Etsy Print on Demand: Profit Plan for Sellers
This post may contain affiliate links which means we may receive a commission if you purchase through our links. Please read our disclosure for more info.
If you have ever searched for ways to make money online or on Etsy, odds are you have run across the idea of print on demand or POD. Most articles you read will tell you that print on demand is a great way to get rich quick. But, correctly, you should be skeptical. You should ask yourself, is Etsy print on demand worth it?
What is Print on Demand?
Print on demand is when you print or create a product only after someone has placed an order. This often happens with items like t-shirts, coffee mugs, phone cases, etc.
In most cases, small businesses outsource print on demand to a company like Zazzle, Printful, Printify, or something similar.
Small businesses choose to go the print on demand route because they can create a single item at an affordable price. If they were to go to a local print shop to have that item made, they would have to purchase dozens to bring the cost per item down, or they would pay an exorbitant amount for printing a single item.
However, print on demand helps small businesses avoid this quantity requirement. Through the print on demand system, businesses can order small quantities of an item without paying the high price typically associated with printing a small quantity.
It also allows sellers to scale their business faster and do less work theoretically than if they were creating handmade products themselves.
Does Etsy Allow Print on Demand?
Yes. Etsy will allow print on demand sales as long as they adhere to the same rules and guidelines as all other Etsy products.
You can read the full Etsy seller rules, but the main takeaway is that the item must be made and/or designed by you. In other words, any images, photographs, graphics, etc., that you want to print on t-shirts, mugs, mousepads, and more must be something you created.
You must also disclose if you’re working with a production partner.
Many artists work with production partners to sell their works on Etsy through print on demand. For them, it’s a way to monetize their work at a reasonable price for everyone (buyer and seller).
How Does Etsy Print on Demand Work?
When you sell print on demand on Etsy, it’s just like selling any other item on the site.
You will list your item—make sure that the item description and details of shipping, production, and delivery are clearly conveyed to the customer.
When a customer orders an item, you might need to log that order with your print on demand partner. However, you can also choose one of the many print on demand companies that integrate directly with Etsy so the integration happens automatically.
Places like Printfy, Printful, Printed Mint, TeeLaunch, and Shirtly are just some of the companies that work directly with Etsy to fulfill print on demand orders.
When you connect your Etsy store to one of these companies, the order is communicated to the company the moment the purchase is made on Etsy. That means order fulfillment can start almost instantaneously instead of waiting for you to find the time to input the order manually.
Etsy pays you for the order placed and then you are charged by the third party company for fulfillment of that order.
The margin or monetary difference between the two orders is your profit. The third party company ships the order directly to the customer for you.
Etsy Print on Demand Partners
There are companies that offer print on demand services and integrate with Etsy.
These companies include:
The integration with Etsy happens behind the scenes and is not something you need to manage on your end as a seller.
Occasionally, an integration partner may be late shipping out your product and in that case, you may need to message the customer to let them know their order will be late.
This message is especially important to send around major holidays such as Christmas when manufacturers see high volume and customers have high expectations.
How to Pick a Print on Demand Partner
It can be overwhelming to try to pick a print on demand or POD provider at the beginning. The key is to think about what products you might want to sell.
Most of the providers have t-shirts and you can definitely sell t-shirts. Selling some of the more niche products too might help your shop stand out at the beginning.
For example, it seems that stickers and hoodies are popular now on Etsy. Not all of the providers offer sticker printing though. If you want to sell stickers, you may want to consider Printful or Printify versus Gelato.
You also can consider fees when picking an Etsy integration partner although ease of use and shipping time trump fees for a newer seller in our opinion.
You can always switch partners later when you have a high volume shop if you need to switch.
Too often we see new sellers waste time comparing 30 cent differences in fees when they should be spending that time researching Etsy trends.
Etsy Approved Production Partners
Etsy does not approve print on demand production partners but they do have standards for production partners you must meet.
