Print-on-demand (POD) platforms have become increasingly popular, especially among influencers and personal brands that lack the resources to print, store, and ship their own merchandise.
If you’re considering a POD merch/apparel platform, there are several worthy candidates to consider. Some of the most popular competitors are Spring (formerly Teespring), Redbubble, Zazzle, Gooten, Printful, and Printify.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on the first two because I have direct experience with both.
I launched my first Spring store (at that time, it was still called Teespring) in the summer of 2020 to promote my custom designs for my supernatural science-fantasy book series Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms.
This move was not because I was dissatisfied with Spring. I created the store because A) I wanted to test out Redbubble to see how it compared and B) I felt that my two stores should be completely segregated since the themes are very different.
I’ll compare my experience using Spring and Redbubble with a side-by-side comparison of:
Before we dive in, let me say that this is not a sponsored post. I do not have any affiliate agreements with Redbubble or Spring. While I do have active stores with both platforms, I do not earn any commission or payments from these companies for writing this post. All views expressed here are based on my own experiences and opinions. The photos you’ll see in this article are my own designs printed on sample products I received.
Psst… Read my original Spring review here.
What is Print On Demand (POD)?
POD isn’t a new concept. As an indie author, this is the same model I use to publish my books. Rather than do a print run of 10,000 books and then running the risk of being stuck with excess inventory if the novels don’t sell, the book is listed digitally for consumers and retailers to order. Only then is the exact number of books printed to fulfill each order.
Print-on-demand merchandise works the same way. The product does not physically exist until someone places an order. This means that once your design is uploaded, a third party handles every step of the ecommerce process from production to shipping to customer service.
The pros of this model:
- No upfront investment (the POD service takes a small cut from each order instead)
- No storage overhead
- No risk of getting stuck with inventory that doesn’t sell
- No wasted materials
- No shipping responsibilities
- No customer service responsibilities
The cons of POD merchandise:
- Few or no bulk-order discounts reducing the cost-per-unit price
- No shipping deals since products in the same order are often printed and shipped from different facilities
- No control over when an item is printed and shipped
- No quality control
1. Ease of Use: Uploading & Editing
That’s not to say that Spring isn’t easy to use. Honestly, I found both platforms fairly easy to master with minimal head-scratching and Google searches.
However, Redbubble had a simpler and faster setup to get my designs up and running quickly. The main reason for this is fewer customization settings to adjust for each individual product (which becomes a con later on this list), but we’ll get deeper into that subject later.
2. Online Store Layout and Presentation
I like and dislike certain aspects of both stores. I wish I could mix and match them into one awesome online storefront, but unfortunately that’s not possible!
What I like about Spring’s storefront:
- Branding opportunities to create a large banner, have your logo in the top left corner, and create a custom URL
- Social media links in the navigation banner
- Products organized by category in the top navigation
- Ability to feature your best items at the top
- Images flip to show the back of the product when you hover over the thumbnail
- Products within the same collection are clearly displayed on the product page when you view an item
What I dislike about Spring’s storefront:
- No way to organize your products except “starring” them so certain ones move to the top of the page (but you still can’t sort them)
- Products are not shown on models
- No way to simplify your storefront with contained collections — all products are shown, which means visitors have to scroll if you have a lot of products
What I like about Redbubble’s storefront:
- Ability to create a branded banner and logo
- Main page is organized by collection rather than all products
- Products are shown on a diverse range of models so you can see what they look like on a person
- Your artist profile allows you to gain followers directly on Redbubble’s platform
What I dislike about Redbubble’s storefront:
- No control over the order in which products are listed
- Items within a collection are not as cleanly organized on the product page to easily shop the same design on other products
3. Material Quality
Since I’ve had my Spring store longer than my Redbubble store, I have more samples to test. But so far, I can safely say that Spring’s clothing has proven to be more comfortable than Redbubble’s. My T-shirts and hoodies are insanely soft and comfy. Family members who have purchased hoodies have also been very satisfied and wear them all the time.
Redbubble’s tee has a slightly rougher feel while lacking the comfortable stretch that Spring’s fabric has. The stitching on Redbubble’s sleeveless top leaves the edges with an odd ruffled look I wasn’t expecting based on the website photos (check out the image below to see what I mean).
4. Print Quality
Comparing my samples from both companies, Redbubble is the clear winner. Before I go into my own analysis, here is what both companies say about their printing process.
Spring offers the screen printing process when certain product types and order quantities meet the need. Screen printing is a great alternative to DTG for high quantity orders and products with higher polyester blends. We use a screen printing press, an aluminum framed screen mesh stencil, squeegee and ink as the tools for the process. Our production artists arrange for a screen stencil to be made for each color in your artwork. The production team then sets up the printing press by registering each color. The press operator will imprint each color onto your selected garment and send down the dryer for the ink to be cured. The quality of screen printing is second to none, and a screen print lasts as long as the garment itself.
