A print on demand fulfillment model makes it possible to sell custom products without having to hold inventory. Furthermore, products are only made and shipped on demand, so you don’t have to concern yourself with large upfront costs.
Many home-based entrepreneurs have had success selling things on eBay, Amazon, Etsy, or even on their own online store. But establishing their own print on demand businesses is a relatively new trend, made possible only by innovations in printing technology and delivery logistics.
Whether you’re looking to set up your own clothing brand, monetize your artwork or add custom merch to your existing shop, you’ll need a print on demand company to take care of order fulfillment on your behalf.
In this article, I’ll be taking you through the best print on demand services that power thousands of businesses across the globe. The important thing to keep in mind is that there is no single best print on demand company, but rather, different companies cater for different business cases.
But before we get into that, we absolutely need to cover some key considerations that you need to make first.
Sell on a marketplace, or set up your own store?
This is perhaps the first thing you need to decide, because this will help you narrow down which print on demand site to pick.
Option 1: Sell on a POD marketplace
As a seller, your first option is to list your custom designs on an online marketplace. Examples of such sites include Amazon, Teespring, Redbubble, and Society6.
You probably already know these marketplaces get a lot of traffic. People are always browsing the site and looking for things to buy. As a seller, designs you list here will naturally be seen by the site’s visitors.
These marketplaces want you to offer your creative work, because their whole business is built on the work from independent creatives. As a result, they make everything incredibly easy for you. You just give them the right to put your work on things like T-shirts or mugs, and they’ll give you a percentage in royalties of any sales that are made.
Many POD marketplaces also let you create a personal storefront and optionally connect a custom domain to it. However, the customization options are typically limited and you don’t have the freedoms you would get if you were hosting your own Shopify/WooCommerce/Webflow store. It will also be obvious to customers that you’re associated with the POD site.
It’s a set-it-and-forget-it way of monetizing work, and your time investment will be minimal. Of course, if you want to have more control over your business, the next option is recommended.
Option 2: Self-managed shop + POD fulfillment platform
The second option, and the option I personally think is more interesting and potentially more profitable, is to have your own independent online store. This is obviously more hands-on but it gives you finer control over your business. Moreover, you’re not tied to fees, design approval waiting times and/or restrictions placed by any single retailer.
Bonus Option: Do Both
Technically speaking, there’s nothing stopping you from selling on different marketplaces and running your own store at the same time. POD marketplaces don’t have any exclusivity terms, so you’re free to set up multiple shops.
Obviously, juggling all this will take extra time, and in the beginning you’ll want to keep things more focused (at least that’s what I think). Nonetheless, just keep in mind that you are free to experiment with various companies.
Who Should Do What
A good rule of thumb is that if you’re an artist simply looking to monetize their work, a print on demand marketplace (option 1) is a good choice. This leaves you with more time to focus on creating awesome designs, and you won’t have to worry about managing a store or actively marketing your designs. Good designs can sell themselves on sites like these.
On the other hand, if you have entrepreneurial spirit within you, setting up your own shop is the way to go (option 2). This lets you focus on building up your brand, marketing your products, and maximizing your profit margins. You’ll focus on gaining a competitive edge through the likes of running Facebook ads, SEO, and an effective social media strategy.
The Best Print on Demand Sites If You Run Your Own Store
Here are my top picks for print on demand services who will fulfill your store’s orders and deal with most of the dirty work (i.e. printing, dispatch and delivery, accepting customer returns). They won’t provide you with an actual shop where customers can purchase things, so you’ll need to set that up separately.
Printful was founded in 2013, and has since become the biggest name in the POD space. With its worldwide network of print facilities, they fulfill over 1 million orders to customers across the globe, every month.
Printful isn’t the cheapest, but for most online businesses, offers the most compelling overall package.
First of all, they seamlessly integrate with 20 ecommerce platforms. Of course, Shopify and WooCommerce (Wordpress) integrations are top-notch, which are the two most prevalent ecommerce backends.
Second, they have one of the most extensive selection of customizable products you can find. Aside from the obvious things like T-shirts and hoodies, they also offer things ranging from iPhone cases to wall art.
