An Artist’s Guide to Print on Demand


By now I’m sure you’ve all heard of a little thing called print on demand (POD for short), but do you really know what it is, why you should be using it, and which print on demand services to avoid like a hoard of hungry zombies?


Well then, this is the post you’ve been looking for.

Before we talk about what qualities we should be looking for in a POD service provider, I feel the need to talk a bit about the big companies that come to most people’s minds when they think of print on demand. I think for most people, print on demand means companies like Redbubble, Zazzle, or Fine Art America. While it’s true that these companies have a POD service attached to their sites (several different ones in fact), they’re not strictly PODs themselves. Companies like this should be thought of more as online art galleries as opposed to print on demands. Their primary goal is to show and sell an artist’s work. Their print on demand service is simply a by-product of that goal.


Strike that.

Their primary goal is to make tons of money by taking advantage of artists, paying small percentages of the total sales, printing low quality items, and using the artist to bring them customers which they promptly steal and market other artists’ work to. Companies like this put your art in their packaging with their company logo and name, invoice in their company name, and add your customers to their mailing list, all of which is horrible for you as the artist.

A good POD, a real POD, does the exact opposite of those things.

When considering these companies as a viable option for selling your art, you should ask yourself this question – how do sites like Redbubble, Zazzle, and Fine Art America stay in business? Their websites are huge and expensive to maintain. Their email service alone sends thousands of emails each month to artists and people who have made purchases. The bigger the email list, the more expensive it is to manage it. I can guarantee these companies spend thousands of dollars each month just to send out emails.

So where do they get the money to pay for their expensive sites? How do they pay their bills? It’s free for an artist to put their work on these sites, so they aren’t getting it from the artist. That only leaves them one choice – to get it from your customers. These sites use you to bring them customers. They always get more money than you do, and they add your customers to their list so they can make even more.

Remember last week when I said that in order for a business to be profitable it must:

  • Increase its customer base
  • Increase the average transaction amount
  • Increase the number of transactions per customer

These companies use you to bring them customers to increase their customer base.

Then they suggest artwork by other artists to the people you worked hard to bring over to increase the average transaction amount for each customer.

They then add your customer to their mailing list so they can spam them with special deals and product offerings in an effort to get them to purchase again, to increase the overall number of transactions per customer.

It’s good business for them and very bad business for you. These guys are not PODs, they are art-for-the-masses megastores, and they are in business for themselves. They do not give a shit about you.

What to Look for in a
Print on Demand Company


A good print on demand company should be first and foremost, invisible to your customer. Your customers, the ones you worked hard to acquire, are not their customers. You are their customer. As their customer, you are the source of their income, and they should work hard to make you happy with quality products and services. You are the reason they are in business.

A good print on demand company should:

  • Have white-label shipping with your branding on everything
  • Have set prices for their products and services
  • Clearly state their shipping charges
  • Have fast turn around time
  • Let you set your own profit margins
  • Get paid by you after the sale, and not the other way around
  • Have excellent customer service
  • Have no minimum order amounts
  • Integrate with your store
  • Make products that have quality printing

Fortunately for us, there are several companies that meet most or all of these criteria.

The following recommendations are based on how well each of the companies meet the qualifications laid out above. While there are at least ten options in the POD category that an artist could use for this service, I have narrowed them down to three for this post.

Each of these companies made the list for different reasons, and we will be using all of them on our store at the same time. All of them use white label shipping, and between the three of them, we will be able to build out our brands, automate product creation, payment, and shipping, and keep our customers for ourselves. The companies I recommend and will be using to build out our test store are The Printful, CG Pro prints, and Printify.

Let’s take a look at them one at a time.


printful-logo (2)

Throughout the rest of the posts in this series, we will be using The Printful as our primary print on demand service. The Printful is a small startup company that operates out of California. They print everything in house and their quality is top notch. More importantly, their quality control is one of the best in the business.

Because they are a startup, a relatively new company that needs to prove themselves in the market, they understand the needs of small business owners like us. They know what it’s like to start a new business from the ground up.

