How To Start A Print On Demand Business Model - 8 Options

Here at Love Work at Home, we publish A LOT of information about online business models and how to make money online. But some paths require a significant amount of upfront investment or education, which can make them quite unappealing. 

When it comes to being able to carve out an income with an online business with minimal investment and no university textbooks, the print on demand business model is seriously attractive. 

Not to mention the fact that in 2020, the E-commerce industry had the largest recorded sales jump in 10 years, and print on demand businesses have successfully ridden this wave.

Print on demand, or POD, is a great way to make money online by selling all types of products — pillows, tote bags, hats, etc — that have your design ideas printed on them. It’s a great way to work from home and be creative.

So let’s dive into how to start a print on demand business model as your home business!

What Is the Print On Demand Business Model?

In case you are completely new to print on demand, let’s go over the basics of what it is and how it works.

For starters, print on demand means that you create an online store, for example, on Shopify, where you showcase your product designs. You might be interested in how to start a t-shirt printing business or in selling custom phone cases.

In either situation, you simply send your photos to the POD supplier, for example, Printify, who takes care of the rest.

products in the print on demand business model

In this sense, the print on demand business model is a great strategy for a home business model because you don’t have to invest a lot of money into building inventory and shipping products.

This lower investment exists because most print on demand products are sent to customers via dropshipping.

Dropshipping means that you as the merchant do not have to worry about what products your customers will buy. Keeping a large inventory and fulfilling orders are both handled by the dropshipping supplier, which allows you to focus on product designs and marketing.

As long as your supplier has products in stock, you can add them to your store right away.

When you dropship personalized products, you do have the downside of lowering your profit margins because the printing company will charge you for this convenience.

But if your passion is to learn how to start a product design business, then it makes sense to focus your attention on the creative side of things. 

You can focus on coming up with print on demand ideas while leaving the boring and difficult job of inventory and shipping to the print on demand suppliers.

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Pros & Cons of the Print On Demand Business Model

Like any business model, there are pros and cons to the print on demand home business, and successful print on demand stores often take a long time to make a serious profit. 

So before you move forward with your ideas, let’s work through some of these benefits and downsides so you can decide if the print on demand business is for you.

Bye the way, no sweat if it isn’t. There are plenty of other options, like affiliate marketing for example.

Pro: Dropshipping And Focusing on Creativity

As described, dropshipping takes the hassle out of stocking your inventory and fulfilling orders. You can focus on marketing your business and on creating new design ideas for your products.

Con: Dropshipping And Lower Profits

It should go without saying that outsourcing your inventory and shipping needs to a dropshipping supplier means that you are foregoing some of your profits. For most people dropshipping is still a net positive, but do be aware of the lower profit margin.

Pro: Flexibility

Print on demand gives you the flexibility to put your design ideas on a wide range of products. T-shirts, hats, bags, phone cases, and so many other products are all fair game in the print on demand business model.

Con: Returns Can Be Complicated

Every print on demand supplier will have its own return policy, but no matter what it is, the handling of returns is not under your control. This lack of control can lead to delays that make your customers unhappy.

Pro: Low Starting Cost And Low Risk

Because you are outsourcing the printing and inventory responsibilities to other suppliers, your initial startup cost for a print on demand business model is quite low. This low starting cost also correlates with low risk because you can stay small in the beginning and easily scale up as your business grows.

Con: Product Quality Control Isn’t Up to You

Similar to the problem with returns, outsourcing to a supplier also means that the general quality control is not up to you either. And when customers are unhappy with your products, they will blame your business and not the supplier!

Pro: Easily Test Your Market

In a traditional business model, testing a new idea or product in your market niche can be expensive and risky. But with print on demand, you can cheaply test new design ideas and products without putting too much of your own money at risk.

The Best Selling Print On Demand Products – 8 Options

You now have a baseline understanding of how the print on demand business model works, so now it’s time to put your design ideas onto some products.

Let’s go through some of the best-selling products that the most successful print on demand stores are selling every day!

t shirt1. T-Shirts 

This product should go without saying. T-shirts are one of the highest-demand items for print on demand products. They can fit a wide range of niches and should almost definitely be part of your product lineup.

hats2. Hats

Although most people automatically think about baseball hats, don’t limit yourself. Your design ideas can work on a wide variety of hat styles. 

