From brainstorming creative designs to getting customers and selling and shipping products, this guide covers everything you need to learn about how to start print on demand Shopify stores selling products you never own. 

I cover every aspect of the business; you will learn:

  • What is print-on-demand?
  • How does it work?
  • How to come up with a unique product design?
  • Where to find print-on-demand suppliers?
  • Starting your print-on-demand store on Shopify
  • Building your store.
  • Collecting payment on your website.
  • And lots more.

Without further delay, let’s dive in. 

What is Print on Demand (POD)

Print on demand (POD) is a business model in which customized or personalized products, such as t-shirts, mugs, accessories, gadgets, home appliances, and more, are produced only when product orders exist. 

In a retail Print on demand business, you partner with white-label products companies or suppliers to customize their products under your branding to sell to customers based on pre-orders. 

You don’t keep the product in stock, buy upfronts, or handle shipping. You only pay for product cost, shipping and other logistics when your customer has placed an order for the products. 

The white label company or prints-on-demand supplier is responsible for the production, shipping, and delivering the product to your customers. Your job is to get orders and forward them to your on-demand products vendor. 

How Does Print-on-Demand Business Work?

Here is a simple diagram from Shopify showing how the print-on-demand ecommerce business works in the real world. 

How Print on demand work diagram

In summary, you create an online store, sign up with a print-on-demand provider, add your design to products, and customers place orders at your store price.

Your store automatically forwards the orders to your POD partners for processing. The item is produced and shipped to your customer by your POD provider. The amount you sell products is determined by you, not by the product suppliers.

7 Tips for a Successful POD Business.  

Before we go deep into how to start a print-on-demand Shopify shop, I want to share some advice with you. 

This advice will help you escape negative POD tactics, prepare your mindset for the challenges ahead, and help position your business for success. 

1. Print on Demand is a Business 

First, print-on-demand is a real business; you must treat it as such. 

If what you do is create hundreds of designs and put them on random store products, you’re not likely to make any sales. 

And just because the design looks significant to you doesn’t mean others find it interesting, and people will flock to your store. 

You must build a storefront representing a people, culture, or lifestyle. It takes more than creating your store, naming it, and sharing the links to make money from print-on-demand businesses.  

You must focus on a business strategy that helps you reach your goals. 

2. Choose a Niche

Regarding business strategy and focus, print-on-demand business also requires focusing on a specific niche market

Often, beginners start a POD store selling everything under the sun. 

From home decor to smartphone accessories, clothing, fashion, and pet products, you want to appeal to every potential online shopper. 

Save yourself the trouble; you’re not Amazon or Walmart. Not AliExpress or Alibaba? 

Instead, focus on a segment of a broad market.

For example, clothing is a broad niche or market that appeals to a global audience. But you don’t have to start a POD store selling “clothes.”

Instead of selling clothes, a broad term, you can explicitly sell winter clothes, teens wear, jeans, t-shirts, ladies’ wear, etc. Your store product should target one of these markets.

As you show your ads to people, the niche draws their attention and makes the brand resonate. 

Ask yourself, what type of clothes should I sell? Who is my target audience? What interests or needs do the clothes serve? Why would someone want to buy these clothes? 

There are many questions to ask to get you in the right direction. The more specific you get with your products, the better your chances for success.  

3. Don’t Start a Product Line

Print-on-demand is not to be taken as a platform to start a product line business. 

It is what it is, to sell products based on customers’ demand orders. 

Starting a brand product line requires significant financial investment, paperwork, company, employing workers, production tools, etc. 

Alternatively, you can partner with a well-established manufacturer or company to create a single product line under your brand. And makes the products readily available in local stores, marketplaces, trade shows, etc. 

As you can see, this is bigger than selling on-demand products. It is a business created to stand the test of time and substantial growth. 

Shopify, Esty, and other print-on-demand platforms are not meant to help you create a product line business but to start and grow small to medium e-commerce shops. 

4. Beware of Copyright ©️ and Trademarks ™️

It’s easy to fall into the trap of using trademark and copyright materials in your product design. 

You can get into serious legal trouble if you’re doing this, especially in a country where copyright and trademark laws exist.  

Some easy traps are cartoon characters, trademark names, public figures, celebrities, influencers, etc. 

Before using any of these in your design, consult with an expert or professionals in the field if you’re unsure the design concept infringes upon the existing law of your store location. 

I have seen businesses get into serious lawsuits for trademark names. Don’t be one of them. 

5. Have Cash in Bank

When customers place orders in your store, receiving the transaction in your bank account may take a few business days. But you need to process the order immediately.

You have two options, you may wait to receive the money before placing an order with your POD supplier or pay for the order to begin processing immediately.  

Waiting for the transaction to reflect in your bank account before proceeding will eventually lead to delays in shipping and customers not getting orders on time. 

Having a budget to fund orders immediately after receiving them will help your business grow, improve service delivery, and increase sales. The faster customers receive their orders, the more likely they will buy from you again and recommend your store to others. 

6. Learn About the Refund Policy

Even though you’re not producing the products, your customers hold you accountable for quality delivery. 

