25 Common Print on Demand Mistakes to Avoid [2023]

print on demand mistakes
Helen Shpolanska
Helen Shpolanska
Helen is a ecommerce business owner with a passion for design. She runs multiple print on demand merch stores and shares her insights about selling online in her blog eCom Bits.

This article is a list of print on demand mistakes I’ve personally made on various stages of my print on demand journey.

I’m putting them out here to help out POD beginners approach this industry with the right mindset, work hard towards the right goals and create successful brands.

Hope you enjoy this post and find some ideas useful for your POD business.

1. Thinking too much and doing too little

So, you’ve decided to start a print on demand business. Naturally, you want to learn all about it, preferably for free, before you start investing any money into it.

You’ve watched Youtube videos about “making $100000 in 10 days”. You’ve read tons of motivational content about best selling products, passionate niches and winning designs.

Chances are, you are watching ad scaling strategies and stressing about ad budgets before you’ve even created a Facebook Business account.

You assume that all the knowledge, tricks and hacks are out there, and all you have to do is devote time to collecting them and applying to your business.

However, you can’t copy-paste other people’s print on demand success. What worked for them might waste tons of time and money for you. The only way to finding a success formula is testing, failing and testing again.

Stop overthinking and go get your store ready.

Pick your print on demand company, come up with design ideas, register your domain, build a store. If you already have a store, order samples and ask for feedback. If you’ve already validated your designs and checked sample quality, start running ads.

Key takeaway:

Don’t postpone, do it right now. Commit to your goal and work toward it.

2. Expecting easy money and immediate success

Print on demand is not easy money. It takes a lot of hard work to make your business idea come to life, promote it and make it profitable.

If you count all the hours you invest in building a store, creating artwork and marketing, it’s just like another full-time job. Except you don’t get paid at all until you’ve designed the perfect product for your audience.

When you’re planning your business, don’t set unrealistic goals of getting profit immediately. Give yourself some time for experimentation and learning.

Your mission should be to create awesome products for your audience’s needs, not to earn millions. If you approach your business this way, you will be stress-free, attentive to your customers’ needs, and you won’t get discouraged by setbacks that occur on the way to success.

Keep in mind that communities love brands created with passion, not dollars in mind.

3. Jumping from one business idea to another

So many niches seem lucrative. Experienced print on demand entrepreneurs can’t stop talking about nurses, knitters, cat and dog lovers as the most passionate buyers. Naturally, you want to try them all and find the one that has the highest return.

However, starting from scratch each time you come up with a new idea wastes a lot of time.

The secret to print on demand business success is consistency. Pick a theme you like and are personally passionate about and stick with it. If you jump from one niche to another, you may never end up with a business you are committed to.

Your time is much better spent coming up with innovative designs for a niche you already know, rather than researching niches and competitors again and again.

4. Not focusing on a niche

If you’ve decided to create a POD brand that sells all sorts of designs to everyone without an apparent theme, stop right now.

To be successful at print on demand, you must first pick a niche.

A niche is a group of people that share the same interest. It’s focused, targetable and very specific.

Niche audiences have interests that are more specific than what mainstream apparel manufacturers normally address.

For example, you’ll find tons of cat lover T-shirts in mainstream shops, but never a shirt designed specifically for cat-loving nurses. This is where print on demand comes in.

You will be surprised how passionate people can be about a brand that precisely targets their unique set of interests.

Use it to your advantage and start your niche research right now.

Jobs, hobbies, family status and pets are broad categories where you will find tons of passionate and highly engaged niches. Dancers, programmers, firefighters… Knitters, seashell collectors, fishers, hunters…

Pick a niche that you have a personal connection with. Your niche doesn’t have to be your personal passion but knowing a lot about the niche helps create designs that really speak to the audience.

5. Choosing products that a niche doesn’t need

Putting a great print on the wrong product is a common beginner mistake.

We often assume that nurses will buy anything nurse-related and hunters will buy anything hunting-related.

However, people don’t buy products just because of the designs you place on them. The product itself has to be appealing and useful to the niche audience.

