Starting a Clothing Line with Print On Demand (2022)
What is Print On Demand?
Print on demand is an order process method where items are printed upon receipt of an order, and usually dispatched directly from the manufacturer, to the customer.
Print on demand is a great method of bypassing the need to hold inventory, which ties up cash flow and carries the risk of overstocking.
How Does Print On Demand (POD) Work?
The print on demand model is a very simple one; it generally follows the below steps
- You locate a print on demand supplier
- You use their templates to design products and add these items to your site
- When a customer purchases any given style(s), the print on demand supplier will receive the order notification and then print this product
- Upon completion, the supplier will dispatch this product directly to your customer
Print on demand services work great for brands looking to do any of the following;
- Test new business concepts; whether it’s a whole new brand, or specific styles, colour-ways / products
- Test ad creative - as you’re not holding inventory, you can test new ad campaigns with a lower overhead and therefore optimise a campaign in a more cost-effective manner, instead of purchasing stock outright to do the same
- Bring collections to market faster - there is no requirement for designing, sampling and mass production, so you can launch a brand and test concepts much faster than you could with the traditional route of clothing manufacturing
- Focus on other areas of the business - without the need to contact clothing manufacturers, fashion designers and logistically plan the production of a collection, you save more time to spend on other areas of the business
Locating a Print On Demand Supplier
Finding a print on demand supplier can actually be an easy and inexpensive process. Let’s look at some of the most well-known print on demand suppliers below and what they do.
Printful is a print on demand supplier, founded in Latvia, with Headquarter in Charlotte, North Carolina. They also have warehouses and fulfilment centres in Toronto, LA, Mexico, Dallas, Barcelona and Birmingham.
Although printful have recently branched out into offering print on demand services for items in the home & living sector, they have always been a market-leader in the POD sector for fashion
Printful offer the below services;
- White Label Clothing: They stock white label brands like Gildan, Fruit of the Loom, American Apparel and so on which they can re-brand for your clothing brand
- Direct to Garment Printing (DTG): They offer high quality direct to garment printing; allowing for an unlimited number of colours per design, gradients and detailing
- Embroidery: Printful also offer both 2D and 3D embroidery on most products with a one-off setup fee
- Neck Label Printing: Printfuls customisation options allow you to add some garment finishing options such as branded neck label printing
- Custom Packaging: Printful also offers custom packaging to really personalise the unpacking experience for your customers. This includes branded mailing bags, packing slips and pack-ins (business cards, stickers and so on)
- White Label Tracking Screen: Lastly, a nice touch is a white label tracking screen / notification, meaning you can personalise the notification your customer receives to really tailor it towards your brand
Similarly to printful, Gooten offers a wide range of print on demand products, including garments and items which can be used to start a clothing line.
However, Gootens USP (unique selling point) really comes down to their international network of vendors and dropshippers. This means that you might find a more diverse collection of products, and customisation options available to your clothing brand via a supplier like Gooten.
Gooten offers the below services;
- Unlimited stores and SKUs: Gooten offers 150+ quality products, with the opportunity to source more; meaning you will never run out of options for new collections for your clothing brand
- All-Over-Print Services: Furthering your customisation options, Gooten also offers custom CMT (cut, make and trim) services for print on demand businesses
- Solution Consultants: As part of Gooten Seven, you will have access to dedicated solution consultants who can help you plan and predict up-and-coming trends for your brand
- Finance Expertise: In addition to the consultancy, Gooten also provides access to finance experts who can help you establish healthy margins, align your RRPs with competitors and improve the chances of turning over a profit in a shorter timespan
- Merchant Support: Gooten offers ongoing support and assistance, in multiple time zones for brands looking for some extra help along the way
Printify is another print on demand solution, which offers similar styles that both printful and Gooten offer, but what makes printify unique to the other two is it’s subscription model
In short, for $29 per month, you receive 20% off all styles. This is a great option for brands who have already proven a concept and are looking to improve margins.
