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Print on Demand Dropshipping: Pros, Cons, Business Model [2019]

Updated on August 13, 2018

10 Min Read
Print on Demand Dropshipping
Reading Time: 10 minutes

We have written extensively about how to start a dropshipping store with AliExpress in our dropshipping series. But there is another dropshipping option for beginners that is highly lucrative and provides almost double the profits to dropshippers known as ‘Print on Demand (POD)’ dropshipping.

In fact, it has become so popular that POD stores are now popping up everywhere. Most have grown so big that they are transacting millions of dollars a year.

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Let’s see what print on demand dropshipping is and how you can get into it to build a sustainable business yourself.

1. What is Print on Demand (POD)?

In simple terms, Print on Demand (POD) means custom designing. The custom designs can apply on anything ranging from a pen to a car bumper. This industry has flourished even before the ecommerce era, but the emergence of ecommerce has made it possible for anyone to start his/her ecommerce store with almost zero dollars.

Now, POD stores sell their custom designs on products printed by manufacturers directly to the customers. The concept is pretty similar to a dropshipping store in which you are selling products of Chinese manufacturers, but the advantage is more liberty and less restrictions. More on that later.

The biggest dropshipping store is TeeSpring. It lets anyone to design his/her shirt and send it to customers. TeeSpring keeps a base price for the product and allows the dropshippers to sets his her own price.

Teespring Dashboard

Screenshot of TeeSpring Dashboard

In fact, in the last five years, Print on Demand (POD) has become an industry of its own, selling custom designed products to customers across the globe.

The printed designs work on almost everything from T-shirts, to books, and mobile phones, but the most sold ones are on shirts, mobile covers and cushion covers.

2. Print On Demand Dropshipping: Pros & Cons

Just like any other dropshipping business, a print on demand (POD) business has its own pros and cons.

Let’s discuss them in detail and see how we can get around them.

Pros of Print on Demand (POD) Dropshipping

Print on Demand (POD) dropshipping is a great business model for creatives, designers, and artists who are looking to start their own merchandise or a side hustle. Here are a few key benefits POD currently offers.

Sell Your Own Custom Products

Nothing can beat the feeling that you get when you sell your own merchandise. A few years ago designers were not able to do that because finding reliable suppliers and then communicating with them was a major problem. But now, as print on demand services like Printful, TeeSpring, and Zazzle are available, they can easily sell their own designs on mobile covers, t-shirts, book covers, mugs, calendars and even more items where custom printing is possible.

Possibility of Custom Packaging

When you start dropshipping custom designs, you can add your own logo to increase brand awareness. Many dropshippers like RIPTApparel started this way. They started promoting the designs of others on their platform and added their own logo with them. The shirts were dropshipped from a third party supplier. And, in a year, they were making more than $100,000 per month just by having a platform where artists were selling their designs and they were keeping a commission on each sale.
A POD store is just the first step towards building a sustainable brand.

Easy to Start as a Side Business

Many POD dropshippers are running their businesses as a side business. They keep day jobs to support their families and in spare time they sell designs through various POD platforms.
The reason they have started a POD business is because it has a lower barrier to entry, and offers a lot of room to play with various designs and products.

The Whole Process Automates

One more reason why Print on Demand dropshipping business is better than the rest is because you can automate the whole process, from advertisements to designing. In fact, most print on demand dropshippers are using a daily spend of around $10 to test out new t-shirt designs, if these designs fail to convert, they start anew with another design idea.

Cons of Print on Demand (POD) Dropshipping

All print on demand dropshipping stores require creativity, resilience, and hard work to succeed. But there are certain drawbacks that can become a hassle in the long run. Here is how to solve them.

Expensive Shipping Costs

Unlike AliExpress dropshipping, where you tend to sell Chinese products to customers, the POD dropshipping products are costly. This is because the designs are custom printed and not produced in bulk – something that is possible with other dropshipping business models.

Workaround

A workaround is to compare the prices of various POD dropshipping platforms. For example, while selling custom mobile covers we found that TeeSpring and PrintFul, both charge a base fee of $11 for a single cover. However, Printify charges $9 for the same.

