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Blog / Style & trends / 10 Differences Between Print-on-Demand vs. Do-It-Yourself

Style & trends

10 Differences Between Print-on-Demand vs. Do-It-Yourself

10 Differences Between Print-on-Demand vs. Do-It-Yourself
Karlina Rozkalne

By Karlina Rozkalne

6 min read

Ecommerce market revenue is expected to reach $4 billion this year. The earnings are considerable, and so is the competition. One of the most important things you must do is choose the right business model for your brand.

In this article, we’ll compare print-on-demand vs. do-it-yourself. Two very different approaches to running an online store in terms of logistics, costs, scalability potential, and the level of creative control and customization.

Before we get into the 10 most noteworthy differences between the two methods, let’s define POD and DIY.

What is print-on-demand?

Print-on-demand is a business model where products are created only after an order is placed. White-label print-on-demand companies like Printful handle the production for their customers, eliminating waste and inventory costs for dropshipping businesses. And all that’s done under the customers’ brand name.

a woman working on a machine Source: Printful

Valuable read: Step-by-Step Guide for How to Make Money with Print-on-Demand

What is do-it-yourself printing?

Do-it-yourself (DIY) printing typically entails purchasing products in bulk and customizing them using a personal printer or a printing press in a home or small workspace.

a person using a paint rollerSource: Unsplash

Print-on-demand vs. do-it-yourself: An in-depth comparison

Now, let’s get into what exactly sets print-on-demand and do-it-yourself printing apart.

In print-on-demand, upfront costs are minimal, as you pay only for products after a customer’s purchase. Depending on the platform you choose for your online business, you might have to pay subscription, listing, or selling fees.

DIY printing requires a more significant upfront investment because you must buy printing supplies, equipment, and potentially storage or workspace. Plus, you must pay to build your own website or store.

Per-item production costs remain consistent regardless of the order size, so the cost-per-item is higher with print-on-demand. The good thing is that this model adapts well to any sales volume. Also, your printing partner takes on the financial responsibility for print equipment, hiring and training staff, and warehousing.

With DIY printing, the cost-per-unit is lower in large quantities because you get deals by buying blanks in bulk. But, the self-printing businesses must cover expenses for printing equipment maintenance and repair. Production costs include blank product storage, shipping inventory, and labor compensation.

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3. Time investment 

The time investment is minimal for POD store owners. When you outsource the product creation and shipping to a print-on-demand partner, your primary time commitments become coming up with new ideas, designing products, marketing, and building a brand.

In contrast, DIY printing requires significant time for creating designs, managing your store, printing products, maintaining equipment, and handling shipping. It demands more hands-on involvement, making it time-intensive compared to print-on-demand, where the operational workload is outsourced.

With print-on-demand, control is limited, especially in inventory management and product development. You have less influence on product quality, production speed, and packaging but enjoy freedom in design and product range. 

Self-printing offers complete control, including print quality, materials, packaging, and shipping to your precise specifications. This control allows for thorough personalization and branding but demands extensive management of production, inventory, and stock.

But with control over every aspect of the production process also comes a duty to know how to navigate your printer so it yields the best results. POD companies continuously pour resources into equipment, skilled staff, and the latest technology, ensuring high-quality outputs and efficient operations.

POD industry excels in scalability with minimal effort. As sales increase, your on-demand provider manages the higher volume without requiring additional resources. This model also adapts seamlessly to fluctuating demand.

a woman standing in a factory Source: Printful

Scaling up in do-it-yourself printing is more challenging. It requires more money to buy supplies, create a larger space, and potentially hire more staff as order volumes grow. 

Print-on-demand gives you unparalleled flexibility in product variety without additional cost. Many artists choose POD because it’s free to expand or change product offerings. This model is ideal for experimenting with diverse designs and products. 

Valuable read: Print-on-Demand Product Launch Checklist

DIY poses limitations in product variety. Expanding your range can require additional equipment or materials specific to different products. While it allows for customized production, the effort and cost to diversify are considerably higher in DIY than in print-on-demand, where variety can be achieved with just a few clicks.

7. Shipping times and costs 

Because large print-on-demand companies ship a large volume of products, they often have lower shipping rates, so their shipping prices are lower, too. The waiting times vary depending on the provider.

Printing yourself can result in quicker delivery times. However, without the volume discounts that print-on-demand services enjoy, DIY shipping can be more costly, potentially reducing profit margins.

POD offers less control over quality consistency, relying on the standards of the partner company. But, partnering with a trustworthy provider can ensure high-quality results. 

DIY printing allows complete oversight of quality, ensuring consistency in every product. Yet you should note that the result depends on the equipment and materials available to the business owner, which may not match the advanced technology used by specialized print-on-demand services.

a man wearing a mask and holding a white objectSource: Printful

If you’re using POD services, you’re limited to your POD partner’s customization capabilities. Here are Printful’s customization options:

Plus, depending on the selling platform, you can let your customers personalize their products on your store.

While DIY printing offers greater flexibility in customization, introducing new techniques can be resource-intensive. Each customization technique requires its own machinery, leading to significant investment in equipment for each method.

Because a third-party provider handles the technical aspects of printing and shipping, print-on-demand is less skill-demanding and labor-intensive

This model requires basic design skills but no physical labor or technical print knowledge. To make the designing process easy, Printful has developed a free design tool—the Design Maker. It has an extensive library of design resources like clipart and ready-made designs, hundreds of fonts and background graphics, and tools like background removal.

a white shirt with a yellow smiley face on itSource: Printful

Valuable read: 11 Things You Didn’t Know Printful’s Design Maker Could Do

The DIY approach requires a broad skill set and significant time. If you print products yourself, you must manage the entire production process: 

  • Design

  • Select blanks

  • Print or embroider

  • Check quality

  • Package

  • Ship

  • Maintain equipment and inventory

As a DIY printing business grows, owners often need additional help to manage the increasing demands of production, shipping, and customer service.

Printful logo
man with jacket
Printful logo
Create and sell custom products online
Let’s go

The conclusion

There’s no ultimate “winning” model. The choice depends on your needs, budget, and how hands-on you want to be.

Choose print-on-demand services if . . .

You want to minimize upfront costs, avoid managing inventory, and have a wide range of designs or products without requiring direct involvement in the production process.

Choose do-it-yourself printing if . . .

You have specific needs for your custom merch like unique materials, specialized technique combinations, or a high level of detail and personalization that standard print-on-demand services don’t support.

Frequently asked questions

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By Karlina Rozkalne on Feb 8, 2024

Karlina Rozkalne

SEO Content Writer

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.