With the rising trend of visual-based content, influencer marketing, and video marketing, the merchandise industry has grown exponentially over the last few years. People love their customized Game of Thrones, Avengers, Rick & Morty, etc. themed t-shirts, mugs, and whatnot. Even big brands like Fastrack are cashing in on this trend by launching customized and limited-time merchandise. Take a look at their GOT themed watch that they launched parallel to the release of the last GOT season at the end of April.
A GOT fan would go crazy over this design. It's elegant, minimal and gives the wearer a sense of belonging to the fandom.
Now, Fastrack is a well-established brand with a huge customer base and it wouldn't matter to them if they sold all of these special edition watches or not.
But to a small business owner, it does.
That's where print-on-demand comes into the picture.
What is Print-on-demand?
Print-on-demand is a business process/method to sell customized products with a particular design. But the major change, from a basic business model, is that the seller doesn't have to stock these custom-tailored products. Instead, the retailer/seller forwards the orders to the manufacturer or distributor as and when they receive the orders.
In this particular way of running a business, the manufacturer or supplier handles all the operations including printing, shipping, and exchanges. All you, as a seller, have to take care of is marketing these products through the right channel. Feel free to go through our blog about best practices to market customized merchandise. We've written it specifically for WooCommerce shop owners but these can be followed by anyone in the print-on-demand t-shirts and other merchandise business.
How Print-On-Demand Works
Let's take the example of print-on-demand books.
Who can Start print-on-demand Business?
Entrepreneurs – People with business minds can sense opportunities anywhere and everywhere. And print-on-demand is the perfect way for entrepreneurs to test a business idea or build an audience.
Graphic Designers/Illustrators – These people already have the designs and a fan base. They just have to monetize their audience/followers.
Artists – Similar to designers, these people also have a fan base, artistic approach to things, and art that people already love. Why not take the art one step further with print-on-demand services?
Writers – Words are their best friends and a lot of people might be in love with their best friends. These guys can create small quotes, write excerpts of their books, novels, stories, etc. and get them printed on t-shirts, mugs, books, etc. Moreover, the writers can sell print-on-demand books as well, as shown in the above section of "How Does print-on-demand Work".
Local Gift Shops – Local gift shops that have customizable articles like t-shirts, caps, cards, mugs, etc. can cash in on the e-commerce trend by setting up a website with a web-to-print product designer tool. And they can start it off with low investment using print-on-demand services.
How to Start a Print-on-Demand Business?
Testing the Waters
Step 1: Create/Sketch Designs
If you are a designer, writer, or an artist, you already have the sketches/designs and can skip this step. But for entrepreneurs, you can collaborate or partner up with artists around the world.
Once you've decided the sketches, designs, etc. it's time to get the printing started. But just the samples. Don't go all-in at once. Sample each design for each product you want to offer.
Step 2: The Product
You have the designs, now the next thing on your to-do list should be deciding the product to sell. Do you want to print on t-shirts, mugs, coasters, caps or a calendar? It can be anything. But don't go by whims. Do your research. Ask yourself, which customized product you love buying or have bought several times?
Did I mention, do your research?
The reason we are emphasizing on research is that we want you to be successful. Starting a business without research will only leave you broke, disheartened, and disappointed.
So, make sure you understand the industry or at least have a slight idea about how it all works. You can always go to Google Trends to understand consumer behavior and trends.
Step 3: Get in Touch with a Manufacturer/Supplier
The next logical step: Getting in touch with a manufacturer/supplier/printer. You have the designs and the product. It's time to get the full product ready.
Pro Tip: Make sure you build a long-term relationship with the manufacturer/supplier/printer. This can be key to your success.
Step 4: Do a Photoshoot using a decent camera phone
Once all the samples are ready, it's time to do some clicking.
Because you are testing the market and understanding the demand, we suggest you do the product photoshoot yourself with a decent camera phone. You'll have a decent catalog without burning a hole in your pocket. And we swear by this.
