The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Print on Demand Business in 2021

print on demand guide

If you’re creative of some sort and planning to start a business from home with as little investment as possible, then print on demand is an ideal choice.

A print on demand business doesn’t require you to hold inventory and ship orders. All you need to do is make a design, put it to a product, and then start selling. Your print on demand service will take care of the rest.

There is no limitation on how much you can earn from running a print on demand website. Done right, and you can make $500 per month, $10k per month, or even more. 

The question is how you can get started? What do you need to do to build your store, get the first sales, and increase your income over time?

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

In this post, we’ll show you 7 steps to start a print on demand business from home — even if you have little experience or are very new to this area. Here they are:

Following this ultimate guide, you’ll create an online store that will make you big bucks or add a new revenue stream to your existing business.   

But before diving into the steps, let’s cover some basics to make sure we’re on the same page.

What is Print on Demand (POD)?

Print on demand is a way to sell custom products that feature your own designs. 

You create a design for a T-shirt and upload it to your website. A customer orders the blanket featuring that design, and a third-party print on demand company fulfills the order. 

You don’t have to pay for the product until you sell it. So, there’s no need to buy in bulk or hold any inventory yourself. 

Plus, your print on demand service will handle everything after the sale, from printing to shipping. That means you can focus on designing and marketing, which is less stressful than running a traditional ecommerce business. 

Because of that nature, print on demand makes it easier for anyone to start selling online. As long as you have a creative idea, you can monetize it.

Is Print on Demand Still Profitable in 2021?

The custom T-shirt market worldwide is expected to cross 10 billion dollars by 2025. It shows no sign of slowing down. 

Every T-shirt has someone’s name, a quote, a picture, a drawing, or a symbol on it. And not just T-shirts, we’ve seen the same trend in other types of apparel, jewelry, phone accessories, medical implants, or even pharmaceuticals (think: custom pills).

With many best print on demand sites out there, you can start selling custom products anytime you want. It’s easy to do it.

But there is another bigger reason why print on demand is still profitable in 2021 (and other years to come).

To understand it, think about why Gen Zers (born 1997-2012) are crazy about this T-shirt:

ok boomer t shirt
Source: ZuzuuTees on Etsy

OK boomer implies Gen Z’s endlessly repeated retort to the problem of older people who just don’t understand Gen Z culture and politics. This meme quickly became a merch — some sellers received more than $10,000 orders just after promoting it on TikTok. 

The text is personalized, relatable, and “proof of how much the sentiment resonates with people [Gen Zers], “ as Joshua Citarella, a researcher who studies online communities, explains. That’s why Gen Zers love it.

Nearly 70 million in the US are Gen Z. Compared with previous generations, Gen Zers are keen on custom products at a higher level. They want to stand out and always look for the next unique product. “Different” is the name-of-the-game for these young adults. 

According to a 2018 report from IBM and the National Retail Federation, nearly half of Gen Z shoppers want products tailor-made to their tastes and interests. 

That means you have so many opportunities to turn your designs into real money. After all, where there is demand, there is supply, right?  

Style Trends 2021

Worldwide retail ecommerce sales already grew 27.6% in 2020, for a total of $4.280. With more people spending money online, there is no better time to cash in on this opportunity. 

That said, you can’t just sell anything online. Because if that was the case, everyone would be all millionaires now, right?

A smart strategy to get started is to follow the growing trends. Here is a list of six trending styles you can try:  

1. Leisurewear

peach pjs
Source: LinenHomeCN on Etsy

According to McKinsey’s research, last year, 49% of consumers spent more on casual wear and home wear than they did last year.

With the pandemic lockdown across the globe, demand for comfort home wear is only set to soar from here onwards, making now the perfect opportunity to add leisurewear to your product range.

2. Athleisure

yoga athleisure
Source: SilkThimble on Etsy

Athleisure is the signature fashion trend of the 21st century so far. According to the Global Athleisure Market report, the athleisure market size was valued at $155.2 billion in 2018. By 2026, it’s expected to reach $257.1 billion. 

