By: Nicole Martins Ferreira August 07, 2017 Topic: Business Ideas

Most dropshippers fall into two categories: print on demand vs AliExpress dropshipping. Print on demand is when you sell your own custom designs on products like mugs, t-shirts, and phone cases. AliExpress dropshipping allows you to choose from millions of products to sell. In both cases, the supplier ships products directly to your customers on your behalf. As a person who’s run both type of businesses, this article will share some of my personal experiences to help you make a better decision for your entrepreneurial ventures.

Print On Demand Vs AliExpress Dropshipping: Similarities

While print on demand and AliExpress dropshipping have several defining differences, they also share a lot in common. Here are a few examples:

  • They both involve dropshipping. No bulk inventory to carry. The supplier packages and ship products out directly to your customer.
  • Order processing is mostly automated. When a customer places an order, all you need to do is click a button to send customer product details to your supplier.
  • They’re both low risk models. You don’t need to buy inventory upfront and only pay once a customer places an order on your store.
  • Both require a similar skill set to achieve great results. Print on demand requires stronger graphic design skills. However, both require marketing, customer service, and advertising skills.

Print on Demand Vs AliExpress Dropshipping: Print on Demand Benefits

print on demand

Print on demand is a great business model for graphic designers and artists. Here are a couple pros for print on demand dropshipping.

You’ll Have Your Own Custom Products:

It can be a pretty cool feeling to have someone buy a product that you designed yourself. Most print on demand suppliers allow you to design your own clothing like print on demand t-shirts, dresses and leggings. They might also have products like phone cases, tote bags, and canvas. If you’re a graphic designer or a creative type, designing your own products can be a fun experience.

You Might Be Able to Do Custom Packaging:

While most print on demand suppliers don’t allow you to design your own boxes or add marketing inserts into your packages, some allow you to add your logo on a receipt or a sticker for your package. This can be helpful in building your brand.

Print on Demand vs AliExpress Dropshipping: Dropshipping Benefits

print on demand

Dropshipping is a great business model for new entrepreneurs. Here are a few dropshipping benefits: 

Easier to Predict What the Best Sellers Are

This is probably one of the main reasons why I continued to use AliExpress for dropshipping, instead  of returning to print on demand. I’m able to easily find the best products based on order volume, seller ratings and customer reviews. With print on demand, my guesses for what I thought would be a bestseller were always wrong. Always. But with AliExpress dropshipping, products with higher order volume and high customer reviews have the data behind it to justify adding it to your store.

If a product has sold well then all you need to do is figure out how to market it for it to succeed. Unlike print on demand, you don’t have to worry about whether or not the product is the problem because you immediately know that it isn’t. It’s clear to see which products have high demand. By building your store around the best sellers, you give yourself a fighting chance to succeed in dropshipping.

Millions of Products to Choose From

Product diversity is huge. With AliExpress dropshipping, you can basically sell any type of popular item. Want to jump onto the fidget spinner trend early? Just import it from AliExpress.

Want to find dresses of different styles and materials? Try out AliExpress dropshipping.

Want to create a general store that has a little bit of everything? You’ll be able to find a diverse collection of products on AliExpress.

You’re not limited to selling graphic tees or leggings of the same fabric. You’re also not limited to your own style of design. With AliExpress dropshipping, you can have different types of designs to appeal to a wider audience. Having a singular focus can be great for defining your niche but it can also be limiting.

Can Scale Quickly

My personal experience with AliExpress dropshipping has been that I’ve generated much higher profits than I did with print on demand. As a result, I was able to re-invest my earnings back into ads. As a result, our stores sales drastically outperformed my print on demand store. In my first month as an AliExpress dropshipper, my store made double the revenue my print on demand store made in 6 months. By having enough profit to reinvest back into ads, our stores sales quickly grew each month.

Shipping Costs are Low

With AliExpress dropshipping, shipping rates are super low. I always use ePacket which means our shipping tends to either be free or under $5. Having transitioned from print on demand into AliExpress dropshipping, this was probably what made the biggest impact when it came to profit. My business was able to absorb the costs of shipping to offer customers free shipping. With print on demand, most of my best sellers ended up being mugs which had a higher shipping fee than the product value. Considering most people buy mugs for under $8, this business wasn’t sustainable long-term. I either had to charge more for my product or charge a shipping fee with print on demand. If you prefer selling low cost goods, AliExpress dropshipping is your best bet.

Less Hard Labour

With AliExpress dropshipping, it’s pretty easy to run your business. You add products, write descriptions, maybe edit a few photos, market your products, process orders, manage customer support, and make improvements to your store. This becomes your general cycle of routine.