First, they require that the seller disclose they are working with a production partner according to the Etsy Seller Handbook.
Second, Etsy recommends that the seller consider ethical manufacturing standards when picking manufacturing partners including no youth labor and humane working conditions.
Other Tips for Picking a Fulfillment Company
As you’re looking to identify print on demand companies to work with, consider things like:
- How is the quality of the items created?
- Where do they deliver to (U.S. only or worldwide)?
- Does the company work directly with Etsy?
- What merchandise does the company offer (t-shirts, custom mugs, phone cases, mouse pads, etc.)?
- What is the turnaround time for an order?
Remember, when you’re selling print on demand, not only are you paying Etsy fees to sell the item, but you’re also paying fees to have your print on demand company create the item and ship it directly to the customer.
You have added a second middleman to the mix, which will cut your profits.
You may also need to pay for Etsy ads to drive views to your shop.
Who is the top partner for Etsy POD businesses?
The founder of this site has used Printful and recommends it for the easy setup process and quality of products. They have lots of different t-shirt companies such as Bella Canvas, American Apparel, and Gildan to choose from.
Many other sellers seem to recommend Printful as well for their ability to fulfill orders, automatically sync with Etsy, video guide availability, API access, and easy product creation.
You don’t have to be a graphic designer to use the platform and there are many YouTube videos that cover how to set up the integration created by successful sellers. Printful seems to be the top POD supplier out there when it comes to helping beginner store owners according to many stores.
Remember when you sell on Etsy, it’s important to note that Etsy is a global marketplace and you’ll want to find someone that ships internationally like Printful.
It’s incredibly easy, low cost when you consider you don’t need to hold your own inventory, and customers seem to like the products. It seems like an easy way to save time and move on to other sell on Etsy steps.
Does Etsy Print on Demand Make Money?
The short answer is yes, Etsy print on demand makes money.
But not everyone that runs an Etsy store makes money. Some shop owners only make a little money, while others make a lot of money.
How much money you make depends on how good you are with creating listing images, researching Etsy trends, and finding the right niche.
It can be difficult to tell the amount of money that someone has made on print on demand if they only give the gross revenue numbers.
They can earn $10,000 on Etsy for example but $6,000 of that revenue goes to fees and manufacturing costs. They are left with a $4,000 profit.
Can You Get Rich with Print on Demand?
Some people say they make fantastic income with print on demand. For example, Christina told the site Store Hacks that she makes anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 per month with her Etsy print on demand shop.
While the site Wholesale Ted highlighted five shops that all make over $100,000 annually selling print on demand products.
The point is that some shop owners can live very comfortably off their print on demand sales.
Many sellers ask themselves if selling on Etsy is worth it and we believe it is. It is not a get rich quick scheme though.
How Much Can You Realistically Make with Print on Demand?
Of course, that’s not the norm.
In reality, most print on demand shops only make a couple of hundred dollars a month. That’s because margins in print on demand are small, so you need to make it up in volume.
Think of it this way. If you make five sales per day and each sale makes you a profit of $2, you’re only going to make $10 a day and $300 in a month.
That’s a start, but you’re not going to quit your job over that kind of money.
It takes more than just uploading images and hoping they will sell to make good money in print on demand sales.
The best sellers are using keyword research tools to find profitable items. Our favorite tools for keyword research are eRank and Insight Factory.
It may be a good idea to start thinking about print on demand side hustle potential versus expecting it to become a full-time business from day 1.
Can you make more selling Etsy printables or print on demand?
Many aspiring sellers are also interested in selling digital products on Etsy such as printables, templates, planners, workbooks, and worksheets.
These are files the seller makes on their computer and can sell to many customers without much additional work.
Etsy delivers the product to the customer itself so it’s a similar passive business model compared to making handmade products.
The amount of money you can make selling printables on Etsy is comparable to print on demand.
In some printables niches, such as making planners, you can make more profit than you might make with Print on Demand or POD.
