Ultimate Guide to Print-On-Demand

When considering online entrepreneurship, most new sellers immediately think of “dropshipping”- an easy, relatively fail-proof option that allows sellers to skip the typical overhead costs associated with starting a business. But there’s an alternative to dropshipping that’s just as lucrative and alluring for tech-savvy newcomers: Print-On-Demand (POD).

print on demand

What is Print-On-Demand?

Print-on-demand is a retail fulfillment method that’s similar in nature to dropshipping. Basically, a customer buys a product on a retail site (like Shopify) and the order is immediately sent to the print provider who stocks the physical product, prints the design, and ships the product to the customer. No more need for storage space, expensive local printers, or dealing with large-scale shipping. The store owner eliminates the demand for bulk inventory and instead focuses on the actual design and marketing of the product. Products can range from customized t-shirts to tote bags or even books.

This low-risk business model is ideal for creative types who specialize in digital marketing and graphic design, as all the logistics are outsourced to companies such as Printify or Printful. You can even outsource the design aspect of the product if that’s not your forte as well- there are plenty of freelancer sites that host reasonably-priced design professionals, such as Upwork or Fiverr.

Print-On-Demand Shopify FAQ

We’ve answered the three most popular questions potential POD business owners have when they are just starting out, including the difference between business models, the total associated costs, and considerations for international shop owners.

1. What is the difference between Print-On-Demand and Dropshipping?

Print-on-demand and dropshipping businesses operate on the same premise: the seller does not handle the product. However, there are several differences that make print-on-demand a more viable business opportunity over dropshipping.

One of the big differences between print-on-demand and dropship businesses is that with the former, you are selling your own product. This is extremely important when it comes to brand viability. With dropshipping, you’re basically marketing and facilitating the sale of an already made product. You run a high risk of competition with other dropshippers who are sourcing the same product. Your business is running exclusively on brand notoriety and marketing tactics to differentiate yourself from the competition.

On the other hand, with print-on-demand businesses you’re developing your own designs. While the actual physical product (i.e. the t-shirt, mug, pillow) is a separate brand, you are customizing it with your own white label and design that can be copyrighted and registered. This protects your product from competition and is much more sustainable as your product is unique.

The other benefit of print-on-demand is that you can easily test prototypes without much risk. Rather than entering into an order minimum with an overseas supplier, you can just order 1 product at a time. If you place a design on your site and it doesn’t sell- no worries! Simply replace it with a different one until you find your best-seller. The printer will only print the designs that are ordered, and most printing services do not require you to have a minimum order amount.

A last consideration to make when considering your online business strategy is the over-saturation of the dropshipping industry. With the recent surge in interest in low-cost business ideas, dropshipping has become ubiquitous with young entrepreneurship. However, with a flood in the market it’s now more difficult to find third-party suppliers who want to work with you, and also products in a niche that hasn’t been tapped yet. While there are still viable opportunities abound, print-on-demand is the safer option for new business owners looking for long-term sustainability.

2. How much does it cost to start a Print-On-Demand business?

Of course, every business has variable costs that depend on the store’s location, product range, staff etc. In terms of starting a POD shop, start up costs are low. This is because there’s no need for bulk inventory or traditional brick-and-mortar costs. However, you will need to budget for domain hosting fees, Shopify paid plan fees, Shopify app fees, local business taxes, and sample orders.

Let’s say you want to start an online T-shirt business using Shopify and Printful in the US. Your basic costs could be estimated at:

  • Total upfront costs: ~$80
  • Total monthly costs: ~$47

Let's take an action, we recommend you to read the guidance and practice right away, it's like "doing the homework", so by the end of this guide you'll be ready to launch Shopify print on demand store.

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Now, compared to the average upfront investment for a traditional retail store running around $10,000, this budget is miniscule! Remember, you need to invest in your business in order to make money. While it’s extremely cheap and easy to set up an online store, there are still investments to be made and it’s not a $0 game. These estimates will also depend on your marketing budget and design work.

3. Can you start a Print-On-Demand business outside of the US or EU?

The quick answer: Yes!

Selling online is an international trade; your shop is both nowhere and everywhere. The internet has led to a globally connected community and customers from far flung corners of the world are increasingly becoming a part of the ecommerce craze. That being said, there are some differences in accessibility for international retailers that are based in countries beyond the EU or North America.

