print on demand vs affiliate marketing

Print on demand vs Affiliate marketing: Which is The Better Way to Make Money Online?

In 2024, starting an online side hustle is no longer a foreign concept. Among all the make-money-online schemes, print-on-demand and affiliate marketing are two popular business models that have brought success to many entrepreneurs.

While both of these models aim to provide an easy and accessible route to create an online business, there are still some distinctive differences that set them apart as each harbors its own advantages and disadvantages.

In this post, let’s compare print on demand and affiliate marketing to find out which is the best way to make money online for you.

What is Print on Demand (POD)?

print on demand tshirt hoodies

Print on demand is an online business model that allows you to sell products without actually owning the inventory. Instead, a third-party print on demand supplier will take care of the production, packaging, and shipping. Sellers only have to pay once the orders arrive, which is similar to dropshipping. However, unlike dropshipping, print on demand sellers will have to create the design for their products.

It requires both design skills and marketing mastery to succeed with print on demand. Print on demand sellers must create impressive designs that appeal to customers as well as attract more customers to your stores. Other than selling the products, after-sales services are also within the scope of print on demand business.

Benefits of Print on demand

  • Hassle-free production: Print on demand offers the best of both worlds when it comes to product creation and sourcing. It lifts off the production hassle while still utilizing the power of unique customized products.
  • No upfront cost required: With print on demand, there is no minimum order quantity and no upfront cost required. You only have to pay after customers make their orders.
  • No inventory risk: Products are only made and printed after you receive orders. Therefore, there is no risk of holding unsold stock.
  • Scalability: Print on demand can be highly scalable since you don’t have to worry about managing physical inventory or production processes. You can increase the number of products in your stores as well as the product volume with ease. Everything is handled effectively and seamlessly by your print on demand providers.

>>> Also read: Print on demand vs Digital Products: Which is better?

What is Affiliate Marketing?

affiliate marketing

With affiliate marketing, you are not selling the products directly to the customers. Instead, you act as an advocator and promoter of a product. The goal is to introduce the products to more customers and encourage them to purchase. In return, you earn a commission on each sale made through your unique referral link.

The key to successful affiliate marketing lies in driving traffic and mastering conversion rate optimization. The more people click and buy products through your links, the more commission you get.

Benefits of Affiliate marketing

  • No production responsibility: Affiliate marketing only requires promoting the products and does not involve anything related to the production. As an affiliate marketer, you don’t sell your own products but others.
  • Low entry barrier: With affiliate marketing, you don’t have to create a product or manage inventory. You can start promoting products through various channels like blogs, social media, or email newsletters. Just with a laptop or phone connected to the internet, you can start your affiliate marketing campaigns.
  • Variety of products: With affiliate marketing, you have the flexibility to promote a wide range of products and services across different industries. Depending on your niche and audience, you can select the most suitable and profitable products to promote.

Comparison: Print on demand vs Affiliate marketing

design skills print on demand

Scope of expertise

  • Marketing

Both print on demand and affiliate marketing require a certain level of expertise in marketing, especially, digital marketing. However, this skill is more important for affiliate marketing than print on demand.

For print on demand, if you don’t have a clue about running ads, building a website, or operating email marketing campaigns, you can still rely on the marketplaces and e-commerce platforms like Etsy, Amazon, or Redbubble. When selling on these websites, you can make use of and benefit from their existing customers and organic traffic.

In the case of affiliate marketing, you don’t sell products but profit from the commissions. Without appropriate marketing campaigns, it is impossible to attract customers, convert them into sales, and gain commission.

  • Design skills

An important part of selling print on demand is providing impressive designs. However, it is not a must for print on demand sellers to be seasoned graphic designers. In fact, you can outsource the professionals to take care of the design parts.

However, to ensure a smooth process, and most importantly, save money, you must know some basic graphic design skills. Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, doesn’t require design skills to succeed.


Both print on demand and affiliate marketing are considered low-risk business models as they both require minimal initial investment. Even so, each business has its distinctive set of risks and challenges.

Print on demand risks

  • Product quality

For example, with print on demand, you don’t have direct control over the product quality, which might cause a lack of consistency in quality. Even though the poor quality is not entirely sellers’ fault, they still have to suffer the aftermath. On receiving poor-quality products, customers might file complaints, return products, or request refunds. These issues not only hurt a business’s finances but also shatter the brand reputation and customer trust.

