On-Demand vs Bulk Printing

Jeff Becker    |    May 02, 2023

All businesses look for ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs. One way to consider doing this is by using on-demand printing rather than printing in bulk for apparel, water bottles, etc.

On-demand printing is a process that involves printing the design on the product only at the time the item is ordered. Businesses do not need to keep a large inventory of products on hand, thus saving them upfront costs for the product and storage costs.

Even though on-demand printing may seem like a cost-effective solution, it’s often a worse solution than printing in bulk for businesses looking to create high-quality products and keep inventory low.


Pricing Differences

While on-demand printing may seem like a cost-effective solution, it’s often much more expensive in the short & long run. On-demand printing costs more per piece than printing in bulk. The individual user pays more for the item and when the company adds up all the increased individual items, they will have spent more in the end as well.

When businesses print in bulk, they take advantage of economies of scale. This means the more products they print, the cheaper the cost per unit becomes. The fixed costs, such as setup and preparation, are spread out over a larger number of products. In contrast, on-demand printing does not allow businesses to take advantage of economies of scale, as they are only printing a few products at a time.


Quality Differences

On-demand is touted for reducing inventory, but another disadvantage of on-demand printing is that the quality of the products can often be worse than those printed in bulk. This is because on-demand printing requires businesses to use digital printing techniques, which do not produce the same level of quality as screen or pad printing. The colors may not be as vibrant, the design may not last as long and the details may not be as crisp. It also requires a massive reduction in product offering as this solution requires items to be in stock at the printer. In a world where we have endless variety, on-demand unfortunately does not take advantage of them.

In contrast, when businesses print in bulk, we use printing techniques resulting in a higher-quality product. It is imperative businesses create a premium product that employees and customers want to wear. In addition, bulk printing has far more options and flexibility allowing the product to be created to exact specifications.


Production & Shipping Differences

One would think on-demand means orders ship quicker, but this could not be further from the truth. Once an order is placed, the item is then put into production. The average time for an on-demand product to be made is 7-10 days and often times if the end user places an order for 2 very different items, these items are shipped from different locations as the production is completely different resulting in increased shipping costs, speeds, and confusion over where is the order.

However, buying in bulk allows the product to be stored and readily available to be shipped. Often those items are ready to be shipped same day. The sales, marketing and HR teams often need items last minute for a last-minute event, conference, tradeshow, employee etc and with on-demand the items very likely will not be an option.


Inventory Concerns

One real concern in buying in bulk is the business does not want to be sitting on a ton of product that they never use, maybe from of over buying or because the logo is no longer current.

A great middle ground, and our preferred approach, would be to print smaller, but more frequent bulk orders. Instead of buying 1,200 shirts you believe will last you six months, buy 600 shirts per quarter or even 400 shirts every two months. Businesses still will gain most of the cost savings (the difference between 400 and 1200 is far smaller than the difference between 1200 and 1) while still producing the best product possible, and the end users will have the inventory in stock at the time they place their order.

In conclusion, on-demand may seem like a great option, but in reality the product is often worse, the end result costs more, and the order will arrive to you slower. In today’s world, your brand is the most important. Make sure you’re buying a product of the highest quality, that will be kept the longest, and loved by the final user.