What is Print on Demand and how does it work?

Print on demand image

Have you ever came across backpacks, shirts, shoes, water-bottles or any things of your friends or colleagues that look identical, but have different “brand” names printed on them? That’s because the product is a customized white-labelled product with the seller’s unique brand logo on it. 

And this process of printing or creating customized designs for the same product and selling it under your brand names are known as Print on Demand.

Before digital printing technology was introduced, there were many constraints in the manufacturing of small amounts of journals. Large print jobs were not an issue, but typically low numbers of printed pages produced using stencils and reproducing them on a mimeograph or similar machine during the early 20th century was a barrier for decent supply efficiency. 

Now in our 21st century, on account of the advancement in digitization,   technology and not to forget the largest industry eCommerce – the concept of print on demand business model arose. 

Hence let’s understand print on demand companies in detail and industry’s expert tips on working of print-on-demand business models, its pros and cons, how they manage inventories of POD products and many other interesting points.

How does Print on Demand or On-Demand printing companies operate?

The print on demand concept is very popular among booksellers and publishers. Although, Print on demand products include t-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, and many other items. The print on demand model works on one simple defining principle  – print after ordering. Consumers place an order and the product is created only after that order has been made.

Jay Hartman, Editor-in-Chief at Untreed Reads shares his insight on the topic. 

In the case of publishing, typically the publisher uploads their cover template and the book layout to the printer/distributor. In their case, they accept on-demand print orders through both Ingram and Amazon. Once they receive and process the files, the book is put out for sale through their distribution channels. When a customer orders a copy, one is printed and sent out to them. Likewise, if we take an order through our site, we can place a direct order and have copies printed and drop-shipped to our customers.

Incidentally, there’s a pretty terrific company that works with Ingram named Espresso Book Machine (EBM). It’s a combination printer/binder machine that is in many bookstores and libraries around the world. In this case, a customer can walk into any location where there’s an EBM and have a copy of the book printed and bound right on the spot. In most cases, there is very little difference between one they would have ordered through a retailer and the one they had printed right before their eyes.

Print on demand


An expert named Santiago, who is a shop owner of esteagency 
, says … 

Print on demand is the solution for small companies and independent artists to manage their works without having to worry about storage and supply chain up to your customers’ hands. As an artist, he added; I create the design and apply it to different products provided by the Printer. I personally use Printful. 

You receive your order from a customer, that order is automatically sent to Printful where it gets printed, packed and shipped. You get a notification and tracking number when the order is shipped and it is delivered to your customer. Based on your selling platform you should be able to provide all the same details as updated from your printer supplier.

Print on demand companies prints a customer’s order when the order is placed. A traditional printing company would print one thousand t-shirts of the same design. For example, Disney might contract a printing company to print 10,000 Iron Man t-shirts of the same design. A print on demand company would instead print t-shirts only when an order comes in and these are usually consumers or small businesses instead of corporates like Disney.

How POD is different than a typical drop-shipping?

A Print on Demand business has a distinctive technique of retail fulfilment. This manufacturing technique comprises producing goods only after they are requested/paid by the client, indirectly decreasing waste and saving expenses.

print on demand
Source: blog.payoneer.com

Dropshipping is the method whereby customer’s orders are passed on to a provider partner who then sends the order straight to the customers. Selling products without the expense of keeping a physical inventory or complementing current inventories is an excellent way to earn for dropshippers. 

Bob Herman, Co-founder & CTO BloodyToe shares his knowledge about the difference between the Print on demand and Dropshipping that,

Drop-shipping usually involves shipping directly from the manufacturer to the customer, without the company who received the order ever taking physical possession of the product. Often Ecommerce companies do not have their own warehouse to stock products, and thus some manufacturers and aggregators offer the service to stock inventory for Ecommerce businesses and ship directly to the customer upon receiving an order.

In the case of drop-shipping, however, the products may still be manufactured in bulk then stocked ready to ship.  In the case of Print on Demand, the final product is not made in bulk ahead of time, rather the printing commences once an order is received.  Usually, print on demand companies can also be referred to as drop-shipping because – they print the product upon receiving an order – then ship directly to the customer.

Stanley Tan from Selby’s which is Australia’s leading specialist manufacturer of event branding solutions and fabric displays says…

One of the key differences is the time it takes to fulfill the order. When an order comes in, you can’t just pick it off the shelf, pack it, label it and ship it out. You have to print it and printing takes time. That means there is a production time involved which you need to factor into your delivery time to the customer.

Converting Print-on-demand business to eCommerce

You must first select a niche where you are most probable to succeed. Just go with what you like and create a list of all the things you like if you don’t have a concept. Equestrian sports, comics, ecotourism, football, healthy living, etc. are some of the possible concepts. Your niche must be sufficiently specific to hone in on key clients but also able to attract a broad crowd.

It’s time to visit search engines and social media platforms to validate your thoughts once you’ve chosen a niche (or narrowed your choices down to a few). Google Trends can assist you to understand what individuals say about your niche, and so can Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Reddit. 

Finally, take a tour of Amazon, eBay or any other popular marketplace to find out if you are already selling your Print-on-Demand product concept on the market. Don’t worry if someone sells it already; it might be a sign that selling it is a profitable product! 

bewakoof ecommerce pod

The best example of this is Bewakoof.comBewakoof launches new designs based on their observation of trends in lifestyle and fashion, as well as by listening to its social media fans sell apparel and mobile phone covers with funny out-of-the-box messaging quotes printed on them. 

