Is Print on Demand Worth it? The Pros and Cons of a POD Business

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

As an artist or designer, you may be wondering if print-on-demand is worth the time investment. After all, there are a lot of printing options out there and it can be tough to know which one is right for you, so is print-on-demand worth it?

Print-0n-demand is worth it as a sideline. The POD business model is low-risk and ideal for beginners. It saves you time, production, and shipping. Third-party drop shippers do most of the work but take most of the profits.

Is using a print-on-demand business service better than doing it all yourself? Let’s find out.

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What is Print-on-Demand Dropshipping?

Print-on-demand, or POD for short, is a dropshipping method that allows you to print your designs onto products via a third-party manufacturer who then ships the product directly to your customer.

The range of products that can be printed on is enormous, from t-shirts to mugs and duvets to hoodies. If you can imagine a product that needs an image to sell it, you can be sure that a company is already making it.

The POD business model is simple to set up and requires no inventory. You make the custom design and they are printed and dispatched when the order comes in.

Some POD sites are standalone marketplaces while others integrate into an eCommerce site, whether it’s on your own website or another third-party site such as Etsy or Amazon.

The idea is promoted as a quick and easy way to get your designs out there and generate easy profits. However, it ain’t that easy!

The sites will entice you with a dream of making a quick buck from your designs with little effort on your part. They take care of the printing, production, and postage. Sounds sweet.

They will also remind you that there is no need to waste your time and money on inventory, storage, and dispatching your items yourself. All true, but there is a catch and we will come to that.

Do things in an ethical way. Check out Teemill

Who is Print-on-Demand For?

POD is for artists and designers who are starting out and want to make some money from their work.

The main benefit of selling your art and designs via print-on-demand is that it allows artists and designers to earn a passive income without having to invest a lot of their time.

Because the POD sites take care of the whole technical side of running a business, all the artists and designers have to do is create their designs and market them.

This also has the added benefit of allowing them to pursue other ventures that are more time-consuming, such as writing articles or pursuing other entrepreneurial opportunities.

It’s not entirely cost-free but it’s a lot cheaper than most alternatives. The costs will vary from one platform to the other. Signing up should be free but you may have to pay for an eCommerce store such as Shopify or pay for web hosting and a domain name.

But let’s face it, as investments in a business go, it’s peanuts.

Having a POD business also gives you the chance to test your designs on new products and see how they work.

If you have a fan base community and a mailing list you can directly target your customers with new designs without the risk of ever losing money.

You might have designed the best t-shirt out there but you’ll never know if people will actually buy it until it’s there in front of them. It’s a perfect way to do market research.

Not sure how to get started? Try this POD course

The Pros and Cons of Print-on-Demand

There is now a wide range of services where you can have your design printed on a variety of materials without having to invest the time, energy, and money it would take to print it all yourself.

On the face of it, this seems like a no-brainer. But there is always a downside and to ignore the drawbacks is a mistake.

In order to make a rational decision and not an emotional one, I have listed the obvious advantages and disadvantages of POD businesses in a summarised list.

The Advantages of Print-on-Demand Services

  • Print-on-demand services give artists and designers another way to present their work, in a format that doesn’t really cost them a penny.
  • They also offer an alternative to large-scale, fixed-setup printing services, with all the piles of unsold stock.
  • POD services take care of all the logistics of printing, no need to buy any expensive printers, no learning how to use them, or maintenance costs.
  • Because selling your art via print-on-demand is a more hands-off way of selling your work, you can focus on your art rather than worrying about the business side of the deal.
  • POD businesses make it possible to publish smaller and more frequent pieces, which means your products are more frequently in the public eye.
  • They do all the shipping and handling so no more trips to the post office or dealing with unreliable couriers.
  • POD is a great way to test the market with new ideas without risk. You can even try different formats such as fabric, embroidery, and hand lettering.
  • Some companies, such as Printful, allow you to brand your own products and packaging with your own logo and website. This is called ‘white label’ printing.
  • Good POD platform will help you with resources to help you make a success of your business. They offer mock-ups and advice on how to promote your work.
  • Easier to succeed in smaller niches.

The Disadvantages of Print-on-Demand Services

  • The lack of quality control of both the printing and of the item itself is a major concern. Some companies pride themselves on delivering the best but others are not so scrupulous.
  • Turnaround times may not be as quick as they could be. Customers have been accustomed to instant everything and the fact that they will have to wait for the item to be printed before they have it on their doorstep can put them off.
  • You can’t sell signed limited editions and that’s a very profitable way to sell prints.
  • Many POD marketplaces such as Redbubble, Society6, and FineArtAmerica do not allow ‘white hat’ branding, as such you are unable to establish loyalty with the buyer
  • Most marketplace platforms keep the customer’s details to themselves, for marketing purposes. They don’t want the seller to have a direct relationship with the buyer.
  • Sometimes the platform will run out of stock and disappoint your buyer. You have no control.
  • You have little control over returns and refunds. Deliveries will occasionally go wrong, sometimes the courier can’t deliver and sometimes the customer is disappointed. Returned items can also go astray and you will have to sort it out.
  • Popular designs posted on POD marketplace sites are often ripped off and copied. Very frustrating if you have a unique design.
  • It takes time and consistency to produce results
  • The margins are low so you must sell in volume to make enough money
  • The competition is fierce and it’s very hard to stand out.
  • Sellers must produce what people will buy, not what they would like to make

What Are The Best Print-on-Demand Sites?