We also find there is less friction when you sell printables given that you don’t have to worry about issues with a production partner.
For example, your production partner may be late shipping out an order to a customer and you have no control over that.
There are no production partners to worry about when selling digital downloads on Etsy.
Some people can grow their printables business into a full-time income and others just do it as a side hustle.
Steps to Etsy Print on Demand Success
So, how can you succeed with print on demand sales on Etsy?
Pick Good Etsy Print on Demand Niches
It may seem like you want as many eyes as possible on your items so you can make as many sales as possible, but it’s actually the opposite. What you want are the right eyes.
When you try and sell in an oversaturated market, you’re dealing with dozens of competitors that all have comparable products.
When you niche down, the competition is less, which means your products will likely appear at the top of more search results and receive more views in the long run.
For example, don’t just make cat t-shirts. Maybe you’ve looked at the cat shirts on Etsy and discovered that no one is paying tribute to the most dapper of the cats, the tuxedo cat. In this case, tuxedo cat shirts may be a better category and offer better keywords to help you attract the right buyers.
Design Good Print on Demand Mockups
As one designer told Printify, it’s easier for customers to identify your work and recommend it to their friends when you have a recognizable style.
Come up with a style that’s all your own. Not only will it help you stand out in the market, but it will also help you create a brand. When you have a brand that customers like, they will return to your store again and again to see what new merchandise you’ve created for that brand.
You will want to showcase your style in your mockup images. The stock images that are generated from the integration partners are not competitive enough to really stand out on Etsy. Success on Etsy is about understanding trends and attracting the buyers. Generic mockups might work but it will be harder to stand out.
Better listing images will help improve your Etsy conversion rate.
Creating High Quality Etsy Listings
Over time, quantity may also help your business grow. If you’re creating five new designs every month in very niche categories, by the end of a year, you’ll have 60 different designs. By the end of two years, you’ll have 120 different designs.
As Greg Gottfried, a self-proclaimed online entrepreneur, points out, ample inventory can help your side hustle become a full-fledged business.
Do the math. If you only have five different designs and each design makes $2 per sale, you would need to sell each design 30 times a month to make $300.
However, if you had 100 different designs that each make $2 per sale, you would only need to sell each design twice a month to make $400 in profit. What’s more, if each design sold 30 times a month, you would make $6,000.
In other words, quantity can help increase your profits.
Explore Etsy Print on Demand Trends
Shoppers look to Etsy for gifts so items that are commonly gifted such as mugs or t-shirts might be a good starting product. Think about the mindset of the gifter and the reason for the gift when designing.
When shoppers buy for themselves on Etsy, they may be looking for trending designs on sweatshirts and other clothing items. Retro fonts seem to be very popular with Gen Z.
Stickers are also a booming business on Etsy so starting a print on demand sticker business may be for you.
You want to offer a variety of products that reflect current Etsy shopping trends and buyer interest.
Print on Demand Profit Shortcuts
In the next section we explain how to start at Etsy print on demand business step-by-step.
We would be remiss to mention that you do not have to DIY this entire business.
You can follow someone else’s blueprint and save yourself hours on YouTube or reading blog posts.
Your time has a dollar value associated with it too.
Here are the best print on demand courses if you’re interested in saving time and just learning what you need to do.
We believe print on demand profit can happen most quickly by copying the path of another successful seller who has been there and done that.
Your POD Business Model
Start by thinking of your Etsy storefront as a place that attracts high quality buyers. In order to do that, you need to focus on Etsy SEO and sell products that buyers want to buy.
Etsy is a place where buyers look for handmade goods and special gifts. Your potential customers will want to see personalized, custom looking things.
Don’t go generic in your own store and create a simple t-shirt that says “Father’s Day” for example. Focus on creating Etsy listings for custom products that catch the eye of a certain buyer. A t-shirt for a “first Father’s Day” celebration that includes a trendy slogan and font will sell better.
