How To Start A Print on Demand Store Today
Why Print on Demand Is For Everyone
T-shirts are one of the most common products for businesses fulfilling via print on demand. Shirts are versatile, popular among consumers, and make a great canvas for a number of designs. The custom t-shirt printing market itself is expected to hit $10 billion by 2025.
While the market potential is huge, the competition is stiff. That’s why it’s important to find the right print-on-demand companies to work with, create designs customers will love, and learn strategies to drive lots of conversions.
What is "print on demand" and how does it work?
Print on demand is a process where you work with a supplier to customize white-label products (like baseball hats or tote bags) with your own designs to sell them on a per-order basis under your own brand.
That means you don’t pay for the product until after you’ve actually sold it, so there’s no need to buy in bulk or hold any inventory yourself.
Plus, with print-on-demand services everything after the sale, from printing to shipping, is handled by your supplier. Once you’ve set everything up, it takes only a few clicks to fulfill an order once you’ve made a sale.
You can use print-on-demand services to:
- Test a business idea or new product line for an existing business without the risks that come with buying inventory.
- Monetize an audience you’ve built. Printing on demand is a great option if you’re a YouTuber, cartoonist, or social media influencer who wants to spend your time creating content instead of fulfilling orders.
- Create original products for a niche of customers. For example, starting a clothing line for people who are passionate about gaming.
- Easily print one-off items—t-shirts, books, shoes, bags, wall art, phone cases, clocks, laptop skins, mugs, and so much more. You can send these as gifts or keep them for yourself and your team.
- Sell photos online by placing your photography on different products to sell on your own business website.
How POD Works Selling shirts via print on demand
Printful has print-on-demand shirts as well as more than 270 other products to choose from. It’s an attractive option to use to start your online t-shirt business because it doesn’t require order minimums or charge upfront fees. Plus, you can integrate it with Shopify as well as third-party marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon. With Printful, you can create custom-branded packaging and take advantage of its warehousing and fulfillment services.
As far as t-shirt options go, you can browse men’s, women’s, and children’s styles, including the standard t-shirt and more creative options like polo shirts and tank tops.
- Average fulfillment time: Shirts and other apparel orders are fulfilled in two to seven business days, while non-apparel products take two to five business days. Most orders are shipped within five business days, post-fulfillment.
- Shipping location: Toronto, Canada; Los Angeles, CA; Charlotte, NC; Tijuana, Mexico; Dallas, TX
- Cost of low-priced tee: $7.95
- Mockup generator: Yes
- Ecommerce integrations: Shopify; WooCommerce; Prestashop; Shipstation; Wix; Squarespace; Big Cartel; Magento; Gumroad; BigCommerce; Launch Cart; 3dcart; Ecwid; Webflow; Etsy; eBay; Amazon; Storenvy; Weebly; Square; Wish
- Branding: Custom packaging; packaging inserts
Printify has more than 300 print-on-demand products, shirts being one of them. Choose from tees, tanks, and hoodies in a variety of colours. Integrations include Shopify, Etsy, eBay, Prestashop, and more, as well as an open API.
Order samples to make sure you’re happy with the design and quality before making a larger commitment to Printify. It’s especially ideal for international sellers, as Printify has more than 90 printers in countries across the globe. You can also see the average fulfillment time for each supplier.
- Average fulfillment time: Most orders ship within two to seven business days.
- Shipping location: Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, United Kingdom
- Cost of low-priced tee: $6.55
- Mockup generator: Yes
- Ecommerce integrations: Shopify, Etsy, eBay, PrestaShop, BigCommerce, Wix, WooCommerce, Printify API
- Branding: Available from select sellers
AOP+ Easy Print on Demand
AOP+ Easy Print on Demand is an app for Shopify and Etsy with more than 200 print-on-demand products. What sets AOP+ apart is the fact that it’s also the manufacturer—so you can work with it directly to develop custom shirts. This option is especially great for white labeling.
AOP+ offers three different plans: $0/month, $11.99/month, and $19.99/month. Free users get unlimited product designs and all of AOP’s standard products, while paid subscribers get access to more product variety and additional branding options.
- Average fulfillment time: Production takes three to five business days, and shipping time varies based on location. US orders take one to two weeks, orders to the UK take about a week, and other international destinations take anywhere from one to seven weeks.
- Shipping location: London, United Kingdom; the Netherlands
- Cost of low-priced tee: $8.99
- Mockup generator: No
- Ecommerce integrations: Shopify, Etsy, ShipStation, Stripe, Payoneer
- Branding: Packing slips; packaging inserts; branded stickers; labels
Like many other print-on-demand services, Apliiq has a whole range of products—including several types of shirts. You can find standard t-shirts and tank tops, as well as flannels, polos, and tie-dye tops. There are as many as 30 colours to choose from, depending on the type of shirt you choose.