The Printful currently integrates with:

The Printful interface is easy to use. They make it as easy as possible to connect their service to your store and to mock up your art on the products they offer, so you can show pictures of your products in your store. They don’t have all of their products available in their mock up generator yet, but they provide mock up images and templates for every product to easily create product images using Photoshop or other image editing software.

The Printful’s customer service is amazing. They are quick to answer any question you have and will work with you if you have a problem. They also have an extensive collection of how-to videos on their YouTube channel and plenty of other resources to help you get up and running. These guys really are the shit.

If I had any complaint about The Printful at all, it would be that their product offerings are a bit limited. They don’t do stickers or device cases (though they assure me these things are coming), and their all-over printed shirts are only offered on two unisex style shirts (though women’s styles are coming soon). Their art print sizes are rather limited as well, with no small, low cost sizes available.

While I see these as limitations, these things could also be seen as a testament to their commitment to quality. They don’t make everything in every size and shape, they only make what they are really good at making, and consequently, everything they make is really good.

In the model that we are building in these posts, we will use The Printful for our high quality, higher priced items including:

  • All-over die sublimated t-shirts
  • Digital printed (DGT) garments
  • Tote bags
  • Pillows
  • Leggings
  • Hats and beanies

That’s actually a lot of products, especially when you start thinking about size and color variants. For example, let’s say you have ten images you want to put on products. If you put those images on shirts, you’ll need different sizes like small, medium, and large, and you’ll want different colored shirts as well, let’s say white, black, blue, gray, and pink. Each color is offered in the sizes above, so if we do the math, that equals 150 shirt styles to choose from. Not too shabby. Add in the other product types and you’ll have several hundred products all from a single print on demand company.

But as good as they are, The Printful doesn’t offer everything we need (yet). To make our business model run at peak efficiency, we need to have at least some low cost items to offer as incentive to turn “just lookers” into paying customers. For our model, we need some products, perhaps small prints or stickers or buttons, that we can sell at cost. Ideally, we want something that we can offer to our customers for 99 cents.

I’ll explain the strategy behind a 99 cent product in a future post, but for now, let me just say that what we want is a product that is so desirable and so cheap and easy to buy that our prospects can not hep but add it to their cart, thereby changing their relationship with us from just lookers to valued customers.

Since The Printful doesn’t offer any product that we can sell for 99 cents and still break even, we will need to use another print on demand to fulfill this need.



CG Pro Prints (CGPP) is a print on demand company that caters specifically to artists and photographers, and specializes in art and photographic prints on paper and canvas. CGPP is a division of Circle Graphics Inc, one of the largest producers of large format digital graphics. They have close to 500 employees and work around the clock 7 days a week producing orders for their customers. Their facility can print over a million square feet a day, and their quality and price are hard to beat. With white label shipping and outstanding customer service, these guys are simply one of the best in the business when it comes to printing your art on traditional art surfaces.

Video Thumbnail

CGPP integrates seamlessly with Shopify and WooCommerce, and they are in the process of adding integrations for Magento, Open Cart, Storenvy, Volusion, and Bigcommerce.

Currently their Shopify app is in the beta phase, and their mockup generator is limited at this time to multiple views of a single product. However, they assure me that by the end of the month (Jan 2016) it will be fully functional and ready to go. In addition to different product views, their mock up generator offers a 3D preview of your products to make sure that everything looks the way you want it to before you upload it to your store. Products that aren’t currently available in their generator can be created in Photoshop or another photo editing tool by using their extensive product image library, which is really pretty awesome.

CGPP also provides an extensive how-to manual with detailed instructions on how to set up the app, create products, and add them to your store. These guys really do care about your success with their products and services and are quick to provide detailed answers to even the most complex questions. When it comes to printing your art on traditional artist surfaces, CG Pro Prints really can’t be beat.


Click for enlarged details


In our model, we will be using CG Pro Prints for:

  • Gallery minis (our low cost offer)
  • Gallery wrapped canvas
  • Giant repositionable wall clings
  • Standard prints
  • Canvas prints



Printify is a print on demand company built specifically for use with Shopify storefronts. Because they are designed to work with Shopify and Shopify only, integrating them with your Shopify store is a breeze. Their mockup generator does everything automatically. You simply add an image and it goes to work putting that image on whatever products you’ve specified.

