The Dead Pixels Society podcast

Printing garments on demand with Tim Pontin of Printful

June 08, 2020 Gary Pageau/Tom Pontin Season 1 Episode 8
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Printing garments on demand with Tim Pontin of Printful
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Printing garments on demand with Tim Pontin of Printful
Jun 08, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Gary Pageau/Tom Pontin

Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with Tim Pontin, photographer, Printful, the fast-growing on-demand printing company. 

Printful is an on-demand fulfillment company offering eCommerce warehousing and custom print and embroidery product drop-shipping services for online retailers.

Established in 2013, Printful is one of the leading custom print-on-demand product drop shippers in the USA and Europe with six fulfillment centers (three in the United States, two in Europe, one in Mexico) and 800-plus employees worldwide.

Show Notes Transcript

Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with Tim Pontin, photographer, Printful, the fast-growing on-demand printing company. 

Printful is an on-demand fulfillment company offering eCommerce warehousing and custom print and embroidery product drop-shipping services for online retailers.

Established in 2013, Printful is one of the leading custom print-on-demand product drop shippers in the USA and Europe with six fulfillment centers (three in the United States, two in Europe, one in Mexico) and 800-plus employees worldwide.

Gary Pageau (11s): The Dead Pixels Society podcast is brought to you by Photo Finale, Mediaclip, Advertek Inc., GotPhoto, EyeQ Got,, the IPI Member Network, and MailPix.

Hello and welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. Today we're talking to Tim Pontin the photographer in residence, I guess you could say, at Printful. Hi, Tim. How are you today? Yeah, pretty well. 

And Tim, you're more talking across the world. You're actually co talking to me from Latvia. Is that correct? 

Tim Pontin (50s): Yeah, that's right. I'm based out of Riga Latvia at the moment. Although a natively from Perth, Australia, 

Gary Pageau (57s): I thought I detected a bit of an accent there. So tell me a little bit about Printful didn't it start in Eastern Europe. 

Tim Pontin (1m 6s): Actually, the company was founded by three Latvian co-founders, but that did happen in the U S so it's loudest limits was our founder and he was, he was working in California and needed to get this business up and running with making a certain amount of revenue to be able to get the visa conditions and things like that. And he actually started a company which was printing motivational posters called Startup Vitamins. 

Gary Pageau (1m 35s): Oh my gosh. I remember that.  

Tim Pontin (1m 38s): Yeah, like they were in the offices of Twitter and LinkedIn and, you know, demand really started to grow for that. And at the time he was just printing the posters out of his house and manually doing the whole process. And so as the demand kind of was creeping up on that project, he started looking for an outsourcing partner to be able to handle the fulfillment of the posters and couldn't really find anyone that would be able to deliver the quality that was needed. And so it kind of eventually got to a tipping point where they decided, you know, we'll have to start the company ourselves and that's a sweat Printful was born. 

Gary Pageau (2m 13s): So what, what was the timeframe for that? 

Tim Pontin (2m 17s): So that was in 2013 that it started kind of principle.

Gary Pageau (2m 24s): And is Startup Vitamins still around or is that sort of been absorbed by the Printful? Okay. 

Tim Pontin (2m 29s): Startup Vitamins is still running. Yeah. You can still buy the posters up there. I mean, it's not a, a major focus for us anymore obviously, but yeah. It's still running. You can still buy the posters for sure. 

Gary Pageau (2m 41s): Yeah, because I remember there was a, the break things poster and a few things like that, that I remember being quite popular at the time. So how did it start becoming a printing facility then after starting out as a motivational brand? Basically? 

Because the business model originally was just working off the posters. I mean, it's a pretty easy way to get into the printing industry with its sense of hardware. I posted a crank it's a pretty accessible, so they were, they were running those just in the garage basically. And as they started getting more and more interested in that and buying more printers and realize that, Hey, if we kind of diversify this a little bit and start printing on different things, then we can, we can start making a lot more money off of it. 

So yeah, it took a little while I think, but eventually they realized that actually there's a big opportunity to be printing on apparel that, that no one is really covering right now. And so that became like the pivot of the company where they went from being that poster company to just printing, printing apparel primarily. Sure, sure. So that is sort of the, a unique offering than the company sort of pivoted to what they go, I guess, is that direct to garment, I guess, is what you would call that. 

Tim Pontin (4m 4s): Yeah. Direct garment is our main printing technique that we use, which is if you, if you want to imagine it's laying the tissue down onto a flat surface and it heads into the printer and then a print head similar to what you get on like any poster printer travels across and leaves the ink straight on a shirt. 

Gary Pageau (4m 24s): Now, is that a platform you've developed or have you, you know, using a particular technology? 

Tim Pontin (4m 31s): No, we use, we use Konit printers for our director garment stuff. We, we think they're the best in terms of technology at the moment, delivering the best colors. It's something that probably the main difference between printing on garments and printing on posters. Is that on your garments here, your substrate, your subsurface, there's so many different variables there, like the different fabric waves and different colors and fabric types, polyester or cotton. And what have you. So trying to manage that in terms of getting consistent output over all those different products, that's one of the big challenges, but yeah, Konit works really well. 

