Print on demand (PoD) is a business model where products are only manufactured, customized, or printed as orders are received, unlike traditional manufacturing models where products are created in large quantities and stocked in advance.
The print on demand model has allowed many new entrepreneurs and existing brick-and-mortar retailers to test the waters of ecommerce. PoD lets small businesses outsource the challenges of product creation, inventory management, and order fulfillment.
Whether you’re a seasoned retailer seeking diversification or a new retail business exploring the first steps into the retail arena, this guide provides everything you need to know about print on demand in 2024.
How Print on Demand Works
Small businesses often partner with print-on-demand services or platforms. These platforms allow businesses to upload their designs and create product listings. Here’s how the PoD process typically works:
Step 1: Design a product.
Create the design you want printed on the products. You might even allow customers to customize the design with their name or chosen colors. Then you’ll need to decide which types of products to offer, like mugs, stickers, or apparel.
For small retail businesses, print on demand is commonly used for custom or personalized products, such as apparel (T-shirts, hoodies), accessories (mugs, phone cases), and other items that can be printed with designs, logos, or text. Custom T-shirts alone, for example, is a market expected to hit $3.1 billion by 2025.
Step 2: Promote the product.
Step 3: Make a sale.
Customers can then visit your online store, select a product, and customize it by choosing a design, color, size, or adding text.
Step 4: Production happens.
Once a customer places an order, the print-on-demand provider is notified, and they initiate the manufacturing or printing process for that specific order. The product is then created, customized according to the customer’s specifications.
Step 5: Order is fulfilled.
The product is then shipped directly to the customer by the PoD service on behalf of the retailer.
Pros and Cons of Print on Demand
Print on demand offers several advantages for small business retailers, making it a viable model for many entrepreneurs. Here are some of the key advantages:
- Reduced risk: Since products are produced only when there’s a confirmed order, you can avoid the cost and risk associated with holding inventory.
- Customization: Print on demand allows for a high level of product customization, enabling you to offer personalized items to customers.
- Minimal upfront investment: You can start with minimal upfront costs as you don’t need to invest in large quantities of inventory.
- Scalability: PoD is easily scalable as businesses can add new products or designs without the need for significant investment.
- No need to deal with logistics: Instead of negotiating shipping rates, managing inventory, and dealing with order fulfillment, the PoD does these for you. This also minimizes overhead costs and eliminates the need for warehousing or storage.
- Feasible testing ground: PoD lets you test new product ideas or designs without committing to large production runs. This flexibility allows you to gauge market interest and make data-driven decisions on which products to focus on. Many PoD providers offer a wide variety of products, including apparel, accessories, home decor, and more. So you can experiment with different product categories without committing to large inventories.
- Global reach: PoD services often handle international shipping, giving an opportunity for your business to reach a global customer base without the complexities and costs associated with managing international logistics.
- Accessible entry to ecommerce: For small business retailers looking to start an online store as well, PoD offers a straightforward way to start selling online. Many PoD providers integrate with popular ecommerce platforms, simplifying the setup process.
Did You Know? Print on demand is a thriving, growing industry worth an estimated $6.18 billion in 2022, with predictions to grow 25.8% annually from 2023 to 2030.
While PoD offers several advantages for small business retailers, there are also potential drawbacks businesses should consider:
- Might need a new sales channel: If you don’t already sell online, using PoD might require you to set up and figure out a new sales channel.
- Lower profit margins: The unit cost of each item is typically higher compared to bulk manufacturing, resulting in lower profit margins for each sale. However, according to one report, the average PoD profit falls between 15% to 60%, varying based on niches, providers, and marketing and sales effectiveness.
- Limited control: You are reliant on the capabilities and reliability of the PoD service they choose. Issues such as production delays, quality problems, or changes in service terms can directly impact the business. You also have limited control over the production process, so the PoD provider does quality control, which may vary.
- Shipping costs and times: PoD products are often produced and shipped individually, which can lead to higher shipping costs for customers and longer delivery times compared to businesses with pre-manufactured inventory.
- Brand perception: Since PoD products are often associated with customization, customers may perceive them as less premium compared to mass-produced items. This perception could affect the brand image for certain types of products.
