What is Print on Demand? How Does Print on Demand Work?

What is Print on Demand? How Does Print on Demand Work?

You’ve come up with a catchy slogan for a t-shirt and think it’ll be a hit among your friends. You get a sample printed and show it to them in the next meetup. Your friends love it! They say there’s an artist inside you, and that they’re ready to pay whatever price they need to for getting their hands on the shirt. Chances are that if your friends loved your design, others might too. So you can consider selling custom products on a larger scale to make money off your talent and creativity. However, instead of printing in bulk and keeping your own inventory, you can use print on demand to create and sell custom products at a fraction of the cost. What is print on demand? We take a look below.

What Is Print on Demand (POD)?

Print on Demand or POD is an ecommerce model that allows you to sell customized products on a per-order basis. Under this model, you create white-label products (like handbags or t-shirts) with your own designs and sell them under your own brand. But you don’t pay for anything until after you’ve actually sold the product. Essentially, you work with a print on demand company that prints your artwork on the product when someone places an order with your business – they’ll even ship the item to the customer for you in a way that it feels like you’ve sent it yourself. 

what is print on demand

The key thing to note is that the printing supplier will put your design on products of your customer’s choice only on their order. There’s no printing done beforehand because that’s not how POD companies operate. For this reason, print on demand is also referred to as on-demand printing. 

How Does Print on Demand Work?

Print on demand is a lot like dropshipping. You set up an online store featuring items with your original designs, then promote them to an audience. When someone places an order, it goes to your supplier (the print on demand company) who handles the storage, printing, packaging, and shipping. So print on demand business model removes the need for you to keep a physical inventory of non-printed items. All of this is very similar to dropshipping. But there’s a key difference: With print on demand, you get the opportunity to customize white-label items with your designs.

Here’s a graphic to help you visualize the print on demand process:

How print on demand works

POD stores are popular for several different reasons. People who are passionate about a particular niche, such as esports and gaming will buy customized items for their own personal use. Profiling your customers correctly and creating designs that resonate with their interests can lead to customers buying many items from your store. The resulting loyalty may also encourage word-of-mouth referrals, causing others to purchase from you in the future. 

Another reason for POD’s popularity is the ease with which you can design one-off items. Platforms like Shopify allow you to set up a print on demand store and design several products in only a few clicks. You can design books, t-shirts, shoes, bags, phone cases, laptop skins, mugs, wall art, and so much more. Plus, it’s just as easy to get these items printed. You simply choose a printing service and let your vendor handle the rest. Like Shopify dropshipping, this business model is simple to learn and requires nothing more than a laptop and a trusty internet connection to execute. 

Pros and Cons of Print on Demand 

POD provides an accessible way to start a business, but you should know the advantages and disadvantages before you proceed. 

POD Pros

  • Design custom products: Many print on demand companies allow you to design your own products like on-demand t-shirts, notebooks and phone covers. If you’re a creative person, designing your own items can be a rewarding experience. 
  • Enjoy lower risk: Since you’re not required to hold any inventory or handle printing, there’s no major financial risk on your part. This also makes it easier to test ideas, add or remove products, or change your approach.
  • Automate fulfillment: Print on demand takes fulfillment and shipping out of your hands and in your suppliers’. When you get an order, you’re just responsible for sending out a confirmation and providing after-sales customer service. 
  • Build your brand: Some print on demand suppliers allow you to add a sticker on your package or a logo on the receipt. This can be helpful for branding your print on demand business. 
  • Start quickly: When it comes to launching a print on demand business, there are several apps, themes, guides, and templates you can use to get started. You don’t need to hire an external resource to help with the launch, though you can consider building a small team later to help scale your business.  

print on demand benefits

POD Cons 

  • Expensive shipping: POD entrepreneurs usually pay more for shipping. That’s because most print on demand suppliers are US-based and don’t offer cheap shipping options like ePacket delivery. 
  • High printing cost: Profits are thin in print on demand business due to the high costs of printing. Your retail price needs to be high enough to cover these expenses as well as afford marketing and business costs. 
  • Limited customization: The depth of customization depends on the product and the vendor. You’ll have to evaluate customization tools, printing services, available sizes, and base costs when deciding on which items to customize. 
  • Fewer products than dropshipping: Most print on demand companies don’t have a huge variety when it comes to product selection. In contrast, dropshipping lets you pick from thousands of products to sell from suppliers across the globe. 

