulfillment times have been staggered. Making sure your customer understands how long it will take to receive their order is important in preventing customers from becoming disgruntled. Total transparency is the best policy when it comes to shipping. Studies have found year after year that surprise shipping costs at checkout can result in abandoned checkouts. What a lot of merchants find effective is absorbing the cost of shipping into their product price. Free shipping can really sweeten the deal and make customers more accepting of longer wait times, even if it can only be done for specific reasons or in special cases such as “Free shipping on orders over $50”.
Copyright Infringement: While it may be uber tempting to feature well-known characters, fan art, logos, etc which already have an established fan base on your products, doing so can get you into trouble legally. The majority of these will have been copyrighted and the use of their likeness could be grounds for a lawsuit. There is some good advice in this Oberlo blog article about the consequences of selling copyrighted goods in your store. We've also got great resources ourselves like The Legal Guide to Ecommerce from our blog and our Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping from our guides site.
Print-on-demand is a great way to start your online business. It affords you the opportunity to test out your business idea without having to invest your funds in inventory. You can always move your business from this format to a more robust business model where you handle your own inventory or continue to use it as you expand your business and try out new ideas. If this is something that you are interested in pursuing I would highly recommend checking out our free print-on-demand course here.