You may have heard of print on demand before, maybe you know someone who makes some extra cash with drop shipping, but do you know what they involve? There’s a lot of common elements to both, in fact sometimes they can be so similar that you’ll start to question whether they’re even different at all.
I want you to be an expert at the end of this. You’ll know what each term means, how to get started, what companies you can team up with and how to start marketing your nice new e-commerce store. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to make a decision on which option is right for you, so let’s get straight into it.
- Step-by-step process
- Tips to get started
- Potential earnings
- Benefits and drawbacks
- Who to partner with
- Top e-commerce integration platforms
What is print on demand?
Print on demand is an idea that’s been around since the 90s and it simply refers to the idea that a blank piece of merchandise waits patiently for the moment that a follower, fan or customer hits the ‘place order’ button and the time comes that it can finally go through the printing process.
It seems obvious, the answer is right there in the name: the customer buys something from you online (i.e. expresses a demand) and only then does the item get printed with your design. It really is as simple as that. It’s what happens afterwards where things start to get a little muddy.
What is drop shipping?
Drop shipping describes the logistics involved in the processing, packaging and delivery of an item in which it goes straight from the storage facility to the customer without you ever having to lift a finger. Usually with drop shipping, you choose from a wholesaler’s catalogue of products and offer them on your website. When someone places an order with you, you provide the wholesaler with the order details who then packages and ships the item on your behalf.
The confusion arises when you see printing companies offering an all inclusive service that covers both the printing and shipping of the item. They often refer to this solely as print on demand because they’re in the printing business – naturally the techniques involved are what get the spotlight but a more accurate term for what they’re offering would be print on demand with drop shipping.
Step-by step process
How do print on demand services work?
We’ve got the basic definitions out of the way so now let’s have a look at what the different processes are for both options. For a print on demand service, the process goes like this:
- You set up an e-commerce store such as Shopify, WooCommerce or Etsy.
- Partner with a printing company of your choice.
- Upload your designs, select what products you want to offer and set the prices.
- When someone places an order, the printing company will be notified.
- They’ll send you a bill for their service (usually a flat fee).
- Once you’ve paid that fee they’ll print, package and ship the item to the customer.
How do drop shipping services work?
Drop shipping models are similar, but not exactly the same. Let’s look at the differences:
- You set up your own domain and start building your site.
- Set up an account with an online wholesaler such as AliExpress.
- Choose your product range and offer it on your site.
- When someone places an order, you will get a notification.
- You’ll then provide your wholesalers with the order details and pay for the goods.
- They’ll package and ship the item to the customer.
Tips to get started
How to get started with print on demand.
For a print on demand based business you’ll need a few things to get going. Most importantly you’ll need a design or logo. Then, if you don’t already have one, you’ll need to set up an account with an e-commerce provider.
Once that’s out of the way you can shop around and compare the different companies that offer a full print on demand service. Certain providers offer integration for different e-commerce sites so it’s important to keep that in mind if you’ve already chosen Shopify over WooCommerce, for example. After that you’re ready to go!
How to set up your drop shipping business.
If you want to go down the route of drop shipping instead, the process is more or less the same. You can set up an e-commerce account or you can choose to purchase a domain and design your own website. Once you’ve researched the different options for wholesalers and chosen products from their catalogues you’re pretty much good to go, all you have to do is write the listing. The storage, shipping, and handling are all taken care of for you.
Now that we have a better understanding of the similarities and differences let’s get into the meat of the issue – exactly how much are you going to be making? There’s definitely money to be made from both options but the breakdowns are a little different depending on which route you choose.
How much money can I make with the print on demand model?
With the Print on demand model you’ll have virtually no start-up costs. You’ll need to hire a graphic designer to make you a logo but the odds are that if your business is at the stage where you’re thinking about offering merchandise you’ve probably done that already.
Once you have your online store up and running you’ll receive an invoice from the printers for any orders made during the billing period (usually twice a day). After that the rest of the money is yours. It’s up to you to set the price of your products and most printing services will only ever charge a flat fee. If you’re a marketing whizz and you build a big enough following there’s basically no limit to how much you could be making.
That’s all well and good but I know you want some cold, hard numbers. As I mentioned, print on demand services charge a flat rate. Printsome are charging £8.16 to print an adult sized T-shirt and £13.70 for a sweatshirt with an additional £1 for shipping. Think about that for a moment. For as little as £10 you’ve got all of your logistics taken care of. Everything after that is money in the bank.
How much money can I make with a Drop Shipping business?
Drop shipping costs a little more to set up, you’ll need to pay an annual fee for your domain, a website developer and a subscription to a drop shipping wholesalers for access to their catalogue. When you receive an order you’ll get an email with all the details which you’ll have to forward on to your drop shipper along with payment for whatever it is that you’ve sold. Only then will the supplier will fulfil the order.
Whether you choose to go for print on demand or drop shipping you’ll want to ensure that what you are offering is of a high quality and so it’s advisable to spend some money on ordering a few samples so that you can check things over. No photo will ever provide you with the same information as you’ll get from having something in your hands.