How to Start a Print on Demand Business

Here are a few steps you can follow to launch a print on demand business now:

1. Pick your niche and products

In print on demand business, it’s crucial to select a particular niche. While you start selling in any niche market, it’s best to focus on one you already understand. Take a look at the pet niche for instance. Are you good with pets? Do you understand the reasons why people love their pets? Maybe you can design products for pet owners and build your store around it. For cool product designs, you can choose a sub-niche like cats and create items featuring a specific breed like ragdoll.

Another way to stand out is to be specific about what to feature on the shirt. For a pet-based POD business, you could design funny images, punchy one-liners, or even popular memes. For example, when targeting ragdoll owners, you can use slang like “Always Be Yourself Unless You Can Be a Ragdoll” or design an image of a ragdoll wearing sunglasses and put the text “Ragdoll Squad” below it. 

Ultimately, you can target any niche you like. If you find that a certain niche has low competition, take advantage of it. But make sure to factor in the consumer demand. You can find out whether a niche has enough demand or not by studying market reports and checking keyword volume for your idea.  

how to choose a print on demand niche

Once you’ve picked a niche, the next step is to choose a print on demand product. Popular print on demand product ideas include hoodies, t-shirts, towels, mugs, phone covers, stationery, towels, notebooks, bags, prints, hats, and stickers. You can focus on one or two of these products or sell a little bit of everything. Feel free to check out online marketplaces to see which POD products are popular in your niche. And if you’re feeling courageous, try selling a print on demand item that’s new to your niche’s audience.

2. Create your product designs

Print on demand is mostly about creating great designs for products. Items with unique designs are easier to market, so try to nail this part. Think outside the box. Take design inspiration from sites like Pinterest and Etsy. And be creative. One of the best tools for bringing your design ideas to life is Photoshop. When making the design, make sure the image/slogan/text is large enough to be clearly visible on the actual product. If you don’t have access to Photoshop, you can use Canva for creating your product design. 

If you don’t feel confident in your own skills to design awesome products, take help from others. There are a few places where you can find designers to create content for your products. Low-cost resources include Upwork, PeoplePerHour and Fiverr. Fiverr, especially, is a great resource for small design jobs to help test ideas on your products.

Pro tip: If you’re finding it difficult to envision a design on an actual product, you can get some mockup images made. Just enter the name of the product you want to see the design printed on followed by the word “mockups” in the search bar of the mentioned platforms (for example, “t-shirt mockups”). Doing this would present you with a list of designers who can design mockups on request.  

mockups print on demand

3. Get validation from others

Once you’ve assembled a few solid product designs, it’s time to get people’s opinions. Find a few Facebook groups related to your niche and post some of your designs in them. The outcome of this will be honest feedback from people who are unbiased about your designs. Besides Facebook Groups, you can post your designs on online discussions platforms like Reddit. Before posting, make sure to put a watermark on your designs so nobody can use them. 

If you get positive comments on your posts, you’ve already armed yourself with potential customers who you can target when you launch your POD store. However, make sure to filter out ones coming from your family members and close friends – they’re prone to kindness, so their reactions might distort the results. 

4. Build your store and choose a POD service

The next step is to set up an online store. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify make it easy to build a store with customizable Shopify themes so you can brand your print on demand business. You will need to provide your business information to Shopify before you can select a print on demand service and start adding products. By providing your business name, contact information, and billing information, along with setting up a payment method, you ensure that you’re able to get orders and receive payments. 

