Seven Things You May Not Know About Print on Demand

Seven Things You May Not Know About Print on Demand blog post

Are you ready to jump in and start a print on demand business? Maybe you’re in the beginning stages of just wondering if creating your own POD brand is a good fit for you. You’re doing your due diligence and want to know what you’re getting yourself into before you start creating and sourcing products. We here at Print on Demand Cast want you to know a few things that you may not already know about print on demand to minimize surprises down the road.

High Barriers to Entry Are Good for You

blue and white batik t shirts design hanging

Conceivably, anyone can purchase or create a design and get it set up to be printed when a customer purchases it. This is not a new idea, but what is new are the vast options you have for products and fulfillment – as well as some fierce competition. So, should you just be quickly slapping together a design and crossing your fingers that someone will come across your product and purchase it? We wouldn’t suggest that at all.

The thing is, there is a learning curve when you start a print on demand business. This includes everything from learning how to make good designs, researching what sells and what won’t, sourcing POD products and fulfillment companies, crunching numbers to make sure there’s a nice profit for you, and keeping customers happy if something goes wrong.

The barrier to entry is actually quite high if you’re doing things the right way.

Once you have a little experience under your belt, you are better able to source unique products that the competition might not be aware of, or maybe you do enough volume that you can work out a discount with a vendor. There are new sales channels and unique items popping up all the time - maybe you attend a trade show and find out about the latest and greatest product or machine. Those who start a print on demand business and just hope for success aren’t going to these lengths, which gives you a definite leg-up over the “design-and-hope” guy.

There Is No “Right Way” to Do POD

We have all heard the advice that in order to find your niche, we have to niche down, we have to find our audience and find what they like before we can start. That is sort of right, but both niching down and going wide can work and be profitable for your POD brand.

One of the main benefits of niching down is that you find your target market and you can just saturate it. Depending how many products you offer, these people might keep coming back, and they will tell their friends, who are often likeminded, about their new purchase. The drawback is that unless you are coming up with new designs they will like or adding new products, they may never come back. They will just run out of things to buy from you.

On the flip side, the nature of POD is that you may never have repeat customers so appealing to a broader segment of the market could work in your favor. This works especially well when you’re selling in a marketplace of many sellers versus just your own site. Half of those buyers will likely never visit your seller page, but only the single product’s listing page anyway.

Your “right way” may change as your POD brand grows, getting to know what your customers love and what they aren’t going for. There are so many products you can offer now, so you don’t have to limit yourself – unless you want to!

Organization Goes a Long Way

Being disorganized also means being inefficient. Your work processes can be streamlined if you take the time to put some things in order. I’m talking everything from how you name and structure your files to how you set up your SKUs. Some of you may have gotten into the bad habit of using one master folder and stuffing all of your designs and file types into this one cluttered folder, and then when you need to find something, you resort to using the Find function to let the computer do the hard work of finding the file you can’t find on your own. But even then, “what did I name that one file?” is a common thought that goes through your head. And it only gets worse over time as you continue to add products.

There’s nothing wrong with having a master folder, but that folder needs more folders within it. You can do this a number of ways, and this will vary depending upon how busy you are, but one example might be to organize first by design year, and then have folders for different types of designs, say holiday designs, or for a category of merch like T-shirt designs or tumbler designs. You can be as simple or complex with this, just please don’t stuff it all into one folder where your designs go to no man’s land.

We should also talk about file naming and SKU structure as these sort of go hand in hand. These could conceivably be the same: Your design file name corresponds with the particular SKU it will be used for, and this helps ensure your sizing and any other specs are aligned with the item to be printed. The downside of this is that you may not recognize what design that file contains if your SKU uses only numbers. An alphanumeric SKU structure will be more helpful, but you still have to remember what’s what.

When choosing a SKU structure for your POD brand, consider the products you currently sell and the ones you are inclined to sell in the near future. Ideally, a SKU should be maybe eight to ten numbers/letters but can often be longer. Just know that the longer they are, the harder they can be to identify (or type out manually!)

What is the highest level that you can use to categorize your products? Perhaps product type such as T-shirts, canvas bags, coffee mugs, and water bottles could be represented as TS, CB, CM, and WB. Your system would be different if T-shirts are your only product! Your highest level might be design categories, such as snarky mom quotes, holiday designs, and abstract art designs, and these could be represented by MQ, HD, and AA.

What is the next level in which you could organize your products? In the first example, perhaps organizing by design would be next, and in the second, drilling down to specific design within that category could work. You continue with this method until you have a unique identifier for each product. A pink canvas bag with a quote saying, “I was normal three kids ago” might look like this: CBMQ3K07 (canvas bag, mom quote, 3 kids, and pink is the 7th color option you offer). Just make sure you have a master key to remind yourself (or others in your business) what all of the abbreviations mean.

Your file name could be the same thing followed by the file type (.ai, .pdf, .jpg). You should keep the various file types for each product in the same file. In most cases, the design files don’t change just because a color or even a shirt size changes, but if you have different sizes for the same product (say there are two sizes of canvas bags, or you need a different design file for white bags so the lettering is contrasting), you should still keep those all together or even in a subfolder.