Other options include private labeling, woven tags, embroidery, and patches. There are no minimums for ordering samples, so you can try it out before making a bigger commitment. If you like Apliiq’s shirts, bulk orders get discounts of up to 55%.
- Average fulfillment time: Most orders ship within a week.
- Shipping location: Los Angeles, CA; Philadelphia, PA
- Cost of low-priced tee: $3
- Mockup generator: No
- Ecommerce integrations: Shopify, WooCommerce
- Branding: A variety of private label options are available
Teelaunch has print-on-demand services for a range of products, including different types of shirts. You can choose from a variety of men’s, women’s, and unisex styles, including t-shirts, tank tops, long-sleeve tees, and sweatshirts. It also has youth, toddler, and baby shirts available. Size and colour availability varies by shirt—many styles include S–5XL sizes and 20+ colour options. Some styles also allow for double-sided printing.
You’ll need a Shopify account to use Teelaunch, but you can sell your products on Etsy, Facebook, Amazon, or eBay. There are no fees to use the app—and while it doesn’t offer samples, you’re entitled to a 25% discount every 30 days.
- Average fulfillment time: Orders are processed and ready for shipping in three to six business days, though this is longer during peak seasonal periods when order processing takes nine to 12 business days.
- Shipping location: US, Canada, UK
- Cost of low-priced tee: $5
- Mockup generator: No
- Ecommerce integrations: Shopify, Etsy
- Branding: No
SPOD is a Shopify print-on-demand app that offers over 100 different types of products, with a wide range of shirt styles for men, women, kids, and babies. You can filter your search by colour and size to easily see which products are available in a certain colour or size.
SPOD has a customiser tool that allows your customers to easily personalise products right from your Shopify store. If you don’t have the time or interest to create your own design, the app includes over 50k free designs to choose from. There's also a t-shirt mockup generator.
- Average fulfillment time: 48 hours
- Shipping location: Europe and North America
- Cost of low-priced tee: $6.71
- Mockup generator: Yes
- Ecommerce integrations: Shopify
- Branding: Packaging
CustomCat’s print-on-demand services offer a huge selection of apparel options—you can choose from 70 t-shirt styles, as well as polos, button-ups, tank tops, sweatshirts, and hoodies. Size and color availability vary by style of shirt. Some styles have more than 20 color options and XS–3XL sizing.
CustomCat can integrate with your Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy, and BigCommerce stores. You can also send orders directly using its custom API or by uploading a CSV spreadsheet. It’s free to create an account with CustomCat, but Shopify users will have to either pay $30 per month to use the app or use CustomCat Lite, which is free to use but charges $2 per item.
- Average fulfillment time: Shipping typically takes two to six business days.
- Shipping location: Detroit, MI
- Cost of low price tee: $7
- Mockup generator: No
- Ecommerce integrations: Shopify, Etsy, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, CustomCat API
- Branding: No
T-Pop is an ecologically conscious print-on-demand service based in France. It has a selection of shirts available in men’s, women’s, unisex, and kid’s sizes—and most products are made from organic cotton. As part of T-Pop’s commitment to the environment, shipping is plastic-free and designs are printed with vegan eco-certified inks.
With T-Pop, you can include your logo on packages for free, along with fully customizable packing slips. You can also send T-Pop any pack-ins you want included in your packages, like flyers, promo items, or stickers. Orders can be made directly through T-Pop or integrated with your WooCommerce, Etsy, or Shopify store.
- Average fulfillment time: Production takes two to four business days while shipping time varies depending on location. Shipping is two to three business days in France, three to 10 business days in the EU, and five to 14 business days for orders to the US.
- Shipping location: France
- Cost of low price tee: $12,20
- Mockup generator: No
- Ecommerce integrations: Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy
- Branding: Packaging inserts; packing slips
The pros and cons of print on demand
Print on demand sites can be used to build a business based on a dropshipping model—where the products and shipping are all handled by a third party. It’s one of the most accessible ways to source products or start an online store, but you should know the perks and limitations before you dive in.
- Create products quickly: Once you have the design, you can create the product and put it up for sale in minutes.
- Shipping is taken care of: Shipping and fulfillment out of your hands and in your supplier’s. After the sale, you’re just responsible for customer service.
- Low investment, lower risk: Since you’re not physically holding any inventory, it’s easier to add or remove products, test ideas, or pivot your approach.
- Lower margins: Naturally, your costs per item will be higher than if you buy in bulk. On-demand products may yield thinner profits, depending on how you price them and acquire customers.
- Less control over shipping: Shipping costs can get complicated as it often varies for different products. Your options may also be limited if you want to create a standout unboxing experience.