We know that there’s money to be made but surely it can’t all be fun and games, can it? Sadly no, both options have benefits and drawbacks that you’ll need to be aware of before committing to one or the other. This is by no means a definitive list but I’ll go over some of the main points here for you.
Benefits and drawbacks
Advantages of print on demand services.
Low start-up costs
All you need to start your print on demand business is a great design and an internet connection. It’s super cheap and super easy to get started.
Control over product design.
With print on demand you’re selling your own designs – you’ll have the freedom that comes with complete creative control.
Easy to try out new designs.
With traditional printing methods it can be extremely costly to test out a design. With print on demand it’s free. If you come up with an idea you’re not totally sure about, it will cost you nothing to offer it for sale and see if you get any bites.
Everything is taken care of for you.
Possibly the biggest benefit of print on demand is that the whole process from printing to delivery is looked after.
Disadvantages of print on demand services.
You pay more than wholesale.
The printer will charge you for the garment, the printing and also the shipping so the amount you pay will be higher than if you were to buy it wholesale. It’s still far more cost-effective than bulk printing though.
Shipping costs can be high.
Depending on where the printing company is based and where your customer lives the cost of shipping can add up.
Limited products to offer.
Due to the intricacies of the printing process, most printing companies will offer a limited range. The upside of this is that it’s usually a limited range of high quality.
You’re trusting a third party.
While it’s great that somebody processes and ships your orders, you’re still trusting a third party to act on your behalf. Any problems that might come up along the way will your responsibility.
Your site may look a little ‘copy and paste’.
With platforms like Shopify there isn’t much you can do as far as customising your website goes. It’ll be up to you to make the most out of your layout with great copywriting and imagery.
Advantages of drop shipping services.
Control over how your site looks.
Because you’re selling from your own website you have the freedom to build it from the ground up.
You can offer anything you want.
You’re working with a wholesaler who has a warehouse full of stock so the burden of storage is not a problem. You can offer as broad or as narrow a range as you want and it won’t take up any space in your spare room.
It’s easy to add new products.
You only have to pay for the item once it’s been bought so it’s impossible to lose money. You’re free to offer as broad a range of products as you see fit.
Low costs and high margins make drop shipping a really attractive business model.
Disadvantages of drop shipping services
Requires more maintenance.
Because the process requires you to physically make the order with your wholesalers so that it can be shipped, you’ll need to be on the ball to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
Shipping costs can be high.
It’s the same as for print on demand, shipping can add up if your customers are ordering from across the world.
Can’t customise products.
Because you’re buying products that have already been manufactured there’s no scope for adding your logo or any other details to the items you have for sale.
You’re trusting a third party.
Again, just like with the print on demand model you’re trusting a third party to act on your behalf.
You’re not the only one trying to give the people what they want. Items can sometimes suffer from sudden stock shortages and there’ll be nothing you can do about it.
Who to partner with.
What are the best print on demand companies?
State of the art printing company that focuses mainly on B2B sales for the EU and UK markets. They prefer to see you as a print on demand partner rather than as just another client. Printsome On Demand can provide you with all the tools you need to run a successful e-commerce business and can even have an item delivered in as little as 3 – 5 days.
Printful is an on-demand partner that has locations across the globe. They also provide warehousing services so they’ll handle the shipping of any non-printed items that you might also want to offer.
Teemill is a UK based print on demand service that focuses on sustainability. They supply T-shirts made from 100% organic cotton and are pioneering the idea of a circular economy. Each garment comes with a return label so customers can send their T-shirts back to the factory where they’ll be broken down, remade and given a new life.
Tshirtgang has been in the business of printing since 2005 which makes them the longest established company of the bunch. In addition to printing services they also provide management and promotional tools.
Gooten pride themselves on their software that provides the link between business owners and printing companies. They focus on empowering small business to grow.
What are the best drop shipping suppliers?
Business to Business wholesale platform serving all of Europe, specialising in B2B sales of large quantities.
Huge online retailer that also offers drop shipping integration.
Italian wholesalers specialising in high-end fashion goods.
UK based wholesalers with a wide range of drop shipping partners.
Top e-commerce integration platforms
If you’ve set your mind on going down the drop shipping route you have the option of skipping this step. However, if you’re thinking that a print on demand services is the way you want to go then there’s a little more for you to think about. You may have chosen a print on demand partner but who will host your store? Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the key players:
Shopify gives you your own dedicated online storefront so your designs can never appear alongside someone else’s products. You can also allocate a custom domain to really seal the deal.
A plugin that lets you integrate their software into a website that you already own.
Large online marketplace mainly focused on arts, crafts and design items. The drawback here is that your brand takes a backseat to the overall marketplace which makes it difficult to set yourself apart from other users.
No introduction needed. Amazon are giants of the e-commerce industry.
Big Cartel prides itself on being a platform for artists and makers. Rather than taking a cut of your sales, they charge a monthly subscription.
Promoting your business.
Still with me? We’re nearly there I promise. The next step is to think about marketing, it’s not good enough to have great products or designs, now you have to make yourself seen and start generating some traffic. There are so many great ways to approach marketing but there are also plenty of pitfalls. Here are a few quick ideas to get the juices flowing.
