T Shirt Printing on Demand Pros and Cons

A breeze, right? You make a design, load it to a pre-templated shirt, set the colors you want, and BAM! A fun Sunday evening project that your fanbase will love. The promise is that the t shirt printing can happen while you sleep like ever enticing passive income dream. WRONG! (Maybe).

How Hard Should T Shirt Printing Be?

A breeze, right? You make a design, load it to a pre-templated shirt, set the colors you want, and BAM! A fun Sunday evening project that your fanbase will love. The promise is that the t shirt printing can happen while you sleep like ever enticing passive income dream. WRONG! (Maybe).

After about a day or so of research, you’ll quickly discover a world of complications masked in overly simplistic and clunky platforms.  We spent several months in testing sample orders on t-shirts and hoodies with multiple print-on-demand services with scattered success and some fails, but rarely consistently good results.

To be fair, as you get into it, custom apparel printing is a much more complex task than you might imagine. Apparel printing is a complex amalgamation of fabric, color, design, art, sizing, quality, pricing and numerous other shopping cart, shipping and fulfillment scenarios, that it makes for a complicated system to cobble it all together into one elegant platform. So, it’s no surprise that the best t shirt printing resource may be hard to decipher. The end result though is that it’s not for the casual maker. As with most things, to be successful at it requires a commitment in time, testing, tweaking, trial and error.

The secret to success is doing a lot of little things consistently over a long period of time.
~James Lawrence, The Iron Cowboy

Wearable Art

Wearable art is a thing, in fact it’s a big thing. With the proliferation of print on demand services, it’s no longer just the purview of jewelry makers and fashion designers. We think it’s fantastic that there are so many options today that allow anyone to design T shirts and all kinds of apparel and products that bring their art to life.

So our goal here is not to complain, but to cover an overview of the t-shirt printing and apparel print-on-demand companies only, to help you in your plan to create your own wearable art and products.  Each company does something great, and we want to highlight that while also giving a complete picture at the flaws in experience and ease of use.

This article is not about print-on-demand books.  We’ll cover POD books in a separate article.

A breeze, right? You make a design, load it to a pre-templated shirt, set the colors you want, and BAM! A fun Sunday evening project that your fanbase will love. The promise is that the t shirt printing can happen while you sleep like ever enticing passive income dream. WRONG! (Maybe).

Why Print On Demand?

The most important benefit with Print on Demand (POD for short) is that it’s convenient for start-ups, artists, and brands to include merchandise without needing to source everything themselves.

There is a huge time and cost factor in finding quality fabric at a decent price, building solid manufacturing relationships, and then of course actually having an end product you love enough to sell.  On top of that, there are horror stories of people being shipped pallets of products, that were all bad. Yikes!!

Print-on-demand is convenient and accessible for creators and startups.

Pros of POD

  • Convenience
  • Easy entry for start-ups, artists, and brands
  • Most things in one place
    • varied merchandise options
    • Saves time
      • research
      • manufacturing
      • sourcing
  • Saves cost
    • No inventory on hand (or optional)
    • Little to no sunk costs from inventory losses

Print on Demand services handles all that for you… ish.

The concept of POD services for apparel and merch is an incredible resource in today’s vast array of digital options. It empowers creators and brands on shoestring budgets to test their logos and ideas at a much lower cost. One or two bad hoodie prints compared to a whole pallet of hundreds, is a real steal!

We would be remiss to not give POD companies the props for providing entry-level merchandising options. Because of POD, artists can make products and sell directly to their fanbase.  We love that; we’re ALL for that. 

Print-on-demand empowers creators and brands on shoestring budgets to test their logos and ideas at a much lower cost.

Example of a POD Shirt

Here is a shirt Coleman Alderson made on Zazzle as part of his dystopic book series Mountain Whispers.  His theme for the second book is: “Semper Gratus!” (meaning ‘always grateful’ or ‘forever grateful’, which words are on the back of the T shirt).

Coleman’s brief review of Zazzle is: “I like that they honor their quality guarantee… But they are a bit pricey.”

The photos of our favorite colors are below, and you can see the full Zazzle listing here with all the color and style variations available.

A breeze, right? You make a design, load it to a pre-templated shirt, set the colors you want, and BAM! A fun Sunday evening project that your fanbase will love. The promise is that the t shirt printing can happen while you sleep like ever enticing passive income dream. WRONG! (Maybe).
These were each of our favorite Semper Gratus t-shirt colors from Zazzle and the samples came out looking awesome. From left to right: Nikolai Alderson, Devani Anjali Alderson, Coleman Alderson.