Their co-founder Prabhkiran Singh says we are self-sustainable and growing 15-20% month-on-month. Now Bewakoof has its own ecommerce site, which receives half-a-million visitors per month, mostly redirected from their own social media channels.

How do POD businesses manage their inventory?

Paul Davis, owner of Paul Davis Solutions, LLC says…

Like any other inventory management system, a print on demand business needs to plan out how to minimize risk and maximize profits with their inventory. Print on demand reduces risk to almost zero but it also reduces profits. Businesses who are going to use print-on-demand for fulfilment should still consider when to order a print run for high volume products in order to increase per item profitability. 

The inventory management process of print on demand companies is simple and easy compared to other businesses. For example, if its a t-shirt business the inventory would primarily consist of plain t-shirts of different sizes.

Some print on demand companies also follows the Just-in-time (JIT) inventory model. The just-in-time inventory model lets manufacturers reduce their overhead expenses while always ensuring that parts are available to manufacture their products. 

The self-publishing industry is another instance. By working with a printer that provides print on demand services, self-published writers can take the benefit of a just-in-time inventory. The books are not printed by print-on-demand firms until an order is received.

Pros and Cons of Print on Demand


The advantages of print on demand are great says Mark who is using print on demand service himself:

  • No warehousing. 
  • Books and clothing are printed as they are ordered and then shipped directly to the consumer.
  • As such, the only inventory is digital. No physical products are produced until they are ordered
print on demand inventory

Print on demand helps reduce warehousing space requirements for the E-commerce business and inventory carrying costs, as well as reducing the amount of overstock going into landfills. Ronald who is Marketing Manager at Angeljackets points out a few effective pros of print on demand business such as:

  • You can create Custom Design
  • Branding (can add your logo/tags)
  • Automation
  • Minimal startup cost

The great thing about print on demand is…by letting the printers handle everything, time is greatly freed up to focus on other things such as marketing and sales. Full sales reports are provided by the printers to keep track of things like costs and royalties.


The cons are that this method of production is more expensive, so your bottom line isn’t as good, but your risk is a lot lower. Your only loss is going to be if the customer returns the item for some reason.

The cost of printing goes higher than printing big volumes, as the products are mostly sold by units. Due to some reasons, you don’t get to see your product, before being sent to your buyer. Some print on demand companies also charge shipping fees if the amount speeded is not higher than USD 30.00

Limited customization:  Your ability to customize products are dependent on the vendor and the product. While choosing which products to customize, you will have to weigh basic expenses, customization choices, printing methods, and accessible sizes.

What products are easy for starting a print on demand business?

Sale won’t happen automatically! You need to have good quality and uniquely designed products to get it sold. 

Apparel, specifically T-Shirts, are easy to start with when starting up a POD or print on demand business. This is because they are in the highest demand. So you have more of a chance to sell a T-Shirt over other types of items, even if your design quality is high in all instances. You can start selling your designs on shirts, and then expand the best-sellers into other categories after you have sale data.

on demand print books

However, the easiest product to start a Print-on-demand business is a book. But any creative that consumers will order can benefit from a POD distribution model. 

What if my POD product is returned by the end-customer?

Stacy Caprio, Founder of Growth Marketing shares that…

I have personal experience selling print on demand products, and unfortunately, for most POD platforms, you have to bite the cost of the return yourself. POD’s don’t let you return the item since it was custom made and ordered with your design. The exception is Amazon Merch, and they eat the cost of the return, but you, of course, don’t get the sale profit.

In the case of publishing, the customer would return it to the retailer who purchased it who would, in turn, return it to the printer. With a company such as Ingram, they give the option of either sending the returned copies back to a publishing company or on request they destroy/recycle them.

Paul Davis says you will need to look at the terms and conditions of your print on demand provider and add any additional terms if you feel they are necessary. Some print on demand will take the returns at their address and manage the refund or replacement of the product. Others are more white-label where you have to process returns and provide your own refunds. 

Where can I find creative design ideas (for various businesses), if I’m not the designer?

Just google “product name” designs such as t-shirt designs. You can even hire a graphic designer from a marketplace like Upwork, Fiverr or 99designs to design your products too. 

print on demand mug

Ensure the designer understands the print process because the designer needs to understand colours well such as CMYK, RGB, and PMS and how those colours will reflect in the final product because that blue on your screen may come out to a very different of blue when it is printed onto the t-shirt, says Stan.

You may also use ETSY to have your print on demand products good visibility. Creatives are always looking for help with publishing and producing their ideas. Hunt them down! If you can help them turn their creativity into a profitable hustle, you will be able to build a scalable print on demand publishing business.


Low startup costs. Quick to set up. No need for inventory space. Easy to experiment with product designs. Print on demand is really the TREND! Indeed, on-demand printing business is a low risk and high ROI as long as you have a comprehensive design for the print.

Abhishek Biswas

Abhishek Biswas

A Listener, who speaks less and writes more. Will choose Pizza over anything. Doing non-technical pieces of stuff, with a degree in a technical field. Has stage fear thus prefers "Stealth-mode" conversation, also the Content Curator at Orderhive. . . . <<--- In the picture, I'm looking at my happy belly ;)


  1. Avatar Leather Wonder Posted December 31, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Great piece of writing, you should continue this it is very interesting.

    • Abhishek Biswas Abhishek Biswas Posted January 1, 2020 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      Thanks a lot 🙂

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