Besides baseball hats and flat-brimmed hats, you can put visors and even winter hats into your product lineup. Plus, people tend to wear hats when outdoors so it will be a great way to spread your image around. 

tote bag3. Tote Bags 

Of all the products in the print on demand business, tote bags are probably one of our favorites. Blank tote bags provide so much flexibility about how you will put designs onto the fabric.

A tote bag is almost like a small canvas, and you can be extra creative with the space offered by a tote bag. Photos and images that would be too small for other products will look great when set on the side of a tote bag.

phone cases4. Phone Cases

Everyone has smartphones, and almost everyone uses a case to protect them. So it should also go without saying that phone cases are a great way to have a gigantic market. 

Not only do people love showing off more creative phone cases, but many also upgrade their phones regularly. For you, these upgrades mean you can have repeat customers looking for your design on the next model case.

socks5. Socks 

If you spend any time on social media, you have probably realized how popular socks have become as a gift item. Especially around the holidays, giving socks is a special way to send a customized gift that shows someone you care.

And unlike the canvas-like setting of a tote bag, the constraints of socks force you to be creative with your designs. Plus, socks are one of those items people buy a lot of. Don’t be surprised if you see the same customers coming back over and over.

mugs6. Coffee Mugs 

Coffee mugs somehow just carry the reputation of being a classic gift. People seem to love buying coffee mugs with funny sayings on them, and they work especially great as gifts, especially as a souvenir.

And like socks, coffee mugs have a small space that forces you to be extra creative. Every house has way too many coffee mugs, but they always keep unique designs. So be sure to find a way to incorporate coffee mugs into your product lineup.

pillow cases7. Pillowcases 

You’re probably noticing a pattern at this point—some of the most popular print on demand products are those that people tend to use daily. They bought your item because they loved your design, and they and their friends see it regularly.

And pillowcases are another way to add a personal touch to something people use every day. Pillowcases are a creative and personal way for people to interact with your ideas. Whether it be a funny saying or a deeper and more thoughtful idea, definitely consider making use of pillowcases for your designs.

koozie8. Koozies

Koozies, the sleeves that fit around cold beverages, are a really fun way to showcase your designs. Especially because koozies are most associated with alcoholic drinks, they are a great way to advertise your brand in a fun way.

Koozies are a less serious item (and cheaper), and they happen to work great as giveaways or bonuses for some of your best customers. You can also do promotional activities on social media to give away products like these!

How to Start a Print on Demand Business - Step-by-Step

Now that you have an idea of some of the top types of products and print on demand ideas let’s get into a step-by-step guide to starting your print on demand business. But do note that while this overview can help you get started, your best bet is to pick up some skills with an online course. 

Be sure to check out the sister blog to this one, titled ‘11 Best Print On Demand Courses – Start An Online Business Today!

These courses are inexpensive and will be well worth the investment.

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1. Decide on Your Niche

Before you can start deciding on what products you want to print your ideas on, well, you need to have a good idea! And no matter how good your idea or niche is in theory, you want to make sure that there is actually a real-world demand out there for it.

So this step involves researching your niche ideas to make sure that you at least have a chance at reaching an audience. Spend time on research and do not take this step lightly. You are making a business, and your idea also needs a market of interested people.

Research by using services like Merch Informer, Pinterest, Redbubble, and Google Trends

You should make sure that people are interested in and searching for your niche. On the social media side of things, make sure that people are talking about products in your niche and sharing them.

Check out this video which shares a handful of ways to do niche research:

If you are going to put in the effort to launch a home business, you want to make sure you’re not wasting your time by trying to sell in a flooded or non-existent niche!

2. Decide on Your Products

Now that you have a niche, let’s say funny gift designs as an example, you have to decide which products you will offer via your online store. 

humerous mugs

Coffee mugs, for example, are a great product to pair with a funny gift idea. By syncing up your niche with products that make sense, you are getting in the mind of the consumer who will be buying your designs.

3. Make Your Designs

You’re probably interested in the print on demand business model because you have ideas and creative skills. And now it is time to put those skills to use. 