You must learn about your product provider’s refund policy to inform your store policy. 

Many POD suppliers have an explicit refund policy that only covers certain conditions. 

A good scenario is when the product is damaged, not as described or disliked when the customer receives the package.

The refund policy might only cover shipping, handling, or production damage. If a customer doesn’t like or no longer needs the product, that’s not covered in the policy. 

You should consider and know more about your product suppliers’ refund policy before setting up your policy page. 

Implementing the same refund policy described on your POD suppliers page is probably a better decision. 

7. Consider Shipping Rates

Shipping is another aspect of POD business you don’t get involved in, still, you must be upfront and thorough about it. 

You should consider the production time frame when calculating shipping times. 

When calculating estimated shipping times, add two to three days to allow for unforeseen product production delays. 

You should consider your supplier’s shipping policy if you want to give customers free shipping services. 

The best option for this is to absorb shipping cost into product prices or give shipping discount for x amount of orders. 

Additionally, consider working with suppliers that ship directly to where most of your customers reside. If most of your customers are from the US, ensure you’re working with print-on-demand suppliers from the United States or that shipped directly. 

8. Place a Test Order 

This is the first thing you should do after creating your store. 

One of the best ways to test print-on-demand partners’ service delivery and product quality is to order your products. 

You want to experience what it is like to order products from your store, produce it, and ship it directly to the customer’s address. Some POD partners allow ordering demo products for your test and even give discounts on shipping. 

Aside from testing products and services, having your products is also beneficial for taking photos for your content marketing.   

Now that I’ve covered the essentials of getting started with print on demand dropshipping business, let’s create one on a Shopify store.

The rest of this article is about how to start POD on Shopify, you can use the same description for other ecommerce platform, too.

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Choose a Print on Demand Supplier

Finding reliable product suppliers is critical to starting your print-on-demand business. 

Getting customer and design concepts is within your control, but if your business relies on product vendors with poor service delivery, you risk damaging your business’s reputation. 

When researching for print-on-demand product suppliers, consider your store and customers’ location. 

You must work with product providers with exceptional shipping time rates to customers’ locations. Also, product quality is something you should evaluate to pick the best print-on-demand providers. 

Here are some of the most popular Shopify print-on-demand product providers you can investigate.

Printify 

Printify is a UK/US-based company and one of the popular print-on-demand service providers shipping globally. With over 4 million global sellers, the platform has one of the largest print networks.

Working with print providers from the UK, Canada, Spain, China, Germany, Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovenia, Netherlands, etc.  

It gives you access to an extensive network of global vendors offering white-labelling products, such as T-Shirts, mugs, Jewelry, clothes, shoes, phone cases, hoodies, mouse pads, Kitchen accessories, backpacks, etc. 

Printify Product catalog

The platform boosts over 800 on-demand customizable products. It offers sellers all the tools to run a smooth printing-on-demand business. 

Once you create your unique product design using the free mockup generators and place your order, Printify handles the printing and delivery to your customers. 

Aside from Shopify, Printfiy integrates with other popular ecommerce platforms like Woocommerce, Walmart, Squarespace, Wix, Etsy, BigCommerce, etc.

Printify offers a free plan for up to five online stores, unlimited products, free mockup generators, 24/7 customer support, and manual order creation. You get billed for products and shipping costs when you sell via your online store. 

The Pro plan starts at $29/mon, which offers everything in the free program, allows up to 10 online stores, gives up to 20% off all Printify products, and 14% if you subscribe to a yearly plan.

Printful

Printful is another top-choice print-on-demand drop shipping provider, offering high-quality and reliable products for retailers. 

It offers a wide range of high-quality products, from apparel, blanket, embroidered t-shirts, books, home decor, etc. You can sell frames, wall posters, pillows, and more with Printiful. 

On the Shopify apps store, Printful has a 4.6 user rating from over 4.7k reviews, with some users leaving exceptional reviews like this.

Printful Shopify user review

The Printful Shopify app is free to install; you only pay for product fulfilment and shipping cost. 

However, you should know the product cost if you choose Printful. Product price is something some users have complained about Printful. 

But the platform has done well regarding the quality of services and product delivery, ensuring retailers’ orders are shipped on time, and customers get the best delivery and product quality.

Another thing you should be aware of using Printful is its different printing techniques, which can slightly increase the cost of printing.

Printful uses – Embroidered, Direct-to-Garment printing, and Cut and Sew printing, also known as All-Over-Print. 

Depending on the printing techniques you specify and additional printing or product customization, the total cost of production might increase from the base price. 

Gooten

With Gooten, you can choose from over 150 product catalogs, sell globally, and stop worrying about inventory management. 

Gooten gives you access to 30+ product manufacturers, allowing you to choose and source products from the best. You can sell fashion, apparel, accessories, office and stationery, pet and baby products, etc.  

Gooten product catalog

One advantage of using Gooten is its global network of drop shippers and distributors. This gives you access to competitive product prices and lower shipping rates. It also means there could be many variants or inconsistencies in product quality and shipping time. 

Still, the Gooten image editor is intuitive and straightforward to use. By creating your product’s design, you can see how the final production will look and make necessary adjustments if needed. 

