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What is Printful? And how does it work?
If you’ve been asking yourself these questions, this post is for you.
Read on to discover what Printful is, how it works, its key pros and cons and some key tips on how start a print-on-demand business with it.
Let’s dive in with a simple overview of Printful.
An overview of Printful
Printful is a print-on-demand (POD) service that lets you create, print and sell custom merchandise through your own online store or a range of online marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy and eBay.
The platform offers a wide range of customizable print products including clothing, bags, posters, stationery, tech accessories and many more. It also comes with a built-in design tool that helps you apply your own designs to its product range.
As a print-on-demand company, Printful operates on a made-to-order business model. This means that products are only printed when you (or one of your customers) places an order for an item.
In addition to acting as your printer, Printful also provides a full set of fulfillment services. When Printful prints a product from an order in your store, it also takes care of packaging it up and shipping it to your customer — allowing you to focus on marketing your store and making sales.
(The company also offers some additional fulfillment options, including warehousing of non-Printful goods that you send to one of its warehouses for fulfillment).
Printful’s printing and fulfillment facilities are made up of a network of 14 locations across 4 continents, making it possible for the company to deliver on an average order fulfillment time of 2-5 business days (regardless of your customer’s location).
Printful was created in 2013 by Latvian-born businessman Lauris Liberts, who saw an opportunity to offer outsourced printing and fulfillment services after having struggled to keep up with demand for an online poster store he was running from his living room.
One decade on from its launch, Printful is now one of the biggest and most reputable POD services on the market today. With over 1,600 staff, the company has a current valuation of over $1 billion US dollars.
It is also the most popular print-on-demand service for Shopify store merchants — the Printful app has a rating of 4.6 in the Shopify app store along with over 4,000 (mostly positive) customer reviews.
But how many people actually use Printful?
How many people use Printful?
Printful has provided print and fulfillment services to over 2 million customers over its 10-year history. During that time, the company reports that it has delivered 68.2 million items so far, with a current average of 1 million items being processed every month.
At present, there are more than 1 million registered Printful users — with at least 194,600 of these selling Printful products via Shopify, and another 78,000+ doing so via online stores built with Wix.
Where is Printful based?
Printful HQ is located in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.
The company owns and runs around 10 fulfillment centers for its POD services across the US and EU.
These are located in:
- North Carolina, USA
- Toronto, Canada
- Tijuana, Mexico
- Texas, USA
- Birmingham, UK
- Barcelona, Spain
- Riga, Latvia.
Additionally, Printful partners with several other third-party print companies across South America, Asia and Australia. These additional facilities are located in:
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Amakusa, Japan
- Brisbane, Australia
- Melbourne, Australia.
How does Printful work?
Printful’s print-on-demand service works by giving you access to around 330 customizable print items. You choose the items from Printful’s catalog that you’d like to add your designs to, customize them and then list them in your online store or on a marketplace.
When someone buys one of your products, the order is automatically sent to Printful, which then
- deducts its fee from your sale price
- prints the item
- packages it up
- ships it to your customer.
Now, it’s important to understand that Printful is NOT an ecommerce platform or online marketplace. Rather, it is a printing and fulfillment company.
So, if you want to use Printful to sell printed products online, you’ll need to set up an online store or register an account with an online marketplace first — doing so will give you a sales channel for selling Printful products to online shoppers.
The good news here is that Printful integrates very neatly with a range of 20+ online store builders and ecommerce marketplaces.
To help you add your designs to one of the products from the Printful catalog, the platform provides you with an easy-to-use product design editor. This tool comes with a drag-and-drop interface that lets you upload your designs, position them on your chosen product, add text and make various other customizations.
When you create a product in Printful, the platform also lets you create product mockups to add to your online store listing. You can choose from ready-made mockups or alternatively create your own with Printful’s product mockup designer.
Of course, no ecommerce product would be complete without a product description — the marketing copy that explains what a product is and describes the benefits of purchasing it.
To that end, Printful provides clearly-written descriptions of every product in its catalog, including important details on product material and where the product was sourced. If you want to add your own take to product descriptions however, you can simply edit the default ones during the product setup process.
Another key aspect of Printful’s POD service is its branding functionality.
The platform lets you apply your own brand to just about every digital and physical ‘touch point’ in the customer journey.
On the digital side of the customer journey, you can easily add your brand logo, colors and social accounts to your products’ order tracking pages.
On the physical side of things, you can add your branding to the following items:
- packing slips
- packaging (bags, boxes etc.)
- packaging inserts
- product ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ labels.
Is Printful a dropshipping service?
First of all, let’s quickly define dropshipping:
Definition of dropshipping
Dropshipping is a business model where you don’t manufacture, purchase, store or deliver any products. Instead, you take orders for products via an online store, and pass them onto a supplier. The supplier then charges you, and sends the goods to the customer.
As you can see from the definition above, it’s pretty clear that Printful is indeed a type of dropshipping service, specifically a print-on-demand dropshipping service.
