A few weeks ago, I made the announcement that the shirts I design and sell in my Etsy shop would be changing from vinyl + heat press to print on demand. The announcement seemed kind of sudden, but I’m here to explain my thought process, the financial side, and ultimately show why I decided to take the huge leap and loosen the reigns on my shop to elevate my business!
The Personal Side
I kind of started making and selling t-shirts by accident. I had purchased a Silhouette Curio so that I could cut vinyl to place on mugs (which was my first business venture). I hated doing it but it brought in money here and there, so I kept it up.
At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, our school staff wanted to make t-shirts for the last day of school. Unfortunately, the local screen printing company that we use didn’t have space for our order, so I ended up collecting money and making the shirts myself. I typed up the text, cut it out, and hand-ironed it onto the shirts.
It was actually quite difficult to make a dozen shirts because I had a Silhouette Curio and the cutting mat (6×8 inches!) was smaller than the design, so I had to do the design in phases. It took for.ev.er. and I hated doing it, but I loved the end result!
Over the summer, I upgraded to a Silhouette Cameo (with a 12×12 inch cutting mat) and continued making mugs (which never sold, to be honest). When school rolled back around, I had made myself a t-shirt that said “teacher tired” and wore it to school. I got a lot of great feedback, and several other teachers requested them, so I made a listing in my Etsy shop so they could purchase them.
From there, I made a couple more designs and added them to my shop… and that’s how I got started making t-shirts. It was never really in my plan, but I love seeing people wearing my designs and I just thought that was the only way to go about making it happen.
I upgraded my equipment and purchased a heat press so I could stop ironing on the designs, and figured out how to make sure they were centered and straight on the t-shirts before pressing them. It made the process go a little quicker, and I definitely felt more official.
I also upgraded my packaging- instead of just putting a shirt into a Flat Rate mailer and sending it out, I carefully packaged them with plastic and gift wrap, added stickers and washi tape, and added a hand-written note to each one thanking the customer for their order.
Around Christmastime was when I really started to feel the burnout coming. I had multiple shirt orders and could easily spend an entire day cutting and weeding vinyl, pressing the shirts, and packing them nicely for shipping. It was exhausting and I always felt my heart sink whenever a new order came in, terrified that it was another shirt order I’d have to fulfill.
I also found that, even though I was getting orders, I was spending hours and hours making the items and the profits I was making in didn’t come close to matching the amount of time I was spending.
I started looking into other options (screen printing, drop shipping, print on demand) but stopped myself quickly because I realized I’d have to let go of some important aspects of my business: packaging and personalization. I really do love packaging up orders and writing thank-you cards to my customers, so this wasn’t something I was willing to let go of… yet.
I also was having trouble imagining not having any control over the quality of my products – what if the print shop made a crooked design on a shirt and sent it to one of my customers? What if they sent the wrong color or size? THE HORROR. I couldn’t even imagine it.
So, I got myself through the Christmas season and was relieved when shirt orders slowed down for the rest of winter, but then I began my brand rep program and the orders started picking back up again.
One day, I realized that I’d had customer-ordered shirts laying in my office for 5 days and hadn’t done anything to them because I didn’t have the time, energy, or desire to finish them… and that was the day that I seriously decided to start looking into order fulfillment options.
I had already worked with Printful briefly before, when I was interested in making canvas prints of my hand lettering, but I was nervous about the reasons listed above and because their process seemed expensive for me. So, I decided to dive into the finances.
When I order a shirt through my wholesaler, I typically pay between $4-$8 per blank shirt. If the order doesn’t meet the minimum of $49, I also have to pay $8 for shipping.
So, if I only had to purchase 2 shirts for a week of orders, I’d be paying between $16-24 for two shirts + shipping. For this example, we’ll go right in the middle with $20 for two shirts + shipping, so $10 each.
I’d also have to pay for the vinyl to place on the shirts. Depending on the vinyl color and size of the design, the vinyl might be anywhere from $3-8 per shirt. Again, let’s go in the middle and say that I was spending $5.50 per shirt for vinyl.
At this point, each shirt has cost me $15.50.
So, after spending the time necessary to cut, weed, line up, and press the shirts, it’s now time for packaging. I estimate that my packaging costs about $1 per order (including plastic bags, tissue paper, blank cards, branded stickers, etc.), so now we’re at $16.50 per shirt.
And now, it’s time for shipping! Since I didn’t have a mail scale, I exclusively used large flat-rate envelopes (for up to 3 shirts), and the cost for that is somewhere around $6.50. (Etsy does give a small discount on shipping costs.)
Now, we’re at $23 per shirt. I charge $27.50 per shirt. So, for all of that time and effort, I’m profiting $4.50… that is, of course, until you take out Etsy’s cut of 5% ($1.37) and the cost to renew the listing ($.20).