After all that organization, make sure you have some type of master list with all of your SKUs linking to your design/print file. That was you’ll always be able to have everything you need if you decide to join another selling channel or move to a different production partner. There’s an infinite number of ways you could do all of this, but the point is that you have some kind of system that works for you to make your workflow more efficient.

Advertising Your POD Products Can Be Worth It

We all dream of entering a new market and having our product fly off the virtual shelves with no advertising, but the old saying is true – you often have to spend money to make money. Word of mouth and organic traffic come later.

You can start with setting up Amazon sponsored products. Everyone has an opinion on how you should create your ads, but we suggest low bids on an auto campaign. This is where Amazon will put your product in front of the people it thinks will like it. It does this based on keywords, your product title, what it sees in your product description, etc. This can be an inexpensive way of getting your products to show up, especially in a competitive market that has tons of organic search results to compete with.

When your advertised products sell, it informs the algorithm that your product is popular and therefore boosts organic traffic, so using ads is a great way to get some traction with a new product or if sales are slow.

Most platforms work the same way, so don’t be scared. Take a bit of time to play around and see what results you get. You can always turn these ads off if they aren’t performing the way you hoped, but make sure you’re checking in on those results so you aren’t leaking money without realizing it!

They’re Your Designs, Get Maximum Value

t-shirts designs

Maybe you’ve started on some designs and you’re not sure what to do now. What items would that design work on? There are so many products to choose from when you start a print on demand business, and it can be overwhelming. Get some ideas and then hone in on what you think could sell well with your particular designs. You don’t have to limit yourself to unisex T-shirts, sweatshirts, and long sleeves. Some of the bestselling POD products, aside from T-shirts, include mugs, stickers, tote bags, phone cases, water bottles, and hats. Why limit your designs to one type of product. If a design does well on a shirt, maybe it would do well on a mug or a sticker? What about other products, too? Maybe you have some ideas in mind that are more outside-the-box? Odds are, someone will offer it...or they could offer it if you ask.

Okay, so maybe your situation is that you love your designs and you know what products you want to put them on, you just need to take that next step in getting them into a marketplace. Well, make a list of online platforms and start researching what the fees are to sell there. Etsy and Amazon are the obvious choices, but Walmart has entered the “marketplace” arena which lends the perfect opportunity to start a print on demand business utilizing another retail giant.

One other thing to consider is how you might be creative with your designs and offer maximum value to the customer by potentially using more than one embellishment process. Do you also embroider or can you outsource that to your POD products vendor? Perhaps you can offer a typical direct-to-garment (DTG) process but then allow a customer to add a name or logo to the front chest. Or maybe you have your printer do his thing, have it shipped to you, and you then embellish the item further. Mixed media products are selling in a lot of places already, but allowing those products to be customized by print on demand could be a niche that many are overlooking.

Researching What’s Popular Is Always Smart


While you don’t always want to just follow trends, you do need to strike a balance with your POD brand between staying true to your own style and offering things people will buy. You can find out what’s popular by just searching on Etsy – type your product and see what results come up.

Pay attention to sponsored ads since these are ads people are paying to display when certain search terms are entered. They may or may not be relevant to you, but it doesn’t hurt to see what’s there. Due to Etsy’s algorithms, the most popular items will display first, and you can check out the competition and get some insight into what people are looking for.

You can also do research on your products by simply asking what people think of them. If your sales are slow, maybe your designs are not as good as you think they are. Seek feedback from others – find out what they like and don’t like about your existing product selection. It could be that they just don’t care for the shirt colors you’re offering, or maybe they would like a tank top, or women would prefer a fitted style.

Of course, it could also be your designs themselves. Do they look high quality? Check the fit of the design to the product and make sure your lines are clean. What about the style of the design? Are you using fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus that are not well-received by the masses? Are your designs more modern but your marketing is geared toward those who like a retro style? Allow others to be honest with you; if it feels too uncomfortable to ask people you know, ask on a forum such as those on Etsy or one geared toward POD – you can bet they will be brutally honest.

A Content Calendar Can Keep You on Track

content calendar

A good idea to help you keep up with marketing and design planning is to make a list of holidays, popular events, and times of year that might affect what you sell. Seasonal items for fall are popular, for example, but people are only buying those items during a specific few months of the year. Your list will give you design ideas you may not have thought of, but more importantly, it will help you plan social media posts and other marketing efforts, such as a new product blast to your email list on launch day.

You can easily keep a list in your phone, but a full calendar using a planner or spreadsheet is even better. You will need to consider how far in advance you need to start thinking about Christmas, for example, and get that marked off so it’s not catching you by surprise in November. Give yourself enough time to research, create designs and have them listed a couple months ahead of the holiday or event you’ve created them for. That was the various sales channel algorithms are sure to have your products and listing pages indexed by the time the shopping begins.

All in all, a print on demand business can give you the opportunity for a lucrative side hustle, a fun creative outlet, or start you toward a full-time income. You should treat it like any other business and stay organized, do some research, plan ahead, and most of all, be true to yourself and your POD brand.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Join the VIP list now to get a free copy of our

 Annual Design Calendar!

Here at the PODCast we're focused on bring you pure value when it comes to learning how to make a living with print on demand. Join our VIP mailing list and we'll send you weekly actionable tips and information that will help you grow your business!