Print on demand (PoD) is a great business model for people who don’t want upfront costs, inventory, or high risk. Many artists and designers have been able to make real money from their print on demand stores, whether they sustain them as side hustles or full-time businesses.
You can really make money with print on demand as long as you have the right fulfillment partners, store platforms, marketing tactics, and products. Making as many high quality designs that you can upload to as many platforms as possible will increase your chances of success and driving revenue.
There are a LOT of choices and paths to take when you start your PoD journey. It can feel really overwhelming. We’re going to break everything down into simple steps depending on your budget, desired income, and the level of hands on involvement you want to have.
In this post, we’re going to talk about how you can make money with PoD with no upfront costs. No website hosting, store maintenance costs, or inventory. Yes, there are many print on demand businesses that run this way, but we’ll be focusing on how you can be successful and make money with PoD without any costs.
To begin with, let’s talk about whether PoD is a lucrative business model in the first place.
How Much Money Can You Make with Print on Demand?
There are really no limits to how much money you can make with print on demand. Some sellers make small amounts and consider their PoD stores to be side hustles or hobbies, while other sellers make very substantial full-time incomes.
There are a number of things that differentiate the side hustle earners and the full-time living earners from marketing experience, design ability, social following, and more. But, the most important thing to point out is this:
People that make a full-time living with print on demand treat it like a full-time job.
Yes, a lot of things about PoD are passive, which makes it an attractive business model. But, “passive” really is the wrong word. All it means in this context is that you can make money while you sleep, go on vacation, take care of a new baby, etc.
Yet, the way to get to the point where you can make more in your sleep takes a lot of time and effort. There’s nothing “passive” about PoD. Well, if you want to be successful, at least.
The people that turn their PoD stores into lucrative businesses spend a LOT of time crafting their products, researching marketing techniques, and optimizing their stores.
At this point, a lot of PoD sellers are investing money back into their businesses as well. Ads, marketing campaigns, hosted websites, Shopify stores. They treat it like a full-time business with the full-time business expenses.
You can make a lot of money from print on demand, but it will take a lot of work to turn it into a full-time business.
On the other hand, many sellers are happy that their PoD stores are side hustles that bring in enough money each month to pay a few bills. If that’s you, yes, PoD can absolutely be passive in the traditional sense. We’ll talk about a number of great options in this category.
Whether you dream of full-time PoD income, or just want some extra spending money, let’s talk about how you can get started, no matter your budget. Let’s talk about my favorite first – the PoD platforms that are absolutely free.
We’re going to talk about the specific platforms you can use to start your PoD businesses, many of which are absolutely free! First though, we need to talk about marketing.
What You Need to Know to be Successful with PoD
The more you understand and embrace marketing and SEO, the more success you’ll see with print on demand. Even a basic foundation in marketing and SEO can go a long way in making your products stand out from the crowd.
There are many platforms that will promote your products for you, but no one will ever care about your designs or your income more than you do. Even so, the more eyeballs you can get your products in front of, the more sales you’ll have.
If you don’t even know where to start with marketing and e-commerce SEO, sign up for a free trial membership to Skillshare. Skillshare is designed with artists and entrepreneurs in mind. They have a ton of marketing and business classes geared towards artists exactly like you.
I absolutely love Skillshare. Not only have I learned a lot of new art skills through their classes, I’ve also taken my print on demand stores to the next level. Their business classes are top notch and highly tuned to the needs of artists. All of their classes are taught by professionals who are successful entrepreneurs themselves. You’ll get insider tips that could make the difference between your store succeeding or flopping.
If you click here or on the banner, you’ll get unlimited access of Skillshare absolutely free. That’s more than enough time to level up your marketing skills and set up your PoD stores for success. Sign up today. There’s no risk; only more PoD money in your pocket.
