Print on demand is a way to sell customized made-to-order products that feature your own designs. You create the design, a customer orders a product featuring that design, and a third-party printing service prints and fulfills the order.
One key benefit of using the various print-on-demand companies available is that you don’t pay for a product until you’ve made a sale—which eliminates the need to put out money upfront, buy in bulk, or hold inventory.
This model drastically reduces the barrier to entry into the world of ecommerce and frees up funds you can allocate to your marketing strategies. When using print on demand, everything after the sale, from printing to packing to shipping, is handled by your printing partner.
So, exactly which products are best to sell from a print-on-demand standpoint? Here are 10 great ideas if you’re just starting out.
The most popular print-on-demand products to sell in 2021
When it comes to products you can create, there are plenty of options, with new products appearing constantly.
Traditionally, you see a lot of people creating custom t-shirts and wall art, but there actually are a lot of different products you can print on, including:
- Unisex t-shirts
- Children’s t-shirts
- All-over print hoodie
- All-over print yoga pants
- Engraved jewelry
- Champion jacket
- Tote bags
- Fanny packs
How to quickly start a profitable print-on-demand store
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1. Unisex t-shirts
It’s pretty much always a good time to start an online t-shirt business. T-shirts are an extremely versatile piece of clothing because they work well in all seasons.
So while seasonal items like swimwear are only relevant in warmer times and sweaters only useful during the cooler seasons, t-shirts are wearable year-round—as a single layer in the summer and under heavier items in the winter.
Because t-shirts are so popular, you’ll find multiple types to choose from on product sourcing apps, which can be quite confusing when you’re starting out.
LGBTQ+ lifestyle brand Passionfruit sells a variety of products, though founder Liz Bertorelli got her start with t-shirts. In 2013, she set a goal to make $5,000—and ended up exceeding it with her print-on-demand shirts.
💡 TIP: The #1 most popular color for unisex t-shirts is black. When designing your t-shirt graphics, pictures, and slogans, make sure they’ll look great on a black tee.
If you’re selling t-shirts or any type of clothing, include a sizing chart somewhere. You could link to your sizing chart from product pages or put it directly in the product description. Kiwi Size Charts + Recommender is a really cool Shopify sizing chart app that can help.
This step is important because if you don’t have adequate sizing information, people might order the wrong size and then, understandably, blame you. So make it easy for customers to see and find your sizing chart before they buy. Print-on-demand t-shirt brand Immigen, for example, has its size guide directly beneath the product description but above the Add to Cart button.
2. Children’s t-shirts
If you find your adult t-shirts are popular, you might consider adding children’s t-shirts to your product collection.
To add children’s apparel to your adult t-shirt line, take your most popular unisex (and family-friendly) t-shirt templates and offer them as kids’ shirts. A lot of parents who buy t-shirts for themselves enjoy matching with their children, so it makes for a great upsell.
When choosing your print-on-demand t-shirt provider, look beyond price and quality. You might opt for an environmentally friendly or hypoallergenic material, for example.
💡 TIP: When it comes to children’s t-shirts, pay extra attention to available sizes. There are three subcategories: baby, toddler, and school-aged children. So you’ll want a provider who can make them all.
Mugs, like t-shirts, are one of the most popular print-on-demand products, because they’re so versatile and people use them a lot. Mug sales hit a seasonal high during the holidays but otherwise remain constant.
Here’s the thing though: we’re not talking about just a standard 11 oz. white mug. While you can indeed sell these, and they’re very popular, they aren’t actually always the best sellers.
Get creative with your mug options. Some top sellers might be a colorful mug with interior. Enamel mugs are also super trendy. They resemble a tin cup commonly used for camping and lend themselves well to fun designs and slogans.
💡 TIP: Place your design mindfully. Many beginners make the mistake of putting their picture or slogan in the middle of the design template, which is what you want to do with most other products, but not with mugs. If you do this with a mug, your design will print so it’s not visible when someone is drinking. Instead, place your design on the left side, right side, or both in your design template.
4. All-over print hoodie
Budding artists who love an exciting challenge will absolutely love the allover print hoodie. In the past, you could only print a logo or design on the front, back, and sleeves of a hoodie. But now you can print onto every single part.
All-over print hoodies are extremely trendy right now in the streetwear clothing sector, which is why a lot of popular influencers sell all-over print hoodies as part of their merch.
