Drop shipping…when it can work and when it will not.


More than ever before, we are in the age of the entrepreneur.

The ability to realise your commercial idea is now more accessible to anyone with a small amount of startup capital and a burning passion to invest their time and creativity into that idea.

Clothing brands are a real favorite for the plucky startup and this seems all the more possible with the idea of ‘drop shipping’.

The attractiveness of having your printer / embroiderer producing only what you have sold that day and then shipped immediately and directly to your customer without you having to get all mucky with the handling yourself seems like a dream come true but the facts need examining.

New technologies in printing have seen the emergence of ‘direct to garment’ digital printing which drastically shortens the print process and makes low volumes to single prints possible.

It has replaced screen printing in many ways and because your design can be printed straight to your garment without costly artwork separations and screens and setup time, it seems to offer a cheap way to get your multicolored design that you produced in Photoshop smashed out fast and to your customer.

But hang on…there is a catch or two.

PRICE…catch number 1

There are no screens and setup costs to pay for digital printing which there are for screen printing and a t shirt can be loaded onto the machine and printed and finished in about 15 minutes of you take into account some prep work. By comparison, an 8 colour screen print can take an hour to setup before you even get a garment on the press, but when it is set up you can print about 100 t shirts in 15 minutes.

This means that you could get a multi-coloured design produced on a basic t shirt for somewhere between £10 and £15 depending on the size of the print and the quality of the garment choice.

£10 to £15 is definitely a decent price for a printed t shirt if you are an end user but what about you as the re-seller? Suddenly it doesn’t look that attractive if you want to make a decent margin, and here is the catch… Once you add in your other costs into the product like your advertising and development and operational business costs then you will be lucky to make a small profit or break even on each sale.

More reading can be found here.

So why go digital?

It allows you to get product to market quickly without needing to purchase volumes of stock

It allows you to test your market with new designs without over committing

If you have very little startup capital it allows you to ease into your market

If you have lots of designs with modest sales for each but the cumulative sales are good

If your brand is strong and you can command a high resale value.

QUALITY…catch number 2

Digital printing does not always produce the result that is expected or desired.

For designs that are tonally variable, too many colours to count and are graphically intense and complex, then digital can produce excellent results. However, if your designs are single colour, big blocks of text or large solid print areas then the jury is out on how good digital is.

Most of the time it cannot compare with screen print for single colour of big blocky designs. It lacks the finish consistency and the opacity/solid look of a screen print.

There is also a question mark over it’s longevity. The inks used for digital are water based rather than oil / plasticiser based and this means a less robust substrate in the ink system which can mean a quicker degradation at the hands of the launderer.


If you have a product that is proven and rakes in the numbers then it’s time to go screen-print. The economies of scale means you will make your profits in a way that you simply cannot with digital.

Once you hit the 100+ ordering quantity then the magic happens with screen print. That digital print that was costing you £15 to produce is now costing you £4 with screen print prices on larger quantities.

If you are just starting out on the journey to create your own brand then this article is important reading.

This is a good article to help you understand when digital might be the better option for you.

As always...hit us up for the lowdown.

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