Bonfire isn’t your typical print-on-demand company. Based in Richmond, Virginia, Bonfire started out as a fundraising platform where individuals or non-profits could sell printed shirts and raise money for their cause.
They’ve since relaxed their focus and now present themselves as an alternative POD service, even for those who simply wish to profit from selling printed shirts online.
At first glance, Bonfire doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for the profit-driven—the base price of shirts is markedly higher than the industry average and the product selection is limited.
However, as we’ll find throughout this review, they do operate in their own niche and could be the perfect partner for certain businesses.
How Bonfire Works
On the Bonfire platform, you have three main options:
- Limited Edition Campaign
- Create a Store
Limited edition campaigns and a fundraiser work similarly, except the latter accepts donations and should specify where the proceeds are going. You’ll create a design and promote your campaign/fundraiser. Once the campaign ends, the orders will be shipped in bulk. The more you sell, the higher your profit margins.
You can customize exactly how your Bonfire campaign will appear to visitors
The alternative is to set up your own store—a permanent place for your designs. Visitors can purchase shirts featuring your designs and Bonfire will handle the rest. This is the more conventional way of making money selling shirts online, but you don’t benefit from the bulk discounts.
Product selection should always be a key consideration when deciding on a print-on-demand platform. Unless you’ve deliberately associated your brand with shirts, you want to be able to sell your designs on different goods.
Compared to its competition, Bonfire doesn’t offer much variety in its product range. You can view the full product catalog here. Besides basic T-shirts, the inventory includes:
- Long Sleeve Shirts
- Kids and baby shirts
- Mugs, tote bags and hats.
While the product range lacks diversity, it does make for a more consistent brand and give the impression of quality over quantity.
While sites like Redbubble boast a huge range of products, browsing the marketplace can feel like you’re walking through a flea market. With Bonfire, you get the sense that they’ve really focused all their efforts on quality shirts, which brings us to the next consideration…
One area that Bonfire performs really well in is the quality of the shirts they deliver.
As an example, their Premium Unisex Tee is a 60/40 cotton/poly blend (100% cotton with some colors) crew neck shirt coming from Next Level Apparel, a high-quality and socially responsible supplier.
While other POD companies can get you the same blank apparel, Bonfire has a rigorous design review process that means you don’t have to worry about things looking different from how you imagined.
Depending on your design and the number of shirts you’ve ordered, Bonfire will either use direct-to-garment (DTG) or screen-printing.
I’m not sure whether it’s possible to choose one or the other by contacting them directly, but generally speaking large quantity orders (11+) with suitable designs will be screen-printed. Screen printing offers some advantages over DTG prints, as covered in our DTG vs screen printing article.
When it comes to uploading your graphics, the Bonfire Design Tool is both intuitive and flexible.
You’re able to upload both vector and raster based images in a variety of formats. The ability to upload vector-based files is a big plus—too many POD companies are still lacking this feature.
It’s also possible to use the design tool to create your design from the ground up. The Canva-like interface offers a number of free graphics and fonts that you can use in your design.
Unfortunately, you’re limited to using just 8 colors in any given design. Bonfire recommends sticking to 1-3 colors, advice you’ll probably want to follow given the fact additional colors come at additional cost. This also means Bonfire makes more sense if you’re sticking to minimalist designs, and less sense if you’re planning to stick full-blown artwork on a shirt.
Less confident designers might be interested in Bonfire Studio, a surprisingly affordable way to leave the design work to Bonfire’s in-house design team. The standard package costs just $49, while the premium package costs $99.
A common benefit of joining certain POD companies is that they have their own customer-facing marketplace. Basically, anyone who ends up on their site can browse all the designs and buy products they fancy. That means your designs get free exposure.
Bonfire doesn’t have a marketplace, so most of the marketing work will be your responsibility.
Although launching limited campaigns or fundraisers is Bonfire’s speciality, you can also set up your online shirt shop.
This doesn’t cost you anything and setting up your store is extremely simple.
The customizability is limited and there is obvious Bonfire branding on the storefront.
Thankfully, Bonfire’s branding is on point. The premium nature of the Bonfire brand works to your advantage. Compare that with some other POD companies, where you’re actively trying to hide every trace of the supplier from your visitors.
When you’re trying to figure out how your shirt business could work, pricing is obviously a key factor.
The good news is that launching campaigns, fundraising and selling on a store are all completely free. Of course, that’s standard practice in the industry so the more important consideration is your estimated profit margin.
Bonfire doesn’t offer a good margin when it comes to one-off sales. The ‘base cost’ of a shirt scales with the quantity of sales you generate. You can get an estimate of your profits using their price calculator.
Many other POD services have flat-rate pricing, where the base shirt cost is fixed regardless of the order size. This makes them better suited to individual sales, and Bonfire only becomes price-competitive when you’re making bulk orders.
Another cost to factor in is the delivery fees charged to customers who buy your shirts. A $3.99 shipping fee applies to all domestic orders, but orders with at least 5 items get free shipping. The international shipping cost starts at $9.99.
Delivery Time and Customer Service
Being a smaller company, Bonfire pride themselves in offering a more personalized service.
Consumer review website Trustpilot isn’t without it’s own issues, but nevertheless Bonfire scores well-above the industry average, with an average rating of 4.6 stars.
However, a common complaint are the long shipping times. Orders are shipped 7-14 business days from the date a campaign ends, or 7-14 business days from when the order is placed (if it was placed on a Bonfire shop). International orders take even longer.
Currently, Bonfire does not integrate with any third-party platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce or Etsy. This isn’t really a problem, as if you opt to go for a Premium offering like Bonfire, half the point is to show-off to your customers that your products are sourced by them.
In all honesty, Bonfire is not the best place for individual designers looking to maximize profits on their artwork.
The quality of prints and customer service is excellent. It’s just that the base cost of shirts is high when customers are ordering one item at a time. As a result, the profit margin will be lower compared to most other POD companies. Furthermore, the slower than average delivery time will annoy some customers.
However, Bonfire becomes much more compelling if you’re planning to launch a limited campaign or engage in fundraising. Securing larger pre-orders brings down the price per shirt to reasonable levels. On top of that, the premium nature of the brand and its ethical practices makes customers feel like they’re making a special purchase.