Do you have a great idea for a funny t-shirt or unique hat design your friends would love? Do you want to sell mugs with your company logo or canvases with your artwork?
Selling physical products with your own designs is a fun and lucrative way to share your creativity with a targeted community. But setting up a production system that includes sourcing blank products, transferring your designs, warehousing goods, and shipping worldwide is a pretty big commitment for a new business.
That’s where print on demand comes in. Print on demand means that you use a third-party company to customize white-labeled (brand-free) products. You send them your artwork digitally; they put it on shirts, water bottles, stickers, and more. Then, they take care of the delivery, packing the item and sending it directly to your customer.
All you have to do is set up a storefront showcasing your designs, and you’re in business.
Is print on demand right for you?
Print on demand is great if you:
- Are a creative or have access to artists who can design unique products.
- Want easy access to markets worldwide.
- Don’t have the space or resources to set up a complex manufacturing and shipping process.
- Don’t have the funds to make a large, upfront investment.
But there are some drawbacks, including:
- Less control over delivery dates and shipping.
- Less control over the customer unboxing experience.
- Less control over product quality.
- Lower profit margins.
If you’re willing to put your delivery process into the hands of a reputable third-party printer, then print on demand is a great way to start your business. Although profit margins are lower, you can still make a solid income while establishing your brand and building your core market — quickly, without a lot of overhead.
How to start a print-on-demand business
If you’re ready to get your print-on-demand shop up and running, let’s get going! Here are a few key things to put on your to-do list.
Decide what to sell and who to sell it to
Before you even begin to build your shop, you need to make sure that there’s a solid market and established demand for your product idea.
Start by defining your audience. The easiest group to focus on is one that matches a passion or ideal of your own. Are you interested in helping an endangered species? Discovering the world through photography? Celebrating your love of classic fairy tales? You’re probably not alone!
Next, think about what your audience might find useful. What problems do they experience on a regular basis? What frustrations do they have? If your products solve those problems or relieve those frustrations, they’re much more likely to be successful.
Finally, pre-sell your product. You can take actual pre-orders, or simply mock up your designs and share them with your audience. Which do they like best? Focus on those first to build a solid foundation.
Find the right fulfillment partner
Once you know what you want to make, it’s time to find a fulfillment partner. Choose one that provides:
- The products you want to sell, at a high quality.
- The right printing process to realize your vision — some methods might have limitations when it comes to colors or styles.
- Pricing that allows you to turn a profit.
- Shipping rates that are reasonable — ideally, shipping costs will enable you to offer your customers free shipping without too much markup.
- Fast fulfillment and turnaround time, and deliveries completed on schedule.
- Worldwide reach and international fees handled for you.
- An eco-friendly approach to printing and shipping.
- Quality customer care, for you and your clientele.
Decide which criteria are most important to you and choose a fulfillment partner that shares your values and needs. Make sure you look for reviews online to find a partner you’ll be happy with.
Create your artwork
Your fulfillment partner will require artwork to put on their white-label products, usually in the form of a high-quality digital image.
The ideal approach for your new venture is to use artwork you’ve created yourself, whether it’s photos, drawings, or text-based designs. Using your own work is always safe in terms of ownership, and doesn’t result in additional costs or royalties.
But it’s not a deal breaker if you’re not a natural artist. If you’re a member of your target community, reach out and build a circle of creatives you could feature for a flat fee or a percentage of sales. Or, if you have an idea but lack the talent, consider hiring a graphic designer online.
RollStore, for example, lets customers order murals, posters, and other products with their own artwork or pictures. Shoppers can choose sizes, colors, and more, then upload a file for printing.
But no matter who creates the actual artwork, make sure they follow the requirements and guidelines set out by your fulfillment partner for quality and sizing.
One last consideration: if you aren’t featuring your own creative designs, artwork, or photos on your products, then it’s critical to make sure your artwork conforms to all copyrights and trademarks. Fan art based on licensed characters, text from books, copyrighted quotes, and photos downloaded from the internet are just a few examples of work that cannot be sold for profit without a license from the owner. If you have any concerns, please do your research and consult a lawyer if necessary.
Gather pictures of your products
To create a successful store, you’ll need high-quality pictures of your products.
Your fulfillment partner may have blank images of their goods that you can use as a starting point for mockups. If you have some graphic design skills, you can place your artwork into these images, or hire someone to take care of this for you.
Another great option is to actually order a set of samples from your partner. This will allow you to test their quality, shipping process, and turnaround time. If all goes well, you’ll have products you can actually photograph in settings that fit your target market best. As a bonus, your own photos are always copyright-free and safe to use on your website.
Build your online store
WordPress and WooCommerce provide a flexible, scalable, global solution that integrates seamlessly with fulfillment partners. Plus, it gives you complete ownership and control of your online storefront. To get going fast, read our post on how to start an online business.
There are a variety of extensions that help you integrate your store with your fulfillment partner — sync inventory and orders, ensuring that purchases made through your website are printed and delivered automatically. Here are a few options:
If there isn’t an existing extension for your fulfillment partner, you can use WooCommerce Advanced Notifications to keep everyone in the loop. Notify the right staff and suppliers for each product about new orders, low inventory, and back-order requests.
If you’re still figuring out the exact route you want to take, look at 17 online business examples for inspiration.
Start selling your designs with print on demand
Print on demand is an excellent opportunity for creatives to sell their designs on nearly any product imaginable — notebooks, t-shirts, stickers, phone cases, and more — without having to worry about investing a lot of money or shipping orders.
To be successful, take the time to get to know your audience, sell products that solve their problems, and find the right fulfillment partner for your store. WooCommerce provides everything you need to create a beautiful, effective print-on-demand shop that integrates seamlessly with your fulfillment partner.