How much does Print on Demand cost to start?

What if I told you you could create your own business today with a print on demand cost of just $1.99? And what if I also told you that the new business model could also generate a stable income almost immediately that could unlock a new life for you? Financial freedom awaits.

The modern-day business model found a fresh wave of enthusiasts amidst the 2020 pandemic due to the minimal-start up costs and low barrier to entry. While a traditional product based business model meant holding stock, hefty capital needed and a risk factor somewhat too high for the average Joe, POD offered a somewhat more attractive looking alternative. One that only cost $1.99 to start. Right?

Wrong. I’m sorry, I’m probably not going to tell you what you want to hear today. But I will give you a key insight into how much a successful print on demand business costs to start, and how much you’ll really want in the bank before making a leap into the POD world in 2022.

What is Print on Demand?

Print-on-demand (or POD) is an order fulfilment method where items are printed as soon as an order is made, often without order minimums. More often than not, designs are created using third-party tools, imposed on mock-ups and then loaded onto an e-commerce store such as Shopify. When a customer buys one of the products, the order is then fulfilled by a third-party supplier, who print the chosen design onto the product and send directly to the customer. Voila. A business.

As this technique comprises producing goods only after they are ordered and paid for, it’s renowned for indirectly decreasing waste and saving expenses. So if it’s free to start, and easy to to-do – why aren’t we all doing it?

Truth be told, print-on-demand can be more expensive: here’s something no one mentions about print-on-demand. Product cost is HEFTY. While you’re not risking as much to start, the bottom line isn’t anywhere near what can be expected in a traditional model. The cost of printing is significantly higher than printing big volumes, as products are mostly sold by units, and you’re ultimately liable for any customer returns.

How Much Does Print on Demand Cost?

Contrary to popular belief, print on demand does require some initial investment to get it off the ground. Yes, you can start with very little, but it’s also very likely that starting with very little is a recipe for

💻 The Website

+>$5 If you’re starting out in POD and you’ve no experience in testing designs to find those winners, Etsy is a great way to start. With no (for real this time) set up fees, and a minimal listing fee for each product, it’s the easiest way to get started quickly and familiarise yourself with the model. Think it’s small time? Think again. Take a look at Binged It, who generated over $14k of revenue in their first month using only Etsy to sell Christmas Jumpers.

By selling on Etsy initially, you have the benefit of unrivalled free search traffic and buyers already primed to purchase, however you will need to consider the implications of high transaction fees and the potential for growth moving forward.

+$55 If familiar with the art of creating your own website, Shopify is the go-to for the POD print on demand model. You’ll need a domain name, which generally costs around $10-15 for the first year, and a 30 day free trial for Basic Shopify. Most print on demand sellers have packed in before they reach the end of the first month, so this is a great solution to try before you buy. Thereafter, your Shopify subscription will set you back $29 per month, before you add on any plugins or extras. We’ll factor this in to the total cost. With free templates included, this is a pretty affordable in the grand scheme of things.

🖼️ The Designs

+>$5 In print on demand, a winning design means a winning product. Yes, you can create designs with a free subscription of Canva or similar. In fact, you can probably create pretty passable designs, but in terms of scaleability, you’ll need to find a really great niche to allow you to benefit from basic word art or quotes, or find a unique way to approach what’s already on the market.

+$30 Other budget friendly tools allow you to take advantage of already existing designers such as Creative Fabrica or Profit Kite PNG’s. From just $30 dollars per month you’ll be able access huge libraries of artwork designed with Print on Demand in mind. What you then do with this artwork is down to you to enable your designs to stand out from the crowd – but for those of us with little to no design background, these reduce the barrier to entry for a field in which success requires some amount of design ability.

It goes without saying that once you’ve robustly tested designs, niches and audiences that you can look to commission custom designs – most likely from Fiverr or Upwork – that can allow you to form a business with longevity. If you’re reading an article asking how much it costs to start, then you’re probably not thinking about longevity right now, you’re looking for the cheapest way to hit the ground running, so avoid commissions until you’re sure you’ve got a sweet spot in the market.

👕 The Products

+$250 As mentioned previously, the print on demand business model involves using third party suppliers to fulfil orders after they’ve been placed and paid for. There are a number of suppliers that offer this service, with the optimal one varying depending on the product you’re looking to sell and the geographical location of the customer you’re looking to sell to. In the initial stages, it’s not important to choose the perfect supplier, it’s simply important to choose one that works.

Cost of product will be more expensive than a traditional store, but this will have little impact on start-up costs as you’ll already have received the order before buying the stock. Depending on your route to customer – whether you’ve gone through Etsy, Shopify or similar – and the payment gateway you’ve chosen to implement, you need to have enough capital to allow you to fulfil the initial 4-6 weeks of customer orders. Minimum. While the print-on-demand model requires no start-up funding in theory, the theory doesn’t allow for Paypal holds, or an Etsy Payment reserve, or a bank security check. In a normal business, this wouldn’t be an issue, as you would still fulfil the order while your business accounts are having their moment. With print on demand, if you don’t then order the product from your supplier – regardless of whether or not the payment has landed – then the customer gets no product. Allow for at least one month of orders as a safety net, the more, the better.

The more successful your print on demand business is from the get-go, the more money you’ll need in your safety net.

📱The Advertising

How are you going to sell your products? How much you need will depend on what you’re selling, and what you already have to work with. Do you have a following on social media that you can already hit the ground running with? If not, how are you going to get the word out that you have a fantastic product. Unfortunately, getting the word out often costs money.

+$30 If setting up your store via Etsy, you can benefit from the already available incoming search traffic. With 81.9 million active buyers in 2021, that’s a customer base you can tap into easily. With entry level access to advertising, a dollar a day goes a long way if you have great looking products that stand out on the platform. Modern platforms such as TikTok also offer plentiful opportunity to get the word out there about your business at a low cost, but these will require some creativity in front of the camera.

+$700 If you’ve set up your own store via Shopify or similar, and you don’t have an existing social media following. You’ve got a different kettle of fish on your hands. Unfortunately, it’s not a case of build it and they will come. Most likely, you’ll be looking to Facebook or Google ads, with a fairly substantial budget required to get started. While you’ll be able to recoup this cost when your business starts to generate profit, initially, this will be a loss, and one you need to be ready to take on.

How Much Do I Need for Print on Demand?

It’s not zero, that much is certain.

For a route that is beginner friendly, $60 to get started on Etsy with a very minimal ads budget and designs created using artwork from budget friendly libraries. For a business with more longevity, a Shopify store and domain with advertising on Facebook or Google will require around $750 initial investment. Of course, this can be significantly reduced if utilising organic social media and growing a following – but it’s important to remember that this isn’t as easy as it always first appears.

For both, it’s recommended you have a buffer in place to allow you to continue to fulfil orders should anything go wrong with your business payment accounts.

The Bottom Line

So how much do you need for print on demand? Some money, is your answer. Low startup costs (but not as low as you might think). Quick to set up. No need for inventory space. Easy to experiment with product designs. Great for trend led businesses, but requires a special set of skills to succeed with little to no money initially. With a little bit more of a cash injection, a print-on-demand business model can be the perfect low risk and high ROI as long as you’ve found a winning niche and design set up.

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