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1. What is the print on demand business model?

A breakdown of the print on demand business model

A business model is like a roadmap for generating income. But, like any map, there can be quite a few pit stops before you reach the ultimate destination — in this case, business profit. If you want to start your own business, selecting the business model with the least pit stops to profit is vital. Luckily, one option can fast-track your income journey: the print on demand business model!

Like any business venture, the print on demand (POD) business model has a variety of pros and cons to be aware of before you step on the gas. Minimal startup costs and maximum scalability can turbo-charge your income; however, elements like high shipping costs can potentially lower your profit margins. So, can a print on demand business help you reach your profitable destination?

Here’s a breakdown of the print on demand business model to determine if it’s the right fit for your business.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • The print on demand business model involves third-party suppliers, known as print on demand services, that manage the entire order fulfillment process from printing to shipping.

  • The primary pros of the print on demand business model are the minimal startup costs, and nonexistent inventory management needs that allow for extreme flexibility and scalability.

  • The principal cons of the print on demand business model are the variable shipping costs and inconsistent timelines for order delivery that can potentially lower profit margins.

  • The ideal print on demand company will offer competitive pricing across an assortment of high-quality, customizable products and impressive customer service and support.

What is the print on demand business model?

So, what is the print on demand business model, anyway? Also referred to as a ‘POD business model,’ a print on demand model relies on a third-party supplier to manage the entire fulfillment process for customer orders on an online store. In a POD model, a customer places an order on an ecommerce site, and the order details are sent directly to a third-party supplier for fulfillment.

But readers be warned, a print on demand business model is not to be confused with a drop shipping business model. Both business models involve a third-party supplier managing inventory, ordering production, and final delivery. However, a drop shipping service does not allow item customization, while a POD business is meant to personalize products with custom designs.

Print on demand pros

Print on demand pros

Curious why interest in the print on demand business model has tripled in the last five years? The market size for the print on demand industry is projected to increase from $6.17 billion in 2022 to $39.4 billion by 2030, with the average POD business owner earning up to $10,000 per month in passive income! Consider these pros for launching your own online store with print on demand.

Minimal startup costs

It’s possible to launch a print on demand business with zero — yes, zero! — startup costs. With a print on demand provider, you never invest money in costly printing technology or expensive inventory. And because a print provider is responsible for your fulfillment services, the only costs your own brand is responsible for are the product price and shipping expenses for each order.

No inventory management

The standard ecommerce business model forces entrepreneurs to purchase inventory in bulk and pay steep expenses to store the items until they are sold. The print on demand business model enables ecommerce entrepreneurs to start an online store without any inventory whatsoever! A POD company handles inventory management, so you’re never responsible for your own inventory.

Low risk

The print on demand business model fulfills customer orders as they are placed, which means you never order inventory in bulk. And because your business has no inventory, you never risk losing money on products or custom designs you purchased but never sold. Plus, you’re free to experiment with numerous products and designs without the pressure of ever selling them.

Customization options

Speaking of experimenting with products and designs, the print on demand business model provides endless customization options for curious creatives. Whether you’re a professional designer or an adventurous entrepreneur, POD companies allow you to sell custom products easily. Creating custom products can also give your business a significant edge over your competition.


With no bulk orders and no inventory in sight, a POD business is incredibly easy to scale and enter new markets. It’s also a breeze to apply your own custom designs to a range of print on demand products, from customizable apparel to personalized wall art. You can even order samples before you start selling your design ideas online to gauge the print quality and set the appropriate prices.

Print on demand cons

Print on demand cons

The print on demand business model might have some appealing pros (we’re looking at you, minimal startup costs and ease of scalability), but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for POD companies. While there are still considerably fewer cons to the print on demand model as there are other businesses, it’s still important to review the following downsides for a POD business.

Shipping costs

Since a print on demand service handles fulfillment in-house, the shipping costs for print on demand products can be expensive. Higher shipping costs can potentially deter customers, impacting your POD business's profitability. While you can cover these costs and offer free shipping on customer orders, that’s an additional expense that reduces your profit margins.

Lack of control

With fulfillment services fully managed by a third-party supplier, shipping costs aren’t the only variable element in the print on demand business model. POD businesses have less control over order production and shipping, which means there is the potential for customers to receive low-quality or damaged products or wait longer than anticipated for their orders to be delivered.

Pro Tip: Partner with a localized print on demand service that boasts superior product quality and exceptional customer service at the heart of their business (like Gelato!) to offset the lack of control you have over the order production and fulfillment process.

Lower profit margins

Two factors can contribute to lower profit margins when working with a print on demand business. The first factor is the actual product cost, which can be higher since you purchase products in real-time and not in bulk. The second factor is the shipping costs, which can be more expensive when not managed in-house — especially if you offer customers free shipping.

Finding a print on demand service: Eight key considerations

Finding a print on demand service Eight key considerations

With the basics of the print on demand business model covered, you can finally take the first steps to launch your own store. Of course, the only way to start a print on demand business is to partner with a trusted POD service for order fulfillment. As you weigh your options for a POD partner, read through these eight considerations for finding a service that guarantees quality and reliability.

1. Pricing

If profitability is your priority, you must take the proper steps to protect your profit margins. When you begin to review potential print on demand services, consider the upfront costs listed by each brand. For instance, Gelato is proud to have no hidden fees on our print on demand pricing — you only pay for the products you sell (with quantity discounts!), and we never charge you a commission.

