How much does it cost to start a print on demand e-commerce business? With real examples!


In the last few years, the growth of online shopping has given entrepreneurs a chance to start businesses with small initial costs. One popular way is through Print on Demand (POD), where products are made and sent out only when someone places an order.

But have you ever wondered how much it truly costs to bring your unique designs to life and have them shipped worldwide? 

While the potential for success is significant, it's crucial to understand the realistic costs involved in starting a Print on Demand e-commerce business. 

In this article, we'll guide you through the expenses involved in setting up and maintaining a successful POD venture. Get ready to explore the real-world price tag of turning creativity into commerce! 

Understanding the Print-on-Demand Model

Imagine having a fantastic design and wanting it on various items like shirts, tote bags, or wallpaper. With print-on-demand, you don't need a warehouse or a huge upfront investment. It's like having your own personal production crew that only springs into action when someone wants to buy your products. No excess inventory, no financial stress—just creative freedom.

If you’re still unsure about this business model, here are the pros and cons of POD:


  • Easy to start. Launching a POD business is like a gentle breeze. You don't need a ton of money or a big storage space.
  • Versatile options. POD isn't just about shirts. You can put your designs on a variety of items, appealing to different tastes.
  • Low risk. The best part? You only make products when someone places an order. No surplus products gathering dust.

The challenges:

  • Quality check. Since someone else is doing the printing, keeping a close eye on quality can be a bit tricky.
  • Profit margins. Although starting is budget-friendly, production costs might eat into your profits. Meaning, the math still needs to get done. 
  • Standing out may be a task. The POD market is bustling, and making your mark isn't a walk in the park.

Further, we’ll explore all the essential components of starting a POD business and related costs. Let’s get started!

Research and planning 

Before diving into the world of print-on-demand, extensive research is crucial. This includes market analysis, competitor evaluation, and defining your niche. 

Luckily, the costs here are more about time and effort rather than dollars. Utilizing free resources like Google Trends, industry reports, and competitor analysis tools can provide invaluable insights.


  • Time and effort: Free

Legal and operational expenses

Ensuring legal compliance and managing operational aspects of the business are often overlooked but are crucial for long-term success. This includes costs associated with business registration, licenses, and any legal consultations required. 

First, consider registering the business and obtaining licenses if applicable. Consider a sole proprietorship, LLC, or another entity.

Additionally, think about trademarking and protecting intellectual property. Your designs are your treasure, and you want to protect them. Plus, it’s essential to understand the fields of copyright and design rights. 

What’s more, every business has its rules. There might be some costs associated with compliance and regulations—all from taxes to industry-specific regulations. 


  • Business registration and licensing fees: $100 - $500 (varies based on location and business structure)
  • Legal consultations: $100 - $300 per hour  


Proper accounting is vital for any business, ensuring financial stability and compliance with tax regulations. Many entrepreneurs opt for accounting software to streamline this process. Popular choices include QuickBooks, Wave and Xero.   


  • Accounting software subscription: $20 - $60 per month (varies based on features and scale) 
  • Wave accounting: Free (with optional paid services)  

Product Design

Investing in quality designs is key to attracting customers. You may choose to create your own designs. In this case, graphic design tools like Adobe Creative Cloud or Canva can be valuable assets. 

But not everyone is a design wizard, and that's okay. You can explore the option of hiring designers or tapping into the freelance world to bring your visions to life. 


  • Graphic design tools subscription: $9.99 - $52.99 per month (Adobe Creative Cloud)
  • Canva: Free (with optional paid services) 
  • Freelance designer: $10 - $50 per hour (varies based on expertise) 

If you want to work with other designers, you can explore collaboration. In simple terms, you won't have to pay a freelancer or graphic designer upfront. Instead, you'll share the earnings for the products sold. 

E-commerce platform

Starting an online shop where you’ll display your products is the first step. There are popular platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy, and more. Each has its own perks and quirks. 