When you list and sell a Printful product through your online selling platform of choice, you don’t need to buy or store any inventory, nor do you need to manufacture, pack or ship anything yourself. Printful, like most dropshipping companies, performs all the key fulfillment tasks for you.
Now, POD services such as Printful are just one subset of the many dropshipping business types out there.
Online merchants can also use third-party dropshipping companies (such as Spocket, Syncee and DSers) to dropship a wider range of products. These dropshipping merchants sell everything from clothing and health and beauty items to pet supplies, electronic equipment and furniture.
The Shopify dropshipping starter kit
If you’re interested in dropshipping, I’d recommend that you take a look at Shopify’s dropshipping starter kit — with this, you get several days of free access to Shopify plus lots of bundled resources and tools that show you how to launch a successful dropshipping Shopify store.
However, the print-on-demand variety of dropshipping available through Printful and similar services is particularly popular with artists and visual creatives.
This is because POD provides an easy and cost-effective way for artists, photographers, designers etc. to turn their own designs and artwork into physical products like t-shirts, phone cases, posters, and more — all without the need for upfront investment or inventory.
What can I sell with Printful?
Printful’s catalog consists of around 330 printable items across 6 main categories.
- Men’s clothing — 70+ items
- Women’s clothing — 90+ items
- Kids’ & youth clothing — 25+ items
- Hats — 40+ items
- Accessories — 40+ items
- Home and Living — 40+ items.
Printful’s clothing and apparel category is particularly well stocked, with items available including t-shirts, hoodies, hats, sweatshirts, dresses, leggings, tank tops, swimwear, underwear and many others.
Its ‘accessories‘ category includes customizable shoes, flip-flops, tote bags, phone cases and handbags.
The ‘home & living‘ products on offer from Printful cover 5 types of wall art (posters, framed posters, canvas prints, flags and metal prints); stationery (postcards, notebooks, stickers and greeting cards); as well as customizable towels, pillow cases, aprons and various types of drinkware (water bottles, mugs, coasters etc.).
Selecting an item you’d like to customize and sell is pretty easy in Printful.
Its product library lets you browse products via the categories mentioned above (in the left hand side of the product library interface); alternatively, you can use more detailed filtering options that are available at the top of the Printful interface. The latter let you narrow down products by colors, sizes, materials, production technique and other criteria.
Ethics and sustainability
According to Printful, all its products are produced via sustainable and ethical production methods.
In 2022, the company recycled over 350 tonnes of products, with another 20,000 square feet of fabric scraps from its production processes being saved and repurposed.
The company also has a publicly available code of conduct which covers human rights, workers rights, anti-corruption policies and environmental standards for all third-party Printful suppliers.
According to the company, it conducts regular audits and inspections of their suppliers’ facilities to ensure that they meet their high standards for both quality and ethical production.
How much does Printful cost?
There are no monthly fees to use Printful. It is completely free to set up an account, create custom products, integrate your account with an ecommerce platform and list products for sale.
You only pay a fee to Printful when a customer buys one of your Printful products. This fee will be determined by several factors, namely:
- Product cost
The cost of a product varies depending on its type, size, and color.
- Printing costs
The cost of printing your design onto the product is determined by the printing technique you choose. For example, a standard ‘direct to garment’ digital print on a white t-shirt might be $18.95, while a high-quality embroidery print on the same t-shirt might cost $20.95.
- Shipping costs
Shipping fees vary depending on the shipping method, destination, and weight of your package. Printful offers a variety of shipping options, including standard, expedited, and international.
It’s important to remember that a monthly fee for your chosen ecommerce platform or online marketplace will also apply; and depending on the sales channel involved, you may also face a transaction fee.
Now, if you sell more than $12,000 worth of Printful products per month on your store, you get access to the ‘Printful memberships’ discount scheme.
Made up of two membership tiers — ‘Printful Growth’ and ‘Printful Business’ — these schemes offer members significant discounts on standard Printful pricing.
These discounts can be as high as 33% off standard Printful product prices, depending on your monthly Printful sales volume (see screenshot below for more details on the discounts available).
(Printful is due to introduce a paid membership option soon). This will enable all Printful merchants to avail these discounts by paying a monthly fee, irrespective of their annual sales.)
Of course, you can also use Printful to order customized print products for your own business (staff t-shirts, brand posters, mugs with your company logo on them and so on).
And if this is the case, you can avail of a range of discounts from Printful if you order in bulk.
Printful direct bulk pricing starts with a minimum order of 25 products, with discounts ranging from 5% to 55% depending on the product.
Related resource: Printful pricing guide
Where can I sell with Printful?
Printful ships products to most countries around the world.
The company currently has 9 shipping regions:
- EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland)
- Australia / New Zealand
(At time of writing, Printful does not ship orders to the Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk regions in Ukraine; other countries that you can’t ship to include Russia, Belarus, Ecuador, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria. You can view the full list of shipping country restrictions here).
Standard shipping rates to the US for some popular Printful products are as follows:
- T-shirts — $4.69 for a single product / + $2.20 per additional product
- Sweatshirts — $8.49 for a single product / + $2.50 per additional product
- Dresses — $3.99 for a single product / + $2 per additional product
- Framed posters — $10.49 for a single product / + $4.50 per additional product
- Mugs — $6.49 for a single product / + $3.50 per additional product.
