What was the first thing you wondered when you first heard about print on demand (POD)? If it was ‘Is this profitable?’ then you’re in luck. This article was written for that!

It can be a complicated answer depending on some factors, so read on as we dive into the details of POD is still profitable in the year 2021.

What is print on demand and why do people do it?

Print on Demand (POD) is the fulfillment model that allows suppliers to places designs on products. These items are regularly clothing like shirts and hoodies and can go from mugs, towels, art prints, phone cases, and that’s just the beginning.

Without holding the item as an actual retailer, the supplier will ship the product with your designs on it for you!

This means you don’t need to invest time and energy in managing the delivery and inventory of the product.

Here’s an illustration of what the process will look like:

The print on demand model - Infographic

Looks great, right?

What products do print on demand business sell?

When you’re dealing with graphics, the product that will be printed can sometimes feel like an afterthought in the planning stages.

This is why it’s essential to look at what products are available and how you can use them.

The most commonly used products to be printed on are:

1. T-shirts

shrits pod dropshipping

From many different materials like cotton and polyester, there’s a lot of flexibility and comfort. Combine that with the appeal of flexible sizes; it’s no wonder this is the most popular print on demand product.

There’s a lot where you can print on too. The most common is right on the front center. But some suppliers allow the back, sleeves, or an all-over design that covers the entire shirt.

2. Mugs

mugs pod dropshipping

Like how t-shirts are printed, a mug has versatility in how much you want your design to be shown.

Also, a cool feature is some suppliers use a special coating over your design that conceals it on the mug. The art will slowly show when it becomes heated from a hot liquid such as coffee or tea.

3. Art Prints

wall prints pod dropshipping

While not as versatile as t-shirts or mugs, art prints are widely popular because they make a room more lively with a personality.

Also, the materials used for art prints, such as frames, and acrylic covers, can be of high quality, making it look expensive while actually being affordable.

If you’re interested in seeing more products of the screenshots I made above, check out Society6 here.

Now let’s move on to your most important questions!

Is print on demand still alive in 2021? Are people still using this business model?

Now we know what POD is and how it works, we can now talk about how well the fulfillment model is working in 2021.

We’ll be taking a look at the POD graphs from Google Trends:

google trends seventeen years of pod dropshipping
Google trends graph of past 17 years of print on demand

As we can see in the past 17 years, POD has been around for a while.

While the trend has slowed down in a period between 2004-2014, it picks up again as it exploded back up within the past couple of years.

There’s also no sign of that slowing down, and I believe it will continue to rise above its highest point way back in 2004.

Now let’s look at the last five years of print on demand:

google trends five years of pod dropshipping
Google trends graph of past 5 years of print on demand

It’s been a noticeable rise with each passing year. The highest being in the late summer of 2020 suggests the number of people looking at additional revenue sources was probably due to the pandemic.

google trends pod dropshipping one years
Google trends graph of past 1 year of print on demand

When we look at last year, it’s steady, mainly with some peaks and valleys that are normal. To get an idea of why some parts of the month do better than others can usually mean seasonal events like back to school, Black Friday, and Christmas.

Is Print on Demand saturated in 2021?

There are usually two different problems with demand which are:

  1. Scarce demand: when something is rare and difficult to find.
  2. Overabundance demand: When there are more ways to find something than necessary.

POD can easily fall into an overabundance demand.

This is mainly due to the number of products you can print on are not that diverse. While some suppliers can have a more extensive selection to choose from, the demand is primarily based on what many people are already selling.

This is why shirts, mugs, and art prints are the most commonly sold because of the ease, and everyone can use those products in some way.

So, is print on demand saturated in 2021?

This is a good question, and the answer is no.

Competition is also a factor in success. Because there are so many people doing print on demand, it feels like you’ve lost before you’ve even started.

There is hope, though. Here are reasons why print saturation on demand isn’t as much of a challenge as you may think it is.

The average person doesn’t know how to manage their POD store

There is a sense of dread to see every POD store you search upon but have you asked yourself if the person who owns them even knows what they’re doing?

As you continue learning and growing your POD business, the more you’ll know, many people are just guessing or copying others. Yet they’re wondering why they aren’t successful!

This happens a lot, and it’s reassuring just because competition exists doesn’t mean they’re something to worry about.

It’s impossible for a business to be perfect at everything

Even big businesses like Amazon have weaknesses that can be taken advantage of.

The easiest way to find out how to look at the reviews of similar designs and products is to see the most significant concerns people are having.

For example:

  • Is it customer service?
  • Pricing?
  • Shipping time?

Find ways to make that your strength.

Not every POD store is in the same niche

While many designs and products can seem like competition, it’s actually those who market to the same people like you, such as RedBubble.

dog pod dropshipping products

Say you’re selling apparel that appeals to people who love dogs. People selling giraffes sell to different people because not everyone who loves dogs will love giraffes and vice-versa.

giragffe pod dropshipping products

The remarkable thing about niches is you can also niche further. There’s a lot of people who like pizza. There’s also a lot of people who want pepperoni pizza only.

