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If you are an artist or designer, looking for an interesting way to monetize your creativity or an entrepreneur looking for an opportunity with low overhead costs, print on demand may be just the online business you’re looking for.
Print on demand is similar to the dropshipping business model where the vendor (you) handles fulfillment and shipping responsibilities to a supplier, that in turn delivers the product to the customer.
Print on demand can be less expensive than buying wholesale, as vendors don’t have to have products on hand to make a sale, and even less expensive than a brick and mortar establishment that requires both a physical location and inventory.
On top of that, the service allows a vendor to customize items any way they like, creating unique professionally branded products that are available on-demand and at a reasonable cost.
Print on demand offers a wide variety of products waiting to be customized.
- Clothing (t-shirts, hoodies, kids clothing and more)
- Mugs and water bottles
- Stickers and magnets
- Posters and canvas
- Beach towels
- Shower curtains
- Bags, backpacks and computer covers
- And much more…
Due to the diversity of available white-listed products, a business can really put their mark on the products they sell, allowing you to be as creative as you like and designing truly one-of-a-kind items that you can sell to a potentially massive online audience.
The benefits of Print on Demand
Print on demand has a lot of great benefits, including being:
- Cheaper than holding inventory
- Easier to test (the business model)
- Able to try and test various products with one design to see what sells best
- Easier to scale
- Easier to get started
- Completely online
For Canadians looking to dip their toes into dropshipping, print on demand as a business model and potential source of products to fill an eCommerce store could be a natural fit.
How to Start a Print on Demand business in Canada (A Step by Step Guide)
Setting up a print on demand business in Canada is relatively straightforward and involves these simple steps:
1. Build Your Following
While the introduction of print on demand suppliers has made it simple to custom print t-shirts to mugs to posters, this also means it has made it much more competitive.
Before building out your online store, we suggest that you start building a following – users that would eventually be interested in purchasing your products.
(Skip to step 2 if you already have a following that love your designs / products.)
Assuming you already have designs in hand, begin by getting the word out.
Start with social media platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to share your designs with those that will appreciate them.
This stage is for you to test and learn and to validate that your designs resonate with consumers.
Use mock ups of your designs on actual products and start sharing them.
Look for feedback.
If your designs / products don’t seem to be garnering much attention, iterate on them.
Try different things.
Look at industry trends, pop culture and spend some time researching to understand what consumers may be looking for.
This step is critical to your success.
You’re essentially looking for product market fit before you continue forward on building an eCommerce.
While there is no hard and fast as to what ‘success’ is in this step, you want to get to a point where you feel that if you shared your print on demand items for purchase, you would have buyers from this group of ‘followers’ that you’ve built.
2. Build Your Catalogue
Once you’ve identified designs / products that work, you need to decide what products you’ll sell.
Many times I’ve seen sellers take designs that resonate and plaster them over t-shirts, towels, posters and pretty much any and every product.
I suggest taking a more calculated approach.
If you’re offering certain designs that work for t-shirts, start with t-shirts only.
There’s no need to dilute your brand and designs and stick them onto towels and other items just for the sake of doing so.
But not to say that you shouldn’t offer your print on multiple items.
You definitely can, just ensure you think it through before putting the effort towards developing designs and products.
If you’re creating a t-shirt brand, with many different designs exclusively on t-shirts stick to that.
If you’re creating a home goods brand, feel free to add mugs, posters, hand towels and other things that are home related.
Look to validate demand for other products if you’re interested in branching out after initially starting with one type of product.
3. Choose & Test a Print on Demand Supplier
Once you zero in on the products you’ll be offering, you’ll need to choose a supplier that offers the products you want, keeping quality and price points in mind.
We’ve started a list below along with some further tips on choosing a supplier to get you going.
Once you zero in on a supplier or two, I highly suggest ordering the products you plan on selling for yourself.
This will give you a sense of the product quality, be it t-shirts or posters.
See how your designs actually come out in print form – seeing a design on a digital screen is much different than seeing it on the actual product.
Understand how long the order took, from order date, to delivery date.
What are the shipping options that you can offer your customers and what are they going to cost?
Check out what the packaging looks like.
Printful for example allows you to add your logo to the packaging, to offer a fully branded experience – test it out!
Overall, this step is to ensure you are happy with the products that your customer will ultimately be receiving.
4. Prepare Your Products
The three main things you’ll need for each product you are going to sell are high-quality pictures, great descriptions and pricing.
In terms of pictures, most print on demand suppliers have a mockup generator which will allow you to superimpose your design on products.
Use this as a starting point, but also consider ordering the exact items you want to sell and taking your own high-quality pictures from multiple angles.
You’ll want to write detailed descriptions so potential customers have all of the information they may need related to the product and its use.
And lastly pricing.
This is something you’ll probably have to continue iterating on to figure out the ideal sale price to drive a volume you are happy with.
Some store owners decide to use a cost-plus model, where the item all in costs $9.99 and they sell it for $19.99 based on the fact that they want a 100% margin.
The challenge with pricing like this is that ultimately your customer is going to decide what price is right for them, and if $19.99 is too high they’re not going to buy.
I suggest spending some time researching the market and understanding what similar products sell for.
If you’re selling a printed beach towel for example, understand what a plain solid coloured one sells for at the big box stores.
Now look at specialty stores and see what they’re selling licensed beach towels with designs for.
This will give you a sense of a lower and upper band.
You’ll need to get creative in your research here, however you can leverage the market and the prices already in the market to determine what your product can potentially sell for.
Keep in mind that prices can change, so once you get your store live and get feedback from your customers, you can increase or decrease your prices.