How to Start an Etsy Print on Demand business
If you want to start an Etsy print on demand business, you’ll need to start with some designs for your prints.
Several free tools will help you design your artwork.
Canva is possibly the best way to create designs since it’s the most robust of the free programs available. In a previous post, I talked about all the things you can create with Canva.
Canva comes with a free version and a paid version. The paid version has better images and fonts, but it comes at a monthly fee.
When you’re just starting your print on demand business, the free version should be plenty to help you get done what you need to get done. However, as you build up your business, jumping to the paid version may benefit your business.
Inkscape is another design tool people use to create printables and print on demand designs.
One of the biggest benefits of Inkscape is that it’s vector-based software, meaning that the image is guided by math. With vector-based design software, you can create an image of any size and resize it (larger or smaller) without losing any of the detail in the design. The math helps the image grow and shrink exponentially while not distorting the image.
Another benefit of Inkscape is that it’s free. Inkscape is open-source software that continues to get better and better over time.
If Inkscape is something you want to try, check out this previous post detailing everything you need to know about Inkscape.
You’ll need to make sure the fonts and graphics you are using are okay for commercial use.
Select Your Production Partner
We mentioned earlier in the article that you have lots of choices for Etsy production partners.
We recommend picking a partner and going with it versus getting stuck in analysis paralysis.
The founder of this site has used Printful so that is the partner we recommend to new sellers.
Etsy Store Setup
Once you’ve selected your print on demand partner, you’ll have to set up your Etsy shop.
You must have one listing ready to start an Etsy shop but you don’t need more than one.
You should create your account with your integration partner before you go to open your Etsy shop since Etsy requires you to have that one listing ready to go.
Once you’ve selected your print on demand partner, you’ll have to set up your Etsy shop. We covered how to set up your Etsy shop in a previous post.
Etsy Account Setup Tips
Many new Etsy store owners report that their Etsy shops are getting suspended when they first open them.
Don’t panic if this happens to you!
You can appeal to Etsy to have your shop reinstated. Often you didn’t do anything wrong and Etsy has accidentally flagged your shop as suspicious.
Etsy Print on Demand Tutorials
If all of this sounds incredibly overwhelming, I don’t blame you. It’s a lot to take in and process.
If creating and running a successful print on demand company were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Luckily, there are print on demand tutorials out there to help you find your way and guide you as you go along.
Companies like Printify and Shopify have created online courses to help people learn about the print on demand industry and even offer tips to make your business successful.
One that we recommend here at Gold City Ventures is called Top Seller Secret by six-figure seller Brittany Wolf of Be a Wolf Biz. We recommend her course because of her skill with finding trends and expertise with delivering high quality product images.
We truly believe that saving time is the way to go when starting any new business and taking a course can help.
Print on Demand Success Stories
You can also learn tips and tricks from people who are already selling print on demand and want to tell their stories.
For example, long-time artist Diana at Adventures with Art sells her print on demand products on several different platforms, so she has experience with both print on demand and Etsy.
Successful print on demand entrepreneur Heather told Printify what made her leave her job in the medical field and launch a print on demand company instead. Heather also talks about how she made her first sales, how she grew her business, and what she’s doing now.
There are also many print on demand sellers who share their stories on Etsy podcasts. You can download and listen to six-figure sellers sharing tips, tricks, and inspiration for free.
Your Etsy Print on Demand Profit
Print on demand can be a wonderful and lucrative side business or even your full-time business if you’re willing to spend the time to cultivate and develop your shop.
Make sure you choose the right company to partner with, one that will help you achieve your long-term goals.
Also, don’t be embarrassed to start small and grow from there. Remember to consider both your revenue and print on demand profit when calculating your success.
Print on demand is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s a real business that requires time and commitment.
If you’re willing to take the time and dedicate yourself to the business even after it’s launched, you will reap the rewards.