Do you dream of seeing your art and designs on products like mugs, t-shirts, and posters but don’t feel sure where to begin? Perhaps you’ve heard that Printful can help you. After all, they lead the print on demand dropshipping industry with production facilities on two, soon to be three, continents. But exactly how does Printful work? And how can you know if they’re the right printing partner for you?
Good news! Because in today’s post, I’ll break down exactly how print on demand and dropshipping works. We’ll also compare and contrast print on demand with more traditional printing companies. And we’ll discuss how to tell if opening a Printful store is right for you.
Let’s dive in.
How does Printful work?
Printful is a print on demand dropshipping company. Too many new terms in that sentence? Let’s examine each.
Print on demand explained.
Printful is a print on demand company. That means they only create a product when a customer orders it (aka someone demands it). This means that they create each product individually after the customer has bought it.
For example, imagine you start a print on demand t-shirt business. You create a cute design, list it in your shop, and a shopper buys it. Once the customer places the order, Printful prints your design on a t-shirt in the size and color the customer wanted.
Print on demand versus traditional printing.
Meanwhile, traditional printing companies require you to buy a high number of products all at once. Usually, you need to place that order before you even list them for sell (unless you offer pre-order).
Back to our t-shirt example, imagine you sell t-shirts made by a traditional printer. You would have to order a large number of shirts with your design, perhaps 50. The printer would mail them to you.
You’d have to store them at your home. Or you might have to rent out a storage space for your stock. You would also have to order your shirts in a variety of sizes because your customers won’t all wear the same size.
But what if only three people ever buy your t-shirt design? Then the other 47 shirts you paid so much for would just sit in your stock room forever, hanging out and gathering dust. Or you’ll have to put them on clearance at a deep discount to get rid of them.
Print on Demand
Meanwhile, with print on demand, you don’t store stock. You never have to buy t-shirts in bulk that might never sell. Your upfront costs with print on demand range from low to zero.
In fact, today it’s possible to get started for free. You can sign up for a free Printful account by clicking here.
I highly recommend signing up for a free account and using their mockup generator. A mockup generator shows what your design would look like on a finished product. I find that using the mockup generator gives me great ideas for new designs and product lines to launch.
Try out their mockup generator for free here.
What type of printing partner works best for you?
Is traditional printing ever worth it?
Now, at this point, you might wonder why anyone would choose traditional printing for their business. Want to know the number one reason you might want to go the traditional route?
Traditional printing usually offers lower cost per unit.
A few reasons why include:
- Traditional printers lower per-unit costs the more units you order at one time. So if one t-shirt costs you $12, then 1,000 t-shirts might cost you only $7 each. Though, Printful offers volume order discounts as well.
- Traditional printers don’t dropship (see the dropshipping section below). And they usually charge a lot to ship your order to you. You’ll want to divide the shipping costs by the number of product units you’re ordering. Then add that number to your unit cost. That will give you a better idea of how much each unit really costs.
- Traditional printers might create a particular product type better. I use a different company for photo prints and gliceés because of their outstanding quality. Printful creates beautiful posters, but nothing rivals a great art printing company.
So who does traditional printing work best for?
You might want to go this route if:
- Your product is cheaper to mass produce and in high demand.
- Do you create products that often sell out? Or do people snap them up in large quantities during pre-order? Then traditional printing makes sense. For example, I would order stickers through Stickermule rather than through Printful.
- You have a vast market, a thriving business, and you regularly run stock clearance sales.
- Print on demand companies don’t offer the products you want to sell.
So who does print on demand with Printful work best for?
Print on demand with Printful works best for creatives that want to:
- Spend their time making awesome designs. Seriously, using Printful saves me so much time. And it’s a great partner in creating passive income with your design.
- Want to offer high-quality products they couldn’t make themselves. Print on demand companies use cutting edge technology to create products that last through years of washing and wear.
- Not worry about storing stock or take losses on unsold inventory. We’ve talked about this alot because it’s a BIG DEAL.