With print on demand there’s an added layer. You’re the product designer. Designing products can take a lot of time for someone with limited design skills. However, even the best designers will take their time to ensure their product designs are just right. After the design is done, you need to create mockups of the products or take your own product photos. The most important part of running an online store is making sure your marketing game is strong. If you have the best product designs, no one is going to find them on their own. You need to put yourself out there.

AliExpress dropshipping gives you more time to just focus on what really matters: marketing, experimentation, and customer support.

Less Risky Business Model

In the battle between print on demand vs AliExpress dropshipping, dropshipping AliExpress products is the less risky option. Both are print on demand making the business models great for new entrepreneurs. However, there’s more data behind AliExpress to help ensure you have great products. Some designers spend a lot of time designing their own products. However, customers might not resonate with their designs. If you’re a first time store owner, it’d be silly to take a risk importing a product no one has ever purchased before. Figuring out which products will make an impact can be hard. It’s hard for me and I’ve been running online stores for four years. I’m completely dependent on data. And that’s why AliExpress has proven to be a better business model for me. I can clearly see which products are worth importing based on order volume, seller ratings and customer reviews.

Print on Demand vs AliExpress Dropshipping: Print on Demand Cons

print on demand

There are a few issues with the print on demand business model. Here are a few examples:

Expensive Shipping Costs

Shipping rates are usually the worst for print on demand. With 90% of customers wanting free shipping as an incentive more than anything else, it’s fair to say you should probably be offering it on your store. Absorbing the cost of U.S. shipping (most print on demand suppliers are U.S. based) can quickly eat up your profit margin. If you try selling internationally, you’ll quickly realize you can’t sustain the business long-term. 

High Product Cost

It’s not that print on demand product costs are high for what you’re getting. I mean, for getting your own custom design on a product it isn’t too bad for a one off piece. However, for running a business, the print on demand prices are sky high. On Printful, the starting price for a mug is $8.95. Add in a worldwide shipping price of $16.95 and you’re at $25.90 USD for a mug! That’s not even the customer cost because you need to have a retail price to ensure a profit for your store. Your profit needs to be high enough to afford marketing and business costs and pay salaries.

Mockup Generator Models All Look the Same

Many print on demand services have a mockup generator that allows you to easily include a product photo on your website. This is great for new store owners. The downside is that all the mockups look the same. If you only sell leggings or phone cases, all your product photos will look identical. From a user experience perspective, your store can end up looking really repetitive making it hard for a customer to differentiate which product they should buy. Having models wearing the product or having different types of settings for your product photos can help make the decision making process of online shopping easier.

Eventually, you’ll find that you need to invest in product photography to ensure you have great product photos. However, this can have a high financial cost, especially for a new entrepreneur.

Need to Have Strong Design Skills

If you’re a graphic designer looking to monetize your talent, print on demand is likely your best bet. A lot of new entrepreneurs, falsely believe that all they need to do is use a cool font and put a funny slogan on a print on demand t-shirt for it to sell. The biggest challenge for most new store owners is design. Sometimes it’s their store design that could use an improvement but with print on demand it’s almost always the product design. If you’re an inexperienced graphic designer, your designs can look cheesy. Mine included. I thought, ‘hey, I got a 95% in a graphic design class I took for fun. I can do this.’ My designs were bad. Real bad. Your customers can spot a real graphic designer’s work versus an amateur’s. If you have skill and a strong understanding of what your customer wants, you’ll do well. But if you don’t, your sales performance will be low. There’s no guarantee that your design will be profitable and resonate with your audience.

Limited Product Selection

Print on demand brands tend to have limited product selections. If you want to sell print on demand t-shirts, you’ll likely find variety across a range of platforms. Beyond that, the product selection gets smaller. You might find a dress on one platform but with only one style. Or you find iPhone cases on one platform but Samsung phone cases on another one. Most print on demand suppliers don’t have the full spectrum when it comes to product selection. With AliExpress dropshipping, you can choose from millions of products beyond things that can be printed such as figurines, toys, tools, glitter phone cases and other products.

Print on Demand vs AliExpress Dropshipping: AliExpress Dropshipping Cons

print on demand

There’s one big issue that turns people away from AliExpress dropshipping. Here’s an example of a AliExpress dropshipping con:

Product Quality

The biggest reason why people avoid trying AliExpress dropshipping is because they think there’s a quality issue. Some say they don’t want to sell products from China. The reality is most print on demand products are made in China too. China is the biggest manufacturing country in the world. Are there low quality products on AliExpress? Of course. But if you stick to the proven sellers with high order volume and high reviews, you greatly reduce the risk of experiencing an issue. My AliExpress dropshipping store’s refund rate floats around 1-2% which is actually pretty average.

With Oberlo, you can also choose products from Oberlo Supply. These products have been vetted by an Oberlo employee to ensure high quality products from some of the best manufacturers around. The feature includes some of Oberlo’s best selling products. You can use a combination of AliExpress dropshipping and Oberlo Supply when building your store to offer your customers some of the best products online.