Gary Pageau (5m 11s): So that's gotta be kind of an interesting dilemma because like in the photo printing space, like you said, with the, if you're printing out a poster or photographic paper or what not, you may be dealing with different surfaces, you know, glossy matte, et cetera, but with apparel or wearable items, you're not only dealing with different services, you're dealing with like different wear points and things like that because I'm sure you don't want, you know, a shirt to fade too quickly.  

I mean, I'm sure they all fade eventually, but you know, I imagine that's a, that's a, a lot to be concerned about. 

Tim Pontin (5m 49s): Yeah, for sure. Any, one of the things that we put a lot of time into before we releasing new products is that we go through extensive testing view, new variants of products. Like sometimes there'll be a new color, comes out for a tee shirt that we already stopped. It still goes through the full testing range. We make sure that everything is still gonna look good on it. When it comes out the other end, it's going to last, well, you can wash it. Like it's not going to damage the shirt or anything like that. So yeah, we put a lot of work into making sure that whichever product we're printing on it's going to be a good result.  

Gary Pageau (6m 22s): So what else do you print on besides posters and garments? Is there been, you know, do you, do you have the full range of items or do you outsource most of those? Or how did, how, what, what's the offering there? 

Tim Pontin (6m 33s): So we do everything in house. Actually we do direct to garment printing that's for like your tee shirts and hoodies, things like that. We do embroidery for hats and a few other small items. It's just started actually becoming very popular to do embroidery on, on sweaters, for example, like a central embroidery on the chest. Right. We do the posters and canvases for walls. We do sublimation mugs and as well as that, some other smaller categories, like phone cases and flip flops, but one of the main technologies that we're really invested in is a sublimation printing.  

So it's different to DTG because you print onto a paper product, it goes through a heat press and actually the ink sublimes into the fabric. Right. And then we cut the pattern out and sew it together. We've got our own seamstresses in houses and we did that whole process here as well.  

Gary Pageau (7m 32s): Wow. So it sounds to me like it's fairly labor intensive. You're not doing, you know, I know there's a lot of movement, especially with the content type products that do sort of labor free type printing. Right. Where it's almost like an automated production process. Sounds to me like you you're, you're adding your own special techniques to that.  

Tim Pontin (7m 55s): Yeah, for sure. I mean, we're always looking for ways that we can improve the process, especially in terms of fulfillment times. That's one of the, like the main drivers for us is to make sure we can keep that as quick as possible. Right. We have people involved in the process the whole way along in terms of production. Yeah. 

Gary Pageau (8m 13s): Sure, sure. So are you saying that's one of the things that makes Printful lo different than maybe some other, the, some of the other suppliers out there 

Tim Pontin (8m 23s): In terms of having the people involved? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I don't know that I can really speak to what other companies are doing in terms of their fulfillment. What's what makes us unique or at least something that we do differently than most people or, and companies is that we are vertically integrated. We do the whole thing ourselves, right? So for print on demand, it's pretty common that like you'll have a software provider and they they're partnering up with a bunch of different print shops when your order comes in, they choose one of the print shops or you do that yourself.  

And it goes out somewhere and it gets printed and shipped, but you might have lots of items coming out from different shops and getting different levels of quality out of it. Right? So one thing that we're really proud of and that we really try to do is make sure that from all of our facilities, you know, you're going to get the same level of high quality on the products. And that's why we keep it all in house so that we can ensure that 

Gary Pageau (9m 19s): Because I imagine keeping color consistent across, you know, a sublimated product versus a garment product is a bit of a challenge. 

Tim Pontin (9m 28s): Yeah. Well, I don't think you will really get good color consistency across the different print techniques like that. Like, if you want to compare what you get with a DTG and a sublimation printer, they just have different gamuts. So you can't really do an apples to apples comparison. Right? It's gotta be in the same ballpark though. Again, what we're more talking about is like, say you've got a customer who orders a tee shirt to London, and you've got another customer who orders one in New York. 

So one of those is going to be fulfilled from our us center. One of those is going to come from our European center, but we're running the same process and the same printers in both places. And you know that you're going to get the same quality results. 

Gary Pageau (10m 10s): Yeah. That that's something I wanted to touch on. You've actually been expanding your locations quite a bit. I just saw in the press, you're opening up a plant in Ontario soon. And so where are your facilities located?  

Tim Pontin (10m 27s): Okay. So we've got a, we've got one facility in LA. We've got one facility in North Carolina and Charlotte actually two, one of them is a printing facility. And one of them is a warehousing facility. We do a lot of cutting, so work with a facility out of Tijuana and Mexico. And we have our European headquarters in Riga Latvia, and we've just recently started production in our Barcelona facility as well. Canada is one that's on the, on the books for us. Like we are, we're planning to be open there by the end of the year. 

We've started advertising positions there, but it's in progress at the moment. 