You can search for even more POD platforms and compare their prices to get the best one that costs you least money.

Another way to reduce product costs is to cut your own profits. For example, if you were keeping a $5 profit on a product, reduce it to $3 only. This will surely reduce your own profits but more people will be able to buy your product, which means more profit through economy of scale formula.

Need to Have Strong Design Skills

One drawback of a POD dropshipping business is that it requires strong design skills. People don’t just buy any T-shirt design, they are looking for designs that connect with their daily routines. For example, this ‘butcher t-shirt’ design sold more than 1,000 orders within minutes. The store owner particularly targeted butchers as the idea resonates with them.

butcher t-shirt

These shirts need to be attractive, perfectly designed, and make people buy on an impulse.

Demands Creativity and Resources

One problem with any POD business is that you can’t find winning products easily. Some products will work great sometimes, but they won’t be sustainable. Therefore, you have to keep testing with new ones. This will require more resources, as you won’t be designing the shirts yourself, and more money, because good designers are hard to find for a small price.

Even if you outsource your work, there is a chance that you will need tons of revisions before the final design gets made.

Low Barrier to Entry = Tough Competition

One benefit or if you call it a drawback of a POD business is its low barrier to entry. You will be thinking, why is it a drawback when you can start for a small price? The reason is simple, others who are just like you, looking for a business to start, will also start this business as well since there is low barrier to entry and they will become your competitors. Hence, in order to standout, you will have to try something that people haven’t seen. Something creative!

Just consider how many people are using TeeSpring to sell their products, thousands! These are your competitors. People who are using Printify, Printful, and even AliExpress dropshippers selling t-shirt designs, all of these are your competitors.

3. Print on Demand vs AliExpress Dropshipping vs Amazon FBA

Let’s compare Print on Demand Dropshipping with two other top ecommerce business models to learn how they differ from each other.

Print on Demand Dropshipping

Print on Demand dropshipping business requires that you have your own designs to sell online. It requires an ecommerce POD platform like TeeSpring, Printify, or Printful. POD business has a low barrier to entry but the competition is tough. A POD business is only limited to a few customizable products but profit margins are high. You can easily scale this type of business model if you have an engaged customer base.

AliExpress Dropshipping

AliExpress dropshipping is a dropshipping business model in which you sell products available on AliExpress through your own store while keeping a profit. The reason this business is so successful is because AliExpress suppliers don’t market their products directly to users, so dropshippers do that for them while keeping a profit.

For example, a cat-paw locket available for $1 + $3 for ePacket shipping on AliExpress is usually sold for $10 on sites like Wish and Bluecrate with free shipping. So, even if dropshippers are advertising the product for $3, they still keep a $3 profit on a single product.

In simple terms, we call this type of business model as ‘arbitrage.’ Real estate agents do arbitrage because they sell products for a higher price while keeping a profit. We can use the same term for dropshipping because sellers are literally copying the same concept. Dropshippers selling AliExpress or Chinese products usually promote them on social media or Google ads.

Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)

Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a business model in which you sell your products on Amazon using its prime service. The FBA model requires you to send your products to Amazon warehouse, where they pack and ship the products to customers. Most FBA experts are racking millions through this business model.

The strategy is simple:

  • They import highly purchase-worthy products through China
  • They then send these products to Amazon warehouses, where these products become eligible for Amazon prime
  • They then sponsor their own products on Amazon listing pages, and optimize Amazon descriptions to rank higher

FBA model has a high barrier to entry and these businesses require bulk buying and selling, something that a POD store owner can’t manage easily.

4. Common Misconceptions about Print on Demand (POD) Dropshipping Business

Here are some common misconceptions about POD businesses spread all over the internet.

Misconception #1: Print On Demand Requires a lot of Upfront Cost

You can start a Print on Demand dropshipping business with zero dollars. In fact, most POD dropshippers start with zero dollar and only scale when they get one or two sales. That’s why, have we added a drawback of POD stores i.e. its low barrier to entry.

Misconception #2: Print on Demand Products Don’t Sell Well

This is not a misconception. If you have poor quality products, then they will certainly not bring you the required money. Well, If you are selling sub-standard products, why will someone buy them?