POD services are offered in different ways by different companies. Your choice of POD company will be determined by what you want to achieve and how much work you intend to put into the enterprise.

To make life easier I’ve listed 3 good POD sites and summarised what they do and why you should check them out. Each one was chosen to represent a different POD business type.

Selling art made simple banner


Printful is a POD company with a reputation for maintaining high standards of service and quality merchandise. They have printing and fulfillment services in the US, Canada, Mexico, the EU, and the UK.

Printful will print and ship your products to where your customer lives from the nearest printing and fulfillment center and that means your customer will get the speediest service and the best quality consistently.

Read this post for more insight: Is Printful Worth it? Print on Demand Review (2023)

Unlike many of their cheaper competitors, Printful does not outsource their orders to printing companies, and that gives them control over the quality of their merchandise.

If you sell fine art reproductions that is an essential requirement.

Printful will ‘white-label’ your goods, print your packaging and fulfill your orders. They will even provide warehouse services (paid) if you want to store popular goods in advance.

They also integrate with your WooCommerce store, so you can keep your customers on your site, with Etsy and eBay.

    And to top it all they do not retain the customer’s details for themselves. You keep control of your brand and grow your email list.

    Highly recommended.

    Also, check out Printify as a viable alternative.

    Make a start with Etsy and set up your shop from scratch with
    Ali and Sumner Hobart on Udemy

    Udemy Etsy Shop Set up Course


    Redbubble operates on a different business model. It is a marketplace where you can sell your designs on merchandise like t-shirts, stickers, and phone cases. You name it, they probably sell it.

    This is not a site for fine artists who are precious about their work. Redbubble is all about making commercial designs to sell on products.

    Membership is free and all you have to do is choose the products, upload your designs, and start selling. You do not need your own website.

    UPDATE: From the 1st of May 2023, Redbubble has a new pricing structure. There are now 3 membership tiers, Standard, Premium, and Pro accounts. Standard plans (for beginners) are longer free. I’ve written about it in my Redbubble review

    You make real money by selling in volume with a small profit margin, which requires a prodigious output of designs. If that sounds like you, this will be a good platform to join.

    It’s important to realize that Redbubble is the business and not you. It’s their brand and you are in effect sub-contracted. They retain the customer’s details.

    Accept it as it is and you will be fine.

    Alternatives include:

    Read how to use Redbubble in-depth here: Is Redbubble Worth it? Pros and Cons For Artists and Designers


    Artpal is for fine artists. They market themselves as a gallery and POD site combined

    They are free to join and they earn money by setting a base fee for printing your art. It’s up to you to set the profit margin. There are no commission fees for selling your originals.

    If you don’t want to make your own WordPress website from scratch and have a marketplace on hand to reach a wider audience, this model might suit you better.

    As with other popular marketplaces, you will be competing for attention with a huge number of other artists, in their case 220,000. That’s the drawback of free sites.

    For a better overview of options refer to:

    Is Print-on-Demand Worth it? Final Thoughts

    Print-on-demand sites are becoming more and more popular and the market is huge. You only need a fraction of that traffic to come your way and you can make a living.

    For most of us, who are unable or unwilling to commit the time, POD is still a worthwhile sideline.

    To earn passive income, you can sell items in your store or on the platform, and wait for the occasional sale to roll in. Nothing wrong with that.

    If you want to make more significant earnings you’ll need to be proactive. This includes conducting research, marketing your items, and utilizing social media.

    You’ve got to learn about keywords and find non-competitive niches and follow fashion trends. It’s not easy.

    If you have the ability to produce designs in volume and be willing to make the subjects and designs people are searching for, there is no reason why you can’t succeed.

    Is print-on-demand worth it? Yes, if you have the right mindset, work ethic, and don’t give up.

    Be honest, you want to sell online because it’s the ‘easy’ option. Sorry, it’s not, and that’s why you should read my guide. Take a look!

    Selling art made simple digital guide for starting a small art business

    If You Want to Sell Your Art

    Check this out!

    Psst…it’s only $12.99!

    There are plenty more posts like this, have a look at these:

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    If you need some help with licensing and what it’s all about, this is a popular course by Alison Cole on Domestika

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    The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

    Hi, I’m Kevin Hayler
    I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
    I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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