In 2008 print on demand was a hot topic and many entrepreneurs ran seven-figure businesses from Teespring alone. The question is, can you make money with print on demand in 2020 and beyond?
The answer is off course a resounding YES! Because the model of print on demand will only become more mainstream as big retailers continue to go out of business.
With billions of dollars of unsold stock getting flogged to third world countries, wastage is another issue.
One of the reasons I love print on demand is the fact that reduces waste. By creating only products as and when they are needed (and sold) greatly reduces boatloads of unsold products that end up in landfills.
While print on demand products are mostly restricted to apparel items, I can see how 3D printing technology could transform the world and make print on demand more accessible to many different products and industries.
From a business point of view, I love print on demand because it eliminates the expense of buying stock and risking capital.
Whether you can make money with print on demand or not is beside the point. People are still making money selling records, magazines and DVD players. These are all dying industries and should not sustain a business yet there are individuals smart enough to make it work.
The fact that print on demand is an emerging trend that is only in its infancy makes it more interesting and loaded with more potential.
I think it is important to make a distinction early on that print on demand is a fulfillment strategy. Its not really a business model.
The real business is still in your products, your marketing and your branding.
Print on demand is merely the way you create and fulfill your products.
Your success or failure will not rely on the fact that you are using print on demand but it will have a big impact on the capital you need to start and the profit you are able to make.
Why Making Money With Print On Demand Makes Great Business Sense
I’ve already touched on some basic ideas of why print on demand is such a great option by reducing waste. This is a moral issue for most and you may care a lot or not at all about that.
From a business point of view, there are some huge advantages.
1. Zero Inventory
With a more traditional eCommerce approach, you will need to set up a store and order inventory to sell. In most cases, a minimum order will be around 250 to 1000 units.
You could probably order less but this will really push up the costs significantly and there will probably be no branding on the products.
That 250 to 1000 units can be a lot of products to sell if they are not selling. Being stuck with a lot of inventory that you can’t sell is one of the biggest problems with a more traditional eCommerce approach.
With print on demand you do not have that problem at all. You do not need any upfront capital towards inventory and you have zero risk of being stuck with products that don’t sell.
With print on demand you can get started for (almost) zero dollars. A couple of hundred dollars will be enough to help you build a store from scratch and all you really need is a few designs and some cash to fulfill your orders until you generate some cash flow.
2. Print and Ship from The USA
Dropshipping is a great fulfillment option for eCommerce because you do not have to risk any capital on products. The problem with dropshipping products from China is that it can take 2 to 4 weeks for your customers to get their products.
Many customers won’t tolerate this and either ask for refunds or request chargebacks. This can really hurt your business from many different angles.
With print on demand you have the benefit of dropshipping BUT you get to ship your products from the USA (or Europe). This means fast shipping and happy customers.
In the USA there is also a growing anti-China sentiment. Many people have been burned by products shipping from China. Many people have a political point of view. Many people deliberately want to support USA businesses.
This all contributes towards making print on demand the ideal option for dropshipping.
3. Quality Products
Dropshipping products from Aliexporess almost always have some sort of quality issue. It can be near impossible to have proper quality control when you dropship from Aliexpress.
There ARE quality products you can dropship from China but it will take some hunting to find them and source them. Most of the time you will need to use a private agent or your own warehousing and bulk orders to achieve this.
With print on demand, the products are generally of a much higher quality. There certainly are cheap print on demand products but even these are still at an acceptable quality.
As far as apparel is concerned you always have the option to go for higher-end products and you also have the option to go with higher-end print on demand partners like Printful.
Generally speaking, the quality of print in demand is much higher than the quality of Aliexpress products which makes this a much better option for dropshipping.
4. Build a Brand
With print on demand, you can quite easily build your own brand. Apart from the style of products (designs), you offer you can easily add branding to your packaging (Printful offers this) and even to your products.
Products from Aliexpress are just blank unbranded and generic products. Branded products have a much higher perceived value which translates into you being able to charge more for the same products.
Building a brand also creates more value. If you look at marketplaces where dropshipping stores are sold, this is very evident. On Flippa or the Shopify Exchange, stores that sell dropshipping products from China has very little resale value.
Print on demand stores, on the other hand, have a much higher value. It is an asset that only grows in value over time as the business grows.
Print on demand allows you to be very noble. Your products rely exclusively on your designs. This allows you to quickly change direction in your business.
It allows you to quickly jump on trends and to quickly respond to your market’s needs. Businesses that have to do R&D can take months or even years to develop new products.
With print on demand you can come up with new and trending products within hours.
New blank products are released by print on demand providers all the time which also gives you greater scope to expand your product lines very quickly.
Speed with no risk is an advantage that most businesses only dream of.
One of the huge benefits of print on demand is the possibility of offering customers unique and personalized designs.