Now, it’s important to note that regardless of your country or region, you have to set up your own shipping rates for Printful products in the product listing in your chosen ecommerce storefront, as the Printful platform doesn’t do this for you.
A popular strategy here is to increase your product price by the same amount as Printful’s shipping costs; doing this means that your customer is automatically covering the shipping Printful’s shipping charge to you when they purchase one of your products. This then enables you to offer ‘free shipping’ to your store’s customers.
This can be a very effective way to increase sales on your POD store, as ‘free shipping’ is frequently cited by online shoppers as being even more important than the price of the product they are hoping to purchase.
What are the pros and cons of Printful?
Let’s take a look now at some of the main pros and cons of Printful.
Pros of Printful
- It’s easy to use. The whole Printful platform is extremely intuitive, offering step-by-step guidance to merchants as they choose products, customize them and add them to their online stores.
- Its print products are of a very high quality. Printful’s products have a good reputation among sellers as being some of the highest quality POD products on the market. Printful works with leading suppliers to source high-quality materials, such as sustainable cotton, and offers a variety of printing techniques, such as direct-to-garment printing, embroidery, and cut and sew.
- It integrates with a wide range of ecommerce solutions. Printful integrates with several of the top ecommerce platforms and marketplaces, including Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, eBay, Etsy and Amazon. Setting these integrations up often takes no more than a few clicks, and can be done easily without the aid of a developer.
- Its custom branding options are very strong. Printful offers a good range of options for adding your own brand to your all aspects of your customer’s journey with your POD products. These options include adding your brand to clothing labels, packaging, packing slips, thank you cards and order tracking pages.
- It’s great for international selling. Printful lets you sell to customers in over 170 countries. Its global network of production and fulfillment centers makes it possible to to produce and ship products from a facility that is located close your customer, which reduces shipping times and costs.
Cons of Printful
- Its products are relatively expensive. Pricing for many Printful products are more expensive than comparable products from competing POD companies.
- It has a smaller product catalog than some other POD services. While Printful’s prodcut library features a decent selection of around 330 items, other POD companies — for example Printify — offer a significantly larger product offering.
- You can’t choose your print location. Unlike some competing POD companies, Printful doesn’t let you specify the location or facility your products will be printed at.
- There are some hidden costs to consider. Although Printful is transparent with its pricing in general, there are a few add-on services that require paying additional fees. These include a $1 fee for using premium images in your designs, a $2.49 fee for adding your own branded apparel labels to products and stitch-count-based pricing fees (from $3.95 to $19.95) for large embroidery pieces.
How do I get started with Printful?
To get started with Printful, it’s usually best to create an online store in a platform like Shopify, Squarespace, BigCommerce or Etsy first.
Once that’s done, head over to the Printful website and do the following:
- Register for a free Printful account
- Connect your Printful account to your chosen ecommerce platform
- Select products to sell in the Printful product library
- Customize these products with the product designer
- Choose your product mockups
- Add product details and descriptions
- Set your prices
- Set up your shipping
- Set up payments in your online store platform
- Add funds to your Printful wallet to cover your first few orders
- Launch and market your store.
If you need more detailed how-to information on all of the above, the Printful help center covers most of the basics very well.
Additionally, the Printful blog has plenty of informative material on marketing tips for POD businesses, along with a suitably-named ‘beginner”s handbook’ section if you’re totally new to the platform.
Finally, if you are torn between whether or not to list your Printful products in an online store or an online marketplace, you might want to check out our Shopify vs Amazon and our Shopify vs Etsy comparisons. These tease out the pros and cons of both methods of online selling and may help you decide what the best option is for your print-on-demand business.
What is Printful? — FAQ
What is Printful used for?
Printful is used to let online merchants sell ‘print on demand’ products. You apply your own designs to Printful’s product range and list these products for sale on your own site. When an order comes through for one of these, Printful handles the printing, packaging and shipping of the item.
What is the difference between Printful and Shopify?
While Shopify is a solution that lets you build a standalone online store, Printful is a ‘print-on-demand’ service that you ‘plug in’ to that online store. Once you’ve added the Printful app to your Shopify website, you can list Printful products for sale on it (with Printful handling the manufacture and shipping of those products).
Do you need a website to sell with Printful?
In practice, yes. Although Printful lets you create orders manually, the best way to sell using the service is to list products on an online store (which in effect automates the whole print-on-demand process).
Does Printful have monthly fees?
No — there are no monthly fees to worry about with Printful. However, you will have to pay Printful a fee each time you sell a product created using the service.
- Printful review
- Printful pricing guide
- Printful vs Printify
- Printful vs Teespring (now Spring)
- Printful vs SPOD
- How to Connect Printful to Shopify
- How to Connect Wix and Printful
- How to Connect Printful to Squarespace
- How to Connect Printful to Etsy
- Shopify review
- Shopify side hustles
- Dropshipping pros and cons
- Dropshipping with Shopify
- Dropshipping resource hub