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Print-on-Demand Report: 2020 Statistics

By Reading Time: 6 minutes

Wow, what a year.

However, in light of everything that happened, the world of print-on-demand and ecommerce was booming. I wanted to take you down memory lane and do a print-on-demand report on 2020. Use this data to power your marketing and business growth plan for the ongoing year:

  • print-on-demand changes overall
  • Covid-19’s impact on print-on-demand
  • Cyber Week success in 2020
  • the growing demand for sustainability

Also—data alert! Throughout the article, you’ll find infographics with insightful data from our customer surveys. Below each infographic, there’s an embed code. Feel free to share the infographics by copy-pasting the code to your website or downloading them. Spread the word and discuss it with other entrepreneurs like yourself.

Sounds good? Let’s jump right in!

Print-on-demand overall

print on demand report products
Source: Printful

The print-on-demand industry has grown by 12% over the last 4 years. And there are no signs of stopping as there’s a growing demand for unique products and personalization options. In fact, a lot of consumers (36%) are expecting some form of personalization by default and would even be ready to wait longer for customized products (48%).

Customization and one-of-a-kind products are a big part of print-on-demand. And, since products are made to order, most print-on-demand suppliers don’t require a minimum order volume.

For online businesses, this means that even if there’s just 1 order for a specific design, that order can still be fulfilled. This opens the door to satisfying a demand for personalization while remaining profitable.

When it comes to printing techniques, historically, screen printing has been the preferred technique. However, over the last few years, there’s been a shift toward digital printing because of its affordability and little to no order minimum requirements.

As far as products go, the biggest hit with print-on-demand through the years, 2020 included, has been the t-shirt. The reason? T-shirts are simple and a crucial part of anyone’s wardrobe. Not only is the tee the most basic item to building an outfit, with a catchy quote, significant message, or an attention-grabbing design, it can also serve as a statement piece.

The global custom t-shirt printing market size was valued at $3.64 billion in 2020. And it isn’t over for the tee in the foreseeable future—the custom t-shirt printing market value is expected to reach $7.57 billion by 2028.

Custom t-shirts are a great first product when starting a business. Check out the steps you need to take to make money with custom t-shirts without having to manage any inventory yourself.

Covid-19 vs. print-on-demand

Covid-19 didn’t leave any person or industry unchanged. It forced us as people and business owners to adapt to a new way of life. One of the ways people tried to increase their financial security was by starting a side business. In 2020, new business creation in the US rose by 42%. And due to the unfortunate massive layoffs during the pandemic, as many as 56% of Americans expressed that they felt safer when working for themselves instead of having a traditional job.

This shift towards owning a business instead of working for someone else had a huge impact on the print-on-demand industry. Back in March 2020, the first red flags of the pandemic started to rise and so did the interest in print-on-demand. In March, Google search volume for the “print on demand” keyword rose by 10,000 monthly searches and continued to grow until August. 

The reason why print-on-demand gained such an interest during the pandemic: it makes setting up a fully functioning business fast. With a design or a design idea, you can have products ready for sales in a matter of a short lunch break. And what’s really important with a highly contagious virus lurking around—you can set up your store from the safety of your own home.

But it wasn’t just the print-on-demand industry in general that gained some online attention. A sudden increase in search volumes also happened to specific print-on-demand products, like custom stickers and personalized gifts.

Unsurprisingly, the fastest-growing print-on-demand product based on Google search volumes in 2020 was custom face masks. In January 2020, the keyword “custom face mask” had a humble 345 monthly Google searches on average. Then, as the pandemic kept taking over the world, the monthly search volume reached a whopping 55,000 by April. The number continued to grow until July when it reached 72,000 monthly searches.

Source: Printful

In early 2021, we surveyed Printful store owners who had made sales within the last 12 months, asking them how Covid-19 affected their businesses. We got 485 respondents who shared their experience.

Almost half of them (45%) witnessed a surge in sales in 2020, the most active period being from April through June (56%). During this period, the majority of brick and mortar stores were temporarily closed for safety reasons, putting all the weight on online stores. This explains the rise in online sales.

When asked about product changes, the most popular product additions to online stores were custom face coverings—face masks (38%) and neck gaiters (34%).

print on demand survey data about covid impact on pod in 2020

Embed this infographic on your site by copy-pasting this code:

<a href='' target='_blank'><img src='' style='max-width: 600px;' alt='5 Infographic with survey data about covid pandemic impact on print on demand'/></a><p style="padding: 3px 16px; font-size: 16px; color: #333333"><i>Source:</i> <a href="" target="_blank" style="color: #30A0EA"><i>Printful</i></a></p>

Cyber Week—as big as ever

With most people doing their holiday shopping online and new ecommerce businesses sprouting up by the second, one thing was for sure—the Cyber Week 2020 would be one to remember. And so it was that Cyber Week 2020 turned out to be the biggest the world had ever seen.

On Cyber Monday, online shoppers spent $10.8 billion, which was a 15.1% increase from 2019. On Black Friday, shoppers spent $9 billion, increasing the total money spent by 21%, compared to 2019.

Let’s see how Printful customers did in last year’s ecommerce holiday season. 

For the majority (79%) of the responding store owners, this was their first Cyber Week ever. Most of the respondents (69%) decided to prioritize Black Friday over other Cyber Week holidays. This turned out to be the right decision, as Black Friday sales turned out to be the most successful to the respondents (38%), closely followed by Cyber Monday (27%).