Let’s assume you’ve designed the coolest print for hunters. You’ve validated your design on forums and social media. Now you have to pick the products it will be printed on.

Yoga mats and shower curtains are trending products, so you pick those.

Do hunters care about yoga and home decor? Some of them might, but wouldn’t it be more relevant to print on enamel travel mugs, comfy shirts and warm hoodies?

To create a winning print on demand product, you need to keep 2 things in mind:

  • Relevant artwork. Create designs that form an emotional connection with your niche audience, respond to its passions and interests.
  • Relevant product. Pick blank products that your niche audience is actually likely to buy and use.

Key takeaway:

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to sell products that your niche doesn’t need just because they are trending. Always choose products that are relevant to your niche.

6. Boring and generic artwork

Generic and impersonal prints like “Dog mom”, “Pizza lover” and “I love surfing” may have worked once, but now you’ll barely make a sale.

Avoid basic designs that customers can find anywhere from AliExpress to Walmart. You won’t be able to compete with huge retailers in terms of pricing, plus your store will hardly stand out.

Instead, go through Pinterest boards relevant to your niche and find ideas, visuals and quotes that your audience really connects with.

The main advantage of print on demand drop shipping is that your designs can be as custom and unique as you like. Print on demand gives you the opportunity to stand out. Don’t waste it by copying boring designs that have been done many times before.

7. Using copyrighted artwork

This is a huge NO.

If you try to print brand logos, slogans, cartoon characters, movie or sports team visuals, print on demand companies like Printful and Printify won’t let your design through their quality check processes.

If you decide to copy another POD store’s or artist’s work, this is just disrespectful, plus you may be facing legal consequences in case the copyright owner comes across your store.

8. Not ordering samples

Samples are essential for several reasons:

  • You can evaluate the quality of the product
  • You can make sure that colours are correct and the print file is not too detailed, pixelated or otherwise faulty
  • You can make your own photos of the product for marketing purposes
  • Most importantly, you can show the sample to a group of friends or people within your niche to get some honest feedback

Don’t make the mistake of selling a product that you haven’t seen in real life. What if the quality is not what you expect? What if the colours are not as vivid as you advertise in your listing?

Samples are investments in building a strong and sustainable brand. Make sure you order them, and don’t be afraid of getting feedback.

After all, an honest comment from a friend is less painful than hundreds of dollars lost on advertising of a faulty product you’ve never seen.

9. Too complicated designs

Successful print on demand designs are outstandingly simple. One or two colors, short texts, simple graphics.

It might seem like a good idea to combine all the colors, texts and ideas in a single product for the highest return. However, overcrowded or too detailed designs tend to stay unnoticed next to big, bold and simple prints.

Keep your designs as simple as possible. Make them fun and witty, not basic. This will not only help you stand out from the crowd, but also potentially improve print results. That’s because simple text and shape-based designs tend to get less printing errors (smudged, wrong colors, badly printed gradients, etc.) than highly detailed artwork.

10. Limiting your store to T-shirts only

T-shirts are indeed bestsellers, but selling T-shirts only is a missed opportunity.

Start with T-shirts (if that fits your niche and store concept) and grow your store with other products.

Hoodies, leggings, hats, swimsuits, phone cases, bags, totes, home décor. Go to the product catalog of your print on demand company consider all the products that could be useful to your niche audience.

Remember – if someone loves a T-shirt with your design, they might as well get a phone case or a tote bag with the same print. That’s more fun for your customers and more profit for you!

11. Using low resolution images

If an image looks alright on your computer screen, it doesn’t mean that it will turn out perfectly crisp on a garment.

Always check resolution and DPI (dots per inch) of your file to really make sure that it’s good enough for printing. 300 DPI is the standard. If you go below that, you’re at risk.

Both Printful and Printify provide extensive guidelines for perfect print files, so make sure you follow them scrupulously to avoid wasting money on bad samples or disappointing your customers with blurry prints.

12. Having vague or generic store policies

It’s tempting to use copy-pasted Terms of Service, Privacy and Cookie Policies, as well as Delivery and Returns Policies, as provided by Shopify or taken from another website.

