Is Printful Still The Best Print On Demand Platform for New Online Shops?
Printful is one of the mainstays in the Print on Demand marketplace. They’ve been around for years, integrating into thousands of e-commerce stores and delivering printed products across the globe.
When you’re looking to get your print on demand store running, it’s essential to know everything about the service that you’re using. Today I’m going to be doing a review of Printful based on my experiences with them over two years of running my store, and two years of helping out other entrepreneurs when I was working as a Shopify Guru.
What They Do
Print-on-demand is a rapidly growing market and there are a number of companies looking to help create and ship products with your designs on them.
Printful is probably the best-known PoD fulfilment-only platform out there. By 'fulfilment-only', I mean they only deal with printing products and getting them to your customers.
You'll therefore need your own customer-facing online shop (e.g. Shopify, Wix, Squarespace), and link it up with your Printful account. Printful will then be able to automatically ship orders your customers make on your store.
Contrast that with the likes of other PoD companies like RedBubble or Teespring who do more than just fulfil your orders. They list your items on their marketplace, host your shop on their servers and process payments.
Of course, there is an upshot to having your own shop and working with a fulfilment-only service like Printful. You can increase your profit margins, have more control over your shop and always switch out your PoD supplier as your business needs change.
How It Works
It's not hard to get started with Printful. Their first party integrations are developed with novices in mind, so it is pretty much a case of downloading an app/plugin to your store and connecting it to your Printful account.
- Sign up for a Printful account
- Download the right integration for your online shop (e.g. the Printful app for Shopify stores)
- Build your products by uploading your graphics to shirts and other items in the Printful product builder.
- Get orders to your store (the hard part!)
- Printful will handle the rest
Clothing and other products coming out of Printful warehouses is top notch.
When it comes to clothing, things like fabric quality and sizing will depend on the base shirt or hoodie you choose. Printful themselves don't have much input in this regard.
However, the difference is in the print quality. If you’ve ordered your fair share of T-shirts online, you’ve likely run into some of the common print-quality problems, like low resolution prints, faded colors or prints cracking in the wash.
But Printful gets things right.
Between my girlfriend and myself, we have dozens of products from our print on demand store that we ordered from Printful. All of those products are still alive and kicking to this day. The shirts look as good as the night I pulled them out of the box, just a little more wrinkled.
A big part of this comes down to Printful using first-party printing. A lot of print on demand services use warehouses that they don’t directly own, which can lead to poor or inconsistent print quality.
If you ever order something from Printful, they’re the ones printing it, and you can rest easy knowing every shirt your customers get is going to be as high quality as the samples you ordered.
2. Customer Service
Over the past two years, I haven't had many issues with Printful. I had one order that got lost on the way to the customer, and I've helped other stores troubleshoot problems in the past.
Printful's customer service agents are responsive, kind and willing to work with you to find a solution. Additionally, they have a close relationship with many of the platforms they integrate with, meaning that you can easily have a 3-way email between yourself, Printful and support from your e-commerce platform; This is fantastic for solving issues that live on your storefront.
Additionally, Printful has even reached out to me about one of my designs. I had placed it too low in the product builder and cut off the edge of the art. One of Printful's agents sent me a personal email when I placed my first order of that design, asking if the cropping was intentional or a mistake.
It's easy to overlook the value of good customer service since you don't deal with them until there's a problem. But given how closely tied your business and PoD fulfilment platform are, you just can't disregard its importance.
3. Store Management
Printful’s UI and tools for store management make sure you've got everything at your fingertips while you're running your e-commerce store.
You can easily track orders from your computer or phone, you get notified if something ends up out of stock and making order modifications within the mobile app is a breeze.
Overall, their store management tools are easy to use and provide everything you need to keep your store running like a well-oiled machine.
On top of that, Printful offers some awesome features for making your store stand out among the rest.
You can store your non-Printful products at Printful warehouses so that they ship with your Printful products. This massively cuts shipping costs and saves you a lot of money if you have a store that isn't just about printed clothing.
It’s worth noting that the bulk of your store management will still be done on your storefront's end (e.g. Shopify, Squarespace etc.) Printful’s store management tools are exclusively post-sale, and relate to issues concerning Printful order fulfilment.
4. Fast + Reliable International Shipping
It's no big secret that faster shipping times means happy customers. Anything over a week and the chance customers start enquiring about their order's whereabouts rises exponentially.
Printful is very good about delivering orders on time. Their global network of in-house printing facilities also mean you won't end up struggling to track down what happened to a delayed order. This is unfortunately all too common with PoD platforms that outsource fulfilment to third-party printing facilities.