Like the other companies here, they offer white label shipping and are invisible to your customer. Printify’s product offerings are very similar in most respects to The Printful. They offer a selection of garments, prints and mugs, and will soon be adding bags, pillows, greeting cards, and stickers. However, from a quality standpoint, their garment printing is lower quality than The Printful, and their art prints (canvas, posters, prints) are lower quality than CG Pro Print.

So why do we need them? Device cases. Printify offers a wide range of device cases for both Apple and Samsung phones, which is a product that neither CGPP or The Printful offer at this time.

We will be using Printify in this model for:

  • Device cases
  • Mugs
  • Greeting cards (when available)
  • Stickers (when available)

By attaching the three PODs we’ve discussed above to our Shopify storefront, we can offer a wide range of very high quality, affordable products to our store.

Our list of available products looks something like this:

  • Phone cases
  • Mugs
  • Pillows
  • Direct to garment T-shirts
  • Die sublimated T-shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Pullover hoodies
  • Zipup hoodies
  • Kids T’s and tanks
  • Baby T’s
  • Baby onesies
  • Hats and beanies
  • Leggings
  • Doggie tanks
  • Posters (with and without frames)
  • Repositionable wall decals
  • Prints
  • Gallery wrapped canvas
  • Rolled canvas
  • Gallery minis
  • Giclee prints
  • Momento ornaments

It’s quite an extensive list, and when you consider size and color variation as well, you literally have thousands of products you can put on your store to be printed and shipped by someone else while you sit back and collect the check.

So there you have it. My best recommendations for the print on demand companies we will be using to build out the business model for our store. If you need a refresher on what that model looks like, you can find that info here and here.

Oh and one more thing…

Choosing a print on demand company to make your products is a personal choice. You can’t really know which one is best for you if you don’t know what products you intend to sell, and you can’t really know what products to sell unless you’ve done the market research to determine who your audience is and what kind of products they like to buy.

Because your market may be different than mine, I will go ahead and include a list of the print on demand companies we looked at while writing this post. A word of caution though – I did not choose these companies for one reason or another, even though some of them appeared to be viable options in the beginning of our research.

These are the print on demand services that did not make the list:

MAKEABLE/PRINT.IO  –   Lots of products, but poor quality, horrible customer service, poor quality instruction, difficult product mockup process

PRINT AURA  –  No mockup generator, low quality garment printing

GALLOREE  –  No integration with e-commerce platforms

AMPLIFIER/MERCHIFY  –  Inconsistent quality, turn around times, and customer service

SCALABLE PRESS  –  Very slow turn around times

LEVEL PRESS  –  Good quality, but only 1 product type (shirts)

TEELAUNCH  –  Inconsistent customer service and turn around time

PRESSERA  –  Slow customer service, slow delivery time

KITE  –  No mockup generator, unclear product and shipping prices, poor instruction

Feel free to look these over and decide for yourself. You can never have too much knowledge, and the better informed you are, the better choices you’ll make.

Next week we’ll take a look at the email service providers we’ll be using to build out this business model. Until then, sound off in the comments below and let me know you’re still listening 🙂

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  1. Awesome post! I’ve been silently following along with this business series and love this advice! As a budding illustrator I will be considering print in demand companies

  2. Thank you, thank you!!
    I had not known those things about FAA, Redbubble, etc before. I know others in my field use them for selling prints, and I’m glad I read this before going down that path.

    • Hi Yvonne 🙂 I’m glad you did too! I really hate to see an artist go down that path. It takes a lot of work to get people to your site, regardless of what kind of site you’re using, but to do all that work for a single sale and then have someone else swoop in and steal the customer ought to be a crime. By the way, happy to have you here!

  3. Thank you so much for all of your posts. This one really helped me out.

  4. Hi Christopher,

    What a wealth of information you are! I had a quick question… do you set up multiple POD’s? Are they each separate stores on your site? And do you know any POD’s that do greeting cards, boxed set of stationary or magnets?

    Thanks for you help, I really appreciate it!