Gary Pageau (11m 3s): Right. Right. So, you know, one of the things that you read about in the media, the trade media is how, you know, the printing industry is so mature, right? And that, you know, especially in the personalized products printing area, which is why there's been so much interest, for example, in labels and packaging, because that seems to be an area that is growing, but always from our viewpoint, you know, we're, we're still seeing a lot of growth in the personalized product industry, whether it's a tee shirt or a canvas or a mug or whatever, where with the availability of high quality photographs at everyone's fingertips, it's a matter of just getting them out of the cameras and into the, the production stream.  


Tim Pontin (11m 54s): So how is Printful been able to in such a, what people think is a mature market been able to capitalize or create this growth? So I think that in terms of things like posters and Walmart, I think the, the maturity in the market is definitely there, but for governments where we're really focusing at the moment, there's much more change happening in terms of technology.  

Every couple of years, there'll be big advances that lag to take a big step forward in terms of the color gamut that you can print on a shirt, or like the technologies that go into just the level of fidelity you can get in your printer. But one of the big things that really happening that we've been able to take advantage of is just that eCommerce is growing so much, right. And one of the things like not that you want to be happy about any of this kind of global crisis situation at the moment.  

But one of the things that that is doing is that means that people are predicting that eCommerce is going to see the same amount of growth this year, as it normally would see in two or three years. Right. But being involved in that space, making sure that you can take advantage of that growth is how we're achieving our growth. The other things that we're, we're really doing and putting a lot of work into is making sure we're always expanding our product offering. So there's new options. We have established sellers, but it's not a, it's not a style catalog. 

There's always new things for them to try to push to their customers. If we can help them get their customers excited that pushes the growth back to us. And also we do a lot of internationalization at the moment. So we've launched our website in Spanish and Japanese languages. And just yesterday, I think we went live in French. And so by doing that, it's a lot of work for us to go through and translate everything and make sure that everything still is functioning properly, but you open up a whole new market or the Southern and people that haven't even been exposed to these kinds of ideas yet. 

All of a sudden you can get access to it. That's also a big driver. So you do sell directly, but you also have partners that you work with, correct. Until this year we've done everything in house. So in terms of partners by partners, I meant like brands. And so one of the, one of the things that we do, I guess, most important partnerships for us at the moment is with eCommerce platforms. 

That's what I meant. Yeah. Yeah. Right. Okay. So yeah, definitely. We really focus on being a market leader in the functionality and the scope of very commerce platform. So we have over 20 now, including like Shopify, Wix, Etsy, a bunch of others, we commerce big commerce where you can just go and sign up your account on, on the eCommerce platforms, sign up for your rental accounts, which is free. Just link the two and start pushing products into your store to sell. You know, you don't need to do your inventory. 

You don't need to hold any stock on hand or anything. You can just get, you're still running. Like that's something that we, we put a lot of work into is making sure that those things are market-leading. So one of the things I think that is going to happen with the 

Gary Pageau (15m 28s): Got fallout from the COVID pandemic, I think is, has been, will be a reinvigoration of some e-commerce opportunities. Are you starting to see inquiries from people or business or things like you said, from the FCS and the woo commerce, like the very, very small micro-targeted businesses who are thinking, Hey, I just need to start something and start a side hustle or something like that. Are you seeing some, are you, is that where you're seeing growth? 

Tim Pontin (15m 56s): We see it from everywhere actually. So from like a mom and dad stores kind of running out of the running out of the living room, people that are just like, as you say, starting the side hustle, right up to like larger corporations that are running personalized projects or anything like that. Yeah. There's, there's a huge range in terms of Printful sellers from, from some very small customers to very large, but definitely we want to make sure that we keep offering everything to all customers. 

So it doesn't matter where you're coming from in that scale, you still get the same service regardless. 

Gary Pageau (16m 35s): So if someone was interested in partnering with, with Printful maybe on a larger basis, how would they do that? 

Tim Pontin (16m 44s): So do you use Printful as a production partner? It's you can start at a couple of ways, depending on your scale, you can just come onto the website and sign up and link your eCommerce store and straightaway start sending your orders through. We also have custom API, if you have your own platform and want to just create your own system for sending those orders through to us for fulfillment, for, for eCommerce platforms. Best thing to do is, is get in touch with our business development team. 

We're always looking for new opportunities and, and seeing, you know, where e-commerce trends are heading and making sure we're on top of that and for new products, then it's, it's best to get in touch with our operations team or our business development team and all those, all those details. We should be able to get on the website or look us up on LinkedIn and all the guys are really active on there. And how can people reach you if they're wanting to talk to you specifically? So I'm actually the photographer at Printful at the moment. 

So one of the easiest ways, if you just trying to get in touch generally is sure. Photography inquiry page website, and I'll get your request. Otherwise, feel free. If anyone is interested in specific requests, my email is Tim dot Well, great. Well, thank you Tim, for your time today. I know you've been very busy and I appreciate your time. Hope we meet again soon. Yeah. Looking forward to it.  


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