What is Printful and How Does it Work? (Oct 2021)

Learn all about Printful for on-demand merchandise printing and selling.

The world of ecommerce is ever-expanding, and that results in an incredible number of new software options and apps to improve your online store. One area that keeps popping up is called print-on-demand services, and you can find a wide range of tools online to help you adopt that form of selling. Print-on-demand, in its simplest form, allows you to design a product, like a shirt, and sell it to customers, all while another company prints the shirt and sends it to your customer (with no minimum order). Quite a few apps and services are available for establishing a print-on-demand operation. One of them is called Printful. But what is Printful? And should you consider it for selling uniquely designed items like shirts, backpacks, and stickers?

what is Printful

We'll cover everything about Printful in this article, including information about the basics of Printful, what you can sell, and how much it costs (hint: it's mainly free).

So keep reading to answer the question of “what is Printful” and figure out if it's a possibility for making more money in the future.

Table of Contents

  • What is Printful?
  • What Products Can I Sell With Printful?
  • How Does Printful Work? A Step-by-step Guide
  • Where is Printful Located?
  • Is Printful legit?
  • Is Printful free?
  • How Much Money Can I Make With Printful?
  • Where Do Payments Go Through Printful?
  • So is Printful Technically Dropshipping?
  • Is Printful Right for Your Business?

What is Printful?

Printful is a print-on-demand service and online app that integrates with your online store to deliver printed products to customers. It also serves as a way to design and print your own merchandise for company-branded items.

As a more detailed explanation, Printful works by giving you a full design platform for creating products like clothing, accessories, and home goods. You can generate quick designs on the Printful platform or import designs that you or someone else created.

After that, Printful syncs with popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, allowing you to push the newly created Printful products to your ecommerce business and sell them to customers.

What's more is that Printful handles everything from printing to the storage of raw materials, and shipping to returns. This means that you simply have to design a website and market the custom-designed products to your customers. When a sale comes through, it gets sent to Printful to begin printing. Printful then packages the item and ships it to your customer.

Therefore, Printful is technically a combination of a print-on-demand service and a dropship service, seeing as how the storage, packaging, and shipping are all completed by Printful.

Here's an example:

Let's say you run (or want to run) an online merchandise store for pet lovers. You can create dog, bird, and cat designs and go to Printful to upload those designs on t-shirts, phone cases, leggings, and plenty of other objects. Each upload to Printful gives you a product mockup (from the mockup generator), pricing details (you set your own profit margins), and product details to sync with your online store.

Therefore, you can then see all of the product details and pictures displayed on product pages through your Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, or Squarespace shop.

In the meantime, you only spend money on marketing, since Printful has the warehouses and stores the blank merchandise. Once you get a customer to come to your store they can checkout on your store. Let's say they buy a flat brim hat with a bulldog design on it.

That purchase deposits money into your store's merchant account (so you get the money upfront). Printful receives a notification to print or embroider the bulldog design on the flat brim hat, package it up, and ship it to the customer.

After all that, Printful charges you for the costs, leaving you with the profit margin. In addition, all returns can get sent directly back to a Printful warehouse so you don't have to worry about storing returned items in your own physical store or home.

What Products Can I Sell With Printful?

Printful offers a full list of custom product options for you to browse and choose which you'd like to sell.

As of this article, Printful has the following general product categories:

  • Men's Clothing
  • Women's Clothing
  • Kids and Youth Clothing
  • Hats
  • Accessories
  • Home and Living

They also place many of the products into categories to help guide your search and improve sales. Some collections include:

  • New Products
  • Bestsellers
  • Fall and Winter
  • Loungewear
  • Beachwear
  • Style Trends of the Year
  • Eco-friendly
  • Sell in Southern Europe
  • Great gifts
  • Fast shipping to specific countries

Finally, you can filter based on certain brands you've found customers enjoy, such as American Apparel, Flexfit, Gildan, and Rabbit Skins.

Hundreds of products exist in the full Printful list, so we encourage you to take a peek and figure out which ones are suitable for your online shop. We encourage you to consider the bestselling items, since you're far more likely to make money off those. However, you may find that some quirky products like bean bag chairs and pillowcases gain a following with your own customers. As always, it often depends on the creativity of your designs as well.