Misconception #3: Chances of Failing in a POD business are high

Chances of failing in any business are high if you don’t do a feasibility study. In fact, every nine out of 10 businesses fail because of various reasons. You can read more about POD statistics in our Dropshipping business failure report

Misconception #4: You need to be a graphic designer to start

This is again not true. Many POD dropshippers don’t know anything about graphic designing. They saw a gap in the market and started promoting their own designs through Facebook advertising. One POD dropshipper even started out by just printing quotes on his shirts. He has earned over $100k so far. Read more about him

5. Market Potential of a Print on Demand Business

As a ‘Print on Demand (POD)’ business model is still in its infancy stage therefore not a lot of exclusive data is available. But the printing industry as a whole is growing 16 percent yearly. Combine that with the ecommerce growth data, which aims to touch $3.5 trillion cap this year, we can get a pretty good idea about its future growth.

In fact, top POD platforms such as Printify have seen obscene growth in the last six months alone just because of the sheer demand of POD platforms.

Market Potential of a Print on Demand Business

6. Best Countries to Market POD

POD Dropshipping is popular in almost all countries. But as a dropshipper you need to target only those countries that have a high per capita income. Most dropshipping experts market their POD products in US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand because they have a high per capita and a mature online market.

While selecting the countries to target for POD, keep the following factors in mind.

Buying Power

Find out what is the per capita income in those countries. For example, US, UK, Switzerland, and many others have high buying power. So you can shortlist them for your POD marketing.

Population

Now check which of these countries have more population. If a country only has a couple of million people living in it like Norway, you won’t be able to scale your POD business in that country easily.

Ad Budget

Finally compare the ad budget cost by marketing in different countries. Currently, USA has the highest budget costs at around $5-$8 per click. Cost in Canada and Australia is much lower at $2. Compare these before deciding the country for marketing your products.

Shipping Charges

Finally, compare the shipping charges for each country. If you are using a product like TeeSpring or Printify, you can find the shipping costs from their websites.

Finalize the country for ads targeting after taking into account the above mentioned factors.

7. Expert Views on Print on Demand Dropshipping

Consistency is Everything

Ronnie McKenzie, an affiliate marketer, says, “The reason we became so successful with selling POD products was through focus and consistency.

By being able to devote our time to coming up with ideas for shirts and running ads we weren’t required to take care of a full service ecommerce store.

Take Advantage if Available Resources

BENNY HSU of Get Busy Living Blog says:

I could have easily thought to myself “I don’t know how to start”. It can feel overwhelming knowing nothing, but wanting to know it all. I get so many emails from people who say “I don’t know how to get started.” That’s a way to basically say, “I want to ______, but I’m too lazy and afraid to figure out how. I’ll tell you how I know they are lazy. There’s this website called GOOGLE. Very helpful to learn anything.

Focus on Economies of Scale

Neil Lassen an Amazon Merch Designer who makes a six figure income from his stores, recommends everyone to focus on economy of scale.

You may look at the numbers posted and think, why would you waste your time making $4.28 per T-shirt sold? The answer is, because you are selling on Amazon, one of the most trafficked sites on the internet. They get so much traffic each and every day, that if you set up your listing properly, you will see organic sales

8. Final Words!

Just remember, nothing is worse than a missed opportunity.

Print on Demand dropshipping businesses are not only easy to start but they require zero investment and also easier to scale. Moreover, as per our research the pros of a POD business simply outweigh the cons.

As ecommerce industry is still growing, POD businesses offer a lucrative opportunity for anyone trying to start a side gig, but is reluctant to lose hard earned investment.

The benefit of a POD dropshipping business is that even if your store fails, you will only lose a small amount of the money that you used for marketing and design of the products. But, the knowledge you tend to get in the process will be beneficial to start a successful store later on. Are you ready to get the most of this opportunity and start your POD store today.
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Sajjad Shahid

Sajjad is an Ecommerce Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves helping out Ecommerce store owners, merchants and marketers in establishing their businesses and startups. Sajjad enjoys playing table tennis and cricket over the weekend.

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