For the last couple of weeks I have been exploring the current state of the print-on-demand and drop-shipping industry. (This page was initially written in October of 2020, with a few minor updates/additions in November of 2021.) I’ve also been looking at how well those solutions integrate with both WooCommerce and Shopify as a starting point for a new Humanitou shop that can help fund the podcast and our small studio space, as well as provide an additional creative outlet with products we love.
The short answer is, it’s not looking good. There are an infinite number of items to print on produced by companies around the globe, as well as any third-party printers they work with. For many of those companies, there is a problematic lack of transparency as it relates to the supply chain and seemingly atrocious customer service across the board. (Take a look at Trustpilot reviews and Shopify community posts for the companies below to see what I mean).
It’s hard to know how much of this is COVID-related, so we realize we need to cut all businesses some slack to some degree, but when there are patterns of reviewers consistently leaving one-star reviews mentioning they wish they could leave zero stars, it’s worth taking note before diving in to this model.
We narrowed it down to two print shops who both produce items in house and appeared to be quality-conscious, Contrado in the UK, and Art of Where in Canada. Contrado doesn’t integrate with WooCommerce, so I started building out a test shop on Shopify under a trial account and ordered some sample products in the meantime.
Here’s what I found.
- The samples shipped quickly
- Products cut and sewn in house
- Great product selection
- Easy account creation for wholesale and drop-shipping
- Integrates with Shopify (though not well)
- The printed vegan leather is super vibrant and I’m excited about this as a new material
- After leaving a constructive review, I received a thoughtful, personal note from one of their employees asking for more feedback and thanking me for what I already shared
- One of the items was missing from my order even though I was charged for it and it was checked off on my receipt – trying to work through the details with customer service was a slow process (it finally showed up separately a few days later). Come to find out it was shipped as a separate parcel.
- Costs are high making it difficult to leave room for enough markup to even make this a viable revenue stream
- The technology leaves a lot to be desired.
- Their UI is less than intuitive and as a technologist, that’s something that will immediately set a bad tone with me. I learn and work with teams to develop new software for a living, so if I’m not quickly able to figure something out, the solution moves down a notch in my book.
- At least twice, I had items pass the quality check in the design process only to later be notified I had to adjust something. When I went back in to my designs, there was no indication of what wasn’t right.
- Shop administration is also a confusing process. It’s not clear where to go to do what from how the information architecture is set up.
- The integration with Shopify seems to only sometimes work. I can’t consistently get Contrado products to show up in Shopify. That’s a dealbreaker. Contrado’s app in the Shopify marketplace is unsupported and it seems others have this issue, too, so I don’t have a lot of faith in this technology at all. I never got this resolved before the Shopify trial expired, so we decided not to pursue this avenue.
- There is no comprehensive price list – you have to go in to each product
- Our samples are OK with mixed results. We love how the journal turned out. It’s well made and gorgeous, but pricey. My two hoodie dresses are wearable and fun, though also pricey, run a bit small, and the hood on one started to pill after a single washing (this might have been partially my fault – the washing instructions on the tag include symbols only and b/c it’s mostly polyester, I made assumptions.). Won’t be selling those. The face masks are of poor quality in terms of printing and materials, and also run small (the mediums are perfect for my 8 and 10 year-old boys, though). Won’t be selling those either. The printed vegan leather is beautiful and I’m looking forward to making some new jewelry designs with that. I ordered a second batch of many more designs on the vegan leather and it was also incredible. (See some of the early pieces on the Humanitou shop, if you’re interested.)
Art of Where
- The design tool is reasonable
- Product selection is great
- Products are printed in house
- Integrates with WooCommerce and Shopify (not sure how well yet)
- Both pairs of leggings we ordered feel like solid quality and are printed with beautifully saturated colors true to the designs
- The journals seem to be well produced, too
- Slow production times. I placed my order on the 10th of October. It finally arrived on November 4th.
- The rest of the user interface is not super intuitive or fast
- Journals were packaged with garments, but without any sort of stable structure, so one of them arrived bent – after a week and a half of back and forth, they agreed to reprint it, so yay for that.
Other Print-on-Demand Companies
Do your homework with these. As mentioned above, there are complaints about terrible customer service for the companies I took time to research more in depth (not all of these below). I’ve seen enough negative reviews at this point and between slow production times, quality issues, and first order screw-up, that we’re going to put the clothing side of the shop on hold until the POD industry catches up.
- Cafe Press
- Custom Ink
- Merch by Amazon
- Paper City Clothing Company
- Printify (11/21 update: I ordered 2 allover printed hoodies and they were poorly sewn. When I received them the seams were already coming apart. Getting a refund required quite a bit of back and forth with customer service, but eventually was resolved.)
- Society 6
If you’re a designer considering setting up an e-commerce site powered by print-on-demand and drop-shipping on the back end, I hope you found this of use.