Print on demand (POD) can be a great way to start an online store.

It has low overhead and doesn't require you to hold inventory.

But, like with all business models, there are cons.

That’s why we will be looking at the disadvantages of print on demand and the ways you can overcome them!

Disadvantages of print on demand: An overview

POD is a fantastic way to sell products online, but there are disadvantages.

Here's an overview of the challenges you'll be facing when you start one:

  • Product options. You're at the mercy of suppliers' product selections and often cannot fulfill what your customers want.
  • Lower profit margins. It's more expensive for the supplier to print a product one at a time instead of in bulk. This can make it challenging to keep prices affordable while still being profitable.
  • Quality control challenges. Sometimes, print quality won't end up in the way it looks on your online store, and that can upset customers into thinking they're not getting what they wanted.
  • Lengthy production times. Due to fulfillment times on top of shipping times, your customers can take a while to receive their purchase. This can create uncertainty, mainly if they're used to Amazon's fast shipping.
  • Limited control over the customer experience. You're not entirely controlling how your suppliers create and send the products to your customers. This means you cannot ensure everyone gets a great experience.
  • Limited branding opportunities. Many suppliers use the same packaging for all product orders, so your brand feels the same as the competition. If they do offer branding packing, it can be an additional cost.
  • Stiff competition. Many people are starting POD businesses, so getting noticed and making sales can be challenging.

1. Limited product options

The first disadvantage of print on demand is the limited variety of products that you can offer.

Apparel is the most common type of POD product group, but even an apparel POD store can experience limitations.

For example, finding the proper clothing, such as specialized sportswear or oversized clothing, can be complex.

Product selection of Printful

Plus, you can't always print on demand products just in the way how you would like it.

Placement areas, color options, and materials can be limited, depending on your supplier.

How can you solve this disadvantage?

While it feels like there’s not much you can do when you’re at the mercy of your supplier, there are some strategies you can try out:

Work with multiple suppliers

Don't just use one POD supplier.

Different suppliers offer different kinds of products, expanding to a broader variety and customization options.

For example, if you're using Gelato for a specific art print frame color, you can expand the colors with Printify.

Gelato homepage

2. Lower profit margins

Profit margin issues are notorious in the POD business model. This can be a massive problem because you may not make enough on each sale to be profitable.

Someone trying to figure out what a good profit margin is

POD products can be pricey because they’re made per order.

This means a supplier doesn't sell them in bulk and cannot reduce the price.

Therefore, you may have to charge more for each product to become profitable.

When your products are more expensive, they’re more challenging for people to afford. People don’t like buying expensive items from a brand they have never heard of, mainly when there's another affordable store that's a few clicks of the mouse away.

How can you solve this disadvantage?

Don’t get discouraged by the lower profit margins because there are ways to be able to make a profit without upsetting your customers:

Increase value

There’s an old quote: ‘Don’t compete on price; compete on value.’

This could be putting more effort into the design work of your products, offering personalized options, or unique packaging.

People will be willing to pay more if you can justify the cost.

Bundle products

People love deals, and a great way to offer one that doesn’t reduce your profits is by bundling your products together for a special sale. If someone buys an art print, you can submit a T-shirt with the same design at a reduced cost.

Combine Shopify theme bundle builder

There are many creative ways you can group products as long as you factor in the pricing to ensure you're making a profit.

3. Quality control challenges

Quality control is an overlooked issue in the POD industry.

Various things can go wrong in the production and shipping process, and you can't control it.

TeePublic product quality
Teepublic's reviews of their product quality

Sometimes, the print quality is inconsistent.

One customer might get a bright and sharp image, while another gets a faded or not centered design.

Accidents happen at the supplier’s workplace, and you will be on the hook when the customer is upset.

When a customer isn’t happy with an order, you’ll often hear about it. How you handle these can make or break your business.

Word can spread fast if you don’t care about your customers!

How can you solve this disadvantage?

Quality control is a tricky issue because a lot of it is on the POD supplier, but there are some ways you can take more control of the problems:

Choose reliable suppliers

Not all suppliers are equal.

Do your research to find suppliers that produce high-quality items consistently.

Set clear expectations

Be upfront with expectations such as shipping times and delays on the product and shipping pages.

This will reduce complaints and save time since you won’t have to repeat yourself.

Repurpose returned products

If you have a product from a customer who doesn't want it, you can use it for marketing promotions such as photos, contests, or a gift to your loyal customers.

4. Lengthy production times

You must also deal with lengthy production times, i.e. the time it takes for your POD to manufacture the product.

Shipping from Printify
A map of fast shipping from Printful local fulfillment centers

These longer production times are the price you pay for a made-to-order product without needing inventory.

Print on demand products must be printed, dried, and sometimes hand-finished before shipping. Not to mention when there’s a large queue of other printing before you.

How can you solve this disadvantage?

Here’s how you can do something about it:

Stock bestsellers

If you know specific designs will sell well, you can order some ahead of time and ship them yourself.

This will allow faster shipping, but you don’t have to handle the hassle of holding a large inventory because you only buy designs you know are selling.

Offer shipping upgrades

Giving your customers an option for faster shipping times will make them feel like the process is going faster, even if there’s not much you can personally do.

However, the customer will also have to pay more for the faster speed.