According to Shopify, you can operate a store in almost any country around the world. In fact, their global customers are spread out across 175 different countries. And the trend is spreading- Asia is rapidly growing as an online retail powerhouse, with China leading the charge and Japan and South Korea following closely behind. There are some caveats, however, including the limitations of the Shopify POS System.

Here is a list of payment gateways that Shopify supports for international shop owners.

Shopify also supports international customers through localized retail options such as location, currency and language selectors. You can also customize your customer’s retail experience by offering different shipping rates per location.

When it comes to your printing distributors, this becomes a little more tricky. Not all POD suppliers operate internationally. Printful solves this problem for potential international customers by offering print-on-demand dropshipping services. They have 3 distribution centers located in the US and Europe, but not all products are available at the European location. However, they do ship internationally with adjustable live rates.

Here are a few considerations to keep in mind while setting up your international POD business with Printful:

  • The order fulfillment period (2-7 days for apparel products, 2-5 days for non-apparel products)
  • The international shipping speed and cost
  • The exchange rate (Printful always charges in USD)
  • Tracking can be more difficult, but Printful will reship orders that get lost in transit for free
  • Address formatting
  • Customs fees

Print-On-Demand Success Story: Iconspeak

Printful’s Nora Inveiss caught up with co-founders Georg and Florian to learn more about the viral beginnings of their popular T-shirt store.

print on demand example
As the story goes, Georg and Florian were driving their motorbikes through the rural countryside of Vietnam back in 2013 when they discovered what so many other travelers have at some point or another- the language barrier is almost impossible to tackle when dealing with technical issues. Constant motorbike issues had them communicating with local mechanics through sign language, hand gestures, and paper cards with hand-drawn icons. And that’s when their bright idea arrived...why not put these universal icons on a T-shirt?

They launched their print-on-demand T-shirt business in 2015 while living in Switzerland. Their Shopify store initially had a slow trickle of regular orders coming in. But they didn’t hit major success until their story was picked up by an Australian blog, Lost at E Minor. Soon they had 6-7 orders coming in per minute and viral media attention was gaining speed.

print on demand example

Throughout the years they have narrowed down their market to 2 primary groups: long-term travelers and family members of adventure-seekers. Their product has been sold to customers in 80 different countries, and their revenue stream is no longer dominated by the US. They managed to differentiate beyond country-specific industries by implementing interest-targeted marketing campaigns. Through this they’ve managed to create a community of travelers who are eager to participate in their social contests and promotional events.

However, it hasn’t been all fun and games for Iconspeak, as they’ve caught multiple fake vendors selling counterfeit products. They recommend registering your designs right from the get-go so you can easily tackle copyright infringement issues as they arise. Your brand is your business, so the risk of online copycats is too hefty to ignore.

Key Takeaways: Find a need in your community (whatever it may be), prototype, test and retest, use safety nets such as copyrighting designs, and use apps such as Printful to reduce inventory risks.

Getting Started with Shopify

Now you’re ready to kick-start your million dollar business idea. All that’s left is to establish an online store. Shopify, an all-inclusive online retail platform, is the ideal solution for new store owners who want to focus on what really matters: the products. Gone are the technical difficulties and logistical nightmares- you can leave those parts to the experts.

It only takes 5 minutes to set up your new Shopify account in 5 easy steps:

1. Head over to the Shopify website on your internet browser. You can quickly access to Shopify here

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Start Your POD store with Shopify

2. Enter your email address, password and store name.

build your Print on Demand store

Tip: To establish brand credibility, use a personalized company email domain. These are easy and cheap to create with G-Suite.

3. Fill in some basic information regarding your business interests

Build POD store with Shopify

4. Add your business address and contact information

basic information

Tip: Keep in mind that the physical location of your business will determine the relevant taxes and regulations you will be required to follow.

5. Create your Shopify store

Print on demand store on Shopify

Choosing a Shopify Plan

The default option for all new store owners is the 14-day free trial.

However, the free trial only allows you to set up your store and does not facilitate any selling. You’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan before you can actually launch your store to the public. If you choose a paid plan while still in your trial period, you won’t be charged until your trial has ended.

There are 5 paid plans for Shopify that are available for monthly or yearly subscriptions. In order to operate a POD business you’ll need to upgrade to the Shopify Basic Plan. The Basic Plan runs at just $29/month, which is chump change compared to the fiscal returns you’ll see in exchange.

The Basic Plan also comes with handy perks like 24/7 customer support, unlimited products, low credit card rates, fraud analysis tools, free SSL certificate, shipping labels and more.

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