Is Print on Demand Free? How to Get Started with PoD with No Money
Platforms like Printful and Printify have no upfront costs. You only pay whenever an order is placed or you need a product printed. Platforms like Redbubble, Merch by Amazon, and Zazzle never charge you for products. Instead, they foot the costs and pay you a royalty when one of your designs sells.
This can be confusing, so let’s dig into each of these business models, explaining the pros and cons of each.
Getting Started with Fulfillment Companies like Printful or Printify on Etsy
Printful and Printify are fulfillment companies. There are many others including Printed Mint, Shirtly, Gooten, just to name a few. Printful and Printify are the ones I personally use and the ones I suggest getting started with.
In order to use Printful or Printify, you need a store with Etsy, Shopify, Amazon, or your own website. Shopify, Amazon, and hosting your own website all require upfront costs or subscriptions, so we’ll be focusing on Etsy.
Etsy isn’t entirely free, but they only charge you when you make a sale. No upfront costs or risks.
Here’s how it works.
1. You get an order on Etsy.
2. Printful or Printify recognizes it and inputs it into their system. Read more about how to integrate your Etsy store with Printful and Printify.
3. Printful or Printify charges you for the product that was ordered and starts processing it.
4. Your order ships and it is automatically marked as complete within your Etsy store.
5. Etsy charges you fees for the product you just sold.
A lot of people get frustrated about Etsy fees, but it’s a part of the game. Simply adjust your prices to make sure that you still make a decent profit off of each of your products after Etsy takes out it’s fees.
If you want an in depth look at the fees Etsy charges per order, check out the video below.
Etsy, Printful, and Printify only charge you once an order has been placed. This means that you’re never spending money if money hasn’t already come in.
It’s important to understand that we’re talking about fulfillment companies. You get an order and they fulfill it. You as the seller are responsible for customer service, marketing, branding, and everything that goes into running an online store.
Many sellers rely solely on Etsy organic search and don’t spend the time or money on advertising or marketing. That said, you will still need to deal with customer service. Answering customer questions, dealing with returns, and being the face of your business.
There’s a huge monetary benefit to this though.
It’s easier to make a higher profit per order when running your own store through a fulfillment company than when you’re working through a royalty based platform.
As we’ll talk about more in the next section, there’s usually a tradeoff with royalty-based programs. They handle all customer service for you, but your profit is lower. They’re doing all of the heavy lifting for you.
Running your own Etsy store and utilizing a fulfillment company to complete the orders can give you more control over your pricing, which can result in more money in your pocket. If you can tolerate dealing with customer service every once in a while, you’ll possibly see a boost to your income.
A lot of the issues with having a successful PoD store are simply about getting started. Signing up for Etsy, Printful, and Printify is absolutely free and taking this simple step will go a LONG way in reducing the anxiety and overwhelm you have about starting your store.
Get in there and play around. See how nice your designs look on the Printful mugs. Or how fun your patterns look on the Printify dog beds.
Start by ordering a few products for yourself. Get a feel for how the platforms work, while having a fun time seeing your art materialized on a few products.
This will go a long way in boosting your confidence to launch your PoD store.
Why Printful and Printify?
High Quality and Wide Ranging Products
Printful and Printify both offer a wide range of products and produce them with quality in mind. Between the two of them, you’ll have access to hundreds of different brands and product types. From mugs and t-shirts, to aprons and pet accessories, there are options for every niche you want to fill.
I also love the quality. In my years of running an online store, I haven’t received one complaint about the quality of their products and their printing. In fact, I get a lot of compliments.
Whenever I get an order, I know it will be in good hands with either of these companies.
We already talked about the fact that PoD businesses aren’t passive. Yet, I’d rather spend my time designing new products instead of manually fulfilling orders that come in.
Printful and Printify have really seamless, user-friendly, and automatic systems that pull in orders from Etsy when they come in, process them, ship them out, and update everything on the Etsy end.
You could be gone on a camping trip without cell reception, come back to civilization, and realize that orders have come in, been processed, and fully completed while you were gone. Pretty cool.
