If you're considering starting an online business, you might have seen two popular models: dropshipping and print on demand.

But what do these terms mean, and how do they differ?

Don't worry; we're here to explain it!

The main difference between dropshipping and print on demand is that dropshipping involves selling pre-existing products made by suppliers, while print on demand involves you designing the items, which are created only when a customer places an order.

Let's read on!

What is dropshipping?

Dropshipping is a retail business model where a store doesn't keep the products it sells in stock.

Instead, when you sell a product, you purchase the item from a third-party supplier and have it shipped directly to the customer.

As a result, you do not have to open a brick-and-mortar store, deal with overhead fees, and stock physical products.

When a customer places an order on your online store, you then order the product from your supplier, who will ship the product directly to your customer's doorstep:

The dropship model - Infographic

You then profit by selling the product at a higher price than what you paid the supplier.

You can start a dropshipping business by following these seven main steps:

  1. Choose the right dropshipping product
  2. Find a dropshipping supplier
  3. Set up an online dropshipping store
  4. Brand your business
  5. Set up the legal and financial infrastructure
  6. Market your dropshipping business
  7. Grow your dropshipping store

Some may wonder if dropshipping is still worth it, which we answered in this article.

Pillow Slides is an example of a top dropshipping store:

Pillow Slides homepage
(Find more dropshipping store examples here)

Perhaps, the most remarkable thing about this store is that they took these ‘boring' pair of slippers:

Pillow Slides product on AliExpress

And made them much more interesting with an amazing branded store design:

Pillow Slides homepage section

What is print on demand, and why is it different?

Print on demand is another ecommerce business model that allows you to sell customized products with your own designs.

Whenever a customer buys a product from your store, the item is printed and then shipped out.

The print on demand model - Infographic

The unique thing about print on demand is the personalization aspect.

Products are created only after an order is made, so you can offer unique designs on various items like t-shirts, mugs, books, and more.

The difference between print on demand and dropshipping lies in the customization and production process.

With print on demand, your products are created as unique items based on the customer's choices or your custom designs. This is unlike dropshipping, where you're selling a pre-made product that your supplier has in their inventory.

So, print on demand allows you to create a brand that's truly your own, with products that can't be found just anywhere. Plus, like dropshipping, print on demand doesn’t require you to hold any inventory or deal with bulk orders.

With a supplier like Printify or Printful, you can even customize the entire product using 'all-over printing':

print all over design example
Source: Printify

And it's not just with shirts, but there's also all-over printing for mugs, bags, and other items!

RaccoonBrand is an example of a print on demand ecommerce business that uses raccoon designs on wallets and tees:

RaccoonBrand tee collection page
(Find more print on demand store examples here)

As you can see, they keep the branding consistent and straightforward throughout every design. This makes the store hold more credibility and uniqueness.

What are the pros and cons of dropshipping vs. print on demand?

When weighing up dropshipping against print on demand, each has its advantages and challenges.

Remember that there is no perfect model; it's all about what you prefer based on your skills.

You can check our infographic below for a quick overview:

Dropshipping vs Print on Demand - Infographic

Let's dive a bit more in-depth now:

Pros of dropshipping (or cons of print on demand)

  • Shorter order fulfillment times. A dropshipping supplier holds an inventory of pre-made products, meaning they can ship as soon as an order arrives. With POD, the supplier must print the product first, which can take up to five business days:
Printful: What is print on demand?
Source: Printful
  • Wider product range. Dropshipping allows you to choose from a more extensive selection of products. With print on demand, you can't sell 'non-printable' products like hair brushes, smart gadgets, or lamps, just to name a few.
  • You don't have to be good at design. The most significant factor influencing the success of a POD business is the quality of the designs. With dropshipping, you don't need design skills or hire someone for that.
  • Higher profit margins. Generally, dropshipping can result in lower costs per item as you're often dealing with wholesalers who offer better rates as opposed to print on demand suppliers that may charge a premium for customization.
  • The ability to resell products from returns. When dropshipping, if a returned product is in good condition, you can resell it to another customer. With POD, you usually can't because the order is custom-made.