5. Set Up An eCommerce Store
Although we have the tendency to do this step first, creating a website / eCommerce store and not having any customers is not very useful.
Understand your market, drum up some buzz, gain confidence in your supplier before offering products for sale.
Once you’ve done that, register a domain name and build out your store.
There are many drag-and-drop web builders to choose from.
All have affordable subscription plans that will meet your print on demand needs and each one allows users to purchase or link a domain to the site.
Whichever you choose, you can have a site up and running within a few short hours.
6. Market Your Store
Once your store has launched, it’s time to promote it!
Again, the importance of step 1 was to get a head start on marketing your store.
If you already have a following or started building a following prior to your launch, you’ll see that your in a better position to market now.
Your following showed an interest in your designs and now you can share actual products that they can purchase.
Construct a solid marketing plan.
Start by sharing your products with the following you’ve built.
Share with friends and family and ask them to share your store further.
Share your venture with any online communities you participate in.
Zero in on:
- Paid Google Ads
- Paid Instagram / Pinterest Ads
- Listing on other marketplaces such as Etsy to start developing your customer database
- Building an organic following on social media platforms
- SEO to benefit from organic traffic
You will be required to spend some money here, however you can move slowly, and set small budgets (~$50) on Google or the social media platforms to start.
Test, tweak, keep iterating and get to that sale.
Finding Canadian Print on Demand companies
There are many print on demand companies around the world that offer reasonable pricing.
However, there are many great Canadian companies that can fulfill your order as well.
The upsides to choosing a Canadian company are multiple. A Canadian supplier offers:
- Faster delivery to Canadian customers
- No import costs/customs fees for Canadian customers
- Lower shipping charges
- Easier communication between you and the supplier
- Faster returns
- Accurate fulfillment
A few Canadian favourites include:
- Teehatch (Vancouver)
- Printeez (Quebec)
- T-Print Canada (Alberta)
- RedBubble (an Australian company with printing partners in Canada)
- Printful (a US company with manufacturing opening just outside Toronto by end of 2020)
- Printify (a US company with printing partners in Canada)
If you’re considering taking your business across North America or even Globally, Printful, Printify and RedBubble offer global fulfillment, so one of these may be the best option for you.
Tax and Shipping Implications
When it comes to selling to Canadians as a Canadian business, you will have to ensure that the correct taxes are paid on the products.
Each province and territory has its own sales taxes.
Luckily, eCommerce platforms all have the functionality to be able to adjust taxes according to the purchaser’s location.
Shipping will also come into play.
Remember that shipping will be fulfilled by the supplier.
That means, if your supplier is in a different country, like China or the United States, shipping fees will be higher and fulfillment times may take a bit longer.
You will need to factor in these costs or risk lower margins when you make a sale.
At the end of the day, print on demand is a fantastic way to build a unique new brand.
If you have an eye for design, you have the opportunity to create a wide variety of products that are completely customized and beautifully presented.
By choosing Canadian fulfillment companies, you’ll also be ensuring your customers get their products quicker without lowering your margins.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Print on Demand?
Print on Demand (POD) is a popular business model with people looking to start a business with lower risk and lower investment as it does not require you to carry inventory.
If you’re browsing on Facebook and notice those ads for t-shirts and coffee mugs, that’s POD in action.
You curate your own images or you design and create them and then print them on consumer goods that you sell.
The difference is that you don’t have to do any of the printing or logistics yourself.
For example, let’s say you have a neat idea for a t-shirt design.
You pay a graphic designer to help create the design based on your vision and then upload it to a POD platform.
Choose the products you want to display it on, and the site makes you a custom landing page with a URL you can share on your social accounts.
Alternatively, you can add these products to the catalogue of your own eCommerce store.
Your main focus is to promote your products.
When someone buys a t-shirt through your link or through your POD integrated website, the POD provider prints, packs, and ships the t-shirt, in branded packaging to the customer, and you get paid.
The POD charges you a commission of the sale for the service, and you keep selling.
Does Print on Demand Really Work?
Yes, POD really works.
Let’s look at a case study of one of the most successful POD entrepreneurs – Chris Record.
Back in 2014, Chris was down on his luck and looking to make extra money.
He decided to give POD a try and printed a t-shirt design he promoted through Facebook ads.
Chris’s design idea involved the legendary “Candlestick Park,” home to the San Francisco Giants.
When the stadium closed, Chris saw an opportunity to make some money off the end of a sports era.
He designed a t-shirt, opened his sales page, and proceeded to make a fortune selling his t-shirts to Giants fans across the United States.
The secret to his success? Promotion.
Without promotion, it’s hard to get anywhere with POD.
You need to understand internet marketing and how to sell products online.
There are plenty of free online resources for POD available, especially on YouTube.
Start by doing some research and understand how to structure and operate your new POD business.
Is Print on Demand Profitable?
To answer this question, let’s go back to our previous example.
How much money do you think Chris made with his POD venture?
That’s right, a million-dollar t-shirt idea.
So while this story is one in a very few, the potential is there with POD to make a few hundred dollars a month to thousands of dollars a month.
Are Print on Demand Business Models Risky?
Generally POD is low risk as you only print / create products when you make a sale, you do not need to buy inventory upfront that may or may not ever sell.
Inventory is usually the biggest cost in a business like this.
There is definitely a general investment of time that is required, investment of both time and dollars to create a website, a marketing budget to drive users to your website and the help of a designer if you are not familiar with graphic design yourself.
The marketing budget can be whatever size your comfortable with, a good option being to start small until you get a hang of things and start seeing some sales, scaling once you find something that’s working.
If your designs don’t sell, then it’s back to the drawing board to try again. As with any online business, if you want to succeed, you need to persist.