Now, my profit is at less than $3. Does that sound appealing to you? Because we’re not done yet!
If someone were to use my brand reps’ codes and get 15% off of their shirt (which I strongly encourage – save yourselves some money!) I was literally LOSING MONEY per sale. Like, that’s insane.
Do you know what’s more insane? I knew it was bad, and I knew I wasn’t making much, but seeing it all typed out like this made it so much more real for me.
Now, of course, there are variables at play here that could affect the price per shirt and then, of course, my profit. Some of the costs here are ever-so-slightly higher than average, simply to make for easier math.
Regardless, if I kept things the way they were, it was completely unsustainable… and I was completely miserable.
Enter… Print on Demand
Now, I’m going to walk you through the PoD process because I believe that transparency is really important, and I want you to understand why this is a better option for me. (I’m still trying to convince myself, too!)
With Print on Demand, I am paying more per shirt but am not paying for the cost of vinyl. I also won’t be paying for shipping them to my home and then shipping them back out; in fact, I won’t be paying for shipping at all. I have lowered the cost of each shirt by $5 to compensate for the $5 shipping charge that the printing company charges customers.
You, as a customer, will be paying the exact same amount per shirt for print-on-demand as you were paying for the vinyl pressed shirts.
(And yes, all of your discount codes will still work!)
So, for this service, I am charged between $13-$16 per shirt, which includes the cost of the shirt plus the cost of printing the design. I pay this out front, before the customer payment even comes through.
But… I don’t have to do anything when someone places an order.
Printful prints the garment, packages it, ships it (along with tracking information), and I just sit back and drink my coffee.
It’s so easy.
And, sure, I would love to be making more of a profit off of my designs… but at this point in my life and business, I’m more than happy to make a tiny profit and get my name and designs out into the world.
Now, I will tell you that there was quite a bit of work that went into setting this whole thing up! I had to –
- deactivate all of my old shirt listings
- make new PNG files of all my designs (including white designs and black designs with transparent backgrounds)
- export the new files to my MacBook, rename them, and save them in specific folders
- upload the files to Printful
- make mockups (including ones for v-necks, crew necks with white designs, and crew necks with black designs)
- re-do all of my listings, including title, descriptors, and tags (this was necessary to allow all the designs to be connected to, and therefore fulfilled by, Printful)
- export all new listings to Etsy
- re-publish all of them, costing me $.20 per listing
- purchase new mockups to make the shirts look more appealing than they did on the default Printful mockups
- place files on new mockups
- replace cover photo for all listings to show new mockups
It took me about a week to get all of this done, and at some points I just wanted to give up and just go back to doing things the old way… but I’m so glad I plugged my way through!
Pros and Cons of Print-on-Demand
Even through it seems like print-on-demand has been the answer to my prayers, there are definitely both pros and cons to this switch.
Here are the pros:
- It saves me time: the initial time investment was so annoying, but now I don’t have to maintain my listings or spend my time cutting, weeding, and pressing shirt designs
- Passive income: like I’ve mentioned, I don’t have to do a whole lot when orders come in. I check on them to make sure they’re going out in a timely manner and monitor the shipping, but I’m not doing the physical labor of making and shipping the items.
- Less stress: once Printful completed my first order and I saw how the whole process worked in real time, I felt a huge burden lift from my shoulders. I don’t dread orders anymore and actually look forward to seeing what my clients’ shirts look like once they arrive, since I haven’t seen them yet either!
- Customer feedback: even though my customers are receiving items fulfilled through Printful, they will still be able to leave me reviews and ask questions since they are placing orders through Etsy.
- Customer service: I’ve utilized Printful’s customer service chat feature on multiple occasions and have never had anything but wonderful individuals on the other end. They are patient, helpful, and always so friendly.
And now, here are a few cons:
- Control: as a self-proclaimed control freak, it does bother me that I have no control over the quality, packaging, or shipping of my items.
- Limited choices: Printful only offers black and white versions of the v-necks I use for my garments. When I made the items myself, I had dozens of color choices available to me in that brand and style. I love v-necks (and they’re the only tees I will wear) so this is a huge bummer.
- Risk of bad reviews: if Printful makes a mistake, sending the wrong color or size or design, you can bet that the customers will be coming to me with the problem instead of the printing company. I have confidence that they will fix it, but I am risking negative reviews on my shop if they mess it up.
Obviously, my pros outweigh my cons and that’s why I ultimately decided to move from vinyl cutting to print-on-demand! I’m back to being excited to make new designs instead of avoiding all things business-related, and to me, that’s worth the risks associated with giving up control!
I hope this post was helpful to you if you’re looking to make the switch! If you have any questions, please feel free to drop a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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