Step 5: Sign-up on Amazon as a Seller
The next step would be to sign up as a seller on marketplaces like Amazon, AliExpress, eBay, Barnes & Noble, etc. You get the gist. It also depends on the type of product you are selling.
Make sure to do the research and find the best suitable marketplace for your product.
Step 6: Upload Your Designs
After signing up as a seller, time to get to work. List your products on the marketplace. But don't just upload photos and wait for customers. You will have to do some keyword research and put yourself in the users' shoes.
Also, adding some USPs of your product won't hurt.
Step 7: Set-up Social Media accounts and start marketing
Now the fun part begins: setting up the Instagram & Facebook account. Make sure you switch it to the business profile that has a lot of creator tools. You can also set up respective ads account just in case you want to promote and have set aside a little dough for marketing.
Pro Tip: Make sure you have a logo that represents your taste and the product. You can create a logo online for free as well.
Step 8: Forward the Orders for Fulfillment
While you are testing the waters, you will have to do the fulfillment part yourself. You can easily tie-up with a delivery service. But once the orders start flooding in, you can opt for any of the print-on-demand sites available in the market. You can scroll to the bottom to learn more about the top print-on-demand sites.
This process is to test the water and get the hang of the print-on-demand business. Once you've built an audience, got in the good books of suppliers, eliminated the unnecessary loopholes in the buying process, and saved up some money from the orders, you are ready for a full-blown e-store of your own. Phew! You've got a lot to do!
Buying a Yacht & Setting on a Sail
We have a detailed blog on "How to Start a Printing Business" which is written in the specificity of a t-shirt printing business but it's valid for all the aspiring print-on-demand entrepreneurs. Therefore, we are simply listing out the steps here, you can navigate to the blog and read in detail afterward.
Step 1: Decide on the ecommerce solution for your web store
Step 2: Purchase an online product designer tool
Step 3: Make your design tool feature-rich
Step 4: Select the printing method you will use
Step 5: Select the right t-shirt supplier
Step 6: Sign up for a print-on-demand solution
Step 8: Launch your store
Step 9: Market your store
Once you've set up shop, here are the products you can start adding in the store & offer customizations that people will go crazy about.
Best Selling Print-on-Demand Products
T-shirt, a ubiquitous piece of clothing, is among the top print-on-demand products. Anybody and everybody love a t-shirt with a cool, unique design with which they can make a statement.
Designers and writers can start putting their designs and quotes on the basic white & black tees and start selling them from their e-stores. Nowadays, people have started selling t-shirts with witty and sarcastic tweets on them as well.
There is no limit to what can go on a t-shirt. You can also provide your customers with multiple design areas so they can turn a simple black activewear tee into a sports t-shirt with the name and number of their favorite sports person.
Sipping coffee out of a mug that says ‘Wild Things' is one of my favorite activities to unwind on a Saturday morning. And guess how I got that mug? You are right! By customizing it to my taste with the words I can relate to the most.
I am not the only one with such ideas for customization. Everyone who is either a part of fandom, loves art, quotes, or anyone, in general, might want to express all of that through a medium. A customized mug is one of the best ways. It's the first thing anybody uses in the morning and people who love their night chamomile teas can also be your targeted audience.
What we are trying to say here is that a customized mug is considered as an investment in happiness for most people. Adding them to your product list would definitely fetch you good numbers in sales.
Look at this cute little piece of art that a mom would drool over:
– Phone Covers
Phones have become a part of our everyday attire. We have to have it on us all the time. This has taken phone cases from simply being useful to a way to express our personality, their love for people, bands, food, and whatnot.
Look at this crazy knife iPhone case:
Campers will love it and they will happily pay $9-10 just for a case. So, go out, do the research and include phone cases in your inventory as well.
With winter just around the corner and in some regions, omnipresent, you can test the audience with customized hoodies. Hoodies have a huge fan base. For some people like me, hoodies & jeans make the perfect attire for any occasion 8 months out of 12.