- Limited customisation: Your ability to customise products depends on the vendor and the product. You’ll have to weigh base costs, customisation options, printing techniques, and available sizes when deciding on which products to customise.
Where I will struggle is with the design of the images for POD shirts and accessories. I have a million ideas and can get those stacked up high, but to actually design them I fall flat on my face. I would hire someone to do this in a heartbeat.
Designing products when you’re not a designer
It goes without saying that design plays a crucial role in creating successful print-on-demand products. But you don’t need to be a full-time designer to source original designs. There are many ways to commission or produce your own designs, as long as you understand a few key concepts that will help you work effectively with designers.
First, we need to talk about preparing your print file. When working with designers, you should specify that your design is for printing. This tells them that it should ideally be 300 digital pixels per inch (DPI or PPI), have a transparent background, and other nuances of designing for print vs. web.
Note that print file specifications will change depending on the printer and printing technique used. When in doubt, send the designer the print specs for the specific product and any printing guidelines so they understand the full context.
The designs you upload should be large enough for the printing area of the actual product, or larger—resizing a smaller image to make it bigger will likely result in a loss of quality. If you don't have access to Photoshop, you can use Pixlr (free), or one of these photo editing tools.
Designing your print-on-demand shirts
When it comes to creating the actual visual design for your shirts, there are a few avenues you can take. Each option has its own level of difficulty—and there are even options if you don’t consider yourself artistic or design-savvy.
Create it yourself
For the creative type, designing your own shirt graphics is a great way to go. You might already be an artist or graphic designer with a particular design in mind. Or you might want to create print-on-demand products featuring your brand’s logo and other visual identity. You can use print-on-demand services to choose which types of shirts you want to print your designs on, and how you’d like them printed.
Buy design templates
If you want to do it yourself but need some guidance, you can use online t-shirt templates and mockups to walk you through the design process. Check places like Designious, Tshirt Factory, and Creative Market for templates and design elements you can incorporate into your products.
For those who don’t want to or can’t create their own print-on-demand shirt designs, outsourcing is an excellent option. You can find talented designers with the skills to create a unique design for you to put on your shirts.
There are a lot of talented designers, so you should be able to find someone to bring your ideas to life. The tricky part is figuring out what you want to design in the first place.
Where to find design ideas and designers
In the best case scenario, you’re a designer or know one you can work well with. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t have immediate access to design talent. That’s what outsourcing is for.
You can find designers to work with on Behance, 99 Designs, or other freelance sites who can produce usable designs as long as you provide clear instructions. Here’s how you can add clarity and context for a design project:
- Share insight into your audience. Tell them what it’s for and who your audience is. Showing them your website, if you have one, can also help.
- Clearly explain what you want. Use your initial pitch and subsequent revisions (you should get at least 1 or 2) to over-communicate what you’re looking for and the guidelines to follow, and try to provide concrete feedback every step of the way.
- Provide examples for inspiration. Give them a reference to base the design on or point to past work that you liked.
This will depend on your target audience for the product, but you can find design inspiration on:
- Facebook Pages
- Wherever your potential customers hang out online
You can look for content, messaging, or styles that already resonate with your target audience to brainstorm ideas worth pursuing. Just be sure you’re not infringing on anyone else’s work.
Social media is also a great place to litmus test your ideas. If you’re looking to turn the internet into your focus group, try the following:
- Post to your personal network on Facebook or to groups
- Use Instagram’s Poll and Question stickers to solicit feedback
- Share a rough version of your design idea with a relevant subreddit
How to sell print-on-demand t-shirts
The first step to take when you want to sell print-on-demand shirts is identifying your niche. When you choose a niche market, you know who your target customers are and you can appeal to their specific wants and needs. Find shirts and printers who have the quality of products you need to please your customers—you might choose one of the shirt printers from the list above.
Once you have your niche, your design, and your printer, you’ll want to validate your ideas to make sure there’s demand and opportunity in the market. Build an online store and start running some low-budget ad campaigns to see what works and what doesn’t. One of the greatest advantages of a print-on-demand shirt business is its flexibility. You can launch and test new designs at any time without making a massive investment in new inventory.
After you’ve identified your top-selling shirt designs, you can expand your print-on-demand business to include other types of products (like print-on-demand books) as well. The sky’s the limit!
Heres My Advice For Marketing Your Pint on Demand Business
1 Always order samples
Quality assurance is essential when you’re using print-on-demand services to sell online. It's always possible that something gets lost in translation from the design you see on your screen to your printed product. But you can just reach out to your vendor's customer support for advice on how to fix any issues.
You want to ensure your physical product looks and feels as you intended, and the best way to do that is to be your own customer so you can experience first-hand what it’s like to receive your products. Some services, like Printful, even offer a sample discount of up to 20% off or free shipping, so be sure to take advantage of that if it’s available.
