What is print on demand and why should you do it?
Print on Demand (POD) is a blooming business model, and with good reason. In a nutshell, POD is when you offer a range of products with a design on them, but they only get printed and shipped to the customer when they place an order. Also, usually the printing company handles the fulfilment and delivery for you, hence the store owner has no upfront inventory investment and fees derived from managing and storing it.
Print On Demand shares many similarities with dropshipping, but it also have key differences that make POD both more difficult to set up than a dropshipping business, and also offers advantages over dropshipping if you get things right. The differences is that your products are unique (assuming your design is unique). You are not competing with hundreds or thousands of other businesses trying to sell the same product like in a dropshipping business. Does it mean that you need to know a lot about graphic design to make a POD business work? No. With freelance talent to readily available and cheap almost anyone can start a POD business with a relatively low investment.
What platform should you use for Print on Demand, WooCommerce or Shopify?
There is a wealth of information on this topic in the internet, but I will summarise it here for you: Shopify is great for those who want to set up their business fast and doesn’t require a lot of technical knowledge, however, you will pay monthly fees resulting from using shopify itself as well as the third party providers that connect your Shopify store to POD providers. WooCommerce is great for those who have the technical know how to set up their store (or willing to hire someone) or want more flexibility, though you may have to buy a few plugins, their yearly license cost is usually a fraction of what you would pay by using Shopify.
Which one is better? That depends entirely on you. If you have a low budget and technical knowledge, WooCommerce is a great option. If you have the budget and no intention to mess around configuring software, Shopify is a great option. If you are somewhere in between, then do your research and settle for one.
I am passionate about WooCommerce and have been using it for years in my other businesses (I guess this is a great place to throw a link to my main business herbolab.com, where I use WooCommerce with many of the plugins we developed in this website), so in this guide we will be exploring my own journey of setting a POD business with WooCommerce. Without further due, let’s dive in!
Setting up Print on Demand with WooCommerce
1. The basics
If you are starting out from scratch, there are many things you need to figure out. Choosing a theme for WooCommerce, installing plugins, etc. In our blog we cover a lot of ground about the basic set up so if you need help here please take a look at our blog.
2. Choosing your POD provider(s)
Not all POD providers available in the market can automatically connect and automate order fulfilling directly from your WooCommerce store. While this is really important for me (saves a ton of time), you may opt for fulfilling your orders manually if you choose to.
This is a really important point because each provider has their own way of connecting to WooCommerce, and if you choose to connect more than one at the same time like I did, you will run into some issues specially when it comes to shipping products for multiple POD providers that are bought together in the same order.
I started using Printful and Printify at the same time because each has their own pros and cons and they have different product offering. I will explain the solutions I used to make these work together, though it may also work for other POD providers.
Configuring WooCommerce for a POD business
If you want to look professional, you may want to get some paid plugins that will make your store really stand out. Here is what I recommend:
WooCommerce product variation swatches compatible with POD
While there are plenty of WooCommerce variation swatches plugin, most of them have one big problem when it comes to POD. These plugins work by configuring the display of Global attributes (like size, color, etc.), however POD providers like Printify and Printful create local product attributes when importing them into WooCommerce. The result? If you want to display beautiful image variations and swatches to change the color of your product, you will have to manually configure every single variation of every product, making it a very time consuming task. This is because local product attributes are considered unique attributes for each product, so the attribute “color” of product 1 and the attribute “color” of product 2 are two different attributes.
There is only one plugin that will create image variations automatically from local attributes, so you don’t need to edit every product. However this plugin supports only one attribute at the time (so if you want to use it for Tshirts that use size and color, you can’t). You can find the plugin here. I have modified this plugin and managed to make it work for multiple attributes for my store, though it may not work for everyone. If you would like to beta test it, drop a comment.
Showing other products with the same design
When you make a product on a POD platform you typically choose one product (such a T-shirt) and upload your design. However, what if the customer is interested to buy the same design in another product, such a mug or a hoodie? While it is possible to upload the same design to other products, showing all these products sporting the same design right on the product page can be quite challenging.
For that reason, we have developed SIP POD for WooCommerce. Our plugin adds one field to each product called “Design code”. Products that have the same design code will be shown on the same page so that your users can easily go to another product that has the same design they are interested in.
Splitting shipments per Print on Demand provider
The last challenge I faced was to have WooCommerce split shipments so that the customer will pay the appropriate freight charge from each POD provider. Although Printful and Printify plugins have a setting to automatically show freight charges from their platform, when the user adds to the cart products from both providers at the same time WooCommerce did not properly split the shipments. For that reason, our plugin SIP POD for WooCommerce takes care of this problem and split the order in different shipments one for each POD provider.
Bonus: Use Aliexpress as a Print on Demand provider
Yes, you’ve read that right. Most people instantly associate Aliexpress with dropshipping, however few realise that it can be used as a POD platform too. Configuring your POD store to work with Aliexpress requires a different setup and semi automated order flow, hence I have made a specific section for this. While this can open the doors to a much broader product catalogue, you must also consider the fact that there will be some extra work on your part as opposed to other popular POD providers. Also, products from Aliexpress typically ships from China (although you can also find products shipped from US and Europe, the range is much more limited), hence, shipping times may be longer.
Setting up Aliexpress as a Print on Demand platform with Alidropship