Direct to garment (DTG) printing:
Spring has invested in world leading digital textile printing equipment. Direct to garment (DTG) printing is our primary method of custom apparel printing. This cutting edge technology allows us to provide creators with outstanding prints, even if it is for a one-off piece. DTG printers hold the garment in a fixed position while inks are sprayed directly onto the textile by a printhead. The ink is then cured using efficient dryer technology. This type of printing allows for vivid artwork and endless color combinations. The inks used are environmentally friendly, non hazardous, and toxin free.
Spring guarantees optimal quality from both types of printing. All designs uploaded to our website undergo a thorough and rigorous art analysis before the printing process starts. We take ultimate care and responsibility to make sure we create your products sustainably. Constantly streamlining and reviewing our quality control process at every stage, we ensure all creators can be confident in their printed products and distribute merch to fans they can be proud of.
Basic apparel is made using direct to garment printing. This process involves applying a pre-treatment before loading the garment into a printer. The pre-treatment ensures the prints sink into the fibers of the textile, making them much more long-wearing than traditional ‘transfer’ prints, which just sit on top.
The full-bleed range, which includes products like the graphic t-shirt, leggings, scarf & A-line dress are created using a different technique called sublimation printing. Under the heat, these inks turn into gas and combine with polyester textiles. Since the ink becomes part of the structure of the material, the images on the fabric won’t fade or crack, even after many washes.
On every Spring sample compared to every Redbubble sample I’ve received, I noticed the same thing — Redbubble’s print appears to be part of the fabric while Spring’s design seems to be pressed on top of the fabric, making it more susceptible to wearing off.
UPDATE 5/30/22: Since writing this post, I have received a few Redbubble samples that seem to be similar to Spring’s screen printing process where the design is on top of the fabric and slightly raised.
See the comparison photos of my samples below:
HOWEVER, that being said, I want to add two important notes. One, I have not had my Redbubble samples long enough to test how well they hold up through everyday wear and trips through the washer and dryer. Two, despite the apparent difference in Spring’s printing process, my early samples have held up rather well. See the image below:
This T-shirt was one of the first samples I received (Teespring was using a different brand for their shirts at that time). This sample is more than a year old. You can see how the design is starting to flake away in tiny bits, but I want to stress that this shirt is ridiculously comfy and therefore one of my favorites, which means it’s seen HEAVY wear and gone through the washer and dryer many times. All things considered, it’s holding up as well as most of my other T-shirts.
Even though I gave this category to Redbubble, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Spring’s quality is bad.
5. Control Over Listings and Prices
This is why Redbubble won the easy-to-upload category but lost this round. Spring gives you MUCH more control over your listing, including prices. That extra control means more settings to manage for each product when you’re uploading.
As you can see below, Spring allows you to input your exact US and EU prices down to the cents, and it shows you how much profit you’ll make depending on the retail price you set. You can even have different prices for different smartphone cases, even if it’s the same brand but a different model.
Redbubble, on the other hand, sets the base price and allows you to specify the markup as a percentage. This results in some atypical prices, like $22.61 (most sellers would round up to $0.99 if given the choice).
But here’s the main reason I gave this category to Spring: unlike Redbubble, Spring gives you complete control over your color options. Why is this so important? Take a look at one of my Redbubble listings:
The black design doesn’t look so great on a black shirt, does it? Unfortunately, as of the time this post was written, Redbubble does not allow you to deselect a color option. Their recommendation is to set the default to the color you want shown as the main product image. That doesn’t stop people from selecting a bad color combo, but at least it’s not the first image they see.
Spring DOES let you choose which colors you do or don’t include on each individual listing. Just because Spring offers certain colors doesn’t mean you have to select them all. This is why uploading your designs is a little more time consuming on Spring than it is on Redbubble — you have to select your colors and adjust the settings and prices of each listing while Redbubble is largely set up with defaults.
With total control over your exact pricing and color options, Spring wins this category easily.
6. Shipping Costs
Here’s the downside of POD — shipping costs are not your friend. This isn’t constrained to just Spring and Redbubble. You’re going to run into high shipping costs no matter what platform you use.
Expect to pay shipping on every single item. Why, you might ask? Because in most cases, your products aren’t printed in the same facility. They’re coming from different places and shipping separately, so there’s not a flat shipping rate. It all depends on where the printer is located and how far the products have to travel.
I didn’t find much information about how Redbubble figures out its regular pricing, although the platform does have a bulk order program:
Spring provides a clear and predictable breakdown on their standard shipping prices:
The good news is Spring charges a reduced shipping price for additional items after the first one (as long as they’re from the same listing). But if you’re planning to place bulk orders and stock up on merchandise to sell yourself, those shipping expenses are going to add up VERY quickly since you’re paying per item ordered. POD may not be the best model for you if that’s the route you were planning to take.
