What is (Personalized) Print-On-Demand

Franco Varriano
June 29, 2021
 min read

Today we're diving into an emerging opportunity for creators and entrepreneurs: print-on-demand businesses.

What are they? How do they work? Why might you consider starting one? And most importantly, what does the future of this space hold?

Our objective is to keep these details as straightforward as possible for anyone who's considering launching a business but isn’t sure where to start or if this model is right for them.

If you already have a print-on-demand business, skip ahead to the last section to learn  what’s next for this space (hint: it's only getting better thanks to Creative Layer!).

Let's jump right in!

What is print-on-demand (POD)?

If you're reading this post you're probably at least familiar with the concept of a business model.

Simply put, a business model is basically how your business works. It’s common to confuse a business model with a revenue model (aka how you make money).

As you might expect, different types of businesses have different business models. This is true about print-on-demand businesses, too.

Before we go further, it’s important to clarify the distinction between POD fulfilment services and POD marketplaces:

  • A POD marketplace is a space where creators can directly list designs for products (usually in the form of a brand or artist page). These marketplace services handle the website, customer order (payment and security), manufacturing, fulfilment, and in many cases, even customer service! It's what's referred to as an end-to-end service. Creators and brands focus on  sending traffic to their store and these marketplaces often help with discovery, too. There are some drawbacks to this model—primarily the lack of control—and we may explore those pitfalls in a future post.
  • A POD fulfilment service is what we’ve focused on below. At a high level, POD fulfilment services are your product partners. They integrate with a creator’s website and offer much more control. These fulfilment services handle anything related to the products you choose to sell (the product catalog, inventory, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping). Fulfilment is just a fancy word for packaging and shipping a product to your end customer.

Some of the reasons POD has become so popular include:

  • The ease in creating products like t-shirts, bags, bottles, stickers, prints, books, and more!
  • You don't need to invest any money up front in inventory (unlike the more traditional business model where you mass produce stock first and sell it second);
  • POD partners offer a catalog of specific products you can sell. They will handle product inventory, production, and often fulfilment, including a white label experience where you can add your logo, custom packaging, and more!);
  • You (typically) don't need to worry about order volumes or minimum order size. Whatever the quantity or style of product (from your partner's catalog) you end up selling, POD partners automatically start creating those items the moment your customer places their order and makes their payment (POD partner payment may happen immediately or later, depending on your preference and the service).

Print-on-demand has enabled more people to launch a business because it eliminates some of the core challenges (and costs) involved in finding or developing products, manufacturing them, and of course, overseeing fulfilment.

With these barriers removed, entrepreneurs and creators can focus on building their brand, creating an audience, and the other components that make a business successful.

Why is personalized print-on-demand (PPOD) the future?

While there is endless potential in the POD space, there’s also a significant limitation that presents an opportunity for innovation: businesses are currently forced to choose between similar products with limited ability for customization.

So how does your store stand out from the others? By offering personalized print-on-demand (PPOD)!

With PPOD, you shift the value from the product itself to the product experience. This enables your customers to make a deeper connection through the process of designing their own, one-of-a-kind product (it's like the IKEA Effect, but way cooler...).

As we explored in earlier blog posts, personalization is a spectrum. Check out our  Customization vs Personalization” and “The Product Personalization Matrix” posts where we dove into some of this nuance.

As a quick summary, customization relates to things like size, color, and adding text or an image to the design.

Personalization, on the other hand—and specifically hyper personalization which is becoming increasingly accessible through cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning—enables your brand to offer a different experience to its community and customers.

These personalization tools enable your customers to create one-of-a-kind products using more complex and personal data (everything from geographic location to data generated on other apps, and more!). This is what the future of PPOD is all about!

What’s next?

Print-on-demand has cleared the entrepreneurial path for so many.

The future of this industry, along with many others, is to leverage customer data to create complex, personalized experiences for every customer, right in front of their eyes.

This is how you get ahead.

Creative Layer can help you start or scale your PPOD business! Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and signup for early access!