What is Print On Demand (POD) and How Does it Work?

Nowadays there are more opportunities than ever for creative entrepreneurs who want to create their own brand online. Whether you are a designer, artist or a style guru, the digital world offers everything you need to sell your own designs stamped on physical products.

What is Print On Demand?

The Print On Demand (or POD) model is a type of e-commerce business that relies on outsourcing production and logistic tasks to an external company that customizes white-label products for you.

If you are able to choose a trusted provider and have the ability to create high-impact designs, you will have the possibility to develop a solid brand in the long term. This model is similar to Dropshipping but has several differences (discussed below). Print On Demand is a great way to start an online business especially for artists and designers looking to sell designs.

How does Print On Demand work?

Print on Demand is the solution for small businesses and independent artists to manage their artwork without having to worry about storage and the supply chain until customers get the products.

When a customer places an order in your online store, the POD provider automatically receives a notification and takes care of printing, packaging and shipping the product. Once shipped, the Print on Demand company sends you the courier’s tracking number so that you can associate it with the order placed by your customer. This way, customers are able to track their packages in real time.

After the customer gets the order, the provider’s work is done. In case your customer requests a return of the item you should contact the provider, who will not always take care of returns. Therefore, before associating with any single Print On Demand business, you should always read thoroughly their returns policies.

What is Print On Demand and how does it work?

Dropshipping vs Print On Demand: what is the difference?

Dropshipping and Print On Demand are two very similar processes.

Both allow retail sales of any product on your online store through a third-party provider (wholesaler), who sends the items directly to your customer.

The main difference is that dropshipping basically consists in sending a product that has been previously manufactured, whereas the print on demand process requires producing the product using your design after the order is placed. POD products are unique, as they are individually manufactured with your own designs, something considerably different from the dropshipping model that refers to mass-produced products without customization.

Print On Demand Pros

  • No inventory: You don’t have to worry about the inventory. You will have unlimited production availability whenever you need it.
  • More focus: It allows you to spend less time processing orders and focus on developing winning products and scaling sales.
  • Less risks: You don’t need to keep products in stock, have large storage spaces or maintain production machinery. You also don’t have to worry about delivering products to a carrier. This means less risk for your business.
  • Versatility: You can try out different types of products, and adapt the designs accordingly to each one.
  • Easy to experiment: You can add new designs to your store easily and without excessive work. This allows you to test products quickly and consider their viability in the market.
  • Software compatibility: Print On Demand companies can easily integrate with popular e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Wix eCommerce or WooCommerce.
  • Product images: You do not need to invest in a photo shoot at the beginning. POD providers offer increasingly better mockups to showcase your products with very realistic images. You also have tools like Placeit to generate these mockups.

Print On Demand Cons

  • Customization: Not all providers offer packaging customization services, or the possibility of including flyers, coupons or stickers in every order.
  • Lack of control: You have really no control over the production, packaging and shipping process. Therefore, it is important to choose a good Print On Demand provider just to ensure your peace of mind.
  • High prices: Product prices are relatively high, so it is better to focus on products which customers regard as high-valued. For instance, it is not the same to sell t-shirts (with a selling price ranging between 20 and 30 USD) as it is to sell customized watches (with a selling price ranging between 60 and 90 USD). A customer can pay significantly much more for a watch than for a t-shirt, and this will give you higher sales margins.
  • Product quality: While creating your designs and products, make sure that the Print On Demand service has product quality as a top priority. Some Print On Demand companies, particularly those located in China, usually produce poor quality products. This can negatively impact your business and affect to your sales.
  • High impact designs: This business model requires good design and market testing skills. People will only buy high-impact designs that fit their passions and interests. So, in order to sell, you have to target a very specific audience and find a way to connect with their feelings and passions. Just forget about creating a brand to compete with Nike or Adidas.
  • Entry barriers: Entry barriers are almost non-existent, which means anyone can start an e-commerce business just like yours. Therefore, in order to stand out from the rest, you will have to try out something people have not seen before, something creative.
  • Marketing: You have sole responsibility for product marketing, since no one else will do it for you. You must use the best marketing practices and have some savings to be able to promote these products.

What are the Best Print On Demand Businesses?

Nowadays, there are increasingly more companies offering Print On Demand services. Additionally, providers also add more types of products to their catalogs. This is good news, considering purchasing prices will in theory decrease, and you will have a wider product catalog.

Most Print On Demand companies will offer a similar array of features, including the ability to design your new products in a number of ways, from sublimation to direct-to-garment (or DTG) printing. Finding the right product and provider for your needs requires a careful analysis of every option available on the market.

In order to help you select a provider, we have created a list of the best Print On Demand companies worth working with today.

1. Printful

Printful home page

Printful is undoubtedly one of the most solid options on the market, with a service that makes it quick and easy to create all kinds of designs from scratch. You can connect Printful to your online store very easily. Printful also provides a wide range of products to choose. Additionally, they have production and partner facilities spread across each continent, which makes product distribution much easier.

