What Is Print on Demand?

Updated · Mar 06, 2023

eCommerce is a broad industry, and as time goes by it seems that it has opportunities for every niche.

Today we’ll be taking a look at print on demand, which can be an excellent way for artists and authors to monetize their content, and make sales without having to worry about things like inventory management.

What Is Print On Demand

In the past, if you wanted to sell custom merchandise, art prints, and even books, you had to order large quantities of items from a manufacturer and hope that you could sell them all. 

Print on demand (POD) ecommerce platforms have changed all that.

Now, you can create and upload your own designs, and the POD platform will print and ship them to your customers as orders come in. 

This removes the risk of over-ordering and makes it easy to sell unique or personalized items.

Whether you're selling t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, or the next great novel, POD ecommerce is a great way to get started in the world of online sales.

Two Broad Types of Print on Demand Business 

Although print on demand always follows the same basics in terms of how you run a store and have a third party print things for you as orders come in, it does fall into two broad categories.

The first is print-on-demand books.

This is an inexpensive way to self publish books, as you won’t have to buy a huge supply and hope they get sold.

The second and more common category is print-on-demand products.

This is where you as the business owner have custom designs applied to white label products such as mugs, t-shirts, and stickers.  

For printing on demand, designs can be original creations by you or work you’ve had commissioned by artists.

Remember when commissioning work to use, the artist must agree to sell you a commercial right to the work. Otherwise, you may be challenged legally.

The technicalities are similar to those involved with selling photos online.

Shopify Print on Demand

Shopify is one of the most popular ecommerce platforms, and for good reason. It's easy to use, has a wide range of features, and is quite affordable. 

One of the best things about Shopify is that it offers print-on-demand services via integrations.

For example, it has CustomCat. This service allows you to upload your design, and start selling it. 

There are a number of other services too, such as Printful, Lulu Xpress, TeeLaunch, and more.

Each has a specialty, so it’s best to figure out what works for you. 

Convenience Print on Demand Business 

If you want to skip having your own storefront and go directly to market places that have existing customer bases, then there are options for you too.

Sites like Redbubble and Society6 are marketed as online art galleries that people can buy artwork from and have it printed on items like t-shirts, mugs, and stickers. 

These sites are heavily focused on artists, and can therefore be a great way for artistic individuals to start generating passive income

Even if doing art is just a hobby, putting a few designs up that would otherwise sit in a portfolio is at least a chance to get a little money, and who knows, you might win a few fans. 

The Pros and Cons of Print on Demand eCommerce

One of the biggest benefits of print on demand is that with it, you don’t have to worry about inventory management.

Everything is done to order. 

Another pro is speed. Because print-on-demand services are printing for multiple clients, yours will always be able to be queued quickly. This means a quicker order fulfilllment process.

If you had to buy bulk, it would take more time for everything to be ready. 

A downside is lower profit margins.

The print-on-demand service is bearing the cost of fulfillment and production. It’s not unusual for sellers to only make about 10% to 20% on items they sell.

Dropshipping and print on demand are very similar.

Both involve third parties creating, storing, and dispatching items, so what are the differences? 

With print on demand, the focus is on your custom designs, being placed on generic products.

With dropshipping, you have a much wider range of products to draw from, and most importantly, branded products that can see a greater markup. 


Now you know what print on demand is.

To summarize, print on demand is a low investment, low-risk method of ecommerce that is great for artists and authors who want to get their designs out there.

It’s relatively easy to get into, or even add to an existing strategy.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.