  • Shipping risk

Another challenge of print on demand is the shipping risks. Print on demand products normally take longer to deliver as products are only printed after orders arrive. The production time will extend the waiting time, which might upset customers. Moreover, considering that many print on demand products are sold as a gift or made for special occasions, the delay in shipping might cause the customers to miss the deadlines. This might cause some serious customer disputes and damage to your brands.

Affiliate marketing risks

  • Direct damage to personal brands

For affiliate marketing, product quality concerns also play an important role, especially if you are leveraging your personal brand to recommend products to your audience. Poor reviews of the products you promote can hurt your brand, cause distrust among the audience, and more importantly, affect the relationship with your following.

It might not be as detrimental if you run your affiliate campaigns anonymously. Still, there are still other risks associated with affiliate marketing.

  • Dependence of affiliate programs

As an affiliate marketer, your success depends on the reliability and trustworthiness of the affiliate programs you join. If a program suddenly changes its terms, goes out of business, or decides to stop working with affiliates, it can directly impact your income.

  • Laws and regulations

Affiliate marketing is subject to various laws and regulations, including consumer protection laws, privacy regulations, and disclosure requirements. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in legal consequences, fines, or reputational damage.

Profit margin

Both models offer the potential for significant revenue, but the profitability depends on various factors.

With print on demand, the entire pricing strategy is up to you – you can set high or competitive prices as you wish, as long as the customers are willing to pay. However, it doesn’t mean you should price your products as high as possible. Instead, strategically pricing your products at a reasonable price will help you to earn higher volume, and increase profit. Besides, you can try to optimize costs, hence, allowing you to increase the profit margin.

Moreover, it is recommended to keep the profit margin around 15-20%.

Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, usually features a fixed rate of commission offered by affiliate programs.

Normally, the commission rate can range from 5-30%. Commission rates can vary widely depending on the affiliate program and the type of products being promoted. Some programs offer a flat fee per sale, while others provide a percentage of the sale amount.


Print on demand and affiliate marketing gains their popularity thanks to their minimal initial upfront cost.

With print on demand, you can cut down the initial cost significantly as you don’t have to pay for your product upfront. Only when the order is made and customers have already paid, you will be charged.

To start your print on demand business, it would cost a modest investment for an ecommerce store setup. You would have to pay for the marketplace to publish your listings or set up your own website. Other than that, it also costs for you to create designs, whether you hire someone to design your products or buy design resources. You can read our full breakdown of print on demand costs.

Compared to print on demand, affiliate marketing can cut down the cost of design. However, there are still other expenses required depending on which platforms and options you select for your affiliate marketing campaigns.

For example, if you want to promote your products via a website, it would cost you the hosting and domain fee to set up a website. If you want to establish a YouTube channel to introduce the products to your audience, then you must invest in some basic recording equipment.

The actual cost for starting print on demand or affiliate marketing can vary widely depending on each person’s approach. But overall, affiliate marketing would cost less since affiliate marketers save money on product creation and design.

Time and effort

Both models require time and effort to set up and maintain. However, with affiliate marketing, the focus is more on marketing and driving traffic to affiliate links, while POD entails more responsibilities, from product research to supplier outsourcing to design creation, store management, and customer services. Print on demand, therefore, is more demanding and time-consuming than affiliate marketing.

Print on demand vs Affiliate marketing: Which is the better choice?

Depending on your unique strengths, interests, and experience, you can select a suitable option between print on demand and affiliate marketing.

If you are a creative person with experience in design, especially artists and designers, print on demand is the perfect choice. It allows you to make use of your available skills and turn them into a profitable business. Print on demand also welcomes entrepreneurs who aspire to develop an online business with low initial investment.

Affiliate marketing is a low-entry business model that anyone can join. It is especially suitable with people who are experienced in online marketing, influencers, and bloggers. By leveraging the existing reach and credibility, you can offer valuable recommendations of products or services to your audience.

Or in case you are already an experienced print on demand seller, then you can consider expanding your income streams by joining affiliate programs offered by print on demand companies. Starting your YouTube channel or blog on print on demand are great way to build an audience and gain income from your referral links. This way, you can turn your valuable knowledge and understanding of the market to help the community as well as earn money.


Print on demand and Affiliate marketing are two accessible approaches to starting an online business. Whatever you choose for your business, there are tremendous opportunities await for you to explore.

is a senior writer at Merchize covering products, services, and consumer tech issues and trends. Previously, she was a content writer for trustworthy brands and International corporations. With her deep knowledge in multiple industries, Bich has become a professional writer and has chosen Merchize to explore eCommerce, MMO, and Print on Demand... In her free time, she loves reading, listening to music, and hanging out at cafes.