Have a voice and stick to it
Keeping your target audience in mind when writing your communications is crucial. Who are they? What are their likes and dislikes? How do they speak? Make sure the language you use is appropriate for your business and your audience, very few people will want to hire a funeral home if they’re constantly making jokes on Twitter! Remember that the tone of your writing will dictate who your customers are.
Come up with original, high-quality content
The most obvious one is photos – you’re selling a product and people will obviously want to see it. A good way to set your site apart from the rest is to use your own photos when marketing your business. If you’re selling a branded shirt, show your customers what it looks like on a real person rather than a digital mockup. Small things like this will really add value to what you do.
Think about your site layout
We’ve all been there. You find something online that you want to buy and it’s either too hard to find when you go back to the website or the checkout process is overly tedious. You decide that you don’t really need a framed portrait of your cat. Poor web design can absolutely ruin your chances of success right from the very beginning. People just want to make the purchase and leave so don’t make them create an account, the less clicks the better.
Social media matters
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should all be treated as marketplaces in their own rights and it’s vital that you appeal to each platform’s users with the right voice. Instagram for example is primarily a visual platform favoured by younger users so the tone you take when engaging an audience will have to be different from what you might use on Facebook.
Choose your words wisely
SEO is one of the most important things you need to get right in order to succeed. When was the last time you scrolled far enough to see what was on the second page of a Google search? SEO is all about getting as close to the top as possible and there’s no shortage of ways to do that. Work backwards from the point that the customer arrives at your site. For example, if they’ve typed in ‘embroidered hats UK’ and your website has that phrase in the title, Google is going to bump you up in the rankings.
When it comes to success or failure, it’s often the finer details that can make or break your business. I’m sure you already know what works for you but a little extra information never hurts anybody. Here are a few ideas to help you along the way.
Know your stuff
By virtue of the fact that you’ve found this blog post you’re clearly thirsty for knowledge and that’s amazing but don’t stop here. There’s so much more to learn about the world of e-commerce. If you’re going down the printing route, you should find out as much as you can about the process. The more you know the better you’ll be able to engage with your suppliers, couriers, printers and customers and that can only be good for business.
If you have the means to provide free shipping, then do
It might seem like an insignificant thing but the fewer choices your customer has to make, the better their experience will be. There’s also a bit of psychology involved in the feeling of getting something for free. How many times have you been ready to go on purchase only to sit weighing up whether you should splash out on the express shipping or if you’d rather save the money and wait the extra two days? Free shipping solves all that so just do it. Even if it means charging a bit more upfront.
Tools to make your life easier.
The best tools for graphic design.
What now? You’ve got some ideas and it’s time to nail down the designs so that you can post them on your site. You can choose to find and hire a graphic designer to make sure your ideas come to life or, if you have a creative flare, you can have the satisfaction of doing it all yourself. Here are some great tools to make things a little easier:
Adobe Illustrator is undeniably the industry standard for graphic design software. Operating on a monthly subscription basis, you can choose to either get the full range of Creative Cloud apps for £44.94/month, or if you just want Illustrator it’ll cost you £19.97/month.
A contender to Adobe’s throne, Corel Draw regularly ranks among the best of the best in design software reviews and unlike the Adobe range of products you buy it outright. It comes in at £599.99 and you never have to worry about a subscription.
Sketch is a great budget option coming in at around £80. Don’t let the low price fool you though, Sketch is a powerful design tool that holds its own with the big boys.
Inkscape is the perfect answer if your budget is zero. It’s a totally free open-source software that allows you to do just about everything you need to generate vector graphics for logo design.
Plugins to help with SEO.
Platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce will have their own range of plugins and tools available but if you want to dive in the deep end of the world of SEO here are some plugins that can be really useful:
Lets you instantly see not only your own website’s SEO rating but the rating of any website at all as well as their Google rating and backlinks.
MozBar is like having an x-ray vision for a web page. With it, you can identify keywords, check your link metrics and even expose the different page elements.
Complete social media control in one slick location! Buffer lets you schedule your posts, tailor your content depending on what platform you’re using and, if you don’t handle your own social media, you can review and approve posts before they go live.
Searches your website for any links that may be broken or that lead to nowhere so you can keep the experience as seamless as possible for your customers.
We made it! Sit back and taste the clarity. Feels good, doesn’t it? It’s a lot of information I know so I’ll try to squeeze it down into its simplest form.
Print on demand is a printing technique. Drop shipping is a business model that takes the burden of storage and shipping off your hands. Most companies that offer printing on demand will also drop ship the item for a small additional fee. You can drop ship almost anything, not just custom printed goods.
Hopefully, now you know enough to make an educated decision. Ultimately, the choice is entirely up to you. There are benefits and drawbacks to both but there’s still money to be made either way.
If you’re super passionate about finding the best products available and offering them to people in one place, then drop shipping is the model for you. On the other hand, whether you’re a designer just starting out or a well-established business owner who wants to sell branded merchandise, a print on demand service is definitely the best way to go about it while taking a lot of the stress off of your hands.