2. Product selection and quality

Depending on the vision for your ecommerce store, you might want to sell an assortment of white-label products under your own brand name. Once you’ve assessed the pricing policies for potential print on demand suppliers, review each provider’s product quality via their customer stories. Next, consider the range of available print on demand products and the manufacturer's reliability.

With rave customer reviews from ecommerce businesses around the globe, Gelato offers a vast collection of customizable products from reputable brands like Gildan and Bella Canvas, including but certainly not limited to:

3. Shipping details

Before moving ahead with a print on demand service, review their shipping details, such as shipping costs, locations, and times. Shipping can make or break the customer experience for your business — and if the POD service responsible for your order fulfillment charges astronomical rates with extensive timelines for delivery, customers will naturally pass their frustration on to you.

To guarantee a seamless customer experience, select a POD service with worldwide shipping and delivery. Gelato’s global shipping network encompasses 40+ logistics partners, so you benefit from fast, secure, and best-priced delivery for your customers. We even offer various shipping options (like express shipping) with live order tracking to provide the ultimate customer experience!

4. Production locations

Aside from shipping logistics, production is a key factor influencing the timeline for each customer’s order. With that being said, it’s essential to consider the production locations of each print on demand company to gauge delivery speed. The more print on demand sites around the globe, the closer merchandise can be produced near the end designation to speed up delivery.

Remember Gelato’s network of 40+ logistics partners that we mentioned above? We also boast over 130 production hubs in 32 countries to enable local production with faster delivery! With Gelato as your print on demand service, your custom products are made and shipped as close to where your customers are to speed up delivery times and make your business more reliable.

5. Product creation features and tools

Now that you’ve narrowed your print on demand options, it’s time to consider the more granular elements of your partnership — like what else you receive for your business! Whether you want to sell t-shirts, tote bags, or other profitable niche ideas like custom stationery, the best print on demand services will offer some type of product creation features to advance your business.

For example, Gelato is preferred by ecommerce businesses for our wide variety of product creation tools, such as:

Pro Tip: You can unlock these product creation features and more with a Gelato subscription plan! Unsure if Gelato is the print on demand service for you? Try our features for FREE with a 30-day trial!

6. Integrations

All customer orders in a print on demand business model are sent directly to a third-party supplier for fulfillment, which means your POD supplier must integrate with your sales channels. So, whether you plan to operate your ecommerce store through your own website or an ecommerce platform like Shopify, it’s crucial to consider the integrations each POD service offers.

Here at Gelato, we’re proud to offer seven direct integrations for your ecommerce business, including:

  1. Gelato Wix Integration

  2. Gelato Etsy Integration

  3. Gelato Shopify Integration

  4. Gelato Squarespace Integration

  5. Gelato BigCommerce Integration

  6. Gelato WooCommerce Integration

  7. Gelato API for Website Integration

Pro Tip: Would you prefer to order your products manually? Place customer orders in your own time using the Gelato portal or the convenient Gelato mobile app!

7. Customer service and support

By this point in the consideration process, you should have narrowed your choices to a handful of print on demand services. One element that can give a POD supplier a competitive edge above the rest is robust customer service and support. Remember, your POD supplier will be responsible for all your fulfillment services, so aim for a partner that boasts exceptional customer service!

8. Sustainability practices

Lastly, find your ideal print on demand company by seeking a commitment to sustainability. Gelato creates responsibly sourced and sustainable items that are produced as close to their final destination as possible to reduce the carbon emissions on each order by 67%! We provide greener products faster than ever, encouraging our customers to order with us repeatedly.

Start a competitive POD business with Gelato

The print on demand business model is a lucrative opportunity for ecommerce entrepreneurs who understand how it works — and its pros and cons! As you create designs to sell online, remember that print on demand functionality offers minimal startup costs with reduced risk; however, the variable shipping costs and other uncontrollable POD elements can impact your profit margins.

If print on demand sounds like the right business model for you (which it probably is!), be sure to partner with a reliable print on demand supplier with a robust product selection and high product quality. Here at Gelato, our vast product catalog is only rivaled by our numerous production and shipping locations, which have revolutionized POD for creators, startups, and large enterprises.

Start a print on demand online store with Gelato’s premier print on demand services today!

Print on demand business FAQs

Is a print on demand business profitable?

Yes, print on demand is a profitable business model! The average monthly income for a POD business is $4,639, but it can reach as high as $9,833 per month. Several factors can reduce the profitability of a print on demand business, including product and shipping costs. However, the ability to quickly scale a POD product line and expand to new areas also drives significant profit.

Is print on demand a good business model?

Yes, print on demand is an excellent business model! Remember, the purpose of a business model is to generate income — and a print on demand business excels at that! Because a print on demand business has slim to no startup costs and no inventory management needs, POD business owners have a greater chance to earn a profit at a much lower risk than a traditional ecommerce business.

How much can a print on demand business make?

A print on demand business can earn anywhere from $1,583 per month on the low end to $9,833 on the high end, with the average monthly income coming in at around $4,639. That’s an average of $27 per hour, all without ever managing fulfillment! A print on demand business will inevitably make less when first starting, but there is plenty of opportunity for revenue growth.


Next steps

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