Using print-on-demand for your brand's apparel

Starting a new brand is exciting and the first thing you want to do is get some shirts with your fancy new logo printed on them so you can hand them out to all your friends and family and start selling them as soon as possible. However, if you’ve reached the point where you’ve contacted a print company about apparel, then you know there’s more to it than just order shirts and start selling.

If you’re wanting screen printed items, then you’ll need to prepare for some up-front costs. Screen printing is a bulk-printing process and typically has a minimum order size (12 is Alpine’s minimum) which means you have to purchase shirts before you ever sell anything. So how many should you get? How many of each size will you need? What if you want to get a few different designs? You’ll need to reach the minimum for each design and get enough of each size so you have them available to sell. So you can see it starts to get expensive really quickly. For established brands with a history of consistent apparel sales, ordering items in bulk up-front is no big deal. In fact, it’s a big cost savings since the more you get, the less you pay per item. But for new brands, this can be the one factor that keeps you from getting your business up and running.


So what if you had a way to set up an online store and put some apparel items for sale and allow customers to purchase them without you having to buy the shirts first? Welcome to the world of print-on-demand. Just as the name suggests, this process involves waiting until an item is purchased before printing. Once a customer purchases, the shirt is printed and shipped direct to the customer. You have no up-front costs and you don’t have to worry about keeping inventory in stock or shipping the items when they are ordered.

Sounds almost too good to be true, but I promise it works. There are several companies online that provide print-on-demand services. The one I use most, and recommend you use as well, is called Printful. Their platform is simple to use and integrates with many of the most popular website systems available. All you need to do is set up a free account with Printful, connect it to your website, upload your artwork, and start creating the items you want to sell in your store. The bonus with something like Printful is you have the option of providing more than just apparel. They have other items like coffee mugs and stickers.

After you’ve set up your items and published them to your store, you’re done! Now when someone visits your site and purchases an item, Printful will detect the purchase and begin printing the items. They will charge you as soon as they receive the order. Then once they finish printing, Printful will ship the item directly to the customer and include your company name on the return label. You don’t have to do anything!


It really is that easy and it’s a great way for a new brand to begin getting some apparel out into the world without worrying about up-front costs. There are a few things to keep in mind, though:

  1. The print style is called direct-to-garment and while it’s a great print option, it’s not always as high quality as good screen printing. Especially if compared to water based screen printing like I do here at Alpine. Water based printing will always be a better result. However, I don’t want you to think I’m saying that direct-to-garment is bad quality. It’s not at all.
  2. Your profit is slim, but it’s there. With print-on-demand you’re going to pay more per item than you would if you ordered in bulk with screen printing. But, since you don’t have up-front costs, it’s usually ok to make less per shirt. At this stage, it’s more about getting items out into the world and getting your brand’s name out there. You can worry about higher profit margins later.
  3. There’s a turnaround time with this sort of thing. Sometimes it’s 3-5 days after an order is placed before it finally ships. As long as you’re clear about this on your website and your customers know to expect it, then you shouldn’t have any problems.
  4. Shipping costs exist even if your neighbor orders your shirts. Keep in mind that these are printed at a factory that is likely a long way from you. It can often seem strange for someone in your same town to order from what they know is a local business yet have to pay shipping costs. These costs are usually about $4-$6 for a single shirt. Again, as long as you’re clear with your customers that the items are printed on demand at another location, then they’ll totally understand the shipping costs and turnaround time.


If any of this sounds interesting to you, I’m always happy to talk more about how print-on-demand can help you launch your business or provide an easy sales method for your business or group’s apparel. I really believe it’s a great option and worth considering if you’re starting a brand but don’t have the means to purchase bulk apparel and keep inventory. The entire process is free to start and you only pay when someone buys first.

Need help getting your store set up? I do provide setup services that involve not only getting your store set up and connected to your site but also getting your items created and published. Start-to-finish, I can help! Reach out and we can set up a time to talk more about getting a store set up for you!

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