Apparel Printing on Demand Problems

What we discovered with t-shirt printing, is that you have to find which “cons” on which platforms you’re okay with. We have not yet found a company without major user experience issues.  Just being “okay with a problem” does not make for a great impression or quality long-term customer relationship.

For instance, Zazzle has fantastic color and style options, the editing is fairly simple, and they have many product variables for selling your design. But if you have multiple storefronts with different product groupings or brands (as we do) you have to recreate the whole design in whichever storefront you want it listed under (more on that in another article).

Whereas with TeeSpring, it’s very easy to move an item between storefronts and collections you’ve previously set up, but editing an item or item listing quickly becomes a nightmare.  Deleting a whole listing can’t even be done on TeeSpring unless you contact their customer service.  What?! Their customer service generally responds in 2-3 business days. WHAT?!?  That’s 2-3 days you’re not able to move forward or sell a product depending on how urgent your support issue.

Even though we are fairly web savvy and quick to learn systems & platforms, the lack of seamless integration and constant frustrations were not a great sign.  Each platform has major User Experience (UX) flaws.

We’ll do a deeper dive on the pros and cons of each platform, but this overview gives you a basic example.

“There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”
~Milton Glaser

A breeze, right? You make a design, load it to a pre-templated shirt, set the colors you want, and BAM! A fun Sunday evening project that your fanbase will love. The promise is that the t shirt printing can happen while you sleep like ever enticing passive income dream. WRONG! (Maybe).

Top Apparel On Demand Companies

The first concern is fabric quality. Most POD services offer cotton or cotton blends.  Blends tend to be softer, but depending on the blend, the print quality may vary. We’ve had several instances where we placed an order and while the T-shirt felt great, the design printed wrong (e.g., the color received was not the color in the online image), or was too hard to see.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to order samples before selling and ordering batches!  Graphics online can look amazing and then you get the physical product, and it’s either dull, faded, or just looks bad in print form. Images can look fine in the digital rendition, yet print poorly. We experienced this with a few of our printings of hoodies on TeeSpring as well as on the first samples of our Semper Gratus T shirts.

Order a sample of each item to ensure quality and then to take photos for marketing.

A breeze, right? You make a design, load it to a pre-templated shirt, set the colors you want, and BAM! A fun Sunday evening project that your fanbase will love. The promise is that the t shirt printing can happen while you sleep like ever enticing passive income dream. WRONG! (Maybe).

Wholesale T Shirts

We’ve found that all the top wholesale T shirt companies use the same basic manufacturers, such as those listed below. So if you want more unique fabric and design options, you’ll likely need to contract with offshore manufacturers, or pay for premium designs.

For example, PrintAura, offers a wider variety of apparel designs and fabrics. PrintAura can also print across zippers, something most apparel printing companies are not equipped to do.

  • American Apparel (Made in USA)
    • Men & Woman’s Tee’s
    • Men & Woman’s Tank Tops
    • Hoodies
    • V Necks
    • Sweatshirts
  • Hanes
    • Men & Woman’s Tee’s
    • Men & Woman’s Tank Tops
    • Hoodies
    • V Necks
    • Sweatshirts
  • Gildan
    • Men & Woman’s Tee’s
    • Men & Woman’s Tank Tops
    • Hoodies
    • V Necks
    • Sweatshirts
  • Bella + Canvas
    • Woman’s Tee’s
    • Woman’s Tank Tops
    • Sweatshirts
    • V Necks
  • Premium Tee
    • Unisex Tshirts
  • Next Level Tee
    • Men & Woman’s Tee’s
    • Men & Woman’s Tank Tops
    • Hoodies
    • V Necks

Almost 100% of the apparel industry is sourced offshores, even if the manufacturer is US based.  We favor the Bella + Canvas brand for some of the better Men’s & Women’s styles and fabrics.

RedBubble is the only company of these top companies listed, that provides a comprehensive list of base costs. Their list includes the cost and profit for all available manufacturer’s items, so that you can see your cost-to-profit margins before you go to the trouble of creating your designs.

With the others apparel POD companies, you have to begin the process of making a creating a design in order to figure out the options, pricing and profits.  Not super user-friendly, which is a common theme with many of the services. They look very clean and sophisticated at first glance but you start poking around and find yourself confused very quickly.

A breeze, right? You make a design, load it to a pre-templated shirt, set the colors you want, and BAM! A fun Sunday evening project that your fanbase will love. The promise is that the t shirt printing can happen while you sleep like ever enticing passive income dream. WRONG! (Maybe).