Printify offers the below services;
- White Label Clothing: Hoodies, T-Shirts, Sweatshirts, Joggers and much more; all of which are from well-known brands like Gildan, Fruit of the Loom, Bella + Canvas and so on
- Direct to Garment Printing (DTG): Similarly to both printful and Gooten, Printify offers high quality digital printing on garments
- Embroidery: Printify also offers embroidery as an option on certain styles like heavier cotton fabrics and accessories like caps and beanies
- Unique Products: Printify has a unique database of products you’re unlikely to find with any other print on demand suppliers site, meaning you can diversify your product collections and offer accessories like jewellery and water bottles
Creating Designs For Your Clothing Line
Starting a clothing line is hard for a magnitude of reasons; after all, the market is competitive so it can sometimes be difficult to establish what style of clothing you should release, or how to design on these styles.
The benefit of print on demand is that you can test a lot of styles from the get-go, without the need to hold inventory and therefore can create a variety of designs to see what your target market likes and dislikes.
Below are some tools / guides on how to design for your clothing line;
Canva is a design tool used by brands and creatives across the world. Alongside presentations, banners and social media posts, canva offers a wide variety of both logo templates and t-shirt designs
This is a great option for clothing brands, as you can use the premade template and customise this to fit your brand's feel. In addition to this, you can also create a “brand pack” meaning by default, you have access to your brands’ colour scheme making it easy to personalise each design
Freepik is a search directory which provides you with access to source files (.ai, .PSD, .SVG) for everything from vector artwork, icons and symbols, through to logo and t-shirt designs.
You can search, and download .PSD files from freepik and using Adobe Photoshop, you can edit these files to create high-quality, personalised designs for your clothing brand.
Placeit are a design software business which not only provide access to logo designs and pre-made artwork templates which you can customise, but also an array of mock-ups which you can layer designs over.
This option is great for not only creating artwork, but also placing this on mock-ups which can then be used on your e-commerce website product pages, social media posts and ad creatives.
The Pros & Cons of Print on Demand
Although print on demand is a great method to start a clothing line, there are some things to consider prior to committing to this method of manufacturing. Below we are going to break down the pros and cons of print on demand to help you establish if this is the best route for you.
- No Inventory: The main benefit of print on demand is that it lowers the barrier of entry to the market. No need to hold inventory keeps your operation lean and reduces your risk of overstocking
- Speed To Market: Without the need for custom clothing manufacturing, print on demand allows you to bring collections to market faster and more efficiently, which in turn reduces your opportunity cost
- Launch Larger Collections: Whilst more isn’t always better, being able to launch more styles (due to not holding inventory) will show a more established look for the brand, increase on-site SEO, improve conversions and likely show an increase in customer lifetime value (LTV)
- Test Concepts: Print on demand allows you to test concepts and get real-world feedback from consumers and the market; which in turn, allows you to refine collections and scale your brand faster
- No Control Of The Supply Chain: You will be dictated by stock levels from the suppliers you work with, their processing times and logistical implications; all of which you have no control over
- Lack of Quality Control: Everything in clothing manufacturing is done by hand, which carries a risk of defects. With items being shipped directly from the manufacturer to the customer, there is no additional quality control taking place which could increase the risk of returns, refunds and tarnish brand reputation
- Inconsistency: With items being produced on an order-by-order basis, there is a risk of lack of consistency between garments which again, could lead to more returns, refund and tarnish brand reputation
- Turnaround Times: Now-a-days, customers want the products they ordered yesterday. It therefore is off-putting for customers to wait long periods of time (2-3 weeks in some cases) for products they ordered to arrive. This could lead to a lower conversion rate, or increased demand in customer support queries / complaints.
- Limited Access To Styles: Print on demand businesses will generally only stock a limited number of styles and these will generally be from lower tiered brands; meaning you will be limited in both the quality you can access, and the styles
- Limited Access To Customisation: The only options print on demand businesses are able to offer are DTG and embroidery due to the setup times. You therefore won’t have access to alternative branding options such as screen printing, direct to film (DTF), embossing, silicone printing and so on
Alternative Methods to Print on Demand
Print on demand is just one of many options available to clothing brands. Although the lowest barrier of entry to the market, print on demand might not necessarily be the best option for your brand.