Compared to similar platforms which simply offer direct-to-garment printing (DTG), Printful also offers more printing techniques–like embroidery, cut and sew, and sublimation. This means your store’s inventory can include more unique items that stand out from the rest.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they’re completely dependable. As a business, the last thing you want is unhappy customers on your hand, and Printful will make sure that’s not an issue. They offer excellent quality control, industry-leading lead and shipping times, and it’s very unlikely you’ll encounter any hiccups.
Other noteworthy features are its excellent and free mockup generator, active community and newbie-friendly extra services, like graphic design and store set-up.
- High-quality prints and fast shipping for your store’s customers
- Easy to use product editor to make sure your designs are placed correctly
- Extensive product catalog with varied printing techniques
- Solid integrations with eCommerce platforms
- Higher pricing limits your profit margin
- Unimpressive volume discounts.
Printful is my recommendation for newbies who are just getting started and are focusing on becoming profitable. You can get 20% off sample orders to see exactly how your products will turn out.
Rest assured your customers will be satisfied and you won’t have to deal with poorly laid out integrations for your store. High volume sellers should consider bulk ordering popular designs and holding inventory at Printful’s warehouses (yes, this is possible!).
A name as big as Printful, Printify is another Latvian POD service that has enjoyed remarkable success. (Fun fact: the two were involved in a legal battle which has since been resolved amicably).
Unlike Printful, who possesses and runs its own print facilities and warehouses, Printify is a vendor network. Basically, they’ve built relationships with third-party print houses, who are responsible for handling printing and shipping. Printify acts as an intermediary, making it convenient for its users to place orders from various print houses with ease.
But why not just order from the print houses directly? Well, Printify does a LOT for you, including providing a slick integration with ecommerce platforms, giving you a product editor, and providing an extra layer of protection in case things go wrong.
As a business owner, the biggest advantage of Printify is that you can go window shopping for your ideal print provider, all of whom are competing with each other to get your next order. As a result, base prices and shipping costs can be very low, so your business’s profit margins can be maximized.
Another advantage is that because it has partnered with so many vendors, the product catalog is massive. You won’t run out of things to sell.
Of course, there are downsides to Printify. Namely, the satisfaction of your customers is at the whim of whatever print vendor you choose. Some vendors are excellent, but there are times they won’t ship to your customer located in Australia, in which case you’ll need to source from another vendor. This makes everything quite unpredictable, from print quality, to the actual product cost, shipping fee, and shipping time.
Overall, Printify is absolutely worth considering. This is especially true if you are prepared to spend time choosing a vendor, ordering samples to ensure quality, and willing to micro-manage vendors in edge cases. Because once you overcome that, you can drastically boost profit margins.
- Vast selection of over 250 products–T-shirts, fridge magnets, shoes, backpacks, blankets, mugs, and more.
- Lower product costs
- Printify Premium monthly subscription ($24.99 p/m) further reduces prices for a fixed fee (great for high volume sellers)
- Easy to use
- Inconsistent quality means you should really order samples first
- Prices and shipping times depend on the print house you choose, so business expense forecasting is more complicated
- Problem resolution can take longer, because you have to work through an intermediary
Sellers who want access to the broadest number of options, or those who want to maximize profit margins on print on demand products – and are willing to deal with some inconsistencies.
While Printful and Printify are the two major players in the industry, Gooten is a relatively new print on demand site that is worthy of a mention.
Gooten offers a nice middle-ground between Printful and Printify. Like Printify, Gooten technically uses a vendor network (the “Gooten Network”), so they’re not making things in-house.
But unlike Printify, much of the details about the partnered print facilities are abstracted away, meaning you don’t have to do your research or deal with each print house on an individual basis. Instead, Gooten does that for you, and ensures standardized pricing and more consistency in your orders.
Gooten themselves are quite explicit about who they believe are compatible with them. They are not trying to compete with Printful or Printify over low-volume sellers who are just trying to get a foot in the door. Instead, they’re more focused on offering well-established businesses a more tailored service. They’re the first company to offer a serious print on demand loyalty program, Gooten VIM, too.
