When it comes to printing and shipping your design on products, such as merchandise, apparel and paper products, the prospect of coordinating with different vendors just to bring your artwork to life can seem intimidating. But emerging reseller business models like print-on-demand and dropshipping have taken much of the production, packaging, delivery and even inventory storage off of your hands.
These days, it’s easier than ever before to take your designs to the next level by printing and shipping them around the world—provided you know your options.
Illustration by OrangeCrush
To help you understand these new printing methods, we’re going to break down how reseller programs work and help you find the best approach for your needs. Whether you’re a designer selling your custom artwork or a business looking to add a branded merchandise store page to your company website, there are many solutions that can help you get your project off the ground.
How reseller printing and shipping works—
Through reseller programs, designers and creatives can take the extra step for their clients by incorporating printing and shipping into their service—that way, they become a one-stop shop for custom design products. You can also open an online store to sell design products to the general public. Some examples of products involving design include custom artwork, posters, apparel, greeting cards, journals, mugs, tote bags and much more.
Reseller services, such as dropshipping, white labeling and print-on-demand, are order fulfillment models. Essentially, all you have to worry about is selling the product and the reseller service will take care of production and shipping. Reseller programs can also work for one-off situations where you need to print and ship a single product for one of your clients.
In the next section, we’ll discuss how these reseller businesses and services work.
The different options for printing and shipping design products—
To compare the most common ways to print and ship design products, we’ll consider the monetary investment, the amount of effort and the quality of experience. It’s important to note that the following are not necessarily either/or choices—you can combine strategies for the best solution that works for you.
DIY packaging and shipping
Do It Yourself packaging and shipping is the traditional way to produce merchandise. You’ll need to coordinate with third-party manufacturers and printers to create the physical product, and they will mail to products to you.
It’s likely you’ll need to stock inventory in advance, ready to ship at a moment’s notice so that customers receive their purchases in a timely manner.
Investment: Buying in bulk inventory can be cheaper than producing individual orders as they come in. But it requires you to invest much more money up front, with no guarantees their products will sell. You’ll also need to secure storage space for inventory.
Effort: This is the highest effort method, requiring you to coordinate with the printer or manufacturer, as well as pack and ship the products.
Customer experience: Because you have complete control over the process, there’s more potential for a high-quality customer experience. You can ensure quality, customize packages and include personal touches to every order.
Dropshipping / white label products
Dropshipping describes the general business model by which a third-party company handles product design, manufacturing, storage and shipping. Often, dropshipping is often associated with ecommerce stores, especially the reselling of generic, non-customizable products like jewelry, fitness equipment and cosmetics.
By Moxie Mason
A white label product is a form of dropshipping where you can resell generic, ready-made products but replaces a blank label with their branding.
Investment: Customers pay the cost of printing and shipping whenever they purchase an item, so there is no upfront cost to you. Because each item is printed only when it is ordered (as opposed to bulk printing), the costs can cut deeper into profit margins than the DIY production method. With that said, some companies offer discounts for premium customers (through a paid membership).
Effort: Retailers usually have to individually order the products on behalf of customers, which can take time when there are many orders to fill. They will also need to navigate returns and lost packages themselves.
Customer experience: In both dropshipping and white label products, you have limited control over the quality of materials. In terms of packaging, some dropshipping companies may offer blind shipping (in which the products are shipped in unbranded packaging).
Print-on-demand / POD marketplace
Print-on-demand (POD) is a form of dropshipping that is intended for design products—retailers add designs to blank products and the POD service will print and ship orders whenever a purchase is made.
There are two ways to sell print-on-demand products: on your website or through an external POD marketplace site like Redbubble, Zazzle or Amazon. Going with your own online store will require you to build up a customer base from scratch, but you have more branding control over the business. A POD marketplace, particularly if it has high traffic, will give you access to many customers right away (though you will be competing on a crowded site). Still, you have almost no branding control.
Investment: Individual POD orders are more costly than bulk printing. But the risk and investment are lower because you don’t have to place a bulk order upfront.
Effort: Using POD on your ecommerce site works similarly to dropshipping. In POD marketplaces, the site will handle everything from fulfilling orders to dealing with returns and lost packages.
Customer experience: You’ll have limited control over the quality of materials, packaging and shipping. Some POD services offer blind shipping and branding opportunities for packaging (such as notes and sticker inserts). In POD marketplaces, there is no customization with branding.
Printing and shipping services compared—
As producing design products becomes easier, the number of companies specializing in one-stop printing and shipping has also skyrocketed. To help you review your options, we’ve put together this short list of printing and shipping services. When doing your research, here are a few general factors to look out for:
By green in blue
Quality: The quality of the printing, materials (including paper for printed artwork), and packaging. Check customer reviews and mail yourself a sample before committing.