Like most Shopify Print-on-demand apps, Gooten is free to install. You get billed when you place an order for printing. 

Create Your Design

The success of your print-on-demand business lies here; whether you make a profit or acquire losses, your product design makes one of the biggest differences.

Millions of shops sell t-shirts; what makes one brand sell more than the others? 

It all starts with good design, branding, and marketing. I talked about branding and marketing in this post. 

But first, let’s discuss how to ensure your product design is so unique and attractive that it increases your chances of making sales. 

You have several ways to create the design of your product; your option depends on how competent or skilled you are at working with image editors like Adobe Premiere, Canva, etc. And whether you have the budget to outsource design tasks to professionals.

Here are four possible ways to create your product design. 

  • Your first option is to do it yourself. This option is excellent for people skilled in image editing tools and Photoshop. You save design costs and possibly increase your profit margin since you’re not spending on the designer.
  • Another option is to use AI image creation tools, such as Designs ai and MidJourney. AI-generated images are royalty-free so you can use them for free. This option also depends on your creativity and use of these AI tools. 
  • Next, you can hire professional designers at marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork if you want a high-quality job. These people are experts in their trade and can guarantee your design availability in different formats, sizes, and colors. 
  • Another good option is to buy readymade designs from marketplaces, too. But this option may not guarantee a unique design for your brand since there is the possibility the same design may be sold to another buyer. 

Whatever option suits you, make sure the design is excellent. The success of your business largely depends on product design and its quality. 

One of the first points of product attraction is the design. People often see the design first before checking out other specs, and if those meet their requirements, they could place an order. 

Your product design should tap into and resonate with your target audience’s emotions and culture. 

I can not stress more on the importance of design in your print-on-demand ecommerce business. 

Setup Your Shopify Store

Now that we’ve got suppliers for your store products and know how to create the design, it’s time to open your Shopify store for print-on-demand business. 

I have published several guides on this blog detailing creating a Shopify store for beginners. 

These guides are comprehensive enough to guide you from signup to creating your shop, adding products, installing themes, and creating a blog for your store, everything I have covered in this blog. 

Here is one of those guides on starting an online store on Shopify, and another one that teaches you the step-by-step guide on how to do SEO for a Shopify store

I also published guides on the best Shopify theme for beginners on a budget. These themes are free to use, so you don’t have to spend much on creating your store if you don’t have to. 

By reading these posts, you have all the information required to start, grow and scale a successful print-on-demand Shopify store without the high cost. 

Still, to start a print-on-demand Shopify store, let’s list the process below. 

  • Sign up for a Shopify account from here.
  • Complete your store setting. 
  • Add a custom domain name.
  • Install themes and set up your store.
  • Install apps.
  • Add products to your store.
  • Set up payment gateways.
  • Customize your checkout page.
  • Make a test order. 

Connect POD to Shopify

After completing your Shopify store, the next thing is to connect your print on demand suppliers to your Shopify store.

Connecting your print-on-demand provider to your Shopify store is easy, though each POD platform has its documentation. 

Mostly, it requires signup for an account on your provider website and connecting to your Shopify store. 

Whichever platform you choose, ensure your Shopify store is ready, accessible via a custom domain name, and not password protected. 

Here is a short video to connect Printfy to Shopify. 

Launch Your Store

If you’re satisfied with how your store functions, product quality, and overall delivery experience, the next thing is to launch and advertise. 

A big part of your marketing tactics revolves around paid advertising. 

You must leverage social media and search engine paid marketing to reach more target audiences in the buying mode. This is why having a decent budget for marketing is critical to print-on-demand small business owners. 

Relying on free marketing channels won’t yield significant results, plus you won’t reach a larger audience. There are limits to how far you can promote products in this way. 

Here are some proven marketing tactics for print-on-demand business owners.

  • Pinterest – Pinterest is a photo-sharing site with over 460 million monthly active users, making it a perfect place to share product images, mockups, and designs with a link back to your website. Pinterest’s target audience is primarily the older generation between the age of 40 and 50 looking for exciting and inspirational information. Promoting your products here can be of great advantage and exposure.  
  • Facebook Advertising – With over 2.5 billion active monthly users, Facebook remains the platform to beat for small business advertising and brand awareness. But you must commit to regular advertising on the platform to gain traction and reach a wider audience. 
  • Google Ads – If you want to meet customers at the beginning of their online journey, Google ad is the number one channel. Though it costs more to advertise on Google than most advertising platforms, you get the most conversion rate and value for money. And possibly, Google ads may earn you the highest ROI in terms of average order vs advertising cost. 

Conclusion – Start Print on Demand Shopify

Starting a print-on-demand Shopify shop isn’t difficult; following the process and advice in this guide will help you at every step of the journey. 

This guide covers most of the information you need to succeed, from finding reliable POD partners to creating your storefront, creating design, and adding products and promotions. You have all the information and tools to start and grow your business successfully. 

If you want to test new ideas or products in an emerging market, the print-on-demand business model offers an accessible platform to experiment with your ideas. You don’t have to hold inventory or create products so you can focus more on growth. 

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