When it came down to marketing activities, social media (67%) was the go-to channel for running Cyber Week promotions. Social media helps to inform customers about upcoming and ongoing sales, as well as keep the shoppers’ interest.

Embed this infographic on your site by copy-pasting this code:

<a href='' target='_blank'><img src='' style='max-width: 600px;' alt='5 Infographic with customer survey data about black fryday cyber monday 2020'/></a><p style="padding: 3px 16px; font-size: 16px; color: #333333"><i>Source:</i> <a href="" target="_blank" style="color: #30A0EA"><i>Printful</i></a></p>

Learn more about what actions online store owners took during Cyber Week by going through last year’s most successful campaigns.

Sustainability in 2020: growing demand for sustainable businesses and eco-friendly products

The demand for sustainable products has been growing. The UN even called this the start of “the decade of action”. Sustainability has also changed online shoppers’ habits. In a 2021 survey, 27% of respondents said that, in the last 12 months, they tried out a new product for sustainability reasons and 25% spent more money on sustainable fashion.

When shopping online, people are opting more for parcel pick-up locations over traditional shipping to their doorstep. The parcel pick-up system has a lower carbon footprint than courier deliveries to the home address, which could explain the change in shipping choices.

With this increasing interest in sustainable businesses, online store owners should revisit their own production and shipping practices. This is where print-on-demand comes in. The biggest sustainability advantage to print-on-demand is on-demand fulfillment. Products are made only once they’re ordered, meaning fewer items get left behind with no owner.

In our survey, we asked 3,587 store owners about how sustainability has affected their business. We found out that over half of them communicate about sustainability (59%) to their customers. The majority of store owners agree that both eco-friendly products and packaging are important to them as well as to their customers.

When asked about what packaging the online store owners regarded as eco-friendly, the top 3 factors were:

  • that the packaging is recyclable
  • it’s made from recyclable materials
  • the packaging is biodegradable

Here’s what else we found out from our survey:

Embed this infographic on your site by copy-pasting this code:

<a href='' target='_blank'><img src='' style='max-width: 600px;' alt='5 Infographic with customer survey data about sustainability 2020'/></a><p style="padding: 3px 16px; font-size: 16px; color: #333333"><i>Source:</i> <a href="" target="_blank" style="color: #30A0EA"><i>Printful</i></a></p>

How to use this knowledge in 2021

To recap—here’s what happened in the world of POD and ecommerce in 2020:

  • The print-on-demand market size continued to grow
  • The demand for custom products increased
  • The global pandemic raised the need for a steady side income
  • 2020 had the largest amount of Cyber week sales yet
  • People showed more interest in sustainable products, packaging, and shipping

But enough of the past, let’s talk about the future. The numbers you saw in this article are going to continue to grow, there will be even bigger Cyber Weeks, and a higher demand for custom products and sustainable businesses. What you can (and have to!) do now as a business owner, is prepare yourself and your store for it:

  • Think about a Cyber Week promotion and marketing plan
  • Go through your products and see if your catalog needs new custom items
  • Consider adding a personalization tool to give your customers more design options
  • Review your business’ sustainability practices and find where and how you can improve

Got some 2020 wisdom or great plans for this year? Share them in the comments below.

Cheers to an outstanding 2021!

Una is an SEO content marketing specialist with a knack for linkbuilding, SEO-friendly copywriting, and building stunning landing pages. In her spare time she's an avid reader, and keeps close tabs on all things social media and mental health.


    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey, Jamie, thanks for the feedback! We’re going in this direction, but it does take time. Are there any specific ideas that you’d like to see being implemented? What does eco-friendly packaging mean to you? Is it recyclable, made from recycled materials, compostable, or something else? Curious to know.

      1. Kathrina R

        Hi Alise, just want to jump in here and say that eco-friendly packaging is important to my business. Having recyclable or compostable packaging would be the best option. I’m thinking cardboard with compostable ink. Specifically, on the larger items like pillows.

        1. Alise Zindiga

          Thank you so much, Kathrina, for the input. I’ll pass your idea over to the responsible team, however, I can tell you right away that we’re hesitant about compostable packaging. Compostable packaging requires a specific compost environment for the material to biodegrade, and not everyone has access to composts. If this material is sent to the landfill, it won’t compost there. We’re looking for a solution that’s suitable for the majority of our customers, is sustainable, and provides proper protection during shipping.

        1. Alise Zindiga

          Thanks for adding this, Anthony! I just wanted to note that we’re already using poly mailers made from 20%-50% recycled materials across all our facilities. Most of the materials are also recyclable—last year we started to add recycling guidelines to the packaging, reminding customers to sort and recycle.

  1. Tina

    Loving the new two toned pink and orange mugs guys!! Now I no longer have to order from other (more expensive) platforms for those. Now if only you also had that nice light green too that would be so perfect!!!

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey, Tina, great to hear that you enjoyed the new additions to our Product Catalog! Not sure if other colors are planned for the nearest future, but I’ll certainly pass your feedback over to the Product Development Team. 🙂

  2. Hosea Peppars

    Hi am trying upload my logo design for the product I have a photo of the logo I want to use for my products how do I load it up.

    1. Anna Marija Freimane

      Hi! Here’s how to add your own branding:
      1.Go to your Printful Dashboard and click on Settings from the left side menu.
      2.In the Settings view, scroll down to the Stores section and click Packing Slip.
      3.Choose your store and upload your brand logo from there, and you’re done!

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