When it comes to pricing strategies, remember that all-over print hoodies are more complex to make than standard hoodies, so they’ll cost more to make and sell. That’s why you can charge a higher price for an all-over print hoodie than a standard hoodie.
One factor at play when it comes to pricing your all-over print hoodies is perceived value. In marketing, we use this term to refer to the value that the customer believes a product to have. Often, this value is made by comparing your product to similar products sold by your competitors.
But all-over print hoodies are novel and stand out. Because they’re unique, they have a higher perceived value, and customers will pay more for them. So don’t be afraid to bump up the price. Vapor95 has an entire collection of all-over print hoodies, each design with its own unique aesthetic.
💡 TIP: You can also leverage the psychology behind price anchoring. Essentially, price anchoring is when you have two similar items—one standard printed hoodie and one upgraded all-over print hoodie—at two very different price points. Many shoppers will see how little it costs to upgrade to the premium version and feel inclined to spend a little more.
5. All-over print yoga pants
Just like with hoodies, all-over print yoga pants feature designs that cover all areas of the pants. These products became extremely popular after people started wearing them to music festivals. You might have even seen a pair of popular and trendy galaxy design yoga pants yourself.
Like your hoodies, you’ll want to make sure all-over print yoga pants are priced accordingly. Target a higher price point by increasing the perceived value with super cool, unique designs.
💡 TIP: Because all-over print yoga pants are so special and design-oriented, it’s an ideal print-on-demand product for experienced graphic designers and artists. Consider launching new designs each month to build buzz and drive repeat purchases.
6. Engraved jewelry
Jewelry takes many shapes and sizes, and it’s often small and lightweight, which makes it ideal for shipping. Plus, it’s the perfect blank slate for customized designs and engravings.
When it comes to creating jewelry, there are so many ways you can go. You can make necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and anything adjacent. Anything with charms works especially well, as you can engrave text and pictures onto them. They also make great gift items.
You’ll find quite a range of jewelry products when you delve into it. There are circle necklaces, hexagon necklaces, heart necklaces, or bar chains. Or you might opt for something like a bar chain bracelet or hexagon engraved earrings.
💡 TIP: Promote your jewelry brand through influencer marketing. If you don’t have a pre-existing audience, influencer collaborations can build awareness and trust for your brand.
One direction to go with your print-on-demand jewelry is to make really niche-specific designs. Jewelry is quite expensive to create, so many manufacturers don’t cater to smaller groups of customers and niches. Print-on-demand jewelry is perfect for these targeted groups, since you can create jewelry specific to them and their wants without the risk.
Jewelry brand Nominal has a variety of products for men and women, including some engraved options. It went as niche as “hometowns” with its customizable designs.
You don’t have to sell expensive oil paintings or abstract canvases if you want to sell your art online. You can turn your designs into posters that are affordable for the masses and not just a select group of consumers.
Posters have been popular for a long time and will probably always be popular. After all, what would you rather have: a plain blank wall or a wall featuring art that you love?
💡 TIP: Never skimp on image quality. While you might be able to get away with a lower resolution image for a t-shirt or mug, printed posters are much less forgiving. Remember, it is a work of art after all. Make sure any pictures you print onto a poster are high resolution—at least 300 dpi.
8. Champion jacket
If you haven’t heard of Champion, it’s one of the first streetwear sports clothing brands. It was around even before Adidas and Nike.
Recently, Champion has been having a huge comeback, thanks in large part to working with influencers like Kylie Jenner and collaborating with brands like Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros.
Now you can create print-on-demand products using Champion-branded clothing. And because the brand is so popular, it has a high perceived value. The most popular Champion branded item right now is its jacket.
The Champion jacket is pretty cool. Instead of printing a design onto it, you can enlist a print-on-demand service to embroider your design onto the corner of the jacket. So it’s more like “embroidery on demand.” This unique touch adds to the novelty, which again adds to the perceived value of the jacket—and that means you can charge higher prices than you would for other products.
💡 TIP: Remember that because Champion jackets are stitched, there are only 15 thread colors to choose from, whereas a direct-to-garment item can be created using thousands of different shades. Stick to these 15 colors in your design. If you want, order a color sample to see these threads in person. It’s optional, but it will give you a better idea about how your design will turn out.
