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

If you are only starting, it may be frightening! 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 from 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, while with print on demand, your supplier creates the product according to your custom design and the shipping time can be longer.

Further in this article, we’ll be going over what these are and the pros and cons to help you decide which one 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 a supplier.

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

Instead, you’ll be opening a digital storefront as a website where your customers can visit. They then purchase products that you’ll order from your supplier, who will send the product 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 that you don’t have to make yourself!

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

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

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 out as one. They have shown it’s possible to create a brand and expand to other traditional ecommerce models.

If you’re interested in learning more about what dropshipping is, then 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 to sell them on a per order basis under your brand.

This means you do not pay for the product until after you’ve already 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 need 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 it 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 how your product looks, 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, say, 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 through using what people love about raccoons. They’re mischievous, cunning, adorable, and fun. As you can see from the designs above, there’s a lot of personality in their ideas.

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, we can now look closely at what areas they are better at.

Keep in mind that there is no perfect model; it’s all about what you prefer based on your available 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 when an order comes in, they’re able to ship as soon as possible. With POD, the supplier has to print the design on a product before sending it. That can take an additional 1-3 business days for your customer to receive it.
  • Your products are not tied to the design quality. The most significant deciding factor people look for in POD businesses is the designs. With dropshipping, you don’t need to have design skills or hire someone for that. The supplier has the product already good to go 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. As long as the product is in good condition, you’re able to 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 a lot of control over the product, which means 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 POD’s.
  • 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 get people excited. You can work around this by having your logo on the product that you’ll discuss with you’re supplier, but sometimes that’s not good enough to compete, though.
  • 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 print on demand better than dropshipping?

The answer to this is print on demand better than dropshipping is depends on your skillset and your long-term goals with your business.

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

To simply say there is no clear winner that will fit for everyone but here’s how you can decide which one is better for you by asking yourself:

  • Are you creative or have access to someone that is 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 with a yes, then 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 any of 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 are doing 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 is able to 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’re interested in seeing more print on demand store examples, then check out this article with 15 great 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’s created by people who are passionate about hiking themselves 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 a great story definitely 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!

Conclusion

There you have it!

As you can see, you can indeed call print on demand a dropshipping alternative, but don’t forget that you can combine the two models as well!

Do you now feel more confident in knowing what the difference is 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 to be simple once you get past the terms and setting up. Then you’ll be on your way to design 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!

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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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