Cons of dropshipping (or pros of print on demand)

  • Highly competitive. With dropshipping, you don't have much control over the product, so it can be more difficult to stand out from the competition. Due to their unique designs, print on demand products can face less direct competition.
  • No control over the product design. Having no control over a product design means it may not be as innovative or have a 'wow' factor that will excite people.
  • Difficult to build a brand. Building a brand is one of the keys to the success of an ecommerce business. This allows you to build trust and set the price you feel the product deserves rather than what the market determines.
Someone taking product images with a camera

Is print on demand better than dropshipping?

The answer to whether print on demand is better than dropshipping depends on your skill set and long-term business goals:

Print on Demand or Dropshipping: Which one to pick - Infographic

Simply said, there is no clear winner that will fit everyone, but here's how you can decide which one is better for you by asking yourself:

  • Are you creative, or do you have access to someone creative?
  • Do you want to be as long-lasting as possible?
  • Do you want to be in as much control as you can about the product's design?

If you say yes to these, then you want to try out the print on demand model!

If you said no, take a look at these questions:

  • Do you want the least amount of hurdles to start?
  • Do you want the most scalability?
  • Do you like selling a variety of different products?

If you've answered yes, the dropshipping model will be best for you!

Still undecided?

Here's a summary: If you want to create a brand with unique products and have some design skills, print on demand is likely the right choice.

If you want to enter the market quickly, build a scalable business and would like to be able to sell almost any type of product, dropshipping could be the way forward.

Fun fact: Did you know that you can also combine POD and 'normal' dropshipping? Check out this article here!

Dropshipping and print on demand store examples

Now, let's check out two more dropshipping and print on demand store examples.

First, here's a dropshipping store example named Sage & Sill:

Sage & Sill dropshipping store homepage

This is going to be an interesting one.

Do you know why?

Sage & Sill doesn't look like a typical dropshipping store. But in reality, it is one!

Just take a look at their shipping policy:

Sage & Sill shipping policy

Here are some things that you can look at:

  • Color scheme. When going through their website, you can see that Sage & Sill uses a dark green color throughout their website. This gives the store a branded and 'uniform' feel. Even most of their products are green!
Sage & Sill Our Mission page
  • Use ‘Frequently Bought Together’ offers. They do a great job of using a ‘Frequently Bought Together’ section on their product page to increase their average order value.

    In other words, they offer accompanying products that customers can buy together for a discount. Check it out below:
Sage & Sill Frequently Bought Together offer

For the print on demand store example, we have Prewar Prints:

Homepage of Prewar Prints

Prewar Prints offers prints based on vintage baseball images and art. It’s a fun and exciting way to display a historical game of a sport through limited edition collectibles.

You can tell the owner is a big fan of the sport through imagery, as you’ll see that passion is used throughout all the designs and why they’re so popular.

Here are some things to learn from this store:

  • Use a subscription model. Prewar Prints uses a unique way to recreate the limited edition of collectible baseball cards through prints. Instead of having separate prints you can purchase, they use a monthly subscription where you get a unique, one-of-a-kind print for a special price:
Subscription at Prewar Prints explained
  • Offer gift cards. Many physical retailers offer gift cards, so why not digital retailers? The best part is that it’s very easy to offer if you're using an ecommerce platform like Shopify.

Compare other business models

Not sure yet if print on demand or dropshipping is the right fit for you? Check out our other comparison articles below:

And to compare more business models, visit the comparison hub!

Taking action

Reading and absorbing information and knowledge is great (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:

  • Dropshipping and print on demand are two similar yet distinct ecommerce models with their own pros and cons.
  • Decide between dropshipping and print on demand based on your skills and goals.
  • You can consider experimenting with both models due to low startup costs.
  • Focus on strong brand building, as it's crucial in both models.

Conclusion

There you have it!

As you can see, you can call print on demand a dropshipping alternative, but don't forget that you can combine the two models, too!

Do you feel more confident knowing the difference between dropshipping and print on demand?

We hope so!

Let us know which one you have chosen in the comments below!

Best of luck!

Want to learn more about dropshipping or POD?

Ready to move your dropshipping or POD store to the next level? Check out the articles below:

Plus, don’t forget to check out our in-depth guide on how to start dropshipping here!

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An owner of a Print on Demand dropshipping business and writer of ecommerce articles to share my experiences.

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