9. Tote bags
Tote bags are a great print-on-demand item to add to your store because they’re straightforward to design. The designs are printed on a flat, rectangular surface, so it’s easy to scale, adapt, and repurpose designs from other print-on-demand items. You can even offer the matching tote bag as an upsell or cross-sell.
Boba Love, for example, has a variety of print-on-demand products—tote bags included. Many of the designs are similar and some are even repeated from other product types and categories.
💡 TIP: Launch your print-on-demand tote bags as a freebie or at a discounted rate with minimum qualifying purchase. This helps existing customers spread the word about your brand to potential new customers who see the totes in the wild.
10. Fanny packs
As surprising as it may be, fanny packs or, as they’re known in the UK, bum bags, are one of the top selling print-on-demand products right now. Fanny packs have had a huge resurgence in popularity, as designer fashion brands launched their own versions, making them cool again.
Now, fanny packs are super trendy, and a well-designed one sells fast. People can wear them traditionally around the waist or like a sling bag for a more trendy approach.
💡 TIP: Just like the hoodies and yoga pants, a fanny pack is an all-over print item. Keep this in mind when designing your products. Something that works for a t-shirt or tote bag may need some tweaking before it’s fanny-pack appropriate.
TropicalBlvd includes fanny packs in its list of print-on-demand products for sale. The designs may not work well for a t-shirt, but they’re perfect for fanny packs.
Keep in mind, using creative designs increases the novelty value, which increases the perceived value—which means you can charge higher prices and still make more money per sale, even though it’s one of the more expensive items.
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Designing your print on demand products
Creating your first print-on-demand design is a lot of fun and lets your creativity shine. Best of all, you don’t have to be a designer.
There are three main ways you can get awesome designs to start selling on your products:
- Create it yourself
- Hire someone
- Buy design templates
Create it yourself
If you have the vision and the creative passion, you can create your own print-on-demand design. You can use any program you’re comfortable with, and in most cases, you’ll want to save your file as a PSD or transparent PNG file in the highest resolution possible.
Bear in that each supplier may require specific image dimensions and formats. Dimensions may also vary depending on the product you’re designing for. The image dimensions for a mug versus a t-shirt will be different, for instance, as t-shirts are larger than mugs. Check these out before you go down the design rabbit hole.
Photoshop or Illustrator are go-to programs to design graphics, but some free alternatives are Photopea, Pixlr, and Canva. You can also check out this list of 16 best paid and free photo editors online.
The alternative to creating your own design is to outsource it all to someone else. This is what Katherine Gaskin did when balancing her print-on-demand business, The Salty Pineapple Shop, with her other business, The Content Planner. Katherine started outsourcing a lot of Salty Pineapple work while she focused on her non-print-on-demand products for The Content Planner herself.
There are a few ways you can find freelancers to work with:
- Freelance job sites, like Upwork or Fiverr
- Websites where artists publish their work and portfolios, like Behance, Dribbble, and DeviantArt
- Instagram hashtags related to graphic designers, such as #GraphicDesigner, #FreelanceDesigner, and #GraphicArtist
The cost of hiring a freelancer will vary depending on who you work with, as will the quality of the work. Typically speaking, the higher the price tag, the better the design. But this isn’t always the case, so it’s important to vet carefully.
Buy design templates
The last design option is to buy a template. Templates are more cost effective and easier to get and use than the other alternatives, but there are some drawbacks. For starters, you don’t own exclusive rights to the design. So you could be selling products very similar to those of other online merchants.
However, templates are a great way to get designs to start selling quickly. Sites like Creative Market and GraphicRiver sell different kinds of graphic assets and templates you can use on all different types of products. Designious and Tshirt Factory specialize in t-shirt designs that range in price anywhere from $7 to $25.
Create a product mockup
Once you have a design, you can create a product mockup. A product mockup is basically how you get product photos without needing to take an actual photo of the product. Mockups are a realistic representation of your design that you can use in your ad creative, store, and product pages.
The first way to create a mockup is to use a free mockup generator. Printful and many other print-on-demand partners offer free mockup generators, and websites like Creative Market and GraphicRiver sell mockup templates for all types of products in different styles and formats.
With paid mockups, you can get more creative and specific. You can get mockups to show your products on models, in lifestyle shots, and by themselves on plain backgrounds. Templates cost anywhere from $9 to $40, depending on your needs.
