Print on Demand vs Dropshipping – Which One is Better For My Biz?

Print on Demand vs Dropshipping – Which One is Better For My Biz?

There are two kinds of business models dropshippers can adapt to their stores: (1) print on demand or (2) dropshipping.

But which one should you choose?

Assuming that you’re already familiar with how dropshipping works, you need to learn what print on demand is all about first, to answer this question—how it compares to dropshipping and what it takes to run a successful print on demand business.

So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at print on demand.

What is print on demand (POD)?

Print on demand is a business model where you sell products such as t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, pillows, and more with custom-made designs printed on them.

Take, for example, Zazzle.

Zazzle homepage

As you can see, they offer personalized gift items and custom-designed products and décors. But one thing that makes them one step ahead of others is their community platform.

In this platform, you can create your own custom gifts. You can also sell your design and have it printed on their products. You can even choose to sell your own products.

Now, this is probably the reason why it’s only right for you to learn more about this business model before you can even think about trying it out on your store.

Otherwise, you’ll have to face the risk of losing customers just because you aren’t able to offer something unique like the platform mentioned above.

Print on demand: A creativity business

Unlike dropshipping where you start by searching for winning products that people would buy on impulse, print on demand is more than just a product business.

looking for a good design

In this business model, you start by looking for a design or theme. No, it’s not just any whimsical concept that you can think of. It should be something that relates to what people want or believe in—to the point where they wouldn’t hesitate to spend money just to have it.

Simply put, it’s like fashion that is driven by creativity and design.

That being said, here are a few questions for you to answer:

  • Are you the type of person who especially pays attention to designs that people likely want to get their hands on?
  • Can you see which contemporary design element connects well with people’s emotions?

If you answered yes to these two questions, then a print on demand business is for you.

The requirement of a POD business: Consistent creative production

Print on demand isn’t exactly comparable to dropshipping, as each has its unique way of doing business.

In dropshipping, you have to look for new products continuously. You will test these products and see if it is profitable enough to be offered in your store.

In print on demand, on the other hand, you need to bring out different designs continually. This will help you figure out what to offer.

With this, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have the talent to create my own designs?
  • Do I have a good sense of color and design?

You also have to consider these things in case you can’t do any of what’s mentioned above:

  • Can I find designers who can do the job for me?
  • Can I direct them to do creative work?

You also need to negotiate terms and sign a contract with the designer you’ve chosen to work with. This is for you to make a profit while equally paying a royalty fee to the designer for his/her design.

So if you think you can manage all these, then print on demand is for you.

Branding: How important it is for a POD business?

When you hear the word branding, what comes first into your mind? Most people would think of this word as buying specific products offered by well-known companies.

Take, for example, high-cut sneakers by Converse or a gaming laptop from ASUS.

Then again, you might have encountered dropshipping stores going big without branding much. However, you can’t expect the same thing for a print on demand business.

You see, a print on demand business requires you to focus mostly on a product’s design. It’s somewhat similar to a dropshipping niche store; hence it’s considered to be all about the branding in this type of business.

After all, branding allows you to showcase your business in a way that makes people understand what it’s all about. Just like Adidas. “Impossible is Nothing.” With this slogan, Adidas wants people to know that their business is about helping people realize their full potentials to overcome limits.

Put it this way: the more they understand your brand, the more they will trust it. The more they trust it, the more sales you’ll get. The more sales you get, the more chances for them to pledge their loyalty to your brand.

For people to start paying attention to your product and stay interested in it, your brand concept should complement the product design.

For example, you’re selling military-themed t-shirts and shoes. Thus:

Product Design (related to military)

Brand Concept (green, a color associated with military)

Now, are you familiar with brand-building exercise? If not, then print on demand business may not be your cup of tea.

Three important things to consider before starting a POD business

Ready to start a print on demand business?

You need to consider these three important things first:

1. You need to understand the materials used in POD

In dropshipping, store owners fulfill their customers’ orders through their suppliers.

Likewise, a print on demand business owner uses a third-party printing service like printful to fulfill orders, . This allows them to have their designs printed on readily available products before getting shipped to customers without taking much effort on their part.

Simply put, you design and they print.

The only thing is, a print on demand business usually offers a whole lot of products—from t-shirts to mugs, cushion covers to bedding sets, shoes to art prints, and more.

different POD products

While it’s a good thing for a business like print on demand to have a wide range of products to choose from, this can backfire as customers would likely be confused instead of decisively selecting a product to buy.

Even more so, there are different variations for each product line in this type of business—something that you should consider carefully before handling any one of them.

Take, for example, art prints. They come in different sizes. There are also different materials for printing, such as art paper, matte paper, photo paper, and fine art paper. There are different frames and mats as well, where art prints can be kept in place.

Thus, you need to understand the material you have chosen to print on. This includes the effect it may have on the product’s quality, as well as the supply cost in case there is a specific budget to be met. Otherwise, you will likely run into quality and customer issues.

However, it’s also important to know that you can always learn about these things and start with a product line you are most familiar with.

2. The printing quality will affect the the product’s quality

Quality control can be quite daunting in dropshipping. Thus, this isn’t something that dropshippers would enjoy doing.

But then again, print on demand can be just as hard or even more.


Using a third-party printing service makes the process outsourced away from you. This means that you won’t have any control over any equipment used for printing and the entire printing process.

If you have a clothing print on demand business, you will often encounter quality issues due to printing errors. The colors may be off, or the design may not be printed as per the specifications given.

low quality T-shirt printing

The good news? Carefully choosing a printing service and performing sample tests extensively allows you to avoid most of these issues.

3. You can’t market a POD business like when you’re dropshipping

There’s a good reason why paid advertising is essential to dropshipping. It does not only allow you to promote your store, but also get traffic when testing products daily via Facebook or Instagram ad campaigns.

In contrast, print on demand’s marketing focuses more on the brand. This means people would likely want to see what the business is all about before checking out what products it offers. And when it relates to what they want, then they would pay more attention to it.

Now, here’s a tip: organic marketing techniques like increasing your social media presence via regular posts and exchanging comments on your Facebook or Instagram page and doing SEO are print on demand’s preferred marketing strategies.

That’s because while it’s easy to reach people via Facebook Ads, it would take a long time for them to appreciate and understand your design and brand message as compared to doing those mentioned above.

Thus, marketing a print on demand business means spending time engaging with people and building a community with them—who eventually become your loyal followers and your very own brand ambassadors.

Is print on demand worth it?

As compared to dropshipping, a print on demand business generally has a higher profit margin—thanks to its focus on branding and design. However, it takes time to grow this type of business model because you also need to do more complex and organic marketing techniques such as link building or keyword targeting form time to time.

Always remember: because print on demand is very different from dropshipping, you must understand what it is all about and acquire the right skills to run it successfully.

See you in the next article!

Jeff Wong

Jeff has spent 12 years architecting data analytics and offering consultation services for clients in the b2b, telco, healthcare and e-commerce industry. He likes to blog about the problems online businesses are facing nowadays and share creative and inexpensive solutions.

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