Beyond ensuring product quality, samples are also good to have on hand for taking your own product photos for your website and social media profiles.
2 Create mockups that show off your products
While models can help you snap compelling photos of your products, mockups are also an effective alternative and will be a prominent part of your product pages.
Many print-on-demand services can help you create your own mockups, showing your products on a person or as a flat lay. But there are other services and plenty of free mockup templates that can also bring your products to life.
These mockups are what will sell your products to customers, so it can literally pay to go the extra mile. PlaceIt is an easy-to-use mockup generator that lets you create photo and video mockups for $8 each. Or, if you know the basics of Photoshop or other photo editing tools, you can browse Mockup World or Behance for templates.
Placeit is one of my top picks for mockups and paying that little upfront will help you get better images that will in turn sell your products.
3 Focus on a niche to make marketing easier
Marketing is what ultimately determines the success of your business. But if you're targeting everyone, you're not really marketing to anyone. That's why focus is so important, regardless of the tactics you employ.
Having a clearly defined audience (e.g. dog owners) can actually help you create products that are in demand, lower the costs to acquire customers, and maximize your potential profits because your targeting decisions will be that much more precise.
Better yet, if you can build an audience of your own through marketing, you can create a permanent asset for your business even if your products change.
There are countless possibilities for marketing, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Start an Instagram account and create/curate content for your target audience. Get followers, use what hashtags get the most likes, and build relationships among your prospective customers.
- Run Facebook ads targeting the interests of your target customers. You can also use Facebook ads to test out your designs for as little as $10 to see which ones resonate with your audience.
- Collect emails from visitors so you can continue to market to them for free.
- Get your products into the hands of influencers who can contribute some of their clout and help you make sales.
Growing an audience of your ideal customers is a must for building a long-term business, print-on-demand or otherwise.
4 Be strategic about shipping
Even when you’re not shipping products yourself, shipping still offers some complexity in the form of shipping times and costs, and setting the right expectations with customers.
You’ll want to be sure that you’re accounting for printing times when it comes to shipping. Whatever the shipping times are, be sure to add anywhere from 2 to 4 days for production, or more depending on the product.
Always be upfront about shipping times or you’ll wind up with a support inbox full of shipping questions. Outline what to expect on your FAQ page or consider creating a separate Shipping page to explain shipping to customers.
If you can, try to partially or fully absorb your shipping costs into your retail price. Year after year, studies show that surprise shipping costs added at checkout can deter customers from buying. On top of that, free shipping bolsters a number of your other marketing efforts:
- Free shipping is a great sales sweetener, even if you can only offer it for specific regions, and provides customers with one more incentive to buy.
- Conditional free shipping (e.g. “Get free shipping when you spend $30 or more”) encourages customers to add more to their cart to reach the threshold and usually helps you achieve a better total shipping rate by shipping everything together.
- You can use free shipping to justify longer wait times. Many consumers will wait a bit longer for an order if they know it will save them money on shipping.
Design, test, sell, and grow
As you can see, a print-on-demand business can be a profitable online business idea. The available services offer an accessible source of inventory for new entrepreneurs or for anyone who just wants to test an idea before they invest in it.
If one of your ideas pans out and you start to generate a meaningful number of sales, you can always graduate from using a print on demand site to holding your own inventory or continue to use these services while finding new ways to grow your audience. The choice is yours.
Most Common Questions about Print on Demand Commerce
How do I start print on demand?
If you’re planning to start a print on demand business, begin by choosing a niche and the products you want to sell. Then get your designs and website ready. After that, look for a print on demand service and add the products to your store. Once you start marketing your website, you’ll begin to receive orders, and your print provider will take care of fulfillment.
What are the best print on demand products to sell?
There are a number of products you can sell with print on demand. Some of the popular print on demand products include t-shirts, caps, mugs, wall prints and posters, drawstring and cloth bags, hoodies, towels, phone covers, notebooks, cushion covers, sweatshirts, and leggings.
How do you price print on demand products?
Your print on demand product prices will depend largely on how well you market your brand. When pricing your products, look at what the market is charging as a baseline. You can charge higher prices for print on demand products with customisations. Otherwise, you can price the products similarly to your competitors as a safer bet if you want to cover a larger target market and make a profit.
How much money can you make with print on demand?
How much you make with your print on demand business depends on the target market, their needs, product demand, and seasonality. When determining how much you can earn, you’ll have to consider the sale price, fees for your print provider, and volume of orders.
Is print on demand profitable?
Yes, print on demand is profitable if you strategically price and promote your products. Print on demand is unique because you don’t need to make a large inventory investment, so there’s less risk than with other ecommerce business models.
What is the cheapest print-on-demand site?
The cheapest print-on-demand site is Apliiq, when it comes to shirts.