What Is Print On Demand (POD)?

Starting a side hustle to make some extra money can easily become a costly venture, but there are certain things you can do to help minimize your upfront costs and the overall risk. If you want to sell printed products without a lot of up front costs, one option that can help is a Print On Demand business, or POD for short.

Print On Demand is a whole industry that supports small businesses and side hustlers get up and running pretty easily. It can make your dreams of generating some extra income possible without maintaining an inventory, especially when you don’t want to make a large investment up front.

So, what is print on demand?

Print on Demand Definition

Wikipedia explains that print on demand is where a supplier creates products for you on a per-order basis. It is an as-needed production model. The supplier only produces products when you need them, which allows you to pay after the sale.

What this means for you is that you won’t have to invest a lot of money upfront in inventory. The supplier keeps the stock for you. It will also ship your orders, leaving you only to take the orders and file them with the supplier. You could refer to this as on-demand drop shipping, except that you create the design for what the supplier will print on the pod product.

You want to weigh your supplier options carefully. Make sure whichever supplier you choose has the products you wish to sell because the base products are something you cannot change.

You also should consider the customization options. If you perceive a need for customizing products often, you want a supplier who can easily accommodate that need.

Also, make sure you check into shipping costs as this will raise your products’ final price. Turnaround times are also critical. Shoppers these days expect fast responses, so you need a supplier who can move products quickly after you place your order.

How Print on Demand Works

POD is a method of printing documents or products, such as clothes, artwork, books and other items, as they are ordered. This eliminates the need for manufacturers to produce items in bulk and store them until purchased. The process from set-up to sale usually only involves a few steps. Generally, the first step is to set up an account on the chosen platform, such as Printful or Printify.

Once the account is created, you will need to upload artwork and/or text that can be printed onto the products. Depending on the platform you choose there may also be additional set-up steps like setting product prices and shipping rates.

Choosing a Provider

There are many options to choose from when looking for a POD print provider, so a little research on your end will be needed. Printful and Printify are two print on demand companies great for getting started with POD. Both handle all of the fulfillment needs for your different products. 

Before signing up with either one for your ecommerce store, review their product offerings and pricing. You’ll want to make sure they have the products you want to sell.

Also, be sure to check what ecommerce platform they integrate with. If you’re looking to sell on Etsy, a Shopify store, or your WordPress online store, you need to make sure they can integrate with those systems. 

It’s also important to understand what customer support options they provide. Will they replace a POD product if it arrives broken or misprinted? Good customer service is important for both you and your customers. 

Other things to look for in a printing partner is whether their print on demand platform allow for custom design, how reviews on their products are to assure you provide high product quality, what printing options they offer, and what their shipping costs are. 

Selling Products

If you’re using a POD provider, they will handle the manufacturing and shipping for you. You’ll have to create, upload, and place the design. Then you’ll have to create the listing content. 

The great thing about POD providers though is that they will often generate mockups of your products that you can use in your listings!

You even have the option to offer custom products to your customers, where they can upload their own photos or where you update your designs using their name. 

Once items are in your print on demand store, you can begin to drive traffic to your shop, through social media, organic search results (SEO), or even facebook ads. 

Order Fulfillment

When the POD platform receives the order, it will be printed, packaged, and shipped out to the customer. The seller receives payment, and the goods arrive at the customer’s doorstep.

You’ll get paid by the customer, then you’ll have to pay the POD provider. 

Disadvantages of Print of Demand

Essentially, when you use print on demand, you are putting your business into someone else’s hands. You do not control shipping or timelines, and customization options may have limits.

You will also have lower profit margins than you would have if you made and shipped your products independently. You have to pay more for the base items. If you were printing and shipping your products, you could buy a bulk lot of items, which would cost much less.

Since you can’t do this with print on demand, you will have to pay the extra costs to buy the supplier’s base item. This translates into lowering how much you can make on each item because customers will only pay so much for a tote bag with a unicorn printed on it or a t-shirt with a sassy saying.

Advantages of Print on Demand

With that said, the benefits often far outweigh the disadvantages. If you use print on demand, you will no longer have to invest in, store, and manage an inventory or deal with minimum print runs. You have no contact with the product at all. The result is lowering costs to run your business, which helps offset the higher prices you pay per item.

It also makes your job a lot easier. You receive an order and send it to the supplier. That’s it. That is all you have to do for each order. There’s no messing with shipping or physically producing products.

You get the chance to focus on the designs, which are the heart of your business. Your designs are what makes your business unique and drives customers to buy from you. Having the ability to focus most of your efforts on this part of your business will help you advance and grow.

Above all, print on demand drastically lowers your risk of tanking a business. Since you aren’t sitting on an inventory, you don’t have to worry about losing your investment if sales drop off or are slow. You only make a purchase when you make a sale, so you know you have the money.

Print on Demand Products

There are so many print on demand products that you can sell and the list seems to grow daily. Some available products via POD providers include:

  • Apparel such as men’s, women’s, and children’s t-shirts, dresses, skirts, and hoodies
  • Accessories like jewelry, hats, bags, and socks
  • Mugs and cups
  • Homeware and decorations like pillows, wall decals, framed art, tapestries, pillows, custom tumblers, towels, and custom printed blankets
  • Tech accessories like mousepads, phone and tablet cases

Who Can Use This Service

There are a variety of ways to put print on demand services to work. It works especially well if you sell on platforms such as Etsy to create printed products, such as t-shirts, tote bags, cups, hats, and other similar goods. 

You can use print on demand to test a business idea. There is no need to make a considerable investment in a business that you aren’t sure will take off. Print on demand allows you to only invest a small amount of money into advertising and marketing to see if the idea will pan out, saving you money and making the risk much smaller.

POD also allows you to create a side business. If you are already a public figure, such as a YouTube star or Instagram influencer, you can monetize your brand by creating print on demand products. It gives you an extra income stream with little effort.

These services are also useful for serving a niche market. You may already sell products that you create yourself but have a niche that has some demand. However, if the customer demand isn’t very high, you can serve this niche without losing money by using print on demand for those items.

Another excellent use for this service is for gifting or one-off situations. For example, if you require a product one time and won’t need a continuous supply, it makes much more sense to place an order with a supplier for just what you need instead of investing a lot of money into something that isn’t going to pay off in the long term.

There is another area where print on demand is quite popular, and that is for printing books. Writers’ Digest explains that this service allows you to print books on order, which significantly reduces your costs. Plus, you aren’t stuck with stacks of books that aren’t selling.

Wrap Up

Print on demand allows you to take your business ideas and turn them into decent profit without having to maintain an inventory or risk your investment. It is excellent for new businesses or businesses where you may not have a solid customer base yet by providing you with a means to get different products, including customized products, out to your target audience without maintaining an inventory.

You save money and reduce the stress of a business when you know that you are not losing anything by investing in products you may or may not sell. There’s nothing to lose when you give your business idea a shot.


I'm just a Dad trying to help other Dads level up their lives. I like comic books (and comic con!), coffee, creative outlets, and making extra money.

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