That being said, anyone is welcome to give Gooten a try. I myself took the chance to explore their website and navigate their management interface. Things were a little more rough around the edges and the product selection didn’t seem as mature as the competition. Integrations were limited to Etsy, Shopify and WooCommerce, though software developers will be able to take advantage of the Gooten API to build whatever they need. Nevertheless, I can definitely see a lot of potential in their offering.
- Smaller company that promises more personal partnerships.
- Loyalty scheme which rewards high volume sellers with monetary and non-monetary benefits like consultations and assigned partnership managers.
- Third-party print facilities are carefully vetted, ensuring more consistent quality.
- Software and UX lacks polish
- Small-time sellers will not benefit from any of its unique offerings
As mentioned, Gooten are explicit about who can really benefit from partnering with them. Basically, they’re looking to help grow established businesses with busy stores. You can learn more here.
SPOD is an offering from another print on demand industry giant, Spreadshirt. It is their tailor-made solution for Shopify store owners.
Because it is designed to integrate with Shopify specifically via a Shopify app, the experience is especially straightforward. You can create your products right from within your Shopify store dashboard, and order management is incredibly simple.
The feature they constantly brag about is their industry-leading 48-hour turnaround time. With factories located across US and Europe, they’re able to print, pack, and ship orders faster than the competition.
Their product and shipping pricing is comparable to Printful, and since Spreadshirt uses in-house print facilities, the quality control is also excellent.
For new, inexperienced Shopify sellers, this is a really good alternative to Printful. The main thing to note is that it does kind of tie you into Shopify, which can be a problem if you ever decide to switch to another ecommerce platform.
Furthermore, it’s 100+ item product catalog lags behind that of Printful. However, if you’re mainly focused on decorating white label apparel from the likes of Gildan, American Apparel, Fruit of the Loom, or Bella Canvas, then SPOD will have you covered.
- Tight integration with Shopify
- Fast 48-hour turnaround time
- Good quality prints
- Only integrates with Shopify, missing popular ecommerce store platforms like WooCommerce, BigCommerce, or Wix
If you’ve already decided to sell on a Shopify store, SPOD presents a compelling alternative to Printful and Printify. It’s closest rival is definitely Printful, which is similar in pricing, speed, and quality. But SPOD does limit you to Shopify and has a smaller catalog, so I believe Printful is still the better option as things stand.
The Best Print on Demand Marketplaces
If you’d rather put your designs on a big marketplace which receives thousands of visitors a day, here are my top picks. Remember, you can sign up for multiple, and that’s what I’d recommend because different sites attract different audiences who may or may not be drawn to your designs.
Redbubble is massive, and probably the name you’ll hear come up most often in discussions around custom tees. Started in Melbourne, Australia, all the way back in 2006, they’ve become the internet’s most popular print on demand market with over 10 million monthly site visits.
For most people, it’s become the go-to place for goods with fan art printed on them. If you want a new Mandalorian or Rick and Morty T-shirt, Redbubble is the place that springs to mind.
Of course, you don’t need to be listing fan art to succeed on Redbubble. There are plenty of other designs that have scored big. However, there’s no doubting that cute, vibrant designs resonate most with the site’s younger demographic.
As you might expect from a company whose massive success depends on its army of talented creatives, Redbubble have crafted a pain-free experience for sellers. Uploading artwork and customizing print on demand products is a breeze.
As an artist, you are free to set your own artist margin to whatever you like. In principle, however, most artists set it to 15-25% of the final sale price of the product. Because the marketplace is so competitive, you’ll struggle if you try and set it much higher.
- Huge site traffic means your designs get maximum exposure
- Extremely varied product selection – incl. Leggings, home decor, stationary, clocks, kids & baby clothes, fridge magnets, and more.
- Incredibly easy to get started
- Responsive to notice and takedown reports you make (if your artwork is stolen)
- Saturated and ultra-competitive market
- Bias towards cute/vibrant art and fan art, which may not be your thing
Any talented artist who shares an art style with popular Redbubble designs should absolutely sign up and put their designs up. For others – there’s no cost to trying, but time could probably be better spent elsewhere.