- Limited wholesale options: If you want to sell products to other retailers or offer wholesale pricing, PoD is likely not the route to go. Unit costs are typically higher, making it harder to provide competitive wholesale prices.
- Intellectual property concerns: Make sure you have the right to use and reproduce any designs, logos, or copyrighted materials. Intellectual property issues can lead to legal complications.
- Less sustainable practices: The on-demand production process may involve higher energy consumption and packaging waste compared to traditional manufacturing methods. This could be a concern for businesses with a strong focus on sustainability.
Tips for Printing on Demand
To get the most out of the PoD business model, ensure that you pick a suitable partner, conduct quality control, and price and market your products effectively.
Choose the Right PoD Partner
It’s important for small business owners to carefully choose a reliable print-on-demand partner to ensure the quality of the products and timely fulfillment of orders. Additionally, understanding the terms, pricing structure, and shipping policies of the chosen print-on-demand service is crucial for a successful collaboration.
Research and select a reputable PoD provider. Look for reviews, customer testimonials, and examples of their work to ensure quality and reliability. Consider factors such as production time, shipping options, and customer service responsiveness.
The top PoD options include:
- Printed Mint
Do Quality Control
Request samples of your products to assess the quality of printing, materials, and overall workmanship. This helps ensure the final products meet your standards and expectations. It also helps you write accurate product descriptions.
Understand All Pricing Structures
Clearly understand the pricing structure of the PoD service, including base costs, customization fees, and shipping charges. This knowledge is crucial for setting competitive retail prices.
Calculate your profit margins carefully. While the PoD model offers low upfront costs, make sure your pricing strategy allows for a reasonable profit after covering all expenses.
Offer Unique Designs
Differentiate your products by offering unique and compelling designs. Consider trends, customer preferences, and your brand identity when creating designs that resonate with your target audience.
Keep up with industry trends and customer preferences. Regularly update your product offerings to stay relevant and meet the evolving needs of your target market.
Optimize Product Pages
High-quality product photos are essential for online sales. Invest in professional photography that showcases your products from multiple angles and accurately represents the colors and details.
Write clear and compelling product descriptions. Highlight the customization options, materials used, and any unique features. This information can influence purchasing decisions and build customer trust.
Use product pages to set clear expectations regarding production times, shipping durations, and return policies. Communicate these details clearly on your website to manage customer expectations and reduce potential issues.
Employ Marketing Strategies
Implement effective marketing strategies to drive traffic to your online store. Leverage social media, email marketing, and other digital channels to promote your products and engage with your target audience.
Share your brand story and values. Consumers often appreciate businesses with a compelling narrative. Use your website, social media, and product descriptions to convey the uniqueness of your brand.
Encourage customer feedback and reviews. Positive reviews can enhance your credibility, while constructive feedback provides insights for improvement.
Test & Analyze
Experiment with different product types, designs, and marketing approaches. Use analytics to track the performance of your products and marketing efforts. Adjust your strategies based on what works best for your target audience.
Consider Legal Ramifications
Ensure you have the legal right to use any designs, logos, or copyrighted materials on your products. Avoid potential intellectual property issues by obtaining the necessary permissions or licenses.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
These are some questions we commonly encounter about print on demand.
Print on demand starts with a small business retailer designing a product and then marketing the product to its customer base. Customers place an order for the product, and a third party handles production. Then, the third party fulfills the order and sends it directly to the customer on behalf of the retailer.
Yes, you can make money with print on demand. You can boost your chances of success with a solid business strategy, quality production partners, and effective marketing.
Yes, print on demand is good for beginners. It doesn’t require lots of initial investment in terms of product development or inventory acquisition. You also don’t have to figure out production or order fulfillment logistics.
Yes, Etsy allows print on demand. It doesn’t do the actual printing and production itself, but it has integrations with several PoD services to allow sellers to use this business model on its marketplace.
PoD is an approachable and versatile option for small business retailers seeking a low-risk, customizable approach to business. The print on demand model continues to evolve with the retail landscape, offering a feasible and scalable option for both beginners and established businesses alike.