I highly suggest having accounts BOTH with Printful and Printify. This will give you a lot more options for your store and, given that the platforms play well with each other, it won’t cause you additional stress. Be sure to read my post about setting up and using Printful and Printify together.
Getting Started with Royalty-Based Companies
If you don’t want to run your own store, you can use royalty-based platforms that take on more of the business burden, like customer service. Royalty-based platforms tend to be less profitable per order than businesses run through fulfillment companies, but they are more hands-off and stress-free.
Here’s how these platforms work.
1. You upload designs and apply them to that platform’s products
2. When sales come in, you get a royalty
3. The platform handles everything from processing the order to dealing with customer service issues. You are completely hands-off when a sale is made.
This sounds like a dream! Why would you ever choose an Etsy store and a fulfillment service that comes with the burden of customer service and managing a storefront? Not to mention the fees.
Well, what you gain in stress-free store management, you lose in profit.
I have a mug design that I sell on my Etsy store as well on royalty-based platforms. When an order comes in through Etsy and I get it fulfilled through Printful, I usually make a profit of about $10. When I make a sale of this same mug on Redbubble, I make about $2.50.
I lose about $7.50 when I sell the mug on Redbubble instead of Etsy.
And that’s totally ok. That’s why I have stores with both platforms. Some of my customers will find me on Etsy and others will find me on Redbubble. I don’t want to miss out on either of them.
Since you don’t need to worry about customer service or store management with royalty-based stores, sign up for as many of them as you can and spend a day or two uploading as many products to them as possible.
Shhh…don’t tell anyone, but I can often get caught uploading designs during boring Zoom meetings.
Here’s a list to get you started. They’re in order of my personal preference. We’ll talk about the first few in more detail. It’s especially important that you read the section about Merch by Amazon if you’re interested in it.
2. Merch by Amazon
7. Cafe Press
8. Fine Art America
9. Sun Frog
Selling with Redbubble
Redbubble has a lot of great products and a really user-friendly platform. It’s easy to upload a lot of designs to their platform, enable them on any number of products from t-shirts to puzzles, and see the sales roll in.
Something I love about Redbubble is that they do a lot of marketing for you. I do very little marketing for my Redbubble products aside from a few Pinterest pins from time to time. I get a number of orders a day, 99% of which come from Redbubble’s own efforts.
Once you get a large volume of designs uploaded into your Redbubble account, you could end up with a royalty check coming through every single month for absolutely no work. It’s pretty great.
Something that can slow you down with Redbubble is that you have to manually adjust and position your design on each product they offer. At this point, they offer over 20 products, so it can take between 5-10 minutes to upload each design.
But, once your design is uploaded, it’s there forever. If it becomes popular, it can passively earn you money for years to come.
You are free to adjust the pricing of your products so that you receive larger royalties with each sale. There’s a limit to this though. You won’t make any sales if you charge $100 for a mug.
The sweet spot for pricing on Redbubble usually leaves you with making about $2-$4 on apparel and house items and about $1-$2 on stickers. So that you don’t get confused, they call your earnings “artist margins,” not “royalties.”
Stickers are VERY popular on Redbubble and it’s common to see a whole string of $1 sticker orders. $1 is nothing to get excited about, but when sales are fully passive, those $1 sales add up and are worth the zero effort I’m putting in.
Redbubble is a fun platform and can make you decent money overtime, even if you only ever sell stickers.
Selling with Merch by Amazon
Merch by Amazon is one of my most lucrative PoD platforms but, if you’re new to the platform, I’d be cautious about jumping into it.
When Merch by Amazon first began, it was like the wild west. Everyone uses Amazon, so the ability to sell products on their platform was like a dream come true. And it was for a while.
The people who joined Merch by Amazon in the early days saw HUGE profits. Designers were making full-time livings on the Merch by Amazon platform alone. And many designers still do. It has gotten a lot harder though, especially for people who are just joining the program.