Degree of customization: Check whether you can customize products and/or packaging with your branding. If so, to what degree (can you style the entire T-shirt or just the chest area)?
Available products: Does the supplier have many product categories? If you want to sell a specific product type, look into printing services that specialize in that type since they may produce higher-quality results.
Printing techniques: Different companies will offer different ranges of printing services, such as digital, direct-to-garment, all-over-printing, screen printing, engraving and embroidery.
Customer care: Look into how the business handles returns or failed shipping.
Shipping: Review the cost, the average timeline, international shipping options and whether the supplier guarantees blind or white label shipping.
ProAdvantage by Vistaprint
ProAdvantage by Vistaprint is a wholesale print reseller that helps you sell your products and fulfill orders through blind shipping. Through ProAdvantage, you can customize merchandise online, and Vistaprint will take care of production and delivery. In addition, Vistaprint connects non-artist entrepreneurs to 99designs by Vista, a global creative marketplace for sourcing custom designs from real designers around the world.
via Vistaprint ProAdvantage
Best for: Retailers looking for big discounts who need regular custom designs for merchandise
Delivery options: Directly send to customers, pick-up points or your home. Shipping packages are unbranded.
International shipping, anywhere in the world, with extra shipping costs
Free basic account
$74.99 a year for premium membership, 30-day free trial
Premium membership saves customers 40% off all products, flat-rate shipping at $3.99 USD and free shipping on orders over $60 USD. Typically, the membership fee pays for itself after spending around $200 USD.
Discounts are not based on proof of industry and offer volume, as with other services
Printify is a print-on-demand service that works with multiple manufacturers and shippers that the customer has to choose from. While this involves more work and the quality, features and pricing may vary, it also gives the designer more control over where products come from and how they’re delivered. This can come in handy for niche-printing needs and finding shipping partners located nearer to the purchaser.
Best for: Resellers that want more control over the vendors producing their products.
Delivery options: Shipping prices, branding and quality vary depending on which vendor you choose
Free to get started, though pricing may vary depending on the vendor you choose
$29 USD per month for premium membership, 20% off all products
Integration options: Integrates with common marketplaces and e-commerce platforms like Etsy, eBay, Walmart, Shopify, WooCommerce, Squarespace
Zazzle is a print-on-demand marketplace that allows you to put your products directly for sale on the Zazzle website. As popular as Zazzle is, the site boasts “millions” of products, making competition high. Zazzle LIVE lets purchasers connect with their favorite designers to commission custom products.
Best for: Merchandise designers looking to sell products without relying on their website and marketing.
Zazzle uses its own branded packaging and takes care of customer service
Zazzle offers shipping estimates and package tracking for customers. Customers can also filter for products that will ship by a specific deadline.
Free to use
Income is based on royalties. Higher percentages increase the price of products.
Integration options: Zazzle is a hands-off, one-stop marketplace
Amazon Merch on Demand
Amazon Merch on Demand is made to connect specifically with the Amazon marketplace. Amazon is one of the biggest marketplaces in the world, and that alone makes it worth considering. With Merch on Demand, you have to be approved before you can start selling, and limited products are available.
via Amazon Merch on Demand
Best for: Merchandise sellers that want to connect specifically with Amazon’s extensive customer base
Delivery options: Products fall under Amazon Prime, meaning Prime customers will receive the product usually in under 2 days.
Free to get started once you are approved by Amazon
Income is based on predetermined royalties rates that cannot be adjusted
Integration options: This product is made to integrate exclusively with Amazon products.
SPOD is like most other POD services, but it comes with an extensive library of over 50,000 ready-made designs that you can purchase. It also offers a discount on test samples for retailers looking to ensure print and material quality.
Best for: Non-designers who need a large library of stock artwork for merchandise. Designers may need stock images to supplement existing merchandise.
Prints and ships orders within 48 hours
Estimated 3-8 days delivery times for the US
Price: Free to use, including stock artwork
Integration options: Integrates with Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy and eBay
Get started printing and shipping your design products today—
Starting a design business has always taken hard work, but on the bright side, it has never been easier these days. Within a few hours, you can launch a website through a template site builder and have a full stock of inventory ready to print and ship to your customers through reseller services.
But as with any tool, success depends on its quality and how you use them. You’ll have to thoroughly research website builders, print resellers and marketable products to find the best approach for your business. With realistic expectations and enough commitment to see your idea through, you can turn your designs into actual products and make a living while doing it—all from your home.
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