The Difference Between Print on Demand and Dropshipping

Print on demand and dropshipping are both beginner-friendly business models. While they both offer similar services—allowing you to sell products without an inventory—they are different. Understanding these differences and your business’s strengths can help you assess which service is best for you.

Both drop shipping and print-on-demand services allow you to sell products without the need to keep inventory. PoD services will enable you to use your custom designs, while drop shipping offers more products, often at lower prices, but lacks the customization options of PoD.

Deciding which one is best for your business can be a big decision. Not only does each offer distinct benefits, but many companies also provide similar services. Understanding what is best for your business can help you find the best partner for you. If you are wondering what your business actually needs, let’s explore what makes these two business models different. 

What is the Difference Between Dropshipping and Print on Demand?

While there is a lot of business jargon that get’s thrown around, dropshipping businesses have some commonalities. Essentially, dropshipping business models allow for stores not to keep an inventory of what they are selling. Instead, when a purchase is made, the order goes directly to the manufacturer. They then ship it directly to the customer without you ever having to touch the product.

This model has some distinct benefits:

  • Minimal upfront costs – Since the products are only paid for when a customer orders something, you limit your risk by not buying inventory. 
  • No shipping hassle – The drop shipper takes care of both shipping and fulfillment. 
  • More time to focus on your business – Keeping inventory and shipping are huge parts of business logistics. Using a drop shipper means you have more time to focus on marketing or other aspects of your store. 
  • Cheaper products – Since you are working with the manufacturer, product prices are generally low.

It is worth noting that both PoD services and traditional dropshipping models are both technically drop shippers. Since all of the product and shipment is done by the service, they can both offer the above benefits. They are both low-risk in this way. But, there is one big difference that separates the two models. 

What makes PoD services different is that you ship from the printer instead of shipping from the manufacturer. This means that you can add custom touches like screen-printing to your products easily. With other dropshipping services, the product comes to the customer plain and brandless. With PoD, though, your product often represents your one unique business style. 

What are the Benefits of Traditional Dropshippers?

For new entrepreneurs, dropshipping makes a fantastic business model. They are low-risk and offer users some great benefits. Additionally, dropshipping has been around for a while. This means that a lot of services offer a robust package of tools to help you get the most out of your online store. 

With dropshipping, you can:

  • Find trending products – Most dropshipping services will give you access to inventory data that can help you find trending products quickly.
  • Have a Number of products – Product diversity is a massive plus for any online store, and dropshipping allows you to sell almost any popular item.  
  • Low Shipping costs – Shipping can have a significant impact on your profit. Using a quality drop shipper usually means you can save a ton on shipping costs.
  • Scaling – With higher profits comes more money you can reinvest into your business. Allowing you to scale up easily. 

Dropshipping is a reasonably low-risk business model. Not only does it allow you to limit inventory, but most services also offer more than just dropshipping. One of the main advantages of going with a quality service is that you can access industry data. 

Finding the right products that will make a splash on your store page can be the most challenging part of your job. It can be hard for seasoned store owners to make these kinds of decisions. But, with data and analytics, you can easily import based on order volume, seller ratings, or a whole host of other metrics. 

Benefits of Using a Print on Demand Service

Print on demand is a perfect business model for entrepreneurs, given you have some design skills at your disposal. While it does retain a lot of the benefits of traditional drop shipping, it requires more work when designing your products.

PoD services are best for:

  • Graphic designers
  • Those with an established brand idea
  • Those willing to put in the extra time to test products/designs

Most entrepreneurs go with PoD because they can offer custom products. If you are a graphics designer or a creative type, you can stretch your imaginative side and make some products your customers will really enjoy. 

While there may not be as many options as traditional drop shippers, PoD services can offer you customization options on products like:

  • Tote bags
  • Phone cases
  • Shirts
  • Hats
  • Leggings
  • Much more

What are Some of the Downsides to Using Each Service?

Both business models can offer an excellent foundation for a successful business. But just as they are alike, there are some key benefit differences you should be aware of. Remember that understanding your own business and strategy can help inform you on which option is best. 

Here are some downsides to using a PoD service:

  • Shipping costs – Free shipping is one of the most asked for customers’ benefits; PoD shipping rates are by and large more expensive than other drop shippers. 
  • Stale mockups – Since mockup generators usually use the same image, your product page can look boring if you sell similar products. Creating your own product mockups can be a game-changer for your print on demand business and set it apart from all the other POD shops out there.
  • Product cost – Custom products cost more, and because of that, your profit will suffer.
  • Limited product selection – While you can use custom images and designs, most PoD services will still offer a limited amount of products relative to other drop shippers.
  • You need design skills – If you want to have your products stand out, you need to have some graphic design skills to make PoD work successfully.

When it comes to traditional dropshipping services, there is one major downside: product quality. While you can find some high-quality products on dropshipping websites, there are also a lot of bad products. 

However, if you are diligent with the way you pick products and services, you can find quality stock easily. Stick with products with high order volume, and you can help reduce the risk of sending out low-quality merchandise. Try ordering sample products to find out what you are really sending to customers.

Is One More Profitable Than the Other?

While you can find success with either model, generally speaking, traditional dropshipping usually sees higher returns. But this does come at the cost of product customization. Additionally, if you are confident in your graphic design skills, PoD may net you higher profits. 

For most entrepreneurs, traditional dropshipping services might be better. This is based on three main benefits:

  • Lower shipping costs
  • Lower product cost
  • Ability to use data to find popular products

Shipping costs are one of the things that eat up your profit margins. Dropshipping gives you access to better shipping options than most PoD services. Additionally, all the money you can save on the service can be recirculated into your business.

This means more money for ads and other parts of marketing. It also means your time and energy can be spent on other areas of your business. While product choice and quality are important, it is often the marketing that dictates your success. 

Wrapping Up

Dropshipping and print on demand services can both make for successful business models. These beginner-friendly choices allow users to sell products without the need to keep an inventory. If you are looking for more customized products, then PoD is your best bet. Overall though, traditional dropshipping can be cheaper and lower risk. 

A Personal Touch 

I personally have experience with both dropshipping and print on demand. 

I pursued dropshipping in early 2020, you can read about my experience here. In short, after a few hiccups, it was an overall success. However, I found that I did not enjoy the business model and decided to walk away with a small profit and appreciate the knowledge gained, knowing that dropshipping is ultimately not for me. 

I started my first print on demand business in early 2019 with a Shopify store connected with Printify. I didn’t get far with this store before discovering Zazzle, a more passive print on demand platform, where I can just upload designs and reap the rewards, without having to run my own online store with my own shop policies and legal pages. 

At the time of writing this, I have made just over $11,000 on Zazzle with just over 20,000 units sold. And those numbers continue to climb every day! 

To read about my drop shipping experience, click here

To read more about making money on Zazzle, check out our Zazzle archives here