And of course, colleges! You can always tie-up with small or public colleges and supply customized hoodies with the college's or their team's name on it. For convenience, you can also include a bulk order feature in your print-on-demand store, so that colleges can customize hoodies for events that happen throughout the year.
A notebook whose cover says ‘My Daily Adventures' would probably sell more than a simple brown leather diary among teenagers, travelers, etc.
You can showcase some trending designs as templates in your product designer tool to give some inspiration to your buyers. Also, on the B2B front, you can pitch big corporate companies where they need customized notebooks, letterheads, and other stationery items.
– Photo Albums
Again, photo albums can attract the B2B customer base for you. Big companies make sure their brand name, reputation, and value remains intact for which they perform certain marketing activities. Among which is sharing customized photo albums with their customer base. Especially, marketing, designing, photography, and other creative firms never miss this annual activity.
There are wedding albums, birthday party albums, and whatnot. The options are unlimited. Just need the right way to identify the audience and market the product.
Best Print-on-Demand Sites
Printful, one of the best platforms for print-on-demand services, is known for its easy to use interface and process. Once you are set up with your store, you can simply sign up with Printful (free of cost), connect your store, and start generating mockups. It's that easy.
They handle your printing, packing, labeling, and will also ship the products to your customers under your label. Basically, your major cost would be for marketing and Printful bears the rest of the costs.
Once a customer orders your product, only then they charge you. You set the price, Printful charges you for printing and fulfillment and the remaining is your profit. You can check out their products and pricing to understand their base price.
It integrates with multiple ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, Prestashop, Weebly, etc.
If you choose Printify as your print-on-demand service provider they have an easy to integrate print-on-demand Shopify app. Get your Shopify e-store built with a feature-rich product designer tool and Printify as the POD service provider.
Printify is one of its kind print-on-demand service providers with over 200 products on which you can print on. They have a wide network of vendors all around the world which lets them have such a wide variety of products.
With Printful, you don't have to pay any price but with Printify they have a nominal cost of $29 for their premium package which includes 20% off on all the products. Now, if you are a business looking to expand then Printify is the best option.
Printify also integrates with top ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Etsy, and WooCommerce.
Unlike Printful, Zazzle is a marketplace where you can easily sign up as a designer and start selling your products. They have over 30 million visitors each month on their store which can be beneficial if you are just starting out.
They follow an easy process. You create a Zazzle account, open a designer store for free with a unique name then upload your designs and artwork on their products. Finally, when a customer buys it, Zazzle will handle all the printing, packaging, shipping, etc. in the order fulfillment. And at the end, you get a certain percentage of the sale as agreed upon during the signup.
Here's how they calculate the price of your products for the Zazzle marketplace: Product Base Price + Your Royalty Percentage = Retail Price. And the best part is that they let you set your royalty price. You can ask for whatever you want but I would suggest you keep their audience and their purchasing power in mind.
– Merch Amazon
You also have the Amazon which lets you upload your designs and sell it to their humongous customer base. They have quite a simple procedure that you can follow. You will need to upload designs, select the product type & color, add product description and they will do the rest – from creating a product page to handling production, shipping, customer service, etc.
Just like with Zazzle, you will be in charge of the pricing part at Merch Amazon. Here, Amazon will pay you monthly royalties.
The main thing to consider here is that it's not open for everyone. You need to receive an invitation which you can request here. You will have to log in your Amazon account and then it redirects to the policies and agreements page. Once you click on agree, a screen asking to have these things handy will appear:
1. Business contact information
2. Bank account and routing numbers
3. Social Security number or other tax identification number
And after that, you can begin your application. The reason they have such a long process intact for merchants is that they don't charge any costs upfront. Anybody can sign up. They understand their audience and know what sells and what doesn't. So, it makes sense to have a straightforward process in place.
Stay tuned for tried and tested tips on starting a print-on-demand business.
It might look scary to jump into an industry that already has some well-known brands but if you never try, you will never know.
Interested in seeing how an e-store offering customized products works?
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