Spring (formerly Teespring)
Spring, or Teespring as most of us would know it, has a fairly interesting story behind them. They were once a Silicon Valley darling which saw investors pouring their money into. At one point, seemingly every internet influencer was launching Teespring campaigns and selling merchandise to their fans.
For various reasons, the business model wasn’t successful as they’d hoped and its massive marketing push came to an end.
Fast forward to today, Teespring has become a much leaner, niche-focused print on demand company. They’re eager to partner with people who have a following, from YouTubers to musicians to Twitch streamers.
Compared to some of the other print on demand platforms, their website and product editor is slick. You can set up your own custom store, which quite honestly end up looking very good with minimal work.
The most unique feature Spring offers is definitely its social media integrations.You can set up a ‘social store’ on Instagram, TikTok, Twitch and YouTube which let your followers purchase your merch right there and then.
- Tight integration with social media makes it possible to sell to followers without taking them off the platform
- Easy to setup slick custom stores with high conversion rates
- Fairly limited product range which is mostly focused on T-shirts and other apparel.
- Many of its features are only helpful if you have a following
If you have a social media presence and want a quick and effective channel to sell your merch to your fans, Spring is a no-brainer.
Spreadshirt is a well-known German ecommerce brand who specialize in producing customized apparel and accessories. They’re also the company behind the Shopify print on demand app, SPOD, which I mentioned earlier.
Its website doesn’t don’t draw quite as many visitors as Redbubble, but their product offering is just as vast.
As a print on demand service, they nail all the fundamentals. The product upload and editing process is intuitive, artist commissions are decent, and, because they own and operate their own print factories, produce high-quality products. Worldwide shipping is offered, not just US, Canada and Europe.
Sellers can also set up their own ‘Spreadshop’, which gives you a storefront with a unique URL to allow visitors to browse all your work.
A nice little bonus to selling on Spreadshirt is that popular designs could be chosen to be shared on other marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Rakuten, Sears, and Cdiscount. This is at the discretion of Spreadshirt and you don’t really have much control over it, but it’s a nice perk nonetheless.
- Reliable service from an established POD company that offer a wide variety of products, from mugs to hoodies and phone cases.
- A wide variety of artstyles do well here, and there’s less competition than Redbubble.
- No specific cons to speak of, but it lacks any unique features or market differentiators that make it stand out
Because it doesn’t cost you anything to show off your designs in the marketplace and potentially make some sales, it doesn’t hurt to try.
Owned by the Leaf Group, Society6 is a print on demand commerce platform with a focus on home-goods. Think Wayfair with an independent artist’s touch.
Society6 often draws comparisons with Redbubble and Spreadshirt, but the reality is they’re fundamentally quite different. Unlike the latter two who focus primarily on apparel and accessories, Society6’s audience and best-selling items are different. Some examples are posters and wall art, tapestries, duvet covers, shower curtains, and even furniture.
Furthermore, the popular designs are typically more muted and less vibrant than some of the wackier things you’ll find on typical POD marketplaces. Understandable, because most of us don’t want to walk home to a circus.
There’s not much else to say about Society6. They used to have a really frustrating product upload and editor, but thankfully that’s been resolved with the all-new artist studio. There’s also a non-refundable $1 charge to verify your account, but it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
- Targets the home-goods niche where retail prices are higher, so commissions can be quite high
- Revamped product editor makes it easy to upload and edit designs so they correctly fit onto the product.
- Fixed 10% artist margin on items which are not one of the following: art prints, framed prints and canvas prints
- $1 non-refundable verification fee to sign up
If you have rights to creative work that is suitable as home decor, Society6 is a good way to monetize your work. Those seeking to monetize fan art, funny memes and the like will do better elsewhere.
Merch By Amazon
As the undisputed king of ecommerce, it was inevitable Amazon would foray into print on demand sooner than later. Merch by Amazon is what they call it, and it’s an invite-only platform with a long waiting list.
If you want to monetize designs on Amazon, Merch by Amazon is the easiest way of going about it. While you can technically source products from elsewhere and sell them on their marketplace as a regular Amazon seller, Merch by Amazon makes your life 10x easier.