I wouldn’t recommend doing it, though.

Pay attention to what you promise in your policies, especially regarding returns and exchanges, because this will define how you handle problematic orders.

Be concise and to the point. If you can’t accept returns unless there’s a print mistake, write so at the very top of your store policies. It’s ok not to accept returns and exchanges, as long as it’s clearly stated in your policies.

13. Using only one payment gateway

This one hit me hard.

Wondering why tons of your customers are initiating checkout and not completing it?

It might be because your payment options are not convenient for your customers.

If you’re located in a country where Stripe and other major payment getaway options don’t operate, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes connecting Paypal only is just easier and takes less time than getting verified by other payment getaway companies.

However, having only one payment option can really discourage the buyer from completing the purchase. For example, if Paypal is the only option and a customer doesn’t have an account, you can be almost certain that the sale won’t happen.

Key takeaway:

Connect your store to as many payment getaways as possible. Accept credit and debit cards, Paypal, Apple and Google pay, and others. This will improve your customers’ experience and give your online store a more professional look.

14. Paying no attention to fees and hidden charges when calculating margins

Every print on demand company will tell you that calculating margins is easy.

Your profit margin should be the difference between what you charge your customer and what your print on demand company charges you.

However, there are so many other things you should take into consideration:

  • Payment getaway commission (% from each sale) – this is what Stripe, Paypal and other companies will charge you for each sale
  • Ecommerce platform commission (% from each sale) – this is what Shopify, Etsy, etc, will charge you for each sale
  • VAT – always note whether the POD product price includes or excludes VAT. For example, if you look at Printful’s catalog, all the prices are stated excluding VAT. Tax is later calculated separately, which may come as a surprise to beginners.

These fees seem minor at first, but they add up. If your margins are low, hidden fees can determine whether you’re in profit or loss.

15. Underestimating the importance of SEO

SEO (search engine optimization) is crucial for your store’s search engine visibility.

Even if your main traffic source is paid ads, don’t underestimate the power of search engine optimization. It helps you attract even more customers, improve the quantity and quality of website traffic. Plus, SEO traffic is organic, which means that you don’t have to pay for it.

16. Using generic product descriptions

Here’s a generic product description for an 11oz mug, as provided by Printify:

“Perfect for coffee, tea and hot chocolate, this classic shape white, durable ceramic mug in the most popular size. High quality sublimation printing makes it an appreciated gift to every true hot beverage lover.

Every single Printify merchant gets this description for every single 11oz mug they sell. The description fits them all, but is it really the best solution for your specific store?

Invest time in creative product descriptions. Think about your customers and their passions, be very specific, describe the design in detail, use insider references relevant specifically to your niche.

Key takeaway:

Product description is the first thing your customers see (and read!) after product images. Come up with creative copy that not only describes the product, but also convinces store visitors to make a purchase.

17. No reviews tab

We live in a culture where so many decisions are made based on reviews and recommendations.

Don’t miss the opportunity to collect customer reviews and make them publicly available for every store visitor.

Key takeaway:

If you’re building a sustainable trustworthy business, enabling reviews is a must.

18. Setting unrealistic fulfilment and shipping timings

Your customers deserve to know when exactly they can expect their orders. Provide them with honest estimates they can rely on.

If your print on demand company says fulfilment time is 2-5 days, write this estimate in product description. Always stress that the product is made on demand and that you do not hold stock, so no one expects immediate shipment.

Sometimes fulfilment times go from 2-5 business days to 25 business days (this is what happened due to COVID-19). This should also be very clearly communicated before a customer completes a purchase.

If you lie about fulfilment time or just don’t specify it, expect tons of complaints, bad reviews and eventually returns.

19. Poor customer service

Customer service seems easy until you start dealing with complaints.

Slow, incompetent or rude responses to your customers’ enquiries and complaints are the worst thing you can do to your brand in the long run.

Devote time and patience to providing helpful responses that solve your customer’s issues. Be responsive to feedback, always be respectful.

