So you’re thinking about doing shirts for your “Big Thing”, because who doesn’t like shirts? But who do you use for the shirt fulfillment, there’s so many! Well, I can help with that!
Before you pick a service.
Before we dive too far into which companies to use for shirt fulfillment, you have to decide something a few things first. What’s your goal? Are you going to maintain your own website? Do you only want to do Shirts, or perhaps more?
What’s Your Goal?
Are you looking to do just a few t-shirts for fun and personal use? Do you want to sell merch to subsidize your income? Are you making the designs for the merchandise yourself, or do you have a designer/artist?
This is important as some of the biggest differences between the various companies are which type of creator it helps. You have to figure out which kind of creator YOU first and foremost.
All these shops are still just tools, and without a little bit of clarity, you might find yourself dissatisfied with who you picked!
Are You Going to Maintain Your Own Website?
Another key difference between various print shops is whether you are going to host the products on your own website. Both hosting your own site, and using a third party have their own risk and rewards you’ll have to evaluate yourself.
One big factor in that decision is Exposure, or Discoverability. Using a hosted option like Redbubble means you have to rely on that companies metrics for people to find your store, or do it yourself.
The plus side, however, is that if Redbubble decides to pick your product for its own advertising, you instantly gained a 5 digit ad campaign as your own for a brief period of time.
However, the margins can be extremely slim unless you’re willing to bump up your markup.
The biggest downside to third party hosting is the lack of copyright protection. Take a quick search around Redbubble, Teespring and others and you’ll find shirts ripping off of known copyrights.
The TOS may say that they don’t allow it, but you’ll find little curating on most of these stores. So if your designs are easily copyable or uncopywriteable, it may be something to think about. Art theft is very real and alive. Shirt fulfillment quickly brings some privacy and copyright things into play.
The other option is to host the product yourself on your existing website. This allows you to keep your store under the same banner as your content and doesn’t take the user from the page.
There are generally two ways to do this, manually syncing them or using some sort of automation.
If you’re using Shopify or BigCommerce you’ll find that a number of shirt fulfillment companies like Printful have native apps with a one-click installation and minimal setup.
If you’re using an open-source client like WooCommerce or Magento then you can still use these plugins but the set up is more involved. If you’re new to website building/development or strapped for time then I generally recommend using a service like Shopify.
However, the biggest upside to self-hosting is the sheer customization as well as security. On third party hosting, there is no changing your site layout or presentation. Be it Shopify or WooCommerce, they both have tons of templates to choose from to customize the look of your store.
Everything on their website
Generally considered the leader in Print on Demand merch. Out of all the third-party fulfillment services, they have the nicest looking web front. The commissions are adjustable and there’s a wide selection of merch besides shirts.
The biggest downside with RedBubble and most on this list is that you can’t choose which type of shirt to use. Other than the cut, you can’t dictate which shirt maker it is. So your quality can be all over the place.
The other popular third-party fulfillment company is Teepublic. Its stock is extremely similar to Redbubble, with the two trading blows when it comes to cost. As far as T-shirts they’re about the same, but Teepublic has more non-shirt items on demand which is a slight edge.
What separates Society6 from the rest is its focus on art prints. While it has shirts as well, it’s main claim to fame comes from the very affordable P.O.D art prints they can do a plethora of sizes.
Much like Society6, Zazzle has found its own niche in addition to T-shirts by offering products like wedding invitations, greeting cards, and even mousepads. The commissions aren’t the greatest on Zazzle, but it has some of the most assorted mixes of items to put your work on.
Your site, your rules
One of the leading plug-in, self-hosted shirt fulfillment companies out there, Printful can connect to Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce. This is actually the service we use here at Swordsfall! You install the plug-in to your website and Printful makes sure they’re synced.
So just like with Redbubble and others above you make the product on their custom designer. Printful lets you choose from a number of different mocks to generate with, which lets you have a little flexibility out the box.
You pay the cost of the item and keep any profit above the cost of goods, so how much you sell an item is up to you.
Printify is a rival similar to Printful and has a wide variety of products to pick from, including shoes! They don’t have that many US distros but more than make up for it by having a ton of international shipping needed.
However, they don’t have their own warehouse so when you pick a product your options are based around the vendors available. This makes it a bit harder to design a product because it’s a question of who is the actual vendor making it. This can wildly change the shipping date.
While newer than the rest on this list, Scalable Press’s big deal is having factory level pricing but with no order minimums. Scalable Press is a good option for creators who need a small batch of merch printed out at one time.
It does connect to a store but with a decent amount of extra work (and coding). So it’s not a casual solution at all.
While Printful and Printify will work with a number of different storefronts, Teescape basically only works with Shopify. If you do have Shopify then it’s a pretty solid company to use.
It’s very similar to the rest of the shops with only a few items making them stand out like Tumbler cups and such. However, if you’re on WooCommerce there’s not much you can do.
Last but not least is your local print shop. There are no recommendations for this one as it just depends on who is around you. The question with local shippers comes to how are you doing orders?
It’s not uncommon to see a large printer have their own plug-in, and could be something that sweetens the deal. Make sure you let them know that you are doing Dropshipping (that’s the term for you do the order and they do the shipping), because that is often very different from a doing a run of printed shirts.
I love the amount of this sort of thing you share. I feel like the ttrpg community has either been secretive or scattered on all of this stuff for years. Thank you for compiling things like this to help the next group that comes up
Welcome! I generally think knowledge should be shared. Especially when it’s mutually beneficial.
Your advice when I was thinking about doing the Cast Iron Tattie Scone t-shirts was
invaluable to deciding on where to go and how to do it, haven’t sold anything yet, but I
am pretty sure that is down to me not hustling enough or doing enough promo for it.
We have all the Legends of Hamanshiron and Hamamshiorn publishing stuff up there
now and I think with a little more work we will at least make enough money to pay off
shopify each month