This means instead of just pizza; you can start with pepperoni pizza lovers and then expand to other kinds of pizzas as your business grows.

How do you make your print on demand store profitable in 2021?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions; so many others are in the same boat as you.

There is no one answer, or we would all be successful, right? That doesn’t mean there are multiple ways you can achieve it.

What needs to be said is all print on demand dropshipping businesses are not quick-rich schemes. 

teespring homepage print products
Teespring homepage

We’re not trying to deceive your customer into getting something else or causing harm to others for our benefit.

It needs to be operated like a real business – because it is one! Quick throwaway tactics mean it’s not sustainable and can hurt the reputation.

Be honest and showcase your business in a positive light. This means people can think you’re amazing even if you don’t think so.

Research what your customers want

This is an easy thing to overlook because we’re thinking about what we like when designing excellent graphics. But will your target group like to purchase it?

Once you know who your average customer is, try to think of ways you would like designing and what they would like. If that’s hard to identify, there’s a lot of ways for free:

  1. Ask people on social media. There’s a lot of groups and communities like on Facebook, Linkedin, and Reddit. You can simply ask.
  2. Look at reviews of similar businesses. A quick and easy way to see what they like and dislike about a design.
  3. Create a contest of ideas of designs (or the designs themselves if they’re finished) where people can choose which one they like the most. The winner becomes available to be purchased.

One more thing that you can do is creating a buyer persona:

Buyer persona tips
Source

For more information about targeting the right audience, check out this article here.

Use your strengths

One of the greatest gifts to us is we excel at one thing and have difficulty in another.

Most people in start POD businesses are generally creative themselves. It makes sense because the designs are the central selling point, and the ability to make them reduces a lot of cost and time.

Likewise, these people can struggle with the side of the actual number of the business, such as accounting with calculating profit margins and taxes.

This is why knowing what you’re good at is one of the essential aspects. It allows you to be better than the competition at something and fulfills you by doing something you’re comfortable with.

By knowing what you’re bad at or dislike doing with a passion, you can eventually pass that on to someone who is good and loves doing it.

This saves time and your sanity by only focusing on what matters to you.

Use free resources

While dropshipping gurus will sell you their paid courses that can be expensive, many free resources are right on this website. They go over all the most critical information you need to start and find success – all for free!

Free print on demand course on Shopify Compass
A free print on demand course by Shopify Compass

Also, social media is more than just a marketing channel; it’s a great way to meet others just like you. For example, we have a Facebook group that’s worth checking out, and we love to see you there.

Now we covered what helps you be successful. Let’s now look at the pitfalls that lead to the most failed POD stores.

Stop being lazy

As it turns out, the most successful business owners are also the most productive and have a strong work ethic.

While POD dropshipping can also be a side hustle, you still need to care about the basic operations that keep it moving.

Customers don’t want to wait for their complaints to be heard. Suppliers are willing to work with you when you do. Sitting on the couch and watching tv is not going to help you with these.

You can make that progress. It’s all about focusing on the right things.

Not understanding your branding

Believe it or not, every store has a brand. If you don’t know yours, then you absolutely should before you start marketing it.

Why?

So you know who your target audience is and what they like the most about your store. This information allows you to spend less on marketing while getting more results.

Homepage of Passionfruit
An example of a POD store that knows its audience: Passionfruit

If you market without knowing this, everyone will think, ‘why should I care about you?’ and then promptly leaving never to return.

Let your brand be the reason people say, ‘Wow, this store gets me and what I like. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.’

Treating it as a get rich quick scheme

This has to be one of the biggest reasons why people fail. It’s not even an action – it’s a misguided mindset.

Quick rich schemes are not sustainable or for the benefit of the customer. Also, there’s quite a learning curve that goes more than just throwing some fast graphics on a shirt, selling them on a website, and waiting for the money to roll in.

That doesn’t happen in 2021.

POD dropshipping is a business just like every real one. Treat it as such, and you’ll achieve more than anyone trying to ‘get rich quick.’

Many of the gurus that advertise POD this way don’t dropship anymore and stick to the old ways of what worked for them. While the information isn’t wrong, it cannot be nearly as effective today as it was back then.

Techniques like Facebook Ads and SEO changes a lot every year (if not every few months), So what works right now may not be soon.

Dashboard of the Facebook Ads Manager
Inside the Facebook Ads Manager

This is why you don’t see published books on these topics. It takes too long for them to be ready in an industry that’s constantly moving and evolving.

Contradictory information

Once you go around learning from different sources, you’ll eventually find out the information they use can be contradictory. This isn’t to say some are lying. Instead, there are other ways to get meaningful results.

