By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Business to consumer and business to business print on demand Web storefronts grow in popularity. What began as off shoots of larger print businesses has paved the way for mom-and-pop shops in addition to small- and medium-sized companies offering personalized product ranging from pillows to signage.
Web storefronts enhance growth. User-friendly interfaces offer ease in uploading personal photo and graphics to create one-of-a-kind works of art. The on demand nature in addition to customization leverages digital printing’s strengths—economic, quality short runs and one offs—and places it in the center of a business model attracting increasing interest.
Print and Fulfill
Printful, with locations in Latvia and the U.S., is one such business. Founded in 2013, the company purchased its first wide format digital printer when it launched Startup Vitamins—a business selling inspiring quotes on posters to startups and entrepreneurs. At the time, the printer was housed in the founder’s living room and packaging and shipping was handled in the same space.
With a background in Web storefronts, the Printful staff realized there wasn’t a drop shipping service to satisfy its needs and assumed other ecommerce stores could benefit from this as well. Leveraging its previous experience, Printful was launched to print and fulfill orders from other online stores and this became the primary business model.
Today 19 people are staffed in Riga, Latvia and another 70 employees work throughout the U.S. The company offers on demand online drop shipping and fulfillment worldwide out of a combined workspace of 13,000 square feet for other companies looking to sell personalized product to their own customer base.
Services include the printing, fulfillment, and shipping of t-shirts, posters, framed posters, canvas, mugs, pillows, totes, and leggings. Its most popular products are direct to garment (DTG) t-shirts. The total percentage of work created with printers over 24 inches is less than 50 percent.
Printful uses 24-inch Epson Stylus Pro 7900 and 44-inch Epson Stylus Pro 9900 printers for its photographic-based work like posters. “As a technology company, it’s important to us to connect to the printers and make adjustments digitally, as well as run the Mac operating system, as each one of our printers is hooked up to an Apple iPad for easier and more accurate fulfillment,” explains Julia Gifford, head of content and communications, Printful.
DTG t-shirts are created on Brother International GT-381 devices with Brother’s water-based pigment ink. For sublimation products, including pillows, totes, leggings, and t-shirts, it relies on Mimaki USA, Inc. sublimation printers. Canvas-based work is printed with HP Inc. printers and then the canvas is stretched by Printful in its Los Angeles, CA headquarters.
Media varies depending on the application. For poster work, Epson Enhanced Matte Paper—a 10.3-mil thick, 94 percent opacity substrate—is used. “It produces a really lovely effect. It’s so great that our initial Startup Vitamins’ clients liked the quality so much that they began to ask us to print their designs for them, and that’s how Printful was born,” shares Gifford.
For pillows, an 80 percent polyester, 20 percent cotton fleece fabric is used. The totes are crafted out of a material that is 100 percent spun polyester. A 20.5-mil poly/cotton blend is printed on for canvases.
As mentioned above, Printful is primarily a technology company. Part of the Draugiem Group, it includes a team of programmers who are constantly developing and improving its storefront, ordering process, mockup generator, backend, and managing connections with printers.
The robust Web to print system is proprietary and due to Printful’s relationship with its parent company, building a homegrown solution made the most sense. Its impact on the business is immense, according to Gifford.
“It’s often the reason people cite for going to Printful in the first place, because of the ease of use and the different options,” she continues.
On the customer facing side, the storefront is constantly updated. As new features are added, the interface becomes cluttered and somewhat overwhelming to users. This forces the developers to regularly rethink and redo elements, messaging, and positioning to improve upon the user friendliness of the solution.
A feature unique to Printful is its mockup generator. It’s something users can’t seem to live without, says Gifford. The tool allows customers to select the product they would like printed, choose the size, upload the design, and view how it will look on the product in real time at scale. If the desired appearance is achieved, a print file is generated in the same window with the click of a button.
Also growing in use is the company’s design and photography features. Users looking for help designing and/or preparing their print files or photographing their products for print files can connect with Printful experts.
On the backend, Printful employees benefit from enhanced tracking and management functions integrated into the Web storefront. Billing and order overview features are just some of the many tools the staff relies on to fulfill orders quickly and accurately.
Into the Future
Digital printing is why Printful’s business is as successful as it is, says Gifford. “It’s because of digital printing that we even have a business that is running,” she adds. Gifford foresees demand in sublimation-based product growing. In response, Printful plans on adding new sublimation products within the year.
The second part in this series on print on demand Web storefronts looks at CanvasPop, which encourages consumers across Canada and the U.S. to create high-quality canvas or framed art prints from their personal photos.
Apr2016, Digital Output DOPOD1604