Therefore, we will discuss the best alternative options to print on demand;
Clothing manufacturers like White2Label Manufacturing offer comprehensive white label clothing services, which follow a similar concept to print on demand, but rather than items being printed as an order comes in, they are done in a small bulks beforehand (25pc MOQ) which in turn, allows them to provide more customisation options and higher-quality styles for your brand.
In addition to having access to more styles, higher quality and more comprehensive branding options, this service also comes with independent AQL (accepted quality level) quality control checks to ensure consistency between styles and that no defects make their way through to the end-consumer.
Custom clothing manufacturing is the traditional route of starting a clothing line. It involves contacting a clothing manufacturer and working on creating unique, custom pieces for your brand.
Whilst this is a great option for brands, it does require in-depth tech packs to be created and drafted, and higher commitments to minimum order quantities.
Further to this, you will be required to sample with these manufacturers, plan ahead of time and allow for the logistical implications if manufacturing overseas (i.e. international freight, customs fees and so on)
Top Tips for Print on Demand
- Always Sample New Styles
Sampling is so important in ensuring that both you and your customers are going to be satisfied with the final product. Sometimes, designs just don’t come out how they are intended. Sampling helps identify any issues well before they make their way to the end consumer.
- Be Transparent
Whilst some customers may be put off from buying due to long waiting times, you’ll almost certainly be worse off by not thoroughly explaining both the processing (i.e. time it takes from order receipt until dispatch) and the shipping times to customers.
Being transparent in all walks of business is great practice, but when you have longer than average shipping times, it’s best to make this really clear to customers.
- Use High Quality Mock-Ups Or Shoot Content
The most inexpensive way to release new collections would be to use high quality mock-ups but it is never a bad idea to shoot your own content with models, even if you’re using a print on demand method.
It helps establish trust and reliability with consumers, but most importantly, shows them exactly what they will be receiving.
- Optimise Everything
One of the benefits of print on demand is its ability to help you test new concepts. It’s therefore imperative that you focus on looking through the data and tailoring your brand and the user experience to meet the needs of your target audience.
- Focus on Quality
Although the quality of the print on demand products might not always be the same standard as those you could create using custom clothing manufacturers, you should always strive to produce the best quality you can, given your requirements.
“The better the quality of your product, the cheaper your marketing, customer acquisition and retention becomes”
Reece Wabara, CEO of Manier De Voir
Print on Demand FAQs
- What is the difference between dropshipping and print on demand?
The key difference between dropshipping and print on demand is that dropshipping generally involves a supplier sending a pre-made, unbranded item directly to the customer, whereas print on demand involves branding and customising that item before it’s shipped.
- Is print on demand the best way to launch a clothing line?
Print on demand is one of the best methods to test new concepts and get to market quickly, however it might not always be the best way to launch a clothing line due to higher unit prices, lack of options and no control over your supply chain.
That being said, the answer really depends on specific circumstances.
- Can you make money with print on demand?
Absolutely! However, the actual success of a print on demand business will depend on the market, products, seasonality and profit margins. It is therefore important to ensure you have found the best print on demand supplier for your brand, done market and consumer research and have priced your brand correctly.
- Is print on demand saturated?
In short, no. Whilst there are a lot of print on demand brands out there, this is an indication that there is adequate demand and therefore, an opportunity to rise above the mediocre competition and succeed with print on demand.
- What are the best print on demand companies?
Whilst there are a lot of different print on demand companies, here are some of our recommendations;
Anthony Mellor is a fashion entrepreneur, writer and consultant. Anthony writes in-depth articles about topics related to fashion, business and supply chains.
Anthony successfully scaled and exited a D2C fashion brand at the young age of 20. Since then, he's gone onto start and successfully operate two multi-6-figure clothing manufacturing businesses and currently offers up one-to-one constancy to brand owners.