    • Hi Kajal, thank you for the kind compliment. These are great questions. If you want to use multiple PODs, you don’t need separate stores at all. You will just set up each product to be synced to the particular POD that it will be fulfilled by.

      As for your second question, there ARE PODS that offer those kinds of products. Makeable is one, but I personally wouldn’t recommend using them unless those types of products are absolutely necessary for you. I found Makeable to be difficult to work with for many reasons, but depending on your situation, the benefits of using them and having the larger selection of products could outweigh the struggle you may have with them.

      You can always give them a try. If you have a Shopify store, an Etsy, or website with Woocommerce, just install the Makeable app and see if it’s something you can make work for you, and since it’s free, you have nothing to lose if it doesn’t 🙂

  5. This ia a awesome write up! thanks for taling the time!

    I have been quite impresses with rhe quality of Printio/Makeable when it comes to phone cases.

    Right now I am looking for someone that does what CG does, but ship worldwide…

    Also, how do you charge for shipping if the cart contains items from 3 different POD services?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Jonas, thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you’ve had a good experience with Makeable. What different product types have you ordered from them and what did you think of the quality?

      CG Pro Prints actually does offer international shipping 🙂

      Most PODs generally have flat rate shipping prices for each product, so if you’re using an e-commerce platform that allows you to set up “per product shipping”, setting up the shipping for multiple PODs shouldn’t be too difficult.

      If using Shopify, there is an app called “Better Shipping” that lets you set up per product shipping rates, and it is 15 bucks a month.

      The method that we will be using for the Shopify store we’re building is to offer free shipping in the United States, and then bump up our product prices to cover it. For international orders, we’ve come up with a method to set up weight based shipping rates to kind of mimic per product shipping, but it’s a bit too complicated to explain here. We will be going over the details of this more in the near future.

      • With Printio/ Makeable I have only seen the phone cases so far, which I think were really good. I am waiting for some Giclee prints to check the quality.

        I just talked to CG Pro prints today and they told me they only ship to US/ Canada, do you use them to ship prints to other countries than that? In case, that would be awesome!

        Thanks for taking the time, really appreciate it!

      • I have not had the need to ship CG products internationally yet and was quoting information they had provided me at the time this post was written. After your comment I contacted them again today and you are correct, US/Canada 🙁 sorry for the misinformation!

  6. Oh, and sorry for all the spelling errors… I wish I could edit them 🙂

  7. Do you know of a POD that will print just pages? I don’t mean for a book or anything like that, but actual 8×11 pages on nice thick card stock. Similar to posters but on thicker card intended for coloring on. I’ve been looking around and I am just not finding anything.

    • Hi Jade, I’m not sure if there’s a POD that would print single pages as you have described. Honestly, even if there were, I don’t think I’d recommend it, as the expense would be higher than you’d want it to be.

      The best solution to your problem is to save the images that you want to print to a thumb drive and take them down to your local copy center. Ask them to print on smooth 100 lb. or heavier paper, and you’ll be super happy with the results and the price.

      Hope this helps.

  8. Thank you for this. I also thought that FAA are in for themselves. I joined and they sent me a US tax form, (I live in the UK) obviously not ideal to pay taxes in 2 countries! Also, I pointed out that there were several Andrea Sartoris (a common name in Italy) on their site, and could we all have different user names 1,2, etc, and they shoved me off to the very bottom of the list and now no one can find me! Also, prices very expensive for prints and you only get cents back on each sale that you worked so hard to get.

    • Hi Andrea, I’m sorry you had that experience. You’d be surprised how many horror stories like that I hear. Or… maybe you wouldn’t. No worries, now you know there’s a better way. As artists we deserve to keep our profits for ourselves. Happy to have you here and happy to help in any way I can.

      • Thank you for your prompt reply. I can always tell if the website is good if there is a person on the other end, willing to reply quickly to even little comments like mine. I am happy I found a good website for artists (there are many, not all good likethis one) and really happy that your content is reliable and relevant, and I hope to learn a lot & make many new contacts here!