The ability for customers to create products that are unique and tailored for them with their own names and/or photos is a big selling point for print on demand.
This is not something that can be done easily or economically with most other dropshipping products from China.
The print on demand model is perfect for these types of personalized products and in most cases it does not cost you any more to have a personalized product, yet you can charge a lot more.
The Main Challenges For Making Money With Print On Demand
Print on demand may sound like it is all moonshine and roses but like any other business, it has its downsides. There are three things in particular that I really dislike about print on demand.
1. Limited Products
If you log into Aliexpress you can find a few thousand unique products to dropship on any give day. There is huge scope for being unique and finding truly unique products.
With print and demand your products themselves will never be unique. Most print on demand providers have similar catalogues because there are only that many blank products that you can print on.
In recent years, the catalogs have expanded a lot. A few years ago, T-shirts and phone cases was pretty much the only options you had. Now there are leggings, tumblers, blankets, canvases and many more.
Despite the bigger variety of products you can print on, it is still very limiting. The only uniqueness of your products will be in your designs.
2. Low Profit Margins
This is often the biggest killer. If you sell dropshipping products from China, you can quite easily have margins that are 3x the product cost. This gives you a lot of fat to play with when you buy ads and pay for marketing.
With print on demand, you can rarely charge 3x the product cost. You could sell a T-shirt for $34.95 but then it needs to be really good and marketed to a very specific audience willing to pay that.
Most of the time, print on demand products will be sold for 2x the product cost. This usually leaves you with very little wiggle room in terms of marketing and profit.
If you can walk away with a 20% profit in your print on demand business then you are doing well.
Something that is not spoken about nearly enough is the issue of copycats. Since your print on demand business relies mostly on your designs, there’s not much stopping someone from stealing your ideas.
This has been going on for a long time and while most people won’t steal your exact design, they can still alter it somewhat and use it for themselves with zero legal repercussions.
This is something that you really just have to live with.
If you are building a brand and if your marketing is on-point then you are quite immune to copycats but I’ve seen it first hand how a few copycats can affect your business – especially if you are working in smaller niche markets where the audiences are quite small.
Print on demand is all about the designs that you put on your products. Unless you have some really great design skills you will be forced to hire a designer to create designs for you.
Fiverr is always a great option and there are many designers that can do your designs for $5 a pop but if you want something a bit more high-end you will probably pay $20 to $50 for a really good full colour design.
If you have a store with 50 products then that adds up really quickly. You might be forced to learn some Photoshop basics so you can at least create text-based designs yourself.
For all-over print products, you will still need an illustrator or a designer. The days of doing ugly text designs is well and truly over.
If you want to do print on demand successfully your design need to be GREAT.
Yes, you can get away with quirky and funny text-based designs from Canva but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Two Print on Demand Strategies And Which One Is Better
Print on demand is quite a broad term and there are many avenues you can follow if you want to create your own eCommerce print on demand business.
It all depends on your goals, your budget and your skills. There are essentially two strategies you can follow – and you don’t have to stick with just one either. It will also largely determine how much money you can make from print on demand.
1. Starting Your Own Print on Demand Store
Starting your own store with Shopify is one of the most popular options. The setup is easy because most print on demand providers have Shopify apps that can automate most of your business for you.
Having your own store on your own domain and with your own branding has its obvious benefits. The fact that you are in complete control gives you a lot of creative freedom.
It also allows you to build your store as an asset and as it grows and you start building organic traffic it can become a long term asset that spits out passive income on a regular basis.
The downside is that Shopify costs at least $29 per month. You may need a few additional apps which could push this cost up even more. You can get a free trail which will buy you a few weeks while you build the store.
Etsy has a huge marketplace with lots of traffic but your store will always be controlled by Etsy.
Starting your own Shopify store is by far the most profitable since you set your own prices and work directly with your own print on demand partners.
How much money you can make from print on demand with Shopify depends on a lot of factors but this will most likely be the most profitable (depending on how you get your traffic)
If you have your own branded store with Shopify, you can charge a premium for your products because of the higher perceived value. If you sell on Etsy, you will need to keep your prices in line with the other Etsy sellers.
2. Use Merch Platforms
These platforms allow you to create an account and all you really have to do is upload your designs. They take care of everything else.
Apart from the fact that it is free, they also have their own traffic which means you really don’t need to do any marketing yourself.
This can be both a good and a bad thing. It certainly makes life easier but it is also much more limiting in terms of how much money can you make with print on demand platforms like these.
Teespring used to be very popular but has become much harder to make money with. Redbubble is huge with a lot of traffic and a massive product catalog that you can place your designs on.
Merch by Amazon is “the Holy Grail” in many ways because it allows you to tap into Amazon’s massive international marketplace. While they only have T-shirts, the amount of traffic and buying power on Amazon is immense.
