Imagine being able to simply design a t-shirt and sell your custom design without having to print or store a single shirt yourself. No inventory, no shipping. You simply take the order online and automatically another company you never meet prints the shirt using your uploaded design and ships the item to the customer.
That is the core of print-on-demand, and it’s becoming a huge business. In 2018, there were, in fact, more than 40 print-on-demand providers and more than 10,000 Shopify stores selling POD products.
I’m always experimenting and trying new things, so we ran a print-on-demand experiment store last year, just to find out how it all works. We built a simple Shopify store, I created a few custom emoji designs, and we hooked the store up to two leading providers in this space, Printful and Printify.
Printful was the first we tried. They’re pretty slick, too. But, despite how easy it was to use their integration tool and set up products, creating a new product is not quick. It takes some time to be able to choose the item you want to sell — Printful has t-shirts, leggings, bags, posters, mugs and much, much more — but you have to choose the colors and sizes, and you have to upload your art work. And that’s providing you have unique artwork that is built in the right resolution and size.
We tested Printful, both with real-time orders from actual customers and ordering gifts for ourselves at wholesale. In each case, the order was processed easily and the results looked just fine. Like this Longhorn emoji coffee cup. As you can see, the printing is sharp and the mug is now my favorite coffee cup.
POD products are more expensive, of course than if you bulk printed a thousand t-shirts, but there are distinct advantages to print-on-demand: no inventory and no carrying charges. You can mix and change your products as often as you like and you don’t have to worry about selling leftovers and overstocks at pennies on the dollar. And you don’t have to have any shipping department.
Now, once you do find a product that goes viral, you can always bulk print them at a much lower cost, but with POD you can easily conduct market testing on new items before committing to larger lots.
Some Printful merchants have complained in chat forums about the shipping costs or other various policies of Printful. Some complain about print quality or shipping errors, but we had neither in our tests. Granted, ours were small volume tests, but I do have to say, I felt Printful did quite well.
One downside we did encounter was a frequency of discontinued clothing items, or changes in suppliers. When American Apparel went belly up, that caused issues for Printful and every other provider who was using American Apparel t-shirts, so I can’t really hold Printful responsible for the disruptions that American Apparel caused. The Covid-19 pandemic is also creating significant interruptions in supply while the demand is skyrocketing. But, stuff happens.
So, based on our experience with Printful, I do recommend them for print-on-demand. I think they have the most advanced UI and since they are a single-source provider, you don’t run the risk of shoddy quality and delayed times possible with other POD providers that are actually frontpersons for a network of manufacturers.