Whether worn at the gym, home, or for going out, athleisure has become a go-to choice for many people. With its links to the health and wellness movement, as well as a growing focus on inclusivity, athleisure is clearly far from reaching the finish line.

3. Streetwear

streetwear apparel
Source: BasementApproved on Etsy

Originally born out of hip hop and surfskate culture, streetwear is one of the most striking, emerging retail and fashion trends in recent years. Its audience is very young: mostly under 25.

Streetwear centers on comfortable, casual pieces like T-shirts, sneakers, hoodies, jeans, baseball caps, and more. “Combining tailoring and streetwear allows a more customized approach to luxury for this broader range of streetwear fans,” as suggested by Vogue.

4. Accessories

water bottle accessory
Source: MizCraftyAffair on Etsy

Accessories aren’t just limited to jewelry but also hats, socks, handbags, sunglasses, belts, shoes, and even water bottles. These items work with several design schemes, so it’s great to add to your product collections.

5. Eco-friendly Products

everything is under control tote bag
Source: AlphabetBags on Etsy

Nearly 70% of consumers in the US and Canada say they want to buy sustainable products, according to a new study by IBM and the National Retail Federation. That’s why you should think about selling custom products that are more eco-friendly and versatile.

Products like recycled T-shirts, eco tote bags, hoodies, biodegradable phone cases, and others will be a good choice for taking steps towards sustainability.

Now that you’ve known what print on demand is and why it’s potential to make money. Let’s move on to learn how to launch your online business. 

How to Start a Print On Demand Business From Home

It’s easy to start a print on demand business, but to ensure your store is properly set up and ready to sell, there are certain steps you need to follow. By doing that, you’ll also avoid common mistakes that beginners often make when starting a POD business. 

1. Determine What to Sell

New merchants often think about T-shirts, which is incredibly profitable. However, you can also start with mugs, blankets, phone cases, etc. 

On Printbest, there are over 71 products to choose from, so you’ve got quite a few options. 

printbest categories

A worthy note is that your product should be acceptable under marketplaces’ and ecommerce platforms’ terms and conditions. Also, go through social media networks’ advertising policies and check what types of products are permitted to advertise on those sites.

2. Pick Your Niche

A niche is a sub-market or category your product appeals to. It can be around anything, from a profession, a specific animal, a movie, a fictional character, or just something fun and trending. 

A niche is a thing that a specific group of people are passionate about and feel related to. When you define your niche, you have a customer base who are more likely to buy your product. You understand their behaviors and what interests them, so you can tailor your designs to their needs. 

That’s what makes a niche so important. That’s why no matter what you choose to sell, your product should be around a niche. 

Your POD store can focus on a specific niche. For example, you want to target those who love dogs and create designs around them. 

pet lover mask
Source: LeslysCreation on Etsy

While there’s nothing wrong with this, you may want to consider another option: cross niche. 

A cross niche is a mix of two or more niches. So, where dog lovers would be a single niche, dogs and women who love sarcastic jokes and drinks are a cross-niche. In this case, you’re targeting dog lovers who ALSO love joking and drinking.

mixed niche t shirt
Source: DanielleTowle on Etsy

When choosing a cross-niche, you narrow your audience. But that’s not a bad thing because your audience becomes more specific and targeted. You can analyze them more thoroughly and understand them at a deeper level. 

You may tap into a very passionate audience that not many sellers are targeting. That means less competition and so more opportunities to earn higher profits. 

To find your niches, think about what makes you curious, what’s trending, what people are talking about every day. You can also do research on marketplaces, social media, and other ecommerce stores. 

Dig deeper into how people think, how they act, what they want, their demographics, personalities, fears, hopes, beliefs, etc. 

Once you understand what your target customers want, it’s time to find your winning idea and make a design. 

3. Make a Design

In a traditional ecommerce store, products have already been designed and manufactured. They’re ready for you to sell and deliver to customers.