Having said that, here's a shortened list of the types of products you can find on Printful:

  • T-shirts, polos, tank tops, 3/4 sleeve shirts, long sleeves, hoodies, sweatshirts, and jackets
  • Sweatpants, joggers, leggings, shorts, and underwear
  • Skirts, dresses, swimwear, and sports bras
  • Kids clothing, including baby bibs, baby bodysuits, hats, and swimwear
  • Hats with styles like beanies, visors, dad hats, trucker hats, 5-panel hats, mesh hats, and snapbacks
  • Toe bags, duffles, backpacks, fannypacks, and drawstring bags
  • iPhone and Samsung phone cases
  • Bracelets, necklaces, and earrings
  • Socks, face masks, keychains, and flip flops
  • Drinkware such as water bottles and coffee mugs
  • Blankets, pillows, and pillowcases
  • Posters, framed posters, and canvas prints
  • Towels, aprons, bean bag chairs, and pet products
  • Stationary like postcards, notebooks, and stickers

As you can see, that's a rather incredible list of blank items for you to select. The great part is that all of the products also have variants depending on the brand. For instance, a t-shirt may have 20 different colors, a canvas might have alternative sizes, and a coffee mug might allow for a magic revealing effect.

Once you find a product, a mockup gets displayed for you to upload your design and see how it looks on the item. As an example, you may find that one of your designs is far too small for a pillow but it works well on a mug. You also must be careful with colors, especially when printing designs on clothing; there are plenty of issues when you start to print certain colors on similarly shaded fabrics.

Another wonderful part about the products on Printful is that they all have detailed product information to understand what you're selling. You can also order samples, view reviews from other buyers, and check to see if the shipping time and shipping prices are reasonable for your area.

How Does Printful Work? A Step-by-step Guide

First, sign up for a Printful account at Printful.com. You'll also want to have a website running with an ecommerce platform. For this example, we'll use Shopify.

With Printful and Shopify accounts established, go to Shopify and click on the Apps button.

Go to the Shop for Apps button to open the App Library.

apps - what is Printful

Choose Printful and walk through the entire installation process. This links the Shopify store with your Printful account.

printful on demand

Next, go to the Stores tab in your Printful dashboard.

Select the Choose Platform button and walk through the steps to finish the installation process with your Shopify store or another platform.

choose platform

After the sync, your ecommerce platform shop should appear on the Stores page on Printful.

Click on the Add Product button to proceed.

add product

In the product library, choose whichever item you want to design.

product library - what is Printful

We'll go with women's tank tops for this article.

womens tanks

Not every product has multiple suppliers, but many do. Be sure to check reviews, materials, and colors before committing to one product supplier.

choose tank - what is Printful

Once you have chosen a specific item, it brings you to the Printful design maker.

Here, you can click on the Drop Your Design Here button to upload a design from your computer.

drop design here

The Design tab reveals options for adding other elements like clipart, premium images, and layers.

design tab

Make sure you navigate back to the Product tab to choose which colors and sizes you want to sell. This is particularly important for ensuring your design looks presentable on the right colors.

colors - what is Printful

Also, don't forget to check out the alternative print areas. Some products don't have these, but others offer multiple printing locations. Keep in mind that extra prints cost more.

back print - how does printful work

Select the Proceed to Media button.

design center - what is Printful

Choose which mockup style you want to show on your website.

Click the Proceed to Details button when you're done.

mockups - how does printful work

Printful already provides default information for your product title and description. We recommend changing this for SEO and branding purposes.

product details - what is Printful

You can also add items like tags, product collections, and free shipping.

The most important part, however, is the checkbox for publishing the product to your store.

publish product tab

Move onto the Pricing page and type in the retail price for each product size.

Your profit for each item appears on the right-side column.

Once you're satisfied with the profit margin, click on the Submit to Store button.

choose pricing - how does printful work

If all goes well, you should see the new item in Printful.

It has multiple links to View in Shopify or Edit in Shopify.

view in shopify - what is Printful

As you can see, the product successfully synced with Shopify.

womens tank

And it's listed in the Products section for editing everything from photos to titles, and descriptions to collections.

products page

Everything is automated after that. An order comes through Shopify and shows up in Printful as well. Printful is notified of the order and gets to work on the print.

You can even set up email notifications and shipping codes to keep your customers up-to-date.

how does printful work

Where is Printful Located?