How Can You Increase Sales With Print on Demand?

When one of my print on demand stores started failing, I decided to sign up for Oberlo and do a mix of print on demand and AliExpress dropshipping. My store’s sales started increasing. I quickly noticed that more people were buying the AliExpress products instead of my own custom designs. But like I said earlier, my designs weren’t very good. This is what led to me creating an AliExpress dropshipping store with Oberlo.

However, if you’re a graphic designer with epic design skills, you can do a mix of print on demand products with AliExpress products. Having a mix of the two puts you at a competitive advantage. You can offer your customers a greater selection of products, competitive pricing and run a more profitable business.

Print on Demand vs AliExpress Dropshipping: Which is More Profitable?

From my personal experience, AliExpress dropshipping with Oberlo has been more profitable. The shipping costs are lower allowing you to offer your customers free shipping without eating up much of your profit margins. The product prices are lower, which allows you to charge market value to ensure a profit. However, it also helps ease customers into purchase with a great deal. With AliExpress dropshipping, bundles work really well since the product cost is generally low. It’s also more profitable because it’s easier to find bestselling products. Once you figure out how to market the best-sellers, you can scale by reinvesting your great profits back into ads. This allows you to sell more products and make more money over the long-term.

Have you tried print on demand or AliExpress dropshipping? Which have you preferred and why? Let us know in the comments below!

  • Vinicius Silva

    I liked this article. I would like to make a few notes:

    Both Print on Demand when Dropshipping with Aliexpress, the entrepreneur have to have working capital because if you want to provide quality service to the customer the faster you send the better the consumer will be. Let’s assume that we have a working capital of $ 100, usually the print-on-demand companies charge $ 6 to $ 19 depending on the model, and from that information, you get to spin your capital about 10 to 5 times, while In the Dropshipping service with Aliexpress you can turn much more your capital, because the products in the aliexpress are much cheaper than the shirts, on the capital turnaround I do not know how much you can turn it, but, for sure Is more than the print-on-demand service

    Regarding shipping time to the consumer, the demand-to-print service appears to be gaining in this cyst because the products are being printed in the United States and delivered in the United States. Already with Dropshipping with Aliexpress the products can take from 14 to 20 days to reach the buyer, which can be risky, since he can open a dispute request in Paypal to have the money back, but apparently the American cosumidores They do not care so much for the time of delay, since the protudes are cheap and they entemdem that can take a little to arrive in their houses. With the print-on-demand service, the waiting time is shorter; Considering that you are working only with the American market, apparently. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

    On the disign part, you can outsource using Free Lancers sites like Fivver.

    I do not have any of the two deals, I’m just studying better which one will suit my goals. I really enjoyed this article, congratulations to the writer.

  • Denis Smith

    I heard about Printful but haven’t tried it. Is it any better than other PODs?

  • Nicole

    Hey Denis, sorry for the delay. Missed your message. I haven’t tried a lot of POD platforms but I used Printful which is why I talked about it in the article. I also tried Zazzle but their product costs were too high and I didn’t put enough effort to make it work since margins were too small. I liked Printful because they had leggings and I was selling fitness apparel. But customers complained they leggings were too tight. I also had a pet niche store where I sold mugs, etc but shipping fees for the mugs were so high and they were my best product. That’s ultimately what led to me switching over to Oberlo. I wanted something with high margins and low shipping fees.

  • Nicole

    Sorry for the delay – I missed this! I agree that the shipping times can be faster with print on demand but the costs make it difficult to offer free shipping. The problem I ran into was high abandoned cart rates when we didn’t offer free shipping. And when we did offer it we pretty much broke even. You could outsource design on Fiverr but the designs may not be top-tier quality. I’d recommend finding a professional graphic designer, maybe someone in school still with a great portfolio is you’re on a budget. I have tried both print on demand and AliExpress dropshipping. And while I loved the feeling of people buying my designs, I didn’t make enough money for it to work long-term. When figuring out what’s best for your specific situation you need to figure out what matters more to you: creating a profitable business or the fulfillment of people buying your own designs. It’s different for everybody. I’m not judging either way. If you ever have any questions while deciding feel free to contact me anytime at nicole.ferreira@oberlo.com

  • Moulay

    Its Oberlo blog, its fair dropshipping wins 🙂 I see some shopify stores do POD, and pricing leggings at 79$ and make sales. Printful is known as the high base price, buy they have some good reputations.

    Thanks for the article

  • George Ilavsky

    I think both options are great, which is why I will be utilizing both. I will be making graphic products using TeeLaunch and will utilize the AliExpress. Since my target market is the pet/animal industry I think both options are great. I have already planned and thought about the issues of using two different manufacturers. I know it may take more work, but I think the rewards will be great.