But for a print on demand store, you’ll need to create or buy art to sell on your products. When it comes to POD, designs are everything. They can make or break your business. 

If you’re very creative, that’s amazing! But if you’re not good at brainstorming ideas, that’s okay as well — there are some ways to find design ideas.

The first and most common way is to spy on super popular winning designs. According to Shopify expert Clayton Bates, Etsy is a great place to find what’s working and get inspiration from people already making money.

Also, Etsy is an online marketplace for hand- and tailor-made products, making it an ideal place for print on demand sellers. 

Let’s say your niche is those who work from home, and you want to sell designs for T-shirts. You can go to Etsy and type “work from home, t-shirt” in the search bar. 

etsy t shirt search results
Source: Etsy

Within the first three pages of your search results, you’ll find the T-shirts that are best sellers. This is because every time someone buys a T-shirt, Etsy pushes that listing to the front of the search results. 

From here, see if any designs catch your eye. Save those designs and tweak them to make your own. 

Besides Etsy, you can try other places like Teespring, Bonanza, and IndieMade. Websites like Pinterest, Quora, and Subreddits are also good sources of design inspiration.

A rule of thumb: when finding design ideas, keep your target customers in mind.

You can have a stunning design. But if it doesn’t match your target market, your design may not sell.

Once you have an idea, you can create a design using tools like Canva. You can also hire a designer on Fiverr, Behance, or 99designs.  

Be sure to validate your design before putting it in your store. You can share it with your family and friends. They may spot areas of improvement that you weren’t initially aware of. 

Social media is also a great place to test your ideas. You can post your design on Facebook groups or use Instagram’s polls and question stickers to solicit feedback.

4. Create Your Online Store

When it comes to print on demand, you have two options: selling on a marketplace like Etsy or creating your own store with an ecommerce platform like Shopify.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of these options: 

Online marketplaces like Etsy, Teespring, Merch by Amazon:

1 nation t shirts
Source: One Nation Design on Teespring

Pros:

  • It’s easy and quick to set up your store since your store is just an account on these websites.
  • Each marketplace has its own search engine that offers an additional source of traffic.
  • Marketplaces come with their own trends you can follow and lean on.
  • You don’t have to worry about technical stuff like the checkout process or payment methods.
  • They’ve already built their authority, so it’s a good choice to start selling custom products when you’re new to this area. 

Cons:

  • Each marketplace has its own rules you have to comply with.
  • You have to pay fees like monthly subscriptions and transaction fees, so your profits will be thinner. 
  • You have less control over your store brand and customers. 

 

Ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce:

kid with turtle t shirt
Source: Factory 43

Pros:

  • You can design your store as you want. Hence, you can build a strong brand presence and create a unique shopping experience for your customers. 
  • You have full control over your store visitors. You can use analytics tools to find out exactly who your target customers are, collect their email addresses for retargeting campaigns, and more. 
  • You can integrate third-party tools to optimize your store for conversions. 
  • You can set your own prices, make repeat purchases through email marketing, set up cross-sell and upsell. The best part? You can take home all the profits without having to share them with anyone else. 

Cons

  • You need to do a lot of marketing to promote your store since traffic to your site comes only from your marketing efforts and search engines.
  • It’s more challenging to build your customer base since you start from scratch. 
  • It may require a large initial investment since you have to pay for extra apps and add-ons. 

Which option you choose will affect many things, from store management to fulfillment and your potential earnings. So, consider your goal and budget and do thorough research before making a decision. 

5. Choose the Best Print On Demand Company

If you decide to sell on free marketplaces like Etsy, you can skip this step. 

But if you create your own store, you’ll need to partner with a print on demand company.

Why? Because you need them to handle printing, fulfillment, and delivery for you. 

For example, our print on demand service Printbest lets you upload your artwork to the website. We then place that art on blank products like a blank mug and create a digital copy of that mug for you. 

When a customer buys the mug from you, we charge the credit card or debit card you have on file for the mug’s base cost. We also print the design onto the mug and ship it to your customer. You do literally nothing throughout this whole process. 

