Printing on demand and personalization are two of the hottest trends happening right now in the printing business. But even though they’re having a moment, they’re not entirely new to the scene; it’s just that our current technology lets us do some pretty amazing stuff with them. To celebrate how far we’ve come, we thought it would be cool to look back on the history of print on demand.

Let’s start with a little overview of the basics to make sure we’re all on the same page. Then, we’ll take about where this came from (when it started might surprise you!) before explaining a bit about the current situation. Are you ready to get started? Let’s jump in!

What is print on demand?

Print on demand means that your piece of clothing (or whatever else you’re printing on) doesn’t actually get printed until a client places an order. That means you don’t print unless you’ve really sold something.

To do this, you’ll work with a supplier (like Printsome) who can help you with everything from selecting the right fabrics to printing on to shipping out your orders.

This is a fairly new way of going about printing. Traditionally, you would create and print a certain amount of products. Then, you’d work with this inventory to sell your creations.

There are a few reasons why traditional printing can be inconvenient. One, it’s riskier. You’ve got to make your best guess at what people will want to buy; unless you’ve got ESP, this is a tricky thing to pull off! Then, you can easily end up with a big stack of products that for whatever reason just aren’t selling, as you typically have to order in bulk. It can also end up being expensive in the long run.

Print On Demand Europe
Digital printing makes one-off prints profitable.

So how did print on demand get started?

Textile printing has been around for ages and ages. There are some examples that still exist from before the year 220 in China. It became popular in Europe around the 12th century, and it slowly started gaining steam. Of course, traditional printing methods are much slower and harder work than what we can do today!

Print on demand is actually a relatively new thing. In a 1966 edition of Galaxy Science Fiction, printing books on demand was written about as a magical future invention that we could only dream of. But not too much later, it was here.

And by not too much later, we mean in the very same decade. In the 1960s, it got a big boost when Michael Vasilantone, an artist and inventor, came up with a new way of doing screen-printing that was much quicker. The increased speed meant it became easier to create one-of-a-kind designs.

By the 1980s, printers started to become available to the public, and print on demand took off. It started out with paper and then evolved into being able to print on fabric too – what we call direct-to-garment (DTG) printing. The first real DTG printer was called ‘Revolution’, and it became available in the 90s. Just 10 years later, we started seeing strong competition from lots of brands trying to get their piece of the DTG printing pie.

Today, one of the biggest trends going in the textile market right now is personalisation. That means we can expect to see a lot more one-off prints on T-shirts and other clothing items in the not-so-distant future!

There are a few different ways that textiles can get printed now. The most popular ones include digital textile printing, which uses inkjets to print directly on a garment; roller printing, based on 18th-century technology to stamp designs onto fabric; and screen printing, which uses stencils and mesh to push ink into a fabric.

Let’s talk a little more about the techniques available today.

Print on demand Europe - Screen printing
Before digital printing, screen printing was the only viable option for professional T-shirt printing.

Digital printing vs. screen printing

One of the main choices you might have to make when you’re printing custom clothing is choosing which printing method to use. That’s why it’s good to understand the differences between them.

Digital printing is good for getting tiny details and intricate patterns just right, and can also handle limitless colours. This is based off a computerized image and uses very thin ink. It’s actually really similar to your at-home or in-office printer; just what’s being printed on is fabric instead of paper.

When would you choose digital printing? When you really want to customise a piece, digital printing is the way to go. It lets you print single items for a fraction of the cost. The reason? With some traditional methods, the only way for a manufacturer to make a profit is to print in bulk. Digital printing lowers costs and means you can now print your custom items easily, even if it’s just one.  

Screen printing starts with a cut-out stencil version of an image. This cut-out is placed on a mesh. Then, the printer uses a blade to push the ink through the mesh and into the fabric.

When would you choose screen printing? This is a good choice when you need super vibrant colours. Because the ink used here is a bit thicker, and multiple layers are used, you get really strong colours that last longer than digital printing.

You might also go for this over digital printing when you need to print in bulk, as over time it becomes faster. And, digital printing doesn’t always work for all kinds of fabrics (polyester is a no-go with digital printing, for instance).

If you’re not sure what technique to use, just ask away! Our experts will be happy to help you figure out the best printing technique for your needs so you get the results you wanted. There’s not one perfect printing technique for all cases, but there probably is one that’s most suited to your needs.

Do you have your very own T-shirt brand? Would you like to delegate the production and inventory stuff – for free? That’s right, Printsome’s Print on Demand services are free for a limited time. Join now!

Why should I consider print on demand?

It’s more cost-effective for one-off orders. Especially if you’re just starting out with your own business, print on demand is really useful, because you don’t have to print anything until you’ve made a sale.

It’s also a great way to test out ideas or to get a feel for what products your customers actually like. We’ve all had ideas that we’re sure will be a hit that gets a lukewarm reception – as well as ideas we feel ‘meh’ about that go over surprisingly well.

And it’s a way to print special, one-off items without it getting crazy expensive and complicated. You also don’t have to deal with the risk of having a huge amount of inventory lying around waiting to be sold.

Also, a good supplier can help you take care of the whole process from start to finish. They’ll print and fulfil the orders, as well as drop ship them (we take care of all of this!). This means you can focus on what you love doing, whether that’s running your own business, creating online content, or designing and selling amazing stuff. Meanwhile, all the logistics and printing stuff gets taken care of in knowledgeable hands.

Have any more questions? You can check out our print on demand FAQs or get in touch with our team.


Print on Demand

Here at Printsome, we’ve always supported creative endeavours which is why we’re proud of our print on demand in Europe service.

Thanks to our five years of experience in the T-shirt printing industry, we were able to design a platform to cover a T-shirt fulfilment service catered towards the needs of artists, designers, Youtubers who have their own T-shirt line. Printsome’s Print on demand service has no minimum orders and can print any design with no colour limitations.

From the moment you connect your online shop with our Shopify T-shirt fulfillment platform, anyone can buy one of your designs. We deliver all over the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. T-shirt drop shipping has never been this easy!

Why worry about inventory or logistics when we can take care of that? We deal with the boring stuff so you have more time to do what you love. To find out more, simply visit our brand new website.

print on demand, drop shipping, printsome

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Bilingual communications specialist with a focus on corporate communication, branding, content strategy and localization.

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