Welcome to the journey of ecommerce and all the different kinds that come with it!

If you are only starting, it may not be very comforting! A lot of big choices between different business models and service providers. You might find yourself wondering what is best for you and your business.

As you explore this business model, you can easily get lost in terms like what dropshipping and print on demand (POD) mean.

To help understand that, we'll be looking at the difference between them.

The main difference between dropshipping and print on demand is that with dropshipping, your supplier doesn't make any changes to the product, and the shipping time can be faster. In contrast, with print on demand, your supplier creates the effect according to your custom design, and the shipping time can be longer.

Further in this article, we'll review what these are and the pros and cons to help you decide which is right for you. Let's read on!

What is dropshipping?

Dropshipping is based on the retail business model of sourcing and selling products from suppliers.

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

Instead, you'll be opening a digital storefront as a website that your customers can visit. They then purchase products you'll order from your supplier, who will send them directly to your customer.

This is how the progress will look like with ‘normal' dropshipping:

The dropship model - Infographic

This way, you'll reap the benefits of selling products you don't have to make yourself!

To put it simply, here's a list of tasks that you will have to perform yourself when working with a dropshipping supplier:

  • Research. Before you start, it's your job to do product research and determine if you're going for a general, niche, or one-product store.
  • Store design. It's your job to create a unique dropshipping store that converts well. (And yes, if you want, you can start dropshipping without a website)
  • Marketing. You must find a way to get customers to your dropshipping store. If you're new to this, check out this section of our blog.
  • Customer service. As you can read above, your dropshipping supplier does almost everything except that it doesn't have contact with your customers. You will have to handle all the customer service. (For example, refund requests) You can learn more about customer service in our complete guide here.

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

Gift guide page from Meowington's store
Meowington's gift guide page

Meowington is a perfect example of a digital storefront that looks and operates like a digital retailer for cats' boutique gift stores. They don't have to hold inventory, and their supplier handles the shipping for them!

Although Meowington may no longer be dropshipping their products, they did start as one. They have shown it's possible to create a brand and expand to other traditional ecommerce models.

If you want to learn more about dropshipping, check out this beginner's guide here.

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

Print on demand is where you work with a supplier to customize products with your designs and sell them per order under your brand.

This means you do not pay for the product until after you've sold it. Hence there is no requirement to purchase in large quantities or hold any inventory yourself:

The print on demand model - Infographic

With print on design needing services, everything after the sale, from printing to shipping, is managed by your supplier. Once you've placed everything up, it can take only a couple of clicks to have an order once you have made a sale.

This is where people can get confused with dropshipping because of these similarities.

Although they both source products from supplies that package and ship them to your customer, print on demand is more hands-on with the product's appearance.

Most products are shirts, canvases, tote bags, mugs, and anything you can print on. (You can even sell in a specific print on demand niche)

While you have more control over your product's appearance, you're more limited in what's available than dropshipping, which can be any product you can find a supplier for.

The design you place on products is super hands-on with a lot of customizability.

Depending on your supplier, they can add more areas of design work than just on the front of a shirt.

print all over design example
Source: Printify

Examples are the all-over printing that gives so much creativity in how you want to present your products.

Not just with shirts, but there's also all-over printing for mugs, bags, and possibly many more, depending on availability.

RaccoonBrand tee collection page
RacoonBrand's tee collection

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

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

RaccoonBrand has found success by using what people love about raccoons. They're mischievous, cunning, adorable, and fun. As you can see from the designs above, their ideas have a lot of personality.

For more information about what print on demand is, check out our complete beginner's guide here. Plus, you can check out this article here with 15 print on demand suppliers!

What are the pros and cons of Dropshipping vs. Print on Demand?

Now we know what these two different ecommerce models are and can look closely at what areas they are better at.

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

You can also take a look at our infographic below:

Dropshipping vs Print on Demand - Infographic

Sounds good, right?

If so, let's dive into it more in-depth now:

Pros of dropshipping (or cons of print on demand)

  • Order fulfillment times are shorter. On average, a dropshipping supplier holds inventory for their products, so they can ship as soon as possible when an order comes in. With POD, the supplier must print the product's design before sending it. It can take 1-3 business days for your customer to receive it.
  • Your products are not tied to design quality. The most significant deciding factor people look for in POD businesses is design. With dropshipping, you don't need design skills or hire someone for that. The supplier has the product already ready without anything extra on your end.
  • Higher profit margins. Dropshipping has ways to become more profitable because there are higher-priced products without branding to justify the price. Also, there's less work on the supplier's end than POD, so their costs per order can be reduced.
  • The ability to resell product returns. If the product is in good condition, you can resell it to another customer. With POD, you usually can't because the order is custom-made, which can make reselling impossible. (More info about POD returns here)

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 difficult to justify purchasing your product over someone else's. POD allows more originality in the design created. While they can compete over the same tees, mugs, wallets, etc., there's still room to appeal to an audience over other PODs.
  • No control over the product design. While not necessarily a problem depending on the product. Having no control over a product design means it is probably not innovating or has a ‘wow' factor that will excite people. You can work around this by having your logo on the product that you'll discuss with your supplier, but sometimes that's not good enough to compete.
  • 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 deserves rather than what the market determines.

    Dropshipping typically struggles with branding because many products are already made and can look too similar to other people's products. There are ways to overcome this hurdle, but POD is naturally easier to build a brand around due to more customizability.

Is the print on demand better than dropshipping?

The answer to this is print on demand better than dropshipping, depending on your skill set and long-term business goals.

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

Simply say 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?

Due to the low startup costs it takes to start (in comparison to purchasing the products in bulk), you can try both without having a huge setback.

No need to worry about the time and money lost in the process – it's a learning experience, and you'll be one step closer to success.

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

Dropshipping vs. Print on Demand: Examples

Let's look at an authentic live look at what other people do with dropshipping and print on demand products.

Wall art collection from Creative Action Network
Their wall art collection

Creative Action Network loves to have a say in social causes with designs inspired by the environment.

They make it known who designed it, what it symbolizes, and where a part of the profit will be going. By using print on demand, Creative Action can have various designs that fit its mission.

A crucial part of their success is knowing their audience and what they value. So Creative Action sees what designs are in demand.

If you want to see more print on demand store examples, check out this article with 15 remarkable examples!

Now let's look at a dropshipping store called West Hikers that sells products in the hiking niche.

West Hikers homepage
Screenshot of their homepage

It was created by people passionate about hiking and who wanted to accompany each hiker on their next adventure.

One of the things that you can look at here is their story.

Look, online stores with great stories have more chance of succeeding.

As the saying goes:

People buy stories, not products.

Sweet Lorens has created a great “Our Brand” page where they tell stories about the movement they are trying to develop and their philosophy:

About page from Sweet Lorens

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!


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! You'll find it to be as simple as you want and be able to reap the benefits based on what you value most.

You'll find the process simple once you get past the terms and setting up. Then you'll be on your way to designing great-looking products people would love to wear or have!

The possibility to sell and distribute various products that only your supplier and imagination is your limitation.

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

Best of luck!

Want to Learn More?

Do Dropshipping - Author Logo

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

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