- Not have to meddle with packaging and shipping (see the section on dropshipping below).
How dropshipping with Printful works vs traditional shipping
What is Printful dropshipping?
Dropshipping is when a company sends your product, not to you, but directly to your customer.
Printful’s dropshipping makes selling seamless and painless.
Why? Let’s imagine our t-shirt shop again. Your customer ordered a shirt, and Printful created it. Now, what happens? Printful nicely packages the shirt and mails it directly to your customer. They even include a packing receipt with YOUR logo and branding on it.
Which makes life SO much easier. Why? Because packaging and shipping things yourself takes time, energy, storage space, and upfront cost.
What is traditional shipping?
To demonstrate how dropshipping makes life easier, let me tell you how much work packaging my art prints the traditional way requires.
Like I mentioned earlier, I buy my photo and art prints the old school way. That means my printing company mails them to me. Then I have to unpack the prints and store them.
Then when a customer places an order, I have to get the correct print out of storage. Or, I might have to special order it and wait three days for it to arrive. And most conventional printers do not have a turn around time that fast. They usually require weeks to fulfill your orders. This means you usually need to order your stock before you list it for sale.
Once I have the print, I slide it into a clear plastic protection bag. I back it with a backing board to protect it from damage. And after printing off a packing receipt, I seal all of that in a rigid mailer.
I find my kitchen scale, weigh the package, and buy a shipping label. Then I print the shipping label on special, sticky shipping label paper. A while back, I had to purchase a stamp that says “Do Not Bend” because postal delivery people like to bend stuff. So I give the package a good stamp.
Finally, I schedule a package pick up with the USPS app and place it by my doorstep so the mailperson can take it the next morning.
What are the real costs of shipping?
Did you notice a theme in my shipping process, other than the time and effort required? Shipping supplies. Protective bags, backing board, rigid mailers, special paper, and more goes into packaging orders. And to get shipping supplies at a decent rate, you have to order them IN BULK, which turns shipping supplies into an expensive upfront cost. Oh, and the suppliers charge quite a bit to ship these to you.
Then you have to store them. I have an entire dresser and giant plastic tub dedicated to storing my art stock and shipping supplies. If I lived in a smaller place, I’m not sure if I could manage it.
Of course, ordering shipping supplies in bulk poses a lower risk of them going to waste than with products. Though the danger still exists. For example, almost no one buys my 16×20 size prints, so my entire case of shipping tubes that size have sat unused for 6 years.
So why do I still buy and ship my art prints traditionally despite the effort and expense? The first reason: I still love the print quality from my traditional printer. The second: I started shipping art prints before I ever knew about dropshipping. So I already had a stock of shipping supplies, and it makes sense to use them.
But for all other product types in my shop, I use Printful.
What is the best shipping for new shop owners?
If you’re just starting your shop, I HIGHLY recommend using an on demand dropshipper like Printful.
Because, as I said earlier, dropshipping is fantastic. It literally changed my whole business and life after I discovered how to use it. It saves you time, has no upfront costs, and doesn’t take up a bunch of storage room in your home.
While Printful has higher per-unit costs, it includes those packaging and labor expenses. Think of your print on demand partner as an employee you’ve hired to handle the details. Leaving you with more time to build your business, create new designs, and enjoy living your life.
Learn more about how Printful handles dropshipping on their website here.
So what is it like to run a print on demand shop through Printful?
Now, I’m not saying that it’s not work. Of course, it takes effort to create designs, put them on products, write descriptions, sync products to your shop and promote them. But after that, a print on demand business turns pretty simple.
So how does does Printful work?
People buy things. Printful makes them. Printful ships them. You get the profits.
That’s how it works.
Because of this, you can use Printful as a powerful tool to build a passive income business with your art and design.
So that’s it! How print on demand and dropshipping works in a nutshell.
Question of the day: What holds you back from starting a creative online business?