Basically, they’ll handle production, shipping, customer service, returns, and everything in between. As a Merch by Amazon member, you just watch the income roll in. And because the platform is so popular, your designs will get more exposure than they would elsewhere.
The biggest stumbling block when it comes to Merch by Amazon is the fact it’s invite-only. You have to submit an application and wait to be invited. They expect applicants to have something to show for, either a proven track record in sales or a portfolio that shows promise.
Invitation takes months rather than weeks, so in the meantime you’ll want to be focusing your efforts elsewhere. But it’s worth requesting an application early on, as it can be highly lucrative once you’re in.
- Huge audience and revenue potential
- Orders are fulfilled and handled by Amazon, who are the leaders in logistics
- Strong analytics and performance measurement tools to track success
- Invite-only, with long approval times
- Standardized product pages and product imagery means your offerings can end up looking the same as everyone else’s.
Successful print on demand entrepreneurs and artists who are looking to expand their business.
Bonfire isn’t your typical print on demand supplier. In fact, they started out as a fundraising platform where individuals or non-profits could sell printed shirts and raise money for their cause. T-shirts would be printed in bulk and distributed once the fundraiser was over.
Since then, the Richmond, Virginia-based company has expanded their business to print shirts on an on-demand basis. In other words, your customers can order from your Bonfire store, without having to participate in a fundraiser.
Taking a closer look at Bonfire from a print on demand perspective, they’re quite expensive compared to the competition. They claim their custom shirts are made from higher quality fabrics and produced responsibly.
There are ethical unknowns over the practices used by some major undecorated blank canvas brands, so Bonfire will definitely appeal to more ethically conscious sellers and consumers.
Bonfire might not be the best product source for the average print on demand business owner, but they do fit a certain niche. If you’re trying to sell something that relates to topics like climate change, animal cruelty or gender and race equality, partnering with a company like Bonfire will add weight to your message.
- High quality, premium prints
- Responsibly sourced products
- Option to run fundraising campaigns
- Excellent customer service
- Pricier than other suppliers
- International shipping is offered, but expensive
- Product range limited to shirts
- Best for bulk-order sublimation print shirts, not one-off on-demand DTG orders
Sellers who focus on premium offerings or those representing a cause.
The name Threadless may ring a bell if you’ve been following printed shirts for a while. They pioneered the idea of T-shirt design competitions and gained a cult-like following, who would vote on their favorite designs each week. The winning designs would be printed in bulk and sold out a discounted price.
Threadless strayed away from its roots and now offers a standard print on demand service. It has become just another marketplace for graphic designed T-shirts and apparel, but it still attracts a decent amount of traffic which can serve as additional exposure for your designs.
Other than shirts, you can place your designs on an extensive range of products like acrylic prints, face masks, tote bags, and even skateboards. You’ll also be able to setup an artist shop, which is a customizable and hosted storefront which showcases all your work.
They still have a lot going for them. Their print quality is highly-regarded and their transparent pricing means you don’t have to be a mathematician to calculate your profits.
It’s also worth mentioning that the design competition hasn’t been abandoned completely. You can still be a part of the community and submit or vote on designs, but things are definitely a lot quieter than they were ten years ago.
- Good quality printing, transparent pricing
- Design competitions and engaged community make things fun
- Website is showing signs of age
- Seller shops lack the polish and features found in most of the competition
Anyone looking to monetize their graphic designs can see if their designs gain traction on the site. It doesn’t hurt to try!
Other notable Print on Demand Companies
Here are some other options you should check out. I personally haven’t had any experience dealing with them, but I’ve seen their names come up time and time again.
Gelato is a company which I wasn’t aware of until I came across one of their Google ads. This surprised me, as they look like a serious business with a solid track record. It seems they have been operating for a while, but somehow flew under my radar.
Similar to Printify, they don’t own any printers. In fact, they call themselves a software company, not a print on demand company. Basically, their software is the link between third-party printing companies and your business. They only offer integration with Shopify and Etsy right now, though a custom-built integration for other ecommerce platforms is possible through their API.
Of course, your customers won’t even be aware of all these complexities, and they’ll receive their order within three days.