Printful has several offices and fulfillment centers. Its headquarters are in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Other locations for fulfillment centers include:

  • Tijuana, Mexico
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Birmingham, UK
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Amakusa, Japan
  • Brisbane, Australia
  • Melbourne, Australia

Is Printful legit?

Yes, Printful is an established print-on-demand company that handles millions of orders and functions out of multiple warehouses in the US, Mexico, Latvia, UK, and many other countries. Its net revenue has grown steadily since 2013 and continues to provide excellent customer service and quality control for merchants selling their custom goods.

From an operational standpoint, Printful offers global fulfillment, design tools, and an automated process for printing items and sending them to customers.

Printful partners with many of its product suppliers but manages all of its own fulfillment centers, allowing them to have more control over the quality of products that ship out to customers. When compared to other print-on-demand services, we find that Printful has comparable pricing, much stronger customer support, and superior quality control. Not to mention, you can typically ship anywhere in the world without having to worry about extremely long shipping times or high fees, all due to the large network of fulfillment centers.

Overall, Printful is indeed a legitimate company with a solid track record. You can check user reviews online and on the Printful website to get an idea of the quality of its products. In addition, Printful is a free service that only requires payment once you make a sale. Therefore, it's a risk-free option that shows Printful is confident in its ability to deliver.

Finally, Printful provides samples for a discounted rate to merchants. This allows you to check the sturdiness of the garments and other items, while also examining how well the prints look on these products. Although it would be nice to have a cheaper way to see the products for yourself, it's the next best thing to running your own physical retail store.

Is Printful free?

Almost entirely. It's free to sign up for Printful and create an account, with no monthly fees.

It's free to use the product designer and to upload your own designs to product mockups. Printful even provides those mockups for free to make your own product pages in places like Shopify.

The only time you have to pay Printful is when a sale is made through your store and Printful fulfills the order. However, that sale should render enough money to not only pay Printful its cut but to leave you with a little profit.

Therefore, Printful simply charges you after it ships out products to your customers. There's no fee for holding the raw materials or using their design module.

However, shipping, printing, and the cost of the item sold are most likely all included in the price you eventually pay Printful. The good news is that they're rather transparent with those prices, seeing as how you can check the rates for each particular item.

Note: Print-on-demand services like Printful attempt to decrease the costs you would have to spend for buying one item, yet they won't be able to offer you anything close to wholesale pricing. That's simply the nature of the business. You save a significant amount of money by not having to store large batches of products. You also don't have to print or ship the products. In return, the cost for each item is a little higher than what you would expect if you were to buy 10,000 shirts from a wholesaler.

One other optional expense comes with Printful's warehousing and fulfillment services. These services function as an added bonus if you need to store and fulfill products not printed by Printful. For example, you might find that Printful doesn't offer a certain item, but you really want to sell it in your store and have Printful throw them in with all of the other orders. That way, a customer doesn't receive multiple boxes from different shippers.

The warehousing and fulfillment service rates vary based on your location and things like the number of picks, types of packaging, and materials used. For instance, the product fulfillment fee per order in the US is $2. The custom packaging picking fee is $.50. Storage fees also vary based on your location and the number of units stored in the Printful warehouse. Storing anywhere from 1,001 to 10,000 units in the US costs $1 per cubic foot, and it has a $25 monthly minimum.

How Much Money Can I Make?

That depends on:

  • The product being sold
  • The profit margin you set
  • Whether or not you pass shipping costs onto your customers

We mentioned that Printful doesn't cost anything to launch an account. It's also free to use the design tool and put the mockups on your website. So, all of its profit after that, right?

Well, you still have to factor in the per-unit costs for each item that you actually sell. Each product on Printful has a different cost – and you can set your own sale price – so the amount of money you bring in varies.

In addition, you should always factor in other costs like marketing, advertising, web design, your ecommerce platform, design services, and shipping.

Printful does charge for shipping, so it's up to you to decide if you want to pass that expense onto your customers or pay it yourself. In general, we recommend factoring at least part of the shipping fee into your product pricing and offering free shipping. This way, your customers are happy about the free shipping and potentially don't care about the slightly higher price for a t-shirt.

After establishing your general costs, you can go into Printful to decide how much you'd like to charge for your products.

In the product catalog, look for the product cost at the bottom of each item's section. These prices change on occasion, but Printful has done a solid job of maintaining consistent prices that render you a decent profit.