How to price print-on-demand products
One disadvantage of the print-on-demand model is lower profit margins compared to purchasing products in bulk. But don’t let lower margins deter you from print on demand. You can still price to profit.
Your profit is the difference between what you sell your product for minus the cost of the product from your supplier.
So if you’re selling a t-shirt for $25 and your supplier charges you $7.50 for the product + printing and packaging, your profit is $17.50.
To learn more about how to price your products competitively and at a price point that makes a profit, check out these resources:
- The Price Is Right: 13 Strategies for Finding the Ideal Price for Your Products
- How to Price Your Product: What You Need to Know About Pricing Before You Launch
How to market print-on-demand products
You’re just about ready to launch your store. Before you do, it’s important to button up a few key items as well as lay the groundwork for launch. These to dos may not be required, but they’re highly recommended if you want a successful launch and business.
Product pages help you sell your product, but you need a number of other pages on your store to tell your story and sell your brand while establishing trust with your customers.
Before launching, you should have a few standard pages ready to go:
- An About Us page
- A Contact page
- A refund policy
- A shipping policy
- An FAQ page addressing common questions and concerns your customers might have
But you can’t just build a website and expect people to come. You also need to drive traffic to it. Here are some places to start:
With many of the paid advertising platforms, Facebook in particular, you can get started for as little as $5/day. Targeting options allow you to set up highly effective campaigns designed to reach your ideal customer.
You can use paid advertising with:
- Facebook ads
- Instagram ads
- Pinterest ads and Promoted Pins
- Google Ads, which includes search ads, display ads, shopping ads and YouTube ads
These platforms also provide you with fast results. For instance, you can see exactly which ad drove a purchase within a few minutes of the sale.
Next, you can look into influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is a method of marketing where you tap into a person of influence with a following of people who respect and trust what they say. Usually you pay an influencer a set fee to post your product to their following for a set amount of time.
Influencers come in all forms, and you can find them almost everywhere. These six marketing platforms to find influencers are great places to start.
Influencers also come in all sizes, from micro-influencers with a few hundred or few thousands followers to massive influencers with millions of followers.
Next up is affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is a reward-based system that encourages partners to promote your products in exchange for a commission.
You can pay affiliate marketers a set fee for every sale they make or a percentage of each sale they get you.
What’s great about affiliate marketing is you only pay your affiliate after they make you a sale.
Another traffic source you can tackle is content marketing. Content marketing consists of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract new customers.
This can include:
- Posting blog articles on your website that relate to your business or product
- Designing infographics you can post to Pinterest
- Creating videos for your YouTube channel
- Posting consistently on your Instagram and Facebook page
- Starting your own podcast geared toward your target market
Although content marketing might not initially drive a large amount of traffic and sales, it helps support your other marketing efforts, and it’s a lot of fun to create the content. Unlike paid advertising, content marketing works best over a long time—consistency and commitment are key.
Start selling your print-on-demand products
Another great thing about print on demand is anyone can do it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re completely new to ecommerce or not tech savvy, because it’s a great business model for introducing yourself to the world of ecommerce.
Focus on products that drive traffic and sales, set your profit margins high enough so you have a budget for advertising, and invest in long-term marketing efforts and business strategies. It will take some time to learn exactly which designs and products your niche will love. Be patient, test multiple ideas, and learn from what hasn’t worked for you. And most importantly, have fun!
Illustration by Eugenia Mello
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Print-on-demand products FAQ
Is print on demand profitable?
Yes, print on demand is profitable if you approach it strategically. While profit margins are lower than other ecommerce business models, print on demand is profitable because it requires little to no overhead and upfront investment.
How long does fulfillment take?
Fulfillment for print-on-demand products varies. It can take nine to 14 business days for print-on-demand order fulfillment with Printful, for example. Printful produces products in two to seven business days. Then it takes about seven days from the point of production to the time the product arrives at the delivery address.
Where do you get your products from?
You get your products from a print-on-demand service. Print-on-demand services purchase blank products in bulk and then print designs on them each time a new order is placed. These services also handle order fulfillment to the customer.
Where do you sell print-on-demand products?
Sell print-on-demand products on your Shopify store. Shopify has tons of integrations with print-on-demand apps and offers a scalable platform for each stage of business growth—from the budding entrepreneur to the rapidly scaling enterprise.