Sunday, April 14, 2019

Review - Printful for Artists

As an artist running a business with just one employee (aka. myself) and not a lot of storage space, I'm always looking for time-saving and space-saving measures so that I can focus more on art and less on other tasks that take time away from creating.  I'm at a unique position in my business' growth where I don't have a huge amount of print sales, but the few that I do get are enough to take up a good chunk of the morning to prep, package, and send out on my own.

This made Printful a good choice for me to look into until I feel comfortable expanding to printing art on my own professional printer at home and hiring more employees.  I have been using it for a little over a year and wanted to share my experience with it for those who may find themselves in a similar position as myself!

What is Printful?

Printful is a print on demand service that will drop ship directly to your customers on your behalf. This service seamlessly integrates with Etsy, WooCommerce, Shopify, and most major shop options. They take a cut of the profits and handle the printing and shipping.

They will also process returns on your behalf with you acting as an intermediary for your customers. Printful fulfills orders mainly to the US, but they have been slowly adding fulfillment centers in Europe so that they can quickly deliver items overseas.

Printful is a completely white label service, which means they will never include any of their branding within your orders. If for some reason you do not want them to integrate with your shop, you can also place orders with them to drop ship manually for you without requiring shop integration.

What Does it Cost?

Like most print on demand companies, there is no monthly fee, rather they only make money when you sell a product.  There is a base price for the cost of the item and labor, and a percentage on top of this base price which the company takes a share of.

You can set your own list price per item in your shop to suit the profit margin you want to see with each item.  Printful has a handy estimation tool so you can see exactly how much you'll make per item when you set your list price.

How is the Quality?

I have used Printful primarily to purchase luster prints, so I cannot speak to the quality of their many other products.  As far as print surfaces, they offer matte, luster, and canvas prints.

I chose their luster prints because I prefer a semi-gloss finish for my art.  Their luster prints are gorgeous and provide excellent color reproduction for some of my most difficult prints, such as dark digital pieces with subtle color like the one pictured below.

My Kushiel's Dart print arrived rolled in tissue paper inside of a mailing tube.
An example of the branding included on the outside of the package and the tightly wrapped print.

An example of the branded pack-in slip that's included for free with orders.
The main downside of using Printful for selling prints is that prints are restricted to standard sizes, meaning if you have art that would not fit in standard frames that any prints you make of them will have white borders included (unless you upload a source file that does something creative with these borders).

My very long non-standard Art Nouveau prints look like this, for example. I generally instruct my customers that they can either crop these borders off themselves or simply mat over the white when framing a piece:

The Ordering Process

  1. Once an order is placed in your shop, the cost of the order is deducted from your Printful Wallet (which you can set to refill automatically when funds are needed).
  2. Then, Printful will print and pack your order.  Basic branding information is included, such as your logo, your website, and a brief note you can customize for your customers (ie. a thank you note, coupon code, etc.).  Additionally, you can pay extra and include more advanced pack-ins, like postcards which you provide to Printful's warehouse. 
  3.  Once your order is shipped, Printful will automatically update the order in your shop with the tracking information.
NOTE:  A small flaw I've found in Etsy's integration with Printful is that gift notes from Etsy Orders are not automatically imported into Printful.  You will need to quickly copy and paste the note in manually, should you wish the order to be sent out with the gift message!  You'll usually have 24 hours to do this before the print is produced and shipped automatically.  You can also pause the order from within Printful till you get a chance to enter the message at your convenience.

EDIT 7-7-2020: I've noticed Printful finally fixed this flaw!  Gift messages are now imported automatically.

The Returns Process

I've had a few isolated incidents during the holiday rush that my prints did not arrive on time or were lost in the mail. In these cases, Printful took on the burden of re-printing and re-shipping the order while I kept the customer updated about Printful's progress. I have not yet had to have a customer return a print, but if I do in the future, by default they are to send damaged prints back to Printful, who will then replace the print at their cost.

They have a few specific instances in which they will not cover returns.  For all other cases, they will handle things on a case by case basis. You can also opt to personally handle all returns yourself.

Other Useful Tools

Another thing I adore about Printful is their Mockup Generator. This handy tool allows you to create mockup images that help your customers understand the size and scale of your art items and can provide an attractive context to your prints.

I like to use this mockup of a print being held in someone's hands to provide a personal touch, show how borders might look on the print so there aren't any surprises for my customers, as well as provide them with a general idea of scale. The size of the print in the mockup can also be changed to match your print size accurately!  There are also 'lifestyle' mockup options that show the print displayed in a living space.
A mockup image generated of my Keeper of Secrets print.
Printful also has a warehouse storage and fulfillment service you can utilize if you'd like your shop's items to be packed in the same package, but do not have all of them produced via Printful.  I have not tried their warehousing myself yet, but you can read more information about this service here.

Strategies for Using Printful

While Printful is excellent for providing quick and easy prints for customers, I know there are customers out there who appreciate a personal touch!  Another handy aspect of Printful is that I can use them to fulfill specific variants within a single listing with my Etsy shop.  

This means that I can offer quick unsigned options fulfilled via Printful for people who want to save money and then create an additional variant in the same listing for a hand-signed Giclee at a higher cost that I would fulfill personally.  It's the best of both worlds!  Customers can purchase the price point that suits their budgets, while also getting a sense of the perceived value of my signed giclees when compared to my unsigned luster prints, since they are both listed as variants on a single item listing.

Final Thoughts

I've been using Printful for a little over a year now and have been pleased with how it's allowed me to spend more time creating art and focusing on other tasks!  I plan to expand my integration into other products, as well as look into using Art of Where to help round out my product selection (review forthcoming).  I highly recommend Printful for those who want to keep things simple or who have no desire to take on the burden of printing products themselves, storing inventory, etc.

Questions about Printful or anything I've left out?  Let me know in comments and I'll keep this article updated with the answers!

If you found this review helpful and would like to consider using Printful for your business, please consider using my referral link

It will net me a little kickback, which is always appreciated and helps make it easier for me to keep writing articles. I hope it proves as useful for you all as it has for me!


  1. This is amazingly useful, thank you! Now to figure out how to get some of my physical artwork to digital format!

    1. I'm happy to hear it was useful for you! Digitizing can be tricky, especially when you have larger art. Good luck and let me know how this works out for you, if you try it!