Print On Demand – What is it? And is it for you?

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Not today's print on demand

One of the topics we'll talk a lot about is “Print On Demand” business. But what even is “Print On Demand”?

In a nutshell, Print On Demand is exactly what it sounds like. Unlike a traditional business where you order inventory and keep it in a warehouse somewhere to be shipped, Print On Demand items are only produced when they're needed. Your t-shirt or book is only printed when someone orders it. Nobody has to warehouse a bunch of “Pink Carnation” shirts that never get purchased, just the raw blank stock.

Most people who run print on demand based businesses choose some kind of “integration” between the supplier/printer and the platform they sell on to automate everything.

How easy is it…

For example, if you choose Printful as your supplier for t-shirts and you sell on Etsy, you can integrate them so that every purchase of those t-shirts is automatically sent to Printful. Printful then bills you the cost of the order, prints the shirt, packages it (“white label”, without their name anywhere) and sends it directly to your client. Someone else does all the work except the marketing.

You could also go with a company like Printify. They offer different products than Printful by partnering with a bunch of different providers.

That's the beauty of print on demand. It can be entirely hands off. You set your own prices/margins and promote only the products you want.

Print On Demand seems ideal. There's almost no startup costs, you never touch product, someone else does all the work.

So what's the downside?

There are a few downsides to Print On Demand, so let's take a look at a couple of them.

  • You're the designer – Print on demand means there's no stockpile of designs at the ready. You have to create or buy all the designs. Which also means dealing with some understanding of copyright and trademark to protect yourself from infringing on others, or being infringed upon yourself.
  • Slower fulfillment of orders – since there's no inventory, orders are fulfilled as quickly as a product can be produced. Meaning “next day delivery” is almost impossible. Some POD suppliers are now offering warehousing of items, so you could print a supply of coasters or shirts for faster shipment.
  • Higher cost of goods – since these are printed one at a time you don't get the benefit of volume pricing. When ordering 500 happy-face mugs at once you can work out a discount. With Print On Deman you're ordering 1 or a couple only.
  • Quality is out of your control – You should always order samples from any supplier you want to work with. Get samples of all the products you sell if you can. Day to day shipping is out of your control. Did the printer screw up? Is the mug packed right? etc. There are stories about problems from EVERY provider so don't be entirely put off by those.
  • Here today, gone tomorrow? Providers can close up shop. So if you were ordering a fancy widget from Seller A and they close, there goes that widget. The flipside is that you can probably switch suppliers without customers every knowing and no disruption to the business.

The Print On Demand world is complicated, deep and full of possibilities. Almost anything you want done on-demand can be done, from shirts to mugs to jewellery. Even socks with your customer's dog's face on them! You just need to do a bit of research.

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