I am definitely interested in finding out more about Gelato. However, my instinct is that they primarily cater for smaller and medium-sized businesses (like Gooten), rather than independent designers or entrepreneurs with lower sales volumes. I may be wrong, though.
Design By Humans
This one is big. I feel like they stole some of Teespring’s thunder and I see big influencers and artists who sell merch via DBH.
Just selling on DBH comes with a bit of prestige. To open a shop on this marketplace, you’ll have some basic requirements to be considered, depending on what you do. If you’re an artist, you’ll need to demonstrate a portfolio that contains a minimum of 10 digital pieces of artwork. Video game streamers, Youtubers and musicians must also be able to demonstrate some proof of work.
High quality tees, a strong community, and license to sell official merch from brands like Cartoon Network, Marvel, and Nintendo, are behind much of their success. Their royalties are not particularly good, but they are definitely worth checking out if you want to add credibility to your name.
TeeLaunch is a print on demand fulfillment service who serve the dropshipping needs of Shopify stores. Like SPOD, they provide a Shopify App which will serve as your hub for product and order management.
I haven’t used them and the information available on their website is a little light. However, they have been positively received by reviewers on the Shopify App store, so it might be worth exploring this option further.
Like Redbubble, Zazzle is another international customized product retailer with a rich history. Their emphasis appears to be more towards gifts and stationery, though clothing is also offered.
As a designer, you will be able to create your own Zazzle store and set your royalty percentage between 5% and 99%. Of course, Zazzle will handle all the hard work, from transaction processing to shipping and returns, so you can just sit back and enjoy your percentage of the sale.
Is Print on Demand Worth Your Time?
Yes, I believe so. Selling customized clothing and accessories is a good gateway into ecommerce. It isn’t the most profitable, but it teaches you a lot about the basics of running and marketing a business–and that’s invaluable.
It’s kind of the digital equivalent of a lemonade stand. You basically just need a design to get started, and after that it’s all about attracting customers through marketing efforts. Other ecommerce ventures will typically require a much larger upfront investment and carry a lot more financial risk.
Can I make money with Print on Demand platforms?
Definitely, but it isn’t easy. Setting up your shop and listing your items is the easy part. The hard part is bringing in visitors and getting them to purchase your stuff. To make that happen, you’ll need to create graphic designs people want and then market them.
Personally, I’ve had most success selling seasonal designs or designs which jump on a new trend. Because I advertise on Facebook and Instagram, my designs and accompanying ad copy needs to get a high level of engagement to be profitable.
For example, remember when Dogecoin (the meme cryptocurrency) was exploding in popularity. That would be a great opportunity to design and market Dogecoin-themed merchandise.
Do I need to be an artist or graphic designer to be successful?
No, you don’t. But you will need to tune your strategy. Being able to produce your own designs from scratch is a big advantage. Of course it is!
So if you’re thinking about selling on a big marketplace like Redbubble or Zazzle, you should be doing the designing yourself. This is intended to be a low-effort route to make some money from royalties, so you can’t sustain a profitable business model if you’re outsourcing design work.
But if you want to be the “ideas guy” and have a business mindset, print on demand can still be profitable. I’ve made it work, and others have, too. However, you’ll most likely want to run your own store (to maximize profit margins) and actively look for profitable niches and conjure up design ideas that will sell. In other words, your designs need to be planned ahead.
Of course, if you’re an influencer with fans that want to buy anything you offer, that’s a different story. But I am assuming most of you have not reached those heights.
Do I need to order samples?
If you run your own shop and want to ensure customer satisfaction, it’s good practice to order a sample beforehand.
While I would wager that most T-shirts and other prints will come out okay, it’s better to play it safe. And hey, you also get to keep the sample you ordered!
If you use a service like Printful, who have rigid quality checks in place, samples only need to be ordered when you’re dealing with ‘risky’ designs that are known to be difficult with DTG printing. For example, printing on dark shirts typically have a higher risk of coming out poorly. Note that Printful offers a 20% discount when ordering samples.
If you’re dealing with POD companies who utilize a third-party vendor network, a sample should ideally be ordered to test that specific factory.