Print-on-demand services have transformed the online retail industry. It’s not necessary to have a warehouse filled with products you’re anxious to sell. Instead, you can offer a wide range of colors, styles, and designs. From t-shirts to masks to home goods, your inventory is only limited by your imagination. You don’t have to print anything until an order has come through, reducing your losses.

Consumers want personalized merchandise — everything from fashion or custom T-shirt brands to niche coffee mugs to lake-life-inspired artwork. In a world still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the reusable face mask demand is shooting upward. 

That means there’s no time like the present to learn how to start a print-on-demand business. Unlike more traditional enterprises, it’s possible to get up and running fast — so you can see a return on your minimal investment even faster. To get started, here’s a comprehensive guide and some print-on-demand business tips I’ve learned from successful entrepreneurs.

Get all the tools you need to quickly find new customers and grow your retail store’s sales.

Create a business plan

It can be exciting to work for yourself, especially in a modern economy where so much success comes remotely. Just don’t launch before you take the time to write out a full business plan. Otherwise, you will find your business lacks direction.

Decide on a niche or product

‌What do you want to sell? Many print-on-demand business ideas start with a clever or creative design concept. To know if it could work, ask yourself whether your idea is:

  • First
  • Better
  • Different than anything else in the market

If it checks any of the above, then move ahead. If not, re-evaluate what you’re trying to do. For example, if you want to print Baby Yoda T-shirts, you should research how many other online retail shops are doing the same thing.

Don’t be afraid to branch out into other products, too, if you’re dangerously close to what everyone else is doing. Print-on-demand businesses can offer a huge range of merchandise. Why limit it to the traditional?

How To Start a Print-On-Demand Business -- conduct market research for product and niche ideas
Conduct market research to see if your idea for a niche or product, like this Baby Yoda t-shirt, has demand in the marketplace.

‌Conduct audience research

Once you’ve picked your niche or product, you’ll want to get as specific as you can about your target audience. It’s a common mistake that new business owners want “everyone” to buy their items. The reality is only a certain kind of person will be interested. For your business model to work, you must have an in-depth understanding of the demographics and lifestyles of your customers.

Crunch the numbers

‌Businesses are all about the bottom line, so you must include a list of expected expenses and projected revenue for your online shop. Research and determine how much you’ll need to spend on things like hosting a website and creating social media advertising campaigns. Because you will be using a print-on-demand business model, you can purchase your inventory as needed.

Schedule marketing initiatives

‌If no one knows about your awesome products, no one will know to buy them. Marketing is at the heart of learning how to start a print-on-demand business, so don’t overlook this element. Within the business plan, add a schedule of advertising and marketing efforts. That way, you won’t drop the ball with holiday sales or other time-sensitive pushes.

Know your tools

The next steps in creating your dream demand a focus on the practicalities. After all, everything must function smoothly to keep your new customers pleased with your business.

Make a website

‌Whether you start simply or go all-in with a sleek, professional design, you’ll need to have a website before you can start selling. The most important thing to remember is to ensure your website is mobile-optimized. People like to scroll through things while they’re waiting, and you don’t want to lose business because they couldn’t navigate your site.

Some people choose Shopify or other ecommerce platforms. Compare your options and choose the one that works best for your plan and budget and will allow you to scale up fast.

Choose the print-on-demand service

‌Companies like Printful and Teespring are the foundation of any print-on-demand business. Just like a website host, there are pros and cons to each of them. Research the cut they take from your sale, the turn-around for production, and any reviews from other business partners that you can find.

How to start a print on demand business -- choose a print-on demand service like Printful
Love MPLS Parks creates products to encourage support for Minneapolis parks with Printful.

Organize email marketing

‌It’s nice to have a customer find you organically through a web search for your products, but it’s even better to keep those customers coming back for more. This is why email marketing matters. Focus from the beginning on growing your email marketing list to create a loyal consumer base hungry for what you sell.

Grow the business

‌Once you’ve created the infrastructure for the business, you’re finally ready for the fun part — setting up your designs.

Choose designs

‌Time to get creative! Some owners of print-on-demand businesses use the platform to sell their own designs. However, you don’t have to be an artist. You can make connections with graphic designers or artists to help you create unique concepts.

Create mock-ups

You’ll want to see what each new product looks like in your hands. Consider these things when examining each one: 

  • Is this something that your target audience will be interested in purchasing?  
  • Is the texture and quality of the garment as it should be? 
  • Is the image centered and clear? 
  • What can be done to improve your product?

Remember that mock-ups may take a few tries before they’re perfect.

‌Start a business social media account

‌Today, social media marketing is crucial for any print-on-demand business. Open a business account on the platforms that your audience uses the most. Be strategic in the content you post, as this will often be where customers will find you. Consider the power of integrating ecommerce videos into your socials.


‌Successful businesses may feel like an iceberg; 90% of the work is “under the surface” or behind the scenes. The last 10% is what people see. That’s why it’s best to wait until you’re ready to launch.

If you’ve planned effectively, your store should soon coast on auto-pilot — allowing you to take the afternoons off for a massage.

Print-on-demand business tips from the experts

‌Here are some quick best practices for even greater success:

  • ‌Use free design tools. I love Canva, but there are many from which to choose.
  • ‌Order and test products first. Make your designers and printers earn your trust. 
  • ‌Explore content marketing. Entertaining and educational blogs are a great way to use SEO, or search engine optimization, to attract new customers.
  • ‌Use visually focused platforms. People love to scroll! Consider getting active on Pinterest if your audience uses it.

Begin your print-on-demand business

Creating a comprehensive business plan, learning the tools you need to succeed, and growing your business can feel overwhelming. The trick is breaking each big task into smaller tasks that you can work on every day, even if it’s just a side-hustle for now.

To start, come up with a list of ideas you’d like to sell and begin researching your potential competition. Look carefully at how they’ve organized their website and business. Take notes so you can make yours even better.‌