Printful Pros:

  • Lead times: Excellent production and shipping times
  • Quality: Very good product quality
  • Variety: Wide product range (more than 444 products)
  • Production: An excellent production facilities network that allows your customers to skip customs. Every facility manufactures the very same products, which allows you to sell internationally, with facilities located in the United States, Mexico, Latvia, and Spain, as well as partner manufacturers in Australia and Japan
  • Monthly fee: No monthly payment required
  • Branding: Possibility to include customized labels and pack-ins (extra cost)
  • Software: Intuitive and modern management platform
  • Images: Includes a good quality mockup generator
  • Integration: Wide scope of integration with the main e-commerce platforms and marketplaces

Printful Cons

  • Prices: Production costs are quite high
  • Branding: Certain elements that cannot be customized (e.g., packaging)
  • Returns: Printful only issues refunds if the item is lost or damaged; no other reasons are supported

2. Printify

Printify home page

Printify stands as the other major player in the Print On Demand business. Unlike Printful, Printify does not have its own production network. It is a Print On Demand app that acts as an intermediary between your business and various independent production facilities around the world.

Printify Pros

  • Prices: Highly competitive prices
  • Lead times: Excellent production lead times and good shipping times
  • Quality: Good product quality
  • Variety: Huge product range (more than 763 products)
  • Production: It has a good and growing production network, with facilities in the United States, Canada, UK, Germany, Czech Republic and China. You can choose the manufacturer based on your location
  • Software: Intuitive and modern management platform
  • Images: Includes a good quality mockup generator
  • Integration: Wide scope of integration with the main e-commerce platforms and marketplaces

Printify Cons

  • Branding: Limited branding customization options (only neck tags)
  • Monthly fee: In principle, payment is not mandatory, although the Premium version ($24.99 per month) is actually much better, since it implies a significant product discount
  • Production: Not every facility manufactures the very same products, which makes international sales more difficult

3. Gelato

Gelato home page

Gelato is one of the many Print On Demand services that offers original products which you can sell to your customers. Offers around 100 different products. When compared to other services, Gelato does not have such a wide product range. What they lack in product variety, they make up for in quality and ease of use.

Gelato Pros

  • Prices: Fairly competitive prices
  • Lead times: Very good production lead times (72 hours on average) and worldwide shipping
  • Production: They have a huge network of more than 100 production partners in 33 countries
  • Monthly fee: No monthly payments required
  • Images: Provides a designing tool and a mockup generator

Gelato Cons

  • Integration: Limited integration scope (only Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy, Wix, Squarespace and via API)
  • Variety: Compared to other POD companies, it has a limited product range (around 100 products)

4. Gooten

Gooten home page

Gooten is a Print On Demand company that helps you if you plan on selling all kinds of customized products. Although Gooten is not as well known as Printful and Printify, there are several reasons why this provider is worth considering. It has many unique and highly original products, as well as competitive prices.

Gooten Pros

  • Prices: Competitive prices
  • Lead times: Good production and shipping times
  • Quality: Very good product quality
  • Variety: Has a good product range (more than 150 products). Stands out particularly due to some very original items (watches, puzzles and pet and baby products)
  • Production: It has a good production network in the United States, Canada, UK, Europe, Asia and Australia. Production partners are chosen automatically through dynamic order routing
  • Monthly fee: No payments required
  • Images: Includes a good quality mockup generator

Gooten Cons

  • Integrations: Scarce integration scope (only Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy, BigCommerce and via API)
  • Manufacturing: Gooten connects you to many printing facilities, but you cannot choose among them, which can lead to inconsistent printing quality
  • Software: Has a good management platform, though with a more complex user interface than other Print On Demand companies

5. SPOD

SPOD home page

SPOD is a Print On Demand business with more than 20 years of experience in the area, and it belongs to the Spread business group.

Additionally, SPOD has its own production network in the United States and Europe, and a significant production capacity (around 9.8 million products manufactured in 2020). Definitely a company you should consider if you are about to open your own online store.

SPOD Pros

  • Prices: It is, perhaps, the company with the most competitive prices in the Print On Demand market, along with Printify
  • Lead times: One of SPOD’s most differentiating factors are the production times (only 2 working days)
  • Variety: One of the Print On Demand providers with the widest range of products (currently, more than 200)
  • Designs: If you do not have a graphic designer, SPOD offers you more than 50,000 designs to sell for free

SPOD Cons

  • Management facilities: It has only 5 management facilities of its own located in the United States and Europe. So if you are planning to sell in other countries, you must take into consideration that shipping lead times will increase
  • Branding: It does not allow packaging or label customization
  • Integration: Provides only some direct integrations with the most important platforms, such as Shopify, WooCommerce, Squarespace and Magento. API use is mandatory for other types of integrations

Summary and conclusion

The Print On Demand (or POD) model is an interesting choice for any person or company that needs to print customized products on a regular basis and outsource all the production and logistics tasks involved.

It is also important to note that Print On Demand allows companies to be more flexible and adapt quickly to changes regarding demand for their products or services.

In summary, Print On Demand is an efficient and flexible way to offer products to a specific audience, a model that allows you to start an e-commerce business with very controlled risk, without the need for inventory.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Print On Demand company is best for beginners?

If you are about to start out in the Print On Demand business, our recommendation is to start with solid and proven companies such as Printful, Printify or Gelato. From our own experience, we do not recommend working with start-ups or companies located in China, as this involves a considerable degree of uncertainty and constant customs and logistical problems.

What is the Best Option between Print On Demand and Dropshipping?

Both models have similarities, but from our point of view, Print On Demand generates greater value for the final consumer by crafting unique designs and creations.

Is Print On Demand a practicable option for any person or company?

In short, yes. Print On Demand is practicable as long as you are planning on starting a long-term project with a warranty provider. Likewise, a considerable degree of creativity is required in order to make the designs stand out from those of other competitors. In our opinion, the most complete Print On Demand company on a global scale is Printful.

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