      • Hi Andrea, thank you for the kind reply. We do our best and I’ll always be here to help. Happy to have you here 🙂

  9. Hi I live in Melbourne Australia do you know of any PODs I can use here or do I use the ones you have mentioned? Im knew to all this online stuff though I’m keen to sell my artwork !
    Thank you for your wealth of info I’m glad I found this site!

    • Hi Debra, unfortunately I’m not aware of any POD located specifically in Australia. I do know of one in London which may be a bit closer to you, but I’m pretty sure any decent POD ships worldwide. Your best bet is to find the POD that fits your product types best, and then inquire about their shipping. Hope this helps 🙂

  10. Thanks Christopher for your speedy reply I will look into it! Cheers 🙂

  11. Wow, this is good.
    I was interested in POD, but had no idea where to start. A friend who owns a gallery suggested FAA, but to date she has only made one sale. Finding out what you discussed about those big mega-marts, I understand why. That, plus digging into the actual POD services really helped open my eyes, and now I have a place to start.
    I am excited that I can begin to sell the art that I’ve been making!
    Thanks, Christopher!

    • Hi Mikey, I’m glad you got to read this before signing up for one of those other sites. I’m a firm believer that as artists we should keep our profits for ourselves. I’d love to hear any insights you may have uncovered.

  12. Hi Christopher, So glad I came upon your site. Thanks for your wonderful info!

    In terms of finding a good print on demand company that prints quality art books, do you have any recommendations?

    Also have you heard of

    Glad you mentioned FAA – currently on the site, but in the process of creating our own Shopify store so we can have control!

    • Hi Michele, happy to have you here! I took a look at POAM, and I have to say, if I had to choose between them and getting the plague, I might choose them, but it would be a hard choice 🙂 Basically any site that gives you only a percentage of YOUR sales is a site to avoid. You’re much better off keeping your profits for yourself with a site you control.

      As for a company that prints quality art books, can you please be a little more specific on what you’re wanting to have printed so I can feel comfortable making a recommendation?

  13. I noticed that you mentioned that you need a product that sells for $0.99. You talk a bit about it, but then go on to CG Pro Prints, which does not appear to offer smaller items, like stickers. Were you speaking of CG as a place to sell smaller items and I just have to dig really deep into the site for smaller item information or was that just an awkward transition? It is fine if it was just that, but what is a good site that will print smaller items?

    • Great question, Danie! If you plan to use CG Pro Prints for your low cost $0.99 item, I’d recommend choosing the ‘Gallery Mini’ product. The cost on their site for a 4″x6″ or a 5″x5″ is $4.49 and includes USPS shipping, so this item offered for $0.99 plus $4 shipping and handling covers that requirement quite nicely 🙂 Technically, this product could be used as a free + shipping offer as well. The whole point with this strategy is to get them to open their wallet and make the transition from a prospect to a paying customer. Hope this helps. Let me know if you still have questions.

  14. Hi Christopher,

    thanks for this elaborate information. I am looking for this service in Europe, would you know who does this?


    • Hi, Anneke. You’re very welcome, I’m glad you liked it 🙂 I don’t know of any European PODs off the top of my head, but I do recall running across at least one or two of them as we were researching these posts. You’re best bet would be to do an extensive search based on your geographic location. Would love it if you would share with us what you find!

  15. Hi Chris, thank you for sharing this information! I was wondering if you’re familiar with “Art of Where” or if you’ve heard any reviews about this company? I’d like to know how it compares to the Printful

    • Hi Viktoriya, thank you for the question. Art of Where is an interesting company in that they seem to be trying to fit every artist’s need. For those who are comfortable making a small percentage on their own work, their storefronts fill that need. For those who want to keep most of the profits for themselves, their drop shipping seems to do the trick.

      However, it’s difficult to be everything to everybody, and so being as well rounded as they are, it appears to come with some downsides. If you’ve read many of my posts, you know that I am adamantly against storefront type arrangements for artists, so in my mind, that’s not an option. Their drop shipping service is clunkier than a dedicated print on demand since you have to manually enter each order you receive. That’s a lot of extra work that the other companies on this list do not require you to do.

      Having said all of this, I don’t have any personal experience using them, so I can’t give a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down. My best advice would be to look over their policies carefully and if you think they are a good fit for you give them a try.