Blend your niche and your design ideas and come up with designs that will fit your various products. This step might be challenging, but remember that it can be the most fun step in the whole process!

4. Decide Where to Sell

Your two main options here are to:

    1. Sell on an established marketplace such as Etsy, Amazon or ebay, or
    2. Create your own website.

Like everything in life, there are pros and cons either way. An established marketplace already has a lot of visitors who are ready to buy, however there may be plenty of competition, depending on your niche of course.

Your own website will start with no visitors so you’ll need to focus heavily on your marketing strategy, but at the end of the day it’s your “shop front”, so you’re not at the whim of Amazon’s or Etsy’s terms. 

These days you do not need to be a web designer or have coding skills to quickly get a website up and running. By using a web hosting platform with e-commerce capabilities built-in, you can have your website running within days.

Some options for this are Shopify, Wix and Woo Commerce. 

The easiest options will be less customizable, and the more customizable options will have a steeper learning curve. So depending on what you want, give yourself plenty of time to make a beautiful website. Or just outsource it!

Hot tip: Another way to go about step 4 is to start on the established platforms and build your customer base there. Then you can think about some clever ways to connect with your customers outside of the e-commerce platform. Here you can build the relationship, and when you’re ready to build your own e-commerce store, you can tell them all about it.

5. Choose a Print On Demand Supplier

You have a niche, product ideas, and a website. Now you need to link up to a printing company, the people that will be turning your ideas into real products.

printify and printful logos

The major suppliers like Printify and Printful should integrate with your website/e-commerce provider, either directly or through a plugin. Once you choose a supplier, you should be able to start adding products to your website.

6. Promote Your New Business

The internet is a gigantic place, and unless you get lucky, your new business will probably get lost in all the noise. So promoting your new print on demand business is a must.

You should set up accounts on all of the major social media platforms as well as any smaller/niche platforms that might be particularly relevant to your product ideas. 

Regularly promote your products on these platforms and find groups where people interested in your niche can discover you. 

You should also blog regularly to provide value to people while also driving sales.

Hot tip: Make use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) when you write to know what topics to write about and how to optimize your pages. Using SEO will give your website the best chance of being discovered.

Bonus Tips for Starting a Print On Demand Business

Aside from those basic steps to get your business started, here are a few bonus tips to keep in mind as you get going with the print on demand business model. 

These tips won’t apply to every situation, but many of them will help you grow your business and figure out what works or doesn’t work as you grow.

Make Use of Testimonials 

E-commerce was already trending up, but the boost from the coronavirus pandemic caused the industry to grow by 44% in 2020. This growth means that more and more people are going to be taking advantage of the online market, and customers will have more options.

Putting customer testimonials on your website is a way to build trust with your potential customers. They will see that you are an established business that will follow through on your promises. With so many businesses out there, you need testimonials to establish legitimacy!

Order Samples

As already stated, one of the downsides of the dropshipping model is that you are not in charge of quality control. But one way to get around this is to order samples of the products you will be selling.

print on demand business model design product samples

Make sure that your designs work on the various products in real life. Ordering samples also allows you to check the quality of a product. A shirt whose design fades after one wash, for example, will not make your customers happy.

Check for Copyrights And Trademarks

It should go without saying that nobody should ever knowingly use someone else’s intellectual property for their design ideas. But sometimes, Copyright or Trademark violations can happen by accident.

It is worth it to do thorough research to ensure that the images, photos, and phrases you will be printing are not violating any Copyrights or Trademarks.

Conclusion: Start Your Print On Demand Business Today

Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of how the print on demand business model works and why it can be such a great option for a home business. It’s relatively easy to start, and the growing demand means you have some real potential to grow.

Especially for the creative people out there, print on demand will allow you to focus most of your energy on doing what you love and not getting bogged down on the business side of things. 

So we hope this has inspired you to get started with a print on demand business, and we hope you’ll share it with someone else who needs some encouragement!

GET YOUR FREE 7 STEP GUIDE TO FIND & WIN YOUR NEXT REMOTE JOB FASTER  (INCLUDES 137 GLOBAL SITES!)

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