Redbubble does not integrate with any third-party platforms at this time.
Spring offers a Twitch extension that lets you showcase and sell your products while you stream. It also allows a YouTube integration if you have a minimum of 10k subscribers and meet other eligibility requirements.
This is actually how I first discovered Spring! At the time, I was an ecommerce specialist browsing YouTube to find potential vloggers and influencers who might be interested in collaborating with the company I worked for. I noticed that a LOT of YouTubers had their own custom-designed merchandise for sale beneath their videos.
This led me to explore Teespring, which rebranded to Spring in February 2021. I figured if so many YouTube influencers were using the platform, it must be decent, right? The rest is history.
8. Market Reach
Although Spring’s integration and extension options with third-party platforms give it an edge to market outside of its own website, Redbubble does have a strong internal community. It caters to artists and designers and has branded itself as a place to find unique indie art, much like Etsy.
Within Redbubble, you can follow artists you love and accumulate your own followers. Another great marketing feature: product tagging.
Redbubble allows you to add up to fifteen relevant tags to each upload so people can find your work when searching particular categories and interests. This extra discoverability perk gives Redbubble the edge over Spring in this category since people can find your work through relevant product tags and web searches.
Spring gives its creators the freedom to run their own promotions. You can create promo codes, set start and expiration dates, and determine a dollar amount or percentage off. Alternatively, you can offer a free shipping promotion, which is great news since we already discussed how shipping costs add up for both you and your customers.
Tip: make sure you set your profit margins high enough to handle discounts. These discounts do come out of your profits, and you can’t pick and choose which products qualify. Buyers will be able to use your promo code on all of your products. If you have items like stickers in your store, the percentage discount is your safest bet.
Another note: free shipping applies only to US orders, so it won’t do much good if you have international customers.
Despite these restrictions, setting up a promo code in Spring is easy to do. Redbubble, on the other hand, doesn’t allow creators to make their own promotions. Shoppers have to rely on sitewide promotions, which are completely out of your control.
10. Product Accuracy
I’m tentatively awarding this one to Redbubble because I’ve had repeat issues with Spring on this subject. Sometimes, the color shown on their website is a fairly close match to what I receive. Sometimes, it’s way off. For example, here is a gray hoodie I ordered:
I discuss these issues in greater detail in my original Spring review, including the time Spring sent me gray leggings that were supposed to be black and then claimed my order had been processed correctly but the leggings were actually “light black” in real life (even though they’re clearly shown as a true black on the website).
This is a tentative win for Redbubble because at this point, I have only a couple of samples to gauge, so it’s not an equal sample size. So far, the Redbubble products I’ve received have been fairly close to what’s pictured on their website.
And the winner is…
Honestly, it’s a draw. There isn’t a clear winner because neither option is a perfect solution. Both platforms have distinct pros and cons, and you need to decide which priorities are the most important to you and your brand.
Spring gives you more customization, branding opportunities, pricing control, and promotional tools. Their clothing is softer and more comfortable, and you have the opportunity to integrate your products with YouTube and Twitch. However, the screen printing is more superficial and therefore likely to wear off faster than Redbubble merch.
Redbubble capitalizes on the indie artist community and lets you tag your designs to make them more discoverable. You’ll get higher quality printing, but it’s on less comfortable fabric. Redbubble’s online store shows how the products will look on models and in furnished settings, but the lack of control over color options is annoying if you’re using a transparent background and need to exclude certain fabric colors to make the design look good. You also have less control over your pricing and no control over promotions.
Spring and Redbubble are both free to set up, so you can start uploading and making money right away. Neither platform has great shipping options for customers (or creators who want to orders samples/merchandise).
So, what matters most to you? Do you want better branding, promotions, and control over your design choices, or is the higher print quality and product tagging for discovery more important?
Whichever option you choose, you’ll have to make some sacrifices. Based on my experiences so far using both Spring and Redbubble, I prefer the degree of control I get with Spring. The screen printing, although less impressive than Redbubble’s, has held up reasonably over time after heavy wear and multiple washes.
Spring gets my vote by a slim margin. Both platforms have perks, but they also have room for improvement in different ways.
SPECIAL OFFER! Still on the fence? I invite you to explore my Spring store to see the layout and products available for yourself. If you would like to place an order to see Spring’s quality (and help to support me and the work that I do), I’ve created an exclusive promo code for you! Use the code THANKS10 at checkout to take 10% off your order.
(Note: this code is unique to my Spring store. It will not work on other Spring stores, and it cannot be combined with other offers. As much as I would love to offer a discount on my RedBubble store, I’m unfortunately not able to because, as I mentioned in the article, Redbubble doesn’t give creators the power to create promo codes.)
Which print-on-demand company do you prefer? Please share your experience in the comments!
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