 

How to Make a T Shirt?

Do I Have to Provide Designs for Print On Demand, or are there design services or clipart on the respective POD platforms?

Many Print On Demand services have their own library of clip art, text editing options, and super basic designing features. Below is a screenshot of Printful’s design area. You’ll find that most sites look pretty similar.

If your goal is to develop branded merchandise around your books, art, conference, and business, you’ll want to design your own logos and sayings, or hire a designer to help you bring your vision to life. There are many inexpensive resources available for this today, such as 99Designs for artwork or FreeeUp for independent hiring.

T Shirt Design Tips

  • Does your design match your current branding theme? (If you have one already)
  • Would you wear it and be proud to market your design? (You’ll need to!)
  • Have you researched what is selling well in your genre?
  • If you’re working with a designer, you want to make sure they understand your goals and are a good fit for your brand.
  • Are you developing merch for a mass audience or are you creating it for hardcore fans?
    • For mass appeal you’ll want to research trending apparel.
    • For a hardcore fans or events, you’ll spend some time developing a unique design.

There’s not really a right or wrong way to go about this—but as with anything—the more clarity you have around your goals, the better.

If you already have a tribe of “1,000 true fans” (read about Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans principle here), test samples with them. Send them your designs by email or post on your social platforms and get their feedback. In fact, you can even get pre-orders and end up selling before you’ve created your product. Just be sure that you’ll be ready to hit the floor running with your preferred printing company so you don’t loose fans and create the stress of long delivery delays.

 

How Are Payments Processed for Print on Demand?

You will easily find this information on each platform, but typically, they all connects with:

  • Paypal
  • Shopify
  • Square
  • Your bank account

If you want to start super simple, we’d recommend setting up a Paypal and linking it to your Print on Demand profile.  If you’re already building out a store page on your website, then configure your current shopping system to the POD platform.  Most will be able to connect to any shopping cart.

 

What Platforms Integration Features?

Many Print On Demand companies allow you to create a storefront on their platform. They handle the payment processing, you can edit the product descriptions, and they have pre-set photos of what you’re selling.

For long-term branding, we recommend having a Shop page on your website. The most popular being WordPress, though here are the most common platforms that POD companies integrate with:

  • A storefront on the POD platform
  • WordPress
  • Shopify
  • Square Space

If you’re on a shoestring budget or just want to give these platforms a test try, you can always just use the shop profiles each print on demand service provides.  For instance, if you decided to create some shirts on Zazzle or TeeSpring, both platforms offer a seller profile and storefront and you wouldn’t need your own website.

 

How Much Marketing and Advertising Do I Need to Do?

T Shirt Printing services are like any other large done-for-you platform. You’re far better off coming to the table with your own marketing strategy, including—and especially—your own audience base.  Just like publishing a book, crowdfunding, or maintaining a Patreon page, POD platforms will focus on helping the people who bring customers to their shop.

Makers Beware

Before you create your products to sell, you need to build your brand by growing a following. No matter how wonderful your product is, whether it’s a T shirt, hoodie, canvas or pillow, it won’t sell on the world wide web if it can’t be found. Your marketing strategy helps your fans find you.

“Your marketing strategy helps your fans find you in the crowded online marketplace, and is at the core of every success story.”
~Devani Anjali Alderson, iCreateDaily.com

A breeze, right? You make a design, load it to a pre-templated shirt, set the colors you want, and BAM! A fun Sunday evening project that your fanbase will love. The promise is that the t shirt printing can happen while you sleep like ever enticing passive income dream. WRONG! (Maybe).

If you have any questions, or personal experience you would like to share, please don’t hesitate to reach out, we may even add your experiences here, or message us on our Facebook Page.

Start. Sustain. Succeed! 

Hey! I’m Devani, a multi-passionate creator who enjoys honing the craft of writing (mostly;)), photography, cooking, podcasting, learning about business, and growing brands.  I co-host the iCreateDaily Podcast with LeAura Alderson (my mom), and co-own the iCreateDaily brand. I hope through the content and products we produce, you will be inspired to start, sustain, and succeed in your goals.

My non-business and artistic hobbies include: enjoying a good movie, discovering obscure but epic music, obsessing over The Beatles, and developing fictional stories in my head.  My Maltese dog, Caspian, provides an insane amount of creative inspiration by just being his adorable self. #HeWokeUpLikeThat. 😉 



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