As already mentioned, there are SO many solutions in the market. In general, there are a few different paths to choose from when investing in web-to-print.
Let's list some of the options:
- White Lable solutions
- Open Source
- Plug-ins
- SaaS
- Licensed
- Developed from scratch
- Design tools
White Label solutions are mostly handled by other printing companies offering their services to boost production while giving you a margin for being their reseller. Some of