Shopify offers simplicity and excellent POD integration capabilities, while WooCommerce is flexible but needs more technical know-how. 

You can also consider platforms like Etsy for your Print on Demand business. Etsy seamlessly integrates with POD platforms, too. Yet it works more like a bustling marketplace where you list your offers next to others rather than a standalone website. 

Additionally, consider free-of-charge marketplaces to list your products like Facebook (Meta) marketplace or Instagram shop. 


  • Shopify subscription: $29 - $299 per month
  • Etsy listing fee: $0.20 per item + 5% transaction fee of the item's sale price
  • Domain name (if developing your website): $10 - $20 per year
  • Website design and development (if hiring a professional): $500 - $5,000
  • Facebook marketplace: Free 

Print on Demand supplier

Selecting a reliable POD supplier is critical as it forms the hub of your business operations. The top-tier POD suppliers consolidate everything in one spot – products, design tools, and shipping – streamlining your entire process. You also need to ensure the chosen supplier integrates seamlessly with your e-commerce platform. is one such option, offering a range of products and customization options. 


  • Printseekers (product costs): T-shirts - $10 to $19, Canvas - $7 to $12, Bags - $8 to $10   

All in all, the costs associated with a POD supplier can vary. Here are some common cost considerations: product costs (cost of each printed item), printing and fulfillment fees, technology integration, shipping costs, subscription or membership fees. 

For instance, Printseekers handles the entire spectrum of print product fulfillment, from production to shipping. Your investment here is solely directed towards the products you choose and their shipping, with no subscription model in place. Moreover, Printseekers offer free sample products so you don’t have to think about these additional costs. 


Marketing is where many businesses allocate a significant portion of their budget. Main strategies include social media advertising, influencer collaborations, and search engine optimization (SEO).

In determining your marketing expenses, much hinges on your approach – whether you embark on an independent journey using free or paid tools or opt for collaboration with a digital marketing specialist or agency.  

If you opt for a do-it-yourself strategy, leveraging content marketing for organic traffic and sales, you'll invest time rather than money. On the other hand, utilizing paid marketing tools like SEMrush involves some costs but offers a valuable investment for strategic enhancements. 

Alternatively, liberating yourself from marketing hassles is possible by partnering with a specialist or agency, ensuring professional guidance and allowing you to focus on your core business.


  • Time and effort: Free
  • Social media advertising budget: average $500 per month
  • Influencer collaborations: $100 - $1,000 per post (varies based on influencer reach)
  • SEO tools and services (e.g. SEMrush): starting from $129 per month (SEMrush) 

You can also use the perks of traditional marketing, like print materials and offline promotion. 


Shipping expenses are contingent on the size and weight of your products. Certain Print on Demand (POD) suppliers integrate shipping costs into their pricing, while others delineate them separately. 


  • Shipping costs per product: starting from $3 per item (depending on location, shipping method, and speed)

Returns and customer service 

Ensuring top-notch customer service is essential for customer retention. Consider the expenses associated with managing returns, addressing customer inquiries, and upholding a positive reputation.


  • Return shipping costs: $5 - $15 per return
  • Customer service tools (e.g., Zendesk): $19 - $99 per month

Unforeseen costs

It's wise to budget for unexpected expenses. These may include software updates, unforeseen marketing opportunities, or miscellaneous operational costs.


  • Miscellaneous expenses: $500 - $1,000 (estimate)

Starting your POD business: The realistic investment

To sum it all up, the estimated costs for starting a print-on-demand e-commerce business vary from ~$1,600 - $10 000. While the numbers provided here are approximate, they offer a realistic overview of the financial considerations involved in launching a successful POD venture in the US market. 

You can observe the substantial difference in the estimated total investment. But the good news here is that you have the flexibility to further reduce the figure or, conversely, increase it—depending entirely on your choices, preferences, and business approach.

Moreover, it's important to remember that while many aspects of the business require investments, there are often free alternatives available, which can at least help kickstart your POD business!

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