Success with royalty based PoD platforms is linked to volume. Quality matters, yes. You can’t upload thousands of awful designs and expect to make money.
But, if you create high quality designs in high volume, you’re looking at a successful royalty-based PoD business.
Merch by Amazon became SO popular and SO saturated that it has become a really hard space to succeed in, especially if you don’t have a long history with the platform.
They used to only offer t-shirts, but now they’ve expanded into hoodies, pop sockets, phone cases and more. If you can jump on a new product right when it’s released, you might have a chance of beating out the competition.
Even still, the longstanding alums have an upperhand. Amazon introduces new products on a rolling basis, sometimes over the course of a few months. By the time you get access to a new product, the big dogs may have already saturated it.
I have almost 800 designs listed on Merch by Amazon, which is not nearly enough. I’ve seen my sales steadily decline over the years as the platform became more and more popular.
An important thing to note is that Merch by Amazon isn’t as passive as the other royalty-based PoD platforms on this list. I’ve probably uploaded over 2,000 designs to the Merch by Amazon platform over the years, yet my catalog stands around 800 right now
If your design doesn’t sell after a certain amount of days, they delete it from the platform. This is great for making sure that bad designs get flushed from the system, but it also means that you need to make sure that your catalog stays current and optimized.
This is a good practice in general.
If something isn’t selling, you should probably figure out why and try to fix it. That said, it can feel like a waste of time to start from scratch when designs are deleted.
There’s also a barrier to entry with Merch by Amazon. You have to apply and wait to be accepted. This could happen in a few days, or in a few months. I’ve heard of people waiting a year.
Merch by Amazon has been good to me for a number of years. I put a TON of work into it though. Work that I wouldn’t do now if I was just starting out. I got into the program early, which really helped me.
If you’re new to PoD, I wouldn’t suggest starting with Merch by Amazon. It’s worth it to send in an application, but I’d use Redbubble to dip your toes into the print on demand world.
Selling with TeePublic
TeePublic is a lot like Redbubble and can be a good platform for a passive PoD business. Uploading designs is fairly straightforward and they have fewer products than Redbubble, which makes the process a bit faster.
My only frustration with TeePublic is that they run sales all of the time and you have no control over it. They do it so often that their earnings list has two columns, one for when a sale is running and one for when it’s not.
Depending on what product you’re selling, your royalties might be cut in half when a sale is running. A sale you have no control over. I mean, earning 50 cents on a pin isn’t much to celebrate, but it’s better than earning 25 cents. I’ll take it, but you have to sell a lot of pins for that to add up to anything.
Despite my complaints about TeePublic’s royalty rates and sales, they are still one of my favorite platforms because they make uploading quick and your designs can sell for years to come. Like Redbubble, if I can upload a design once and benefit from it for years to come, I’m on board. Who knows, all of those 25 cent earnings might get me somewhere after 10 years.
Selling with Zazzle
Zazzle has a huge catalog of products for print on demand sellers to add their designs to and sell. They are a prominent name in the e-commerce world and have a good reputation with buyers as a source of one-of-a-kind products.
Looking through Zazzle’s product catalog is like watching a Disneyland commercial. It’s full of opportunity, excitement, and chaos. Zazzle has a LOT of products. I don’t know how they manage all of them or add new variations so quickly. It’s pretty remarkable.
I don’t have a big Zazzle store because I’ve been intimidated by the chaos. The seller platform isn’t very intuitive or user friendly. Add to that the fact that you have an insane amount of products to add your designs to.
My goal is to overcome my Zazzle intimidation and grow my store there. Zazzle is a great opportunity given how big and powerful their platform is.
Making money with print on demand is completely possible, whether you want to be hands-on, or take a more passive approach. Start by dipping your toes in the water by uploading a few designs to Printful or Redbubble. See where it takes you. It just might be to the bank.