But perhaps the biggest advantage of choosing Shopify is its ability to integrate print on demand services. There are a handful of print on demand apps on the Shopify App Store that are powered by print on demand companies. So you just need to install a POD app to start taking orders from customers. The service provider will print and ship products to your customers for you every time you get an order. 

3 Print on Demand Shopify Apps for Selling Your Custom Products

Here’s some print on demand apps that are popular with Shopify users:

1. Printful 

Shopify POD app

Printful offers a wide range of products for printing (apparel, pillows, aprons, etc.), user-friendly mockup generators, and opportunities for adding your own branding to packages via notes and stickers. For apparel items, Printful suppliers let you choose from different printing techniques, such as embroidery and direct to garment printing. Printful’s rates are also competitive, and some suppliers even offer a 20% discount or free shipping on sample orders.


print on demand shopify app SPOD

SPOD is well-liked for its easy-to-use product designer and competitive prices. Its product designer tool lets you customize items with your own images and designs. You can also choose from SPOD’s 45,000 free designs if you don’t have time to create your own concept. Additionally, SPOD ships the majority of its orders within 48 hours, which results in a fulfilling experience for customers.

3. Printify

Printify is popular for its international supplier network that offers an opportunity to customize unique white-label products, such as clocks, shoes, water bottles, and jewelry. Plus, you can choose your printer based on the country you want to sell in for cheaper and faster shipping. A small trade-off is that the printer’s service and the quality of items can vary depending on its setup.

After installing a print on demand app, you can start promoting your Shopify POD store and products to generate sales for your business. 

How to Buy a Print on Demand Business?

Do you want to try your hand at print on demand, but you don’t have time to work on a store? Then purchasing an established POD business might be the best option for you. Exchange Marketplace makes it convenient to do this by simplifying the process of acquiring a ready-made business. The platform has a great collection of print on demand stores, including Printful stores, spanning various niches that you can buy depending on your interests and budget. 

how to buy a print on demand business

Exchange also makes it easy to review the key data you’ll want to know about a business. The platform displays critical data for each listing, including business age, monthly expenses, average monthly traffic, average monthly revenue, current profit, social media followers, and time required to run the business. This information makes it easy to decide whether or not you should invest in a particular business. You can decide how hands-on you want to be with your POD store. If you’re looking to invest in digital real estate that brings you a profit without taking too much of your time, a print on demand business with an established setup and a good revenue stream may be a suitable option.

To evaluate print on demand businesses on Exchange, choose the “print on demand” filter under Business Type on the Exchange website. For Printful businesses, navigate to Sales Channels and click “Printful stores” to find relevant businesses for sale. Using these two filters, you should be able to view every POD business available for purchase on the platform. 

Shopify Exchange Printful Stores

How Do I Succeed with Print on Demand?

Promote the heck out of your business! It’s important to make people aware of your POD store in order to make sales. An effective way to do this is to partner with micro-influencers on Instagram and other visual platforms. You’ll offer influencers free products in exchange for them sharing images using your product with their followers. This small act of social proof can incur revenue for your POD business (as customers want to hear from their favorite personalities when making their decisions).

How Much Money Can You Make with a Print on Demand Business?

Honestly, there’s no limit to how much you can earn selling print on demand products. But to give you an idea, the most profitable POD stores on Exchange make $28,000-$30,000 in average profit per month. With the right setup and marketing strategy, you can become profitable in a very short period. Plus, print on demand saves you from being overburdened with the cost of carrying inventory, maintaining unsold stock, and arranging packaging and delivery.


There you go! We’ve given you the answer to what is print on demand and other questions people ask about this ecommerce model. Remember, if you want to succeed with POD, you must create great designs, work with reliable printers, and learn how to promote your business. With the abundance of apps and integrations offered by platforms such as Shopify, you can quickly streamline the moving parts of POD. Alternatively, if you purchase an established print on demand business, you can be operational and start earning a profit in as little as a few hours. Regardless of whether you build or buy, print on demand makes for a great online business for both new and veteran entrepreneurs.