There are actually a lot of different ways you can market. This means if one method didn’t work out, it’s not to give up but instead to try again differently.

Is print on demand worth it in 2021?

This question can still be hard to determine based on the information you’ve learned in this article. The answer is: it depends.

The amount of success is mainly on the design and marketing skills. Unless you can use those skills from someone else, it’s on you to do it.

If the answer is yes, I can design and market these products or have the means to do it; then it’s worth trying out. If not, then you can look into traditional dropshipping instead.

The dropship model - Infographic

Now let’s look at successful POD stores and how they got where they are today:

Print on demand successful store examples in 2021

Like with all good things, it takes time to achieve them. This is why the success stories of POD all have a humble beginning that reflects the owner’s attitude and mindset.

This is essentially a big key to success, and we’ll look into more detail on how you can also apply that to your business.

Below I will cover three amazing print on demand stores, but if you’re interested in seeing way more examples, check out this article.

Let’s begin:

1. Black Fathers Exist

black fathers exist homepage

A single father made Black Fathers Exist by the name of Charles. His problem was seeing stereotypical jokes that African American communities don’t have father figures due to their lack of responsibilities.

Charles knew this was an unfair mindset and wants to bring it to the world that his culture can be supportive and responsible adults to their children.

That’s why they have apparel designs to showcase they are good fathers and can be an example.

What can you learn from this store?

Have a powerful message
powerful mission statement
Their about us page

With every great story, there are emotions. Charles felt annoyed, sad, and frustrated to hear all the cliches and jokes about abandoning their new family. He is challenging that idea by proving it with his community of African American fathers who are there for their families.

You probably have frustrations in your industry and have a voice to talk about it, just like Charles!

Do other’s feel it too? Now you can be the example of what it would look like so your customers will be more likely to support your message.

Have an easy way to navigate

With all websites, you need to move around and click on buttons to get your desired website outcome. Black Father’s Exist makes that super easy to find and buy their designs by keeping them simple and organized in their header.

When you’re designing your header, remember people want to find the most important pages ASAP, and the least amount of clicks to get there, the better. SO remember why someone is on your website and remove anything that can hinder that.

2. I Like Maps

i like maps homepage

I Like Maps started as a hobby of loving maps from the owner and realized it’s a profitable business having map locations worldwide.

Their maps are used for every major city. This works well for people who love their hometowns or tourists who like to have a keepsake.

What can you learn from this store?

Allowing custom design work
custom order review page

Because there are so many globally, it can be difficult for I Like Maps to cover them all. That’s why they have a service to do a specific location for your request.

Let’s think of ways you can allow your customers to have their own special designs in your POD business as well.

Think simple

When you think of designs, you think of wanting to create a wow factor for your customers. But, sometimes, it’s actually as simple as making them resonate with something they’re proud about.

The locations of maps have a story within themselves, and the product idea can apply to a lot of other designs. So don’t worry about always looking cool but also what emotions they want to feel.

3. GearBunch

gear bunch homepage

GearBunch is a well-known brand for yoga pants and leggings for women. It started as a research project to find what are the best workout pant designs. As it turned out, it can be profitable to find the answer to that!

There’s a lot of surface area in leggings to work with, so there’s lots of room for creative expression on them, and it shows. They’re popular based on a strong focus on workout pants while looking great.

What can you learn from this store?

The product images
leggings product page

When you look at a legging product, you’ll see in the photos a range that captures the full 360 degrees of how it looks. This is useful because you get to see it from all angles to know just how good it’ll look.

Mostly when you see a product, it’s just a forward-facing picture of it. We can use more angles to reassure what it’ll truly look like without surprises with this idea.

So when you’re adding a new product to your store, think about if it needs to have other photos of it.

If you’re interested in seeing 12 more POD store examples, don’t forget to check our other article.

Getting Started with Print on Demand in 2021

So with all this wealth of information, are you ready to start your POD venture?

It’s an incredible journey, and you’ll find a lot about yourself and opportunities for growth, unlike any other way.

For a more detailed look at how to begin your POD store, we’ve made this incredible guide: What Is Print on Demand: An Ultimate Beginner’s Guide (2021)

what is print on demand dropshipping guide

You’ll find information about the pros and cons to know what about POD dropshipping you should focus on and how to avoid the most common problems like returns and supplier problems.

There’s even a step-by-step guide on how to start from the idea to run a successful store. There’s a lot more and worth checking out.

Conclusion

So can you answer the question, is print on demand dropshipping profitable in 2021?

I hope so! The data and examples of success from others don’t lie. It’s growing and thriving.

It’s all about how you use your skills to be able to compete and become profitable. If there’s a will, there’s a way because there are multiple ways to do anything.

Are you ready to start?

Let me know in the comments below, and I wish you well on your POD journey!

Want to Learn More?

Author

An owner of a Print on Demand dropshipping business and writer of ecommerce articles to share my experiences.

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