5. Limited control over the customer experience

Just like shipping and production of the products, there is limited support in what you can do to ensure your customers have a great shopping experience.

Mail order retailing

Customers can't touch or feel the quality of the products before making a purchase. This can lead to fears which prevent them from purchasing anything. Imagine not knowing which size you need for a T-shirt.

How can you solve this disadvantage?

Despite the limitations, here’s what you do have control of to make the best experience possible:

Strong branding and communication

While there’s only so much you can do for your brand with the physical journey of your product, you can create a brand identity that matches the kind of voice you want to communicate to your customers.

You can check our article here for the most successful POD store examples!

Enhanced online experience

You can still create a unique online experience without a physical store!

Ensure your website is easy to use, has content people would love, and offers quick customer service.

Also, tools like Google Analytics can help you understand your website's traffic. It shows where your visitors come from and when they leave, giving clues on improving your site.

Customer engagement strategies

Building loyalty can be challenging but not impossible.

Be sure to invest in a loyalty program your customers can sign up for so they can get rewards for making repeated purchases. Also, look into providing satisfaction surveys to know what can be improved.

6. Limited branding opportunities

Branding helps you differentiate yourself from the competition.

However, an issue with POD can be the lack of customizability.

For example, most POD suppliers use plain packaging for all their clients’ stores. This means your packaging typically won't stand out because it's not unique to your brand.

When packaging is generic, the experience feels nothing special to the customer.

How can you solve this disadvantage?

Even with these challenges, there are creative ways to make your brand stand out:

Custom packing slips

Some POD suppliers allow you to customize packing slips in every order. Ensure you look into what a supplier offers and what you can use it for.

Feel free to get creative with anything you can add text to, such as coupons, an upcoming product, or a fun message that will keep your customers thinking of your brand.

Branded inserts

Some suppliers, like Printful, allow stickers, discount codes, and other additions that can help. Also, look at any additional fees that may come with it!

Branding services from Printful

7. Stiff competition

Due to the ease of setting up a POD store and how accessible it is for everyone, this means there’s a lot of competition.

The market can get quite saturated, and it can be challenging to get a sale.

A woman losing money
The worries of dealing with competition

Beyond just getting a customer's attention, you must have a great brand identity, product quality, and customer service, or they’ll leave for another store.

It can be challenging, forcing you to provide the best experience possible if you want to compete with larger stores.

How can you solve this disadvantage?

Here are some effective ways you can stand a part in the competition:

Niche down

A niche is about appealing to a specific group interested in a particular topic.

Pet lovers, gym-goers, and fans of specific music genres exist.

When you focus on a niche, you’re attracting a more dedicated group of people that the competition isn’t focusing on.

Unique designs

Creating attractive designs with ideas that can’t be found anywhere else is a great, unique selling point for your business!

You may need to hire talented artists or license exclusive work to happen, but it can be worth the investment.

Brand storytelling

Building a brand means more than just having cool designs!

It’s also about telling your store for your customers to believe in so when they purchase from you, they’re not just supporting a faceless company.

They’re helping someone like them who is trying to impact the world.

What are the advantages of print on demand?

Despite the disadvantages, POD also offers a lot of great benefits you can look forward to:

  • No inventory management is needed. With POD, products are made only when ordered, eliminating the need for inventory management and reducing the risk of unsold products.
  • Payment after sale. You pay for the product only after a sale, freeing up cash flow for other important areas like marketing or designing new products.
  • Target niche markets easily. POD allows for quickly creating products for a specific niche. This will enable you to explore interests without the risk of overproduction.
  • Flexible design changes. Quickly update or change product designs to respond to market trends and customer feedback, keeping your offerings fresh and relevant.
  • Potentially eco-friendly. Certain suppliers can help reduce waste, aligning with the growing consumer preference for sustainable and environmentally friendly products.
  • Global sales potential. Sell products worldwide without worrying about logistics, as POD companies handle production and shipping across different countries.
  • There are no upfront equipment costs. Starting a POD business doesn't require investment in printing equipment, making it easy to launch.

We have an article covering the 8 advantages of print on demand that goes into more detail.

Taking action

Reading and absorbing information and knowledge is excellent (definitely if it’s free!), but do you know what’s even better?

Taking action!

So, to help you with taking action with what you have learned in this article, take a look at the bullet points:

  • Order samples. It's essential to check the quality of your products by ordering samples. This way, you know you're choosing the best supplier.
  • Invest in high-quality artwork. Unique and appealing designs make your products stand out. This attracts customers and sets you apart from competitors.
  • Use high-quality product photography. Good photos help customers feel confident about what they're buying.
  • Focus on specific interests. Catering to unique hobbies or interests helps attract dedicated customers.
  • Be transparent about product and shipping information. Sharing clear information on what customers can expect helps prevent disappointment. It builds trust.
  • Build a good website and online presence. A user-friendly website and being active on social media are crucial. They help compensate for not having a physical store and connect you with customers globally.


Starting a POD business can undoubtedly bring challenges, but now you have actionable strategies to help you overcome them best.

So now you can enjoy the benefits of the POD business model with more clarity for success.

Thank you for reading, and have a great day!

Want to learn more about POD?

Ready to move your print on demand store to the next level? Check out the articles below:

Plus, don’t forget to check out our in-depth how to start a print on demand business guide here!

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