Print-on-demand Services Create Sourcing Opportunities

Technology, applications, and business innovation are empowering the print-on-demand business to expand from second-rate t-shirts, mugs, and wall art to quality manufacturing-as-a-service solutions.

Print-on-demand services have not always had the best reputation. When these services sold online several years back, some vendors would choose one, relatively low-resolution picture from the customer and extend it to fit anything from a t-shirt into a beach towel. These ancient services may also be slow, requiring a week or longer to print and send an item.

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Even now, circa 2021, the expression”print-on-demand” can be used to refer to a very small company producing prints on a $12,000 machine at a garage into an enterprise apparel operation utilizing a Kornit Avalanche HD6 direct-to-garment printer that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tech, Innovation

Print-on-demand is an emerging and desired sourcing solution for some trade businesses.

That is happening, in part, due to technology. Machines like the aforementioned Kornit Avalanche can create high-quality printed t-shirts in moments. And the cost to publish 1 t-shirt or art is roughly the exact same per-unit as printing 10,000.

Software, too, is improving. Print-on-demand services use software to ensure that the design will work well on a particular product. So as opposed to using a single design for a t-shirt and a beach towel, different, albeit similar, layouts are associated with each.

In the end, business innovation is playing a role. Some print-on-demand suppliers are networks of many manufacturers working together. A single ecommerce arrangement of home decor, coffee mugs, and t-shirts may be published at three facilities owned by three contract manufacturers.

Offering Print-on-demand

Offering print-on-demand services isn’t acceptable for every business.

But there are lots of times when moderately well-funded startups, established retailers, or brands may use print-on-demand solutions to augment or even replace parts of the supply chains.

Brian Rainey is CEO of Gooten, a venture manufacturing-on-demand firm. He suggests that companies look at how they’re sourcing and selling product and ask,”what’s the application of print-on-demand within a wider portfolio [of merchandise offerings]?”

Rainey gave a couple of examples of when printing or manufacturing on-demand could make sense.

Small businesses. “Manufacturing on-demand is excellent for direct-to-consumer companies,” said Rainey. “You are not trying to locate and acquire products. You are creating an audience, a brand, and using manufacturing on-demand as one leg of your logistics and production plan.”

Small companies that utilize manufacturing on-demand can concentrate on creating their brand, generating website traffic, increasing average order value, and fostering conversion speed — none of which are simple.

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Online content manufacturers. “We have talked to major online brands,” Rainey said,”like The Chive from Austin, Texas. They used to do 15 virtual layouts and ask their viewers,’Which layout do you guys like?’ And then the winning layout or two could get screen printed and put in stock. Then they would attempt to sell them.”

There is, however, a few issues with this approach.

It is determined by a small set of their brand’s viewers to pick the products. Second, some layouts with audience support won’t be made or monetized. And next, it leaves the brand imagining how many things to print, making a possible overstock.

Printing or manufacturing on-demand can handle each these issues. Thus a favorite YouTuber, a Twitch streamer, or a content company like the Chive can offer more options and products.

The Chive is an internet content brand and shop. Gooten works with The Chive for print-on-demand services.

Enterprise brands and retailers. According to Rainey, even based retailers with longstanding manufacturer relationships and their own warehouses may benefit from including on-demand production within their mixture of sources and providers.

He cites benefits, which include:

  • Offering personalized, personalized, and long-tail goods,
  • Reducing investments in stock,
  • Freeing-up warehouse space for high-volume or high-profit items,
  • Quick scaling for peak intervals,
  • Testing new products,
  • Diversifying providers.

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