As you can see, we have three similar t-shirts from different companies. They have completely different costs. One is $13.25 per shirt, has about 8 colors, and slightly lower reviews than the other ones. However, higher pricing often has to do with where it's made, the supplier, and potentially the quality of the product. So, we recommend checking the reviews and materials to understand if it's a softer or more durable shirt. Samples help as well.

Next up, there's a Bella + Canvas shirt for $12.95, and a Gildan shirt for $7.95. Obviously, the $7.95 price is appealing, so let's look into that one. The reviews are excellent, but we're limited in the number of sizes and colors for this shirt. In fact, it appears that you can only put designs on shirts that are colored black, white, or grey.

So, the $12.95 shirt may provide a more reasonable option for shirts with brighter colors, but we can still sell the neutral colors like white and black and grey using the less expensive Gildan shirt.

different shirt pricing

Also, keep in mind that some products have multiple areas to add custom designs. However, every additional print on a product usually adds to your per-unit cost. For instance, placing an inside label on the shirt increases our costs by $2.49 per shirt. If you were to have a front, back, outside label, inside label, left sleeve, and right sleeve print it could end up being close to a $25 shirt even before you factor in your own margin.

print areas - what is Printful

Finally, the best way to figure out how much money you can make with Printful is by using the profit calculator on the Printful website.

This appears after you've designed the product and added elements like a product description and title. It shows the Printful Price in one column and sets that next to the Retail Price. This Retail Price column is customizable and reflects what you plan on selling the product for on your own website.

Therefore, we recommend playing around with the numbers to figure out how much money you want to make on each item sold. In the last column, it calculates the total profit from one sale.

For example, selling a t-shirt for $16.99 results in a $9.04 profit, since you must then pay Printful the $7.95 cost for the shirt and its printing.

pricing - what is Printful

Where Do Payments Go Through Printful?

Printful doesn't collect any payment for you. That's the job of your ecommerce platform and payment processor. Some high-powered platforms that integrate with Printful include Shopify, Bigcommerce, and Squarespace.

Your online store only syncs with Printful to pull in product details and notify Printful of any sales that come through.

Therefore, when a customer buys a product, a platform like Shopify walks them through a shopping cart and checkout process. Then, your payment gateway like Square, Authorize.net, or Shopify Payments processes the payment, probably runs a fraud check, and drops the money into your merchant account for you to spend however you see fit.

The payment from your customer is entirely disconnected from Printful.

So how does Printful get paid?

You have two ways to pay Printful for its services. The first involves loading what's called a Printful Wallet with money. This works as a prepayment (kind of like a gift card or preloaded cell phone plan). The amount in your Printful wallet decreases automatically as Printful supplies your customers with orders.

On the other hand, you could simply add a billing method such as a checking account or a credit card. This is our recommended option since you're not always having to reload the Printful Wallet, and you have the added bonus of receiving points on a credit card.

So is Printful Technically a Dropshipping Service?

Part of the Printful process does involve a form of on-demand dropshipping. The difference is that you're designing and printing custom products as opposed to choosing already designed items from a manufacturer. Also, dropshippers are notorious for cheap items and insanely long shipping times (seeing as how many of the dropshipping services come straight from China). Printful, on the other hand, runs its own fulfillment centers in a wide variety of countries around the world. Therefore, you can choose to have your product printed in the US or UK, then have it shipped to a customer in those countries.

The dropshipping aspect of Printful comes into play when they store the products and ship them to your customers. Outside of those two steps, the print-on-demand business is much more than that.

Is Printful Right for Your Business?

We suggest you take a look at your current business practices to understand where Printful might fit into your processes. Are you currently looking to start a business, or do you already have suppliers and printers for your custom goods?

Either way, you may find that running part of your business under the print-on-demand umbrella could render high-quality results and cut down on costs like shipping, fulfillment, and printing, even if you only run a store on Amazon or Etsy.

This Printful review shows that it's completely free until you start accepting orders, so we recommend it as a wonderful printing and shipping option for all companies, big and small. There's such a low level of risk that it's worth looking into.

Let us know in the comments if you're still having trouble answering the questions of “what is Printful and how does it work?”

Printful
Rating: 5.0 - Review by

Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a Chicago-based writer who focuses on eCommerce tools, WordPress, and social media. When not fishing or practicing yoga, he's collecting stamps at national parks (even though that's mainly for children). Check out Joe's portfolio to contact him and view past work.