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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.

  • Print on demand (POD) is a cost-effective, inventory-free business model where products are custom printed and shipped under your brand only after customer orders, facilitated by connecting your online store to a POD platform for product selection, design, and order fulfillment.

  • 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 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.

  • To start a print on demand business in 2024, the steps include selecting a specific niche, choosing a product line aligning with customer demands, developing unique designs, choosing between ecommerce marketplaces and dedicated platforms, setting up your online store, selecting a reliable print on demand partner, developing a strategic pricing plan, and promoting your merchandise with marketing tactics.

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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.

How does print on demand work?

The print on demand business model presents a sustainable alternative to the traditional selling model, eliminating the need to manage an inventory of goods or make an upfront investment. It offers a white-label approach, meaning your products will be printed and shipped by the printing partner with your branding.

POD services kick in once orders are received from your customers. This directly translates to reduced dead stock and cost savings since you only pay for what sells.

All you have to do is connect your online store to a print on demand platform, choose products from its catalog, create or upload your designs, and add them to the selected products. Once you are done customizing products, create and publish your product listings on your online store and wait for your customers to place their orders. Your POD partner automatically forwards all orders received to printing partners for fulfillment.

Print on demand business 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!

See our range of custom products and become a dropshipping seller today


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.

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How to start a print on demand business in 2024

If you plan to start an online business, you can make huge profits by offering personalized products without holding an inventory. The best way to do this is using the print on demand business model. While print on demand may seem tricky initially, you can easily succeed by following these simple steps to set up your store and get started.

Select your niche

Finding your niche (a specialized market segment to cater to) in ecommerce is crucial to success. To increase your profits and stand out from the competition, choose a niche that aligns with your passion. It could be anything - vintage fashion, music, fitness, etc. Determining a niche is an essential first step, and to get ideas, you can:

  • Research the best-selling products of 2024 online: Do a simple Google search and look at what other print on demand businesses are selling. Utilize tools like Google Trends and compare products.

  • Analyzing search engine results: Use tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Semrush, and other similar online tools to learn what people are looking for.

Choose your product line

There are many more customizable products that extend beyond the usual t-shirts, hoodies, and mugs in the print on demand realm. Popular items include:

  • Die-cut stickers

  • Stationery items

  • Socks and scarves

  • Tote bags

  • Mugs

  • Greeting cards

Whatever you decide to sell, make sure your chosen products align with customer demands. Explore different platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy for trending ideas, and turn to social media platforms to uncover community insights. 

Develop unique designs

You don't need to have artistic expertise to succeed in the print on demand realm; simply derive inspiration from other sources, and you'll be on your way to making huge profits!

Platforms like Pinterest and Dribbble are known for offering valuable design ideas. However, nothing trumps originality; so even if you use another person's design ideas, don’t forget to give them your personal touch.

If creating designs from scratch isn't your forte, hire a professional designer using platforms like Fiverr, 99designs, or Upwork. But before you do so, understand your needs. Test your initial designs on social media or forums to understand how they'll perform. 

Choose sales platforms

Gelato seamlessly integrates with your online store and offers easy-to-use integrations for third-party ecommerce platforms, such as Etsy and Shopify.

When using print on demand services, you can take one of the two routes: choose an ecommerce marketplace like Etsy or Amazon, or establish your own online store using an ecommerce platform like Shopify or WooCommerce. The latter option allows for a customized website. 

While your choice between leveraging the broad exposure of marketplaces and creating a unique brand identity through a dedicated ecommerce platform may depend on your specific needs, you must remember that each option will have its pros and cons.

Establish your online store

Once you've selected a selling channel, you must start setting up your store. This process can vary across platforms, but it will usually be straightforward. Depending on what steps are involved, the time it takes you to complete the setup can also vary.

Many platforms will provide a pre-built portal with customizable templates to give you a head start. Although setting up your store may be time-consuming, doing it properly can ensure the success of your print on demand business.

Select a print on demand partner

When you're done setting up your online store, the next crucial step is finding and onboarding a reliable supplier who will fulfill your incoming orders. Needless to say, your reputation as an entrepreneur will depend on who you partner with and how responsibly they perform their role.

Here, Gelato promises to be the ally who makes this easy for you. We do the heavy lifting for merchants so that they can make more money with less effort.

Our platform is easy to use and allows anyone to design and sell custom products without design experience. Once you receive an order, one of our print providers will quickly spring to action, ensuring timely printing and shipping of orders.

Pricing strategy development

Your success as a print on demand seller hinges on your pricing strategy. When deciding on the prices of your products, make sure to:

  • Look at what similar products are priced at in the market. Research your competitors and compare their prices with yours.

  • Consider the locations of your customers. If you use a network of local printers, it will be faster and cheaper to deliver the products.

  • Look into the option of free shipping. This can help you sell more, but don't forget to include the shipping costs in the prices of your products.

Promote your merchandise

When you're ready to launch your business, utilize some basic print on demand marketing strategies. Remember that you want to get noticed, drive website traffic, show people why they should buy from you, and convert them into customers. Here are a few marketing hacks to use to this end:

  • Social media: Find and engage your target audience by creating and maintaining your social media presence. Consistently create new content, interact with users, and respond to positive and negative comments on your accounts.

  • Influencer marketing: These days, influencers are on the rise, and joining hands with them to promote your products can help you gain broader exposure. Also, collaborating with influencers to promote your products helps you win over your audience.

  • Content marketing: Consistently publish relevant content, such as blogs, articles, and product reviews, to build trust and authority for your brand in your niche.

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.

What is the best way to use print on demand?

If you are about to start a print on demand business, you should choose a niche and decide on the products to sell. Next, create your designs, choose a platform, and find a print on demand partner. Design your products and publish them to your online store so that you can begin promoting and selling them. Once orders start to roll in, your POD partner can take care of the order fulfillment and shipping while you continue to build your business.

How do you price print on demand products?

The pricing strategy for your print on demand products will largely depend on how well you market your brand. Some print on demand companies may offer marketing support, but you'll need to create a marketing plan based on the market prices for similar products. While you can set a premium for highly customized products, pricing your products similarly to your competitors may be safer to target a larger audience and boost sales.


Next steps

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