To choose the best print on demand companies, you should consider the following factors: 

  • Product range: Do they offer a broad range of products or just a few? This is important because when your business grows, you want to expand to different products. 
  • Printing services: Some providers offer the option to print text only on the back and front of a T-shirt, while others also provide all-over printing. You may also want to know what kind of equipment they use. 
  • Good reviews: Check what other merchants are talking about their services on their website, social media, and forums. 
  • Returns handling: Read their policies to understand how they handle returns issues.
  • Pricing model: Print on demand services charge a monthly fee and possibly a percentage of your final sales prices. That really impacts your profits, especially when you’re starting out. Ideally, you should choose a print on demand service that offers high-quality products while charging a flat amount for an order’s actual costs. This will help you estimate your monthly profit. 
  • Fast shipping: Today’s customers want speed and convenience. Hence, you should work with a provider that offers quick delivery. For example, we print orders in as fast as 1-2 days and follow up with equally fast shipping. 

Take time to research each print on demand company, and you’ll find the one that best suits your needs.

Easy, profitable print on demand
Get orders printed in as fast as 1 day and then dropshipped straight to your customer.

6. Create a Product

With your design, product, POD service, and platform, it’s time to upload your design to your product. 

You can log in to your Prinbest account, put your design to your product using our mockup generator, set up prices, and push your product to your store from Prinbest. 

printbest designer
Printbest's online designer

Once you upload your product, you should order samples to evaluate the quality of printed products and ensure you choose the right fulfillment service. 

Samples are also good to have on hand for taking product photos for your website and social media profiles.

7. Start Promoting Products

Simply having a POD store isn’t good enough. You’ll need to put effort to actually earn money from selling it.

Often, new merchants think about running paid advertising campaigns on Instagram or Facebook. 

While that can be a good way to start, Steve Chou, founder of MyWifeQuitHerJob, emphasized that “because the margins for print on demand are relatively, it’s hard to make a profit through paid advertising.” 

He advised new merchants to start a blog, YouTube channel, or podcast to build a following. “[…] you have to focus your efforts on building an audience. Once you’ve established a group of superfans, they’ll buy whatever you decide to produce,” he says. 

YouTuber Kat Theo does a great job of sharing videos to build audiences for her T-shirt business. 

money minded millennial store
Source: Kat Theo on YouTube

Shopify expert Clayton Bates encourages merchants to differentiate themselves from others. For example, you can build yourself as a fun “mum” on TikTok with quirky slogans and sayings. Or you can focus on community activities like empowering women or donating a percentage of sales to charity.

Think about what’s unique about your message and design that people can get behind.

- Clayton Bates, Shopify Expert

Set Up Your Print On Demand Business with Printbest

With this ultimate guide, you no longer need to ask “how to start a T-shirt business from home” anymore. 

Regardless of age, experience, location, or financial circumstances, anyone can start a print on demand business from home — right now. 

It’s an absolute blessing to get paid from anywhere while spending time with your loved ones and enjoy more freedom. Literally, you only need an Internet connection to get started. 

So, head over Printbest and follow the steps above to determine a product to sell, find your ideas, create your first product and promote it across channels. 

It may take some time to find the niche you’re passionate about and get your first sales. But be patient, test multiple ideas, find what has worked, and you’ll get there. 

Free business plan workbook
Perfect for entrepreneurs who want to start their own online store!
profile photo of Lavender

Lavender Nguyen

Lavender is a full-time freelance writer for SaaS and eCommerce. She’s obsessed with research, writing, and reading. Learn more about her at lavenderwrites.com

Get our newest articles by email.

share this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
More To Explore
inventory or not
Running Your Business

To Inventory or Not: Selling Shirts Online

Online retail is booming, and it’s no different for the world of apparel. There are countless opportunities to create a brand and sell shirts online in today’s

printbest logo

Printbest is a print on demand company powered by SinaLite. We help entrepreneurs, artists, and small business owners sell printed merchandise more easily by printing and dropshipping it straight to their customers.