Printful doesn't claim to have the lowest prices in the market, and they don't.
Take, for example, the popular Bella-Canvas 3001 shirt. With a single design on the front, it will cost you $12.95 before shipping. If you want to add a second print area, like a design on the back, the price jumps up to $18.90.
With shipping (an extra $3.99 in the US), you’re looking at a cost of $16.94 for a basic, one print area shirt. That means you’re going to have to set the price at over $20.00 a shirt, or you’re just not going to make enough money to run the ads you need.
Compare that with competitor Printify, where you get a Bella Canvas 3001 printed and shipped for $12.47 shipped.
The reason that the high price is in the ‘Good’ category is that the extra money you spend is worth it. You may have a higher price point, but the shirts your customers get are premium products that they can wear every day. You are selling the kind of product that becomes someone’s favourite shirt, and that will keep your customers coming back again and again.
Keep in mind that custom printed shirts (sold on marketplaces like RedBubble or Teespring) generally cost $20-30. With Printful's pricing, you'll still be getting higher margins from your designs.
2. The Product Builder
The Printful product builder is easy to use, intuitive, and for basic designs, almost impossible to mess up.
Printful will let you know if an image will appear blurry on a final product and has easy buttons to align a picture with the edge or dead center of the print area. You can easily handle basic t-shirt making in mere minutes a design.
However, for some of the more complicated products, Printful’s simple product designer is a downright pain. Attempting to align patterns on leggings can be a nightmare, and designing for a bathing suit made me drop the idea of selling them.
The features that make shirt design easy don’t work in a 3D space and result in ugly seams and awkward image placement.
The new ‘pattern’ feature that Printful has added to their platform makes this a little easier to deal with, but if you’re obsessed with having perfect seams; You’re going to need a full evening and a glass of whiskey to get it right.
Additionally, Printful has tools for combining designs or adding text alongside an image upload, but you probably won't use them. I would recommend using a program like Photoshop or even a service like Canva to finalize your design before uploading it to Printful. It will save you headaches in the long run.
The mock-ups on Printful are very decent, which says something considering how poor many print on demand service mock-ups are.
Printful provides a number of high-quality mockups featuring paid models with varied backdrops. They're definitely good enough to fill product pages.
The problem is that they're just too generic to be used in ads or promotion. Given that there's no shortage of competition in the PoD online business space, you really can't half-ass the images that show-off your merchandise.
I'd always recommend using premium mockup generators or templates for marketing purposes. If business proves successful, ordering samples and doing product photography is even better.
1. Product selection (beyond clothing)
If you're looking for variations on every type of shirt and other apparel, Printful has your back. Looking at the product catalog, you could easily mistake yourself browsing a fashion retail store.
However, their inventory is heavily focused on clothing and lacking in other departments.
To be fair, Printful has been working hard to improve their product range, adding fun and creative items for your store like bean bag chairs and beach towels. However, there are still notable misses like placemats, notebooks and shower curtains.
2. Discount Scheme
There's no argument that Printful is a great place to start a print-on-demand T-shirt business. They're not the cheapest, but they deliver quality prints in reasonable times and have one of the slickest platforms out there. In the beginning, your goal should never be about maximising profit, but rather finding a sustainable business model and building a good reputation.
However, once you start turning a profit and think more about scaling up, Printful doesn't offer enough. Printify, for example, offers a 'Premium' plan with substantial (~10-20%) discounts.
By contrast Printful offers measly discounts even if your store is ordering a LOT of product. They offer a 5% discount for selling $1000.00 worth of shirts in a month, and that discount rises up to 9% at $10,000.00 and private contracts past $20,000.
Better than nothing at all, but it's still impossible to get hyped about single-digit percentage discounts.
Verdict: Should you use Printful?
Short answer: Yes.
Printful is still the best option for those looking to integrate a print-on-demand supplier with their online shops.
It's definitely the best starting point for newcomers to the print-on-demand space. They deliver superior quality, provide great customer service, give you a user-friendly product builder and have the tightest integrations with e-commerce platforms.
However, more established apparel businesses might want to consider other services to increase their profit margins.
Printify and Gooten are two such services, but quality inconsistencies mean you really have to order samples and check for issues before selling to consumers. You can read my Printful vs Printify comparison to see exactly how things differ.
Furthermore, on top-selling designs with high sales volumes, you should consider bulk purchases (as opposed to on-demand) and further increase profitability.
But unless you've already established a profitable business, Printful is the most complete and dependable print-on-demand platform out there.