  16. Hi Christopher,

    I do not usually post in comment sections but your post addressed a number of questions I had and so I’m compelled to express my gratitude. I am in the process of starting a small company that will be selling prints and other gift items and stumbling across your refreshingly honest post was super timely and oh so so valuable! Thank you for taking time to share your wealth of knowledge. Thank you for taking time to share your wealth of knowledge. I’m all subscribed to your site and to learn more 🙂

  17. I was thinking of starting to sell some things. I’m glad I read your page beforehand. I was rather dubious of the minimal amount a lot of these pod sites give artists to begin with, and now I can see why.

    Have you checked out threadless, crated and teespring? These look pretty tempting compared to a lot of other pod sites. Crated nets you 80 percent of profits without any markup beforehand if one so wishes, and teespring has an interesting setup where one campaigns a t-shirt design, a minimum needing to be sold for the prints to go. Threadless offers variety the above two don’t have, but getting around 50 percent of the cut as opposed to say redbubbles 20 without any increase sounds a lot better then the standared pod site.

    • Hi Vic, thanks for the kind comment. I’m familiar with each of the companies you’ve mentioned, and they’re not bad for what they are. However, you’re still putting your products under the control of someone else. They’re still taking your customer and adding them to their email list to market other products to the people you worked so hard to bring in. For me, sites like this simply cannot compete with a Shopify store build by an individual who controls all aspects of marketing and message.

  18. Hey!
    great post,
    but it is October now, you have wrote this in January,
    i was wondering if there is already a printing service for greeting cards and calendars with the end of the year coming up.
    i can’t find it and i see printify isn’t doing this yet.

    • Hi Sanne, does print on demand greeting cards. I haven’t done a lot of research into them so cannot vouch for their quality etc, but that may at least give you a starting point. Hope this helps 🙂

  19. Thanks SO much for this well-written, well thought-out article, Chris. I have run a gauntlet of fulfillment companies, starting many years ago with (suppress gag reflex) CafePress, moving on to Spreadshirt (just left them days ago), to most recently Red Bubble. Despite the same business model as the other two, I have had the most success by far with the latter. But then I stumbled upon Printful and haven’t been able to stop playing with it for the last 4 days. I just placed a one-off order and am waiting for the product before making a final decision to use them. If results are anywhere close to the mock-up generator, I will be a very happy camper.

    • Hi Ed, oh wow that’s awesome! Thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment. I think you’re going to be super happy with the quality you get from Printful, and if you take it one step further and build out the whole process for yourself, your profits will increase dramatically. I think it’s amazing that you’ll be able to bring all your past experience with those other companies and put it to use in your own endeavors. Please keep us updated, and I’d love to see some photos of the articles you get from Printful 🙂

  20. Here’s my report on Printful’s 100% polyester allover printing:
    1) The design was off center by about 1″. (Normally a minor issue. But the design was a Union Jack, requiring symmetry.)
    2) The creases customers are told to expect with allover printing weren’t just around the armpit and side seams, but the shoulders as well.
    3) While the overall aesthetic result is decent, the American Apparel Sublimation tees they use are WAY too thin. I did a side by side with Red Bubble’s Graphic Tee shirt (a California flag motif where the majority of the design was white), placing a magazine underneath both shirts. Even the colored portions of the Printful t-shirt (allover design-Union Jack flag) are unacceptably thin. While they are full-front panel only, I don’t know who Red Bubble sources their Graphic Tee shirts from. It’s impossible to tell from the garment.
    That said, that will do it for me, mostly for the garment quality, actually. I am bummed. I was looking forward to cranking out some nice allover designs. But I’m afraid the return rate would be too high. I did find two more operations that do allover prints

    • Hi Ed, thank you for the update. Wow, that sounds disappointing. The test garments I had printed with them while researching this post seemed very encouraging to me. Thank you so much for the additional information, and I would love to hear your thoughts about the other options you are exploring. Based on your comments here and the results you get from further exploration, perhaps it’s time to update this post. Again, really appreciate you taking the time to update and would love to hear any further information you may acquire.

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