Most importantly, give as much information as you can in FAQ, Privacy Policy, Delivery Policy and Returns & Exchanges Policy of your online store. If your customers can find essential information easily, it will save you tons of time, plus they won’t have doubts about your store’s trustworthiness.

20. Expecting sales without promotion

One of the most common POD marketing mistakes is expecting products to get sold with no marketing investment at all.

So many beginners design awesome products, invest in stylish store interfaces, and then… they wait. And after a couple of months of unfulfilled expectations they give up. This is not how you should approach digital marketing.

People can’t find out about your brand unless you show it to them. Only successful stores can rely on word of mouth and organic reach (even though they barely ever do). You, as a newcomer to this business, must advertise. Otherwise, a beautiful store with zero visitors brings nothing but disappointment.

21. Copying other brands’ ads

Copying another business’ ads is simple.

Just open up Facebook Ads Library, type in the business name and you will see all the ads, including the description and visuals, that the brand is currently running.

Is it a good idea, though?

I don’t think so. By copying an ad, you can’t copy another entrepreneur’s success.

Instead of copying ads, I recommend conducting a small-scale research and exploring what kind of ad style other businesses use to sell similar goods.

Researching ads is great because it lets you understand the general guidelines of what works within a niche.

After that, everything is about testing. Get creative, make your own visuals and ad copy. To figure out what works best, you’ll have to test hundreds of variants until you’ve found the combination of the right ad and the right audience.

Remember – the only way to successful ads is testing.

22. Being afraid of getting in touch with influencers

I remember very clearly getting my first sales and thinking of ways to boost my store’s performance from a couple of sales to hundreds.

Getting in touch with influencers seemed like a great solution. However, I was afraid of making that first step and writing messages to influencers in my niche.

I felt like my store wasn’t good enough, it didn’t have enough social proof and reviews, the products were too basic to show so publicly. Mainly, I was afraid of negative feedback.

Don’t make the same mistake. Go out there, show your goods to as many people as possible, get feedback, start selling.

Out of a bunch of influencers that will ignore you, you will find a couple of people passionate about your brand. You don’t need all the collaborations in the world, just the ones that really matter.

23. Ignoring relevant forums

Forums are communities that are based on people’s interests. A forum is exactly the place where like-minded people (your niche audience) come together to discuss their common interests.

Checking a niche-related forum is the first thing you should do to understand your audience, get to know its passions, challenges and pain points.

Forums are goldmines of ideas.

Use them for inspiration, design ideas, for understanding what type of products your audience uses and is proud to share.

Most importantly, use forums for feedback. It costs you nothing and takes just a minute to post a forum entry. Share your designs or pictures of printed samples and ask for opinions.

Forum members as a highly engaged audience may want to buy your product straight away, or they might give you some honest feedback and points of improvement. In any case, this is extremely valuable, so make sure you use this tactic.

24. Letting negative feedback get in your way

You can get negative feedback for so many different reasons.

Some people won’t like your products, others won’t like the store design, even more people will complain about fulfilment and delivery speed and print quality.

Not all of these things depend on you. Quality and fulfilment, for example, are fully dependent on your print on demand fulfilment partner (Printful, Printify or any other).

Don’t let negative feedback frustrate you and decrease productivity. If there’s a problem, look for ways to solve it to avoid complaints in the future.

25. Tricks & hacks instead of hard work and dedication

In print on demand business, there are no shortcuts to the success.

So many people keep talking about tricks and hacks to earn hundreds of thousands in 10 days, but for most beginners they simply don’t work.

Don’t approach print on demand as a way to hack the system and earn millions. Focus on working hard and be dedicated to your idea.

It will take countless hours to get things right and you might lose a lot of money on the way. Stick to your dream and eventually it will be worth it.

Value every bit of feedback you get and use it to improve your business.

When you think you’re working hard enough, know that you can work even harder and do even better.

With this kind of mindset, every sale, even if it’s just $5 of profit, will be a little milestone to celebrate. As you celebrate little accomplishments and show pride in your business, more people will notice your brand and help you grow.

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