Merch by Amazon is by invitation only and they don’t just allow anyone in. There is an application process and it often takes a few attempts to get accepted.
Even when you do get accepted they have a tier system that only allows you 10 designs until you start making sales.
Apart from Redbubble and Merch by Amazon, there are a number of similar merch platforms you can use. Spreadshirt and Zazzle are two big players as well and you most certainly can make mone from both these platforms.
The real secret to using merch platforms is to upload your designs to ALL of them. This greatly increases your reach and allows you to leverage your designs to get sales from multiple platforms instead of relying just on one.
How Much Money Can You Make Print On Demand?
Can you make money with print on demand? Yes, and you can do it in multiple ways. If you really want to scale a print on demand store then you will have to leverage all the resources and platforms available to you.
Nothing is stopping you from having your own Shopify store AND selling on Etsy, Merch by Amazon, Redbubble, Teespring, Zazzle and Spreadshirt.
Not all these platforms will work for you. Some might work well while others are just meh. Each one, however, has its own learning curve.
Just throwing a load of designs is not a good strategy either. You need to carefully plan your print on demand business and START on a platform where you are most likely to have success.
The easiest way to quickly access this is to see if there are other sellers who are successful doing something similar to what you intend to do.
So now the big question is how much can you make with print on demand? That is an impossible question to answer. There are print on demand stores making $0 per year and there are print on demand stores making $1mil plus per year.
We can look at it from a different angle which I think is a better way to access this print on demand business.
In most countries, $120 to $150 per day equates to a full time income providing you have a modest lifestyle. This won’t make you rich but it will buy you your freedom.
It will buy you the freedom to invest more time and energy into your business which will allow you to grow and start making a more significant income.
1. With Your Own Shopify Store:
Suppose you sell a print on demand T-shirt. You can get a basic t-shirt printed for around $9 and you can sell that for $25 or $30. Lets work to the low end.
At $25 per sale, you make $16 profit (we charge shipping separately so I don’t take that into account).
If you sell 8 shirts per day that is $128 profit.
But what does it take to sell 8 shirts per day? You will need enough targeted traffic to generate 8 sales. If we assume a 4% conversion rate on your Shopify store then you will need roughly 200 to 300 highly targeted visits to your store per day.
That is a very achievable target with SEO. If you pick the right keywords and optimize your store properly you can certainly hit that mark. It will take time and effort though.
There are a lot of variables though. Your traffic could convert lower or higher and you could get more or less traffic. There’s no way of predicting that.
You can also supplement your free traffic from multiple sources. The secret is to make sure your traffic is targeted and that they would be interested in what you’ve got to sell.
Once you start getting some traction you can start selling more products to the same customers and once you optimize your Shopify store and start increasing your AOV you can quickly start growing.
2. With Merch Platforms
With merch platforms your profit margins will be much lower. There’s also a lot less management for you to do. All you really have to focus on is the designs since the traffic is already built into the marketplaces you are selling on.
It is really important that you learn the in’s and out’s of each marketplace to tap into as much traffic as you can possible funnel our way.
With merch platforms you will make roughly $5 per t shirt.
To make the $120 goal, you will need to sell 24 t shirts per day. That is a decent amount of t shirts and achieving this goal with just 1 platform will be tough.
But suppose you have 100 designs on 5 different platforms then it the odds start swinging your way. If your 100 designs can go on more merch items then just shirts you can easily starter multiplying your reach.
If you have a design that goes viral on Amazon you can easily sell 100 a day but it rarely lasts for long.
The most successful sellers on merch platforms have thousands of GREAT designs that each contribute in a small way every day to ensure consistent sales.
Selling 25 t shirts a day on merch platforms is very achievable if you have 300 to 500 great designs on multiple platforms.
This IS a lot of work and takes time to reach that point but once you do you can have a very steady stream of passive income that can make you money for years to come.
Merch platforms is by far the most passive income you can earn in eCommerce. Once you’ve uploaded your design there is nothing else for you to do but to collect the money.
Can You Make Money With Print On Demand – Conclusion
There are a lot of options when it comes to print on demand. Playing to your own strengths is the real secret. Can you make money with print on demand if you have no design skills?
Yes, but you might want to stick with a Shopify Store where you will need fewer designs.
Can you make money with print on demand if you have no cash? Yes, but you might want to stick with merch platforms as they cost $0 to use. You will need some design skills though and you will need to learn these platforms inside out.
If you are going down the Shopify route then you should probably stick to a very tight niche market – preferably one you know.
On merch platforms, you will need to go after big broad markets. Politics, pets and sports are always winners on these platforms.
No matter where you find success, your long terms plan should always be to leverage ALL the platforms and avenues available to you. The more you spread your wings across different channels the better your chances of success.