You've probably seen those pesky Facebook ads – "Sell your art without inventory!" or "Start your own t-shirt business today!" They make it all look so easy, but is print-on-demand really the best solution for your business?
If you're starting off and have little capital – yes. The risk to reward is great, you don't really have to do anything up front besides provide the actual art. But also yes, your margins are way lower than if you were to fulfill things yourself – but that comes with way more risk.
Here's a run-down of the pros and cons of using a print-on-demand service to sell your art (especially AI-generated pieces made with DALL-E and Midjourney).
What is Print on Demand?
Print-on-demand (POD) is a printing technology in which items are only printed as they are ordered. This is in contrast to the traditional method of printing, where items are produced in bulk and then stored until they are sold.
Several print-on-demand companies will print and ship your products for you, such as Printful and Redbubble. You upload your design to their platform and they take care of the rest – printing, packaging, and shipping your products to your customers.
All of this is almost risk free and costs nothing to you, but you'll notice that convenience fee when you realize how much of the actual sale you get to take home (a lot less than if you didn't use one of these services)
As great as this sounds, there are some drawbacks to using a print-on-demand service that you should be aware of before making the jump.
How to Sell Digital Prints Online
I think something many people do when they realize how small the barrier to POD services are is they rush into it without having a strategy or product line in mind.
When you’re just starting it can be tough to come up with a cohesive product line that will interest buyers and make sense for your brand. I recommend taking some time to figure out what kind of products you want to sell, and who your target audience is before setting up shop on a POD site.
You also need to think about how you’re going to market your products. Just because you have a store on a POD site doesn’t mean people are going to find it – you need to put in the work to drive traffic to your store and convince people to buy from you. Trust, design, and most of all – good products. You could easily set up a WordPress site with Breakdance or just turn to Shopify, but regardless of where you host, the site has to be good.
The product won't sell without marketing, and you can't market a bad product – so take the time to figure out what you want to sell, and who you want to sell it to, before setting up shop on a POD site. You should spend a few days researching designs, styles, and target audiences before you launch your store.
You also have to differentiate your own business model – are you selling solely to make money, or are you selling art you've made that you want to share with the world? If you're in it just for the money then you need to be extremely strategic about the products you sell and how you market them. But if you're selling art then you can focus on building a following and community around your work and making sales will be a secondary concern.
Remember you are selling to real people! What would you want to buy? How would you want to be marketed to? Be authentic, and don't try to sell people things they don't want. You also might not be your product audience (and most likely won't be) so get feedback from friends or family before finalizing anything.
You Need to Have a Niche
The biggest mistake I see people make when they start selling products is that they try to be everything to everyone. They think that if they sell a bunch of different products then they’ll appeal to a wider range of people and make more sales.
But what ends up happening is that they spread themselves too thin, and their product line becomes a hodgepodge of random items that don’t really go together. It’s important to have a focused product line that appeals to a specific group of people.
When you’re just starting out it can be tempting to try to sell everything under the sun, but it’s important to have a focused product line that appeals to a specific group of people. It’s better to have a small group of engaged and loyal customers than a large group of people who aren’t really interested in what you’re selling.
Think about who your target audience is, and what kinds of products they would be interested in. Then, focus on creating a product line that appeals to them. You can always expand your product line later on down the road, but it’s important to start small and focus on quality over quantity.
You also need to make sure that your products are priced correctly. If you’re selling products that are too expensive then you’re going to have a hard time making sales. But if you’re selling products that are too cheap then people will think they’re low quality and not worth buying.
It’s important to find a happy medium when it comes to pricing your products. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market, but you also don’t want to undervalue your products. Do some research on your competitors to see what they’re charging for similar products, and then price your products accordingly.
Think about every major successful company, none of them do it all. In fact, the best companies I find often stick to a very little product range. Why? Because it allows them to focus on quality and not get bogged down in the details of too many products.
The key is to find that balance between having a focused product line and offering a wide enough range of products to appeal to your target audience. Find a niche market and focus on creating high-quality products that they’ll love.
You Need A Good Product
This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people try to sell products that are subpar. If you want to succeed in the world of online selling then you need to have a good product.
Your product doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be good enough that people will want to buy it. Take the time to create a quality product, and make sure that it’s something that you would want to buy yourself. The best way I've seen art made is with DALL-E 2 and Midjourney.
It’s also important to remember that your product doesn’t need to be completely unique. In fact, it’s often better to sell a product that’s similar to what’s already out there.
People are creatures of habit, and they’re more likely to buy a product that’s similar to something they’ve already bought before. If you can find a way to sell a product that’s similar to what’s already out there but slightly better, then you’ll be in good shape. You Don’t always need to try to reinvent the wheel, just find a way to make it better.
Now that we've gone over researching and designing your product, let's talk about how you'll can use POD services to sell it.
Pros of Print-on-Demand Services
So you have a great product and somewhat of a community or market to sell to, but you don't have the time, money, or knowledge to set up your own printing and shipping operation. This is where print-on-demand (POD) services come in. As a beginner, it could be worth taking a price cut to be able to sell virtually risk-free.
No upfront costs or inventory risk
You don't have to spend any money upfront to get started, and you don't have to worry about storing inventory. With POD services, you only pay when someone buys your product. This means that there's very little risk involved in starting your own online store.
Low Barrier to Entry
It's relatively easy to get started with a print on demand business. All you need is a design and a platform to sell your product (like Etsy, for example). You don't need to worry about setting up your own printing and shipping operation. Most of these platforms and services are completely free to use and only charge you a small fee when you make a sale.
No minimum order requirements
Most print on demand companies don't have minimum order requirements, which means you can sell just one product if you want to. This is great for people who are just starting out and testing the waters.
Ability to Test Products
POD services make it easy to test different products to see what sells and what doesn't. You can try out different designs and product types without having to invest a lot of money upfront. This is a great way to figure out what your customers want and to find a niche market.
One of the best parts of using a print on demand service is that you don't have to worry about fulfilling orders yourself. The printing and shipping is all taken care of for you. All you have to do is sit back and watch the sales roll in! But again, don't let this fool you (you still need a great product & marketing efforts!)
The Cons of Print on Demand Services:
Less Profitable than Other Business Models
Because you're not in charge of manufacturing, you have less control over your margins. This means that print on demand businesses are generally less profitable than businesses that manufacture their own products.
Limited Product Selection
When you're using a print on demand service, you're limited to the products that they offer. So if you want to sell mugs, you're out of luck if the only thing the print on demand service offers is t-shirts. Luckily, most POD services will have a decent variety of the products you are most likely looking to manufacture
Lower Quality Products
Another downside of using a print on demand service is that the quality of the products tends to be lower than if you were manufacturing them yourself. This is because print on demand companies mass produce their products, which means that each individual product isn't given as much attention as it would be if it were made by a supplier strictly for that product. The best way of reducing this quality issue is by testing a few different services for the same project and comparing them all together.
So there you have it, the pros and cons of using a print on demand service for your business. Remember: product always comes first! Create a great product, find a great supplier who can produce quality products at a reasonable price, then market and grind! At the end of the day, it's up to you to decide what's best for your business. If you're just starting out and want to test the waters with minimum investment, a print on demand service might be a good option for you. But if you're looking for higher quality products and higher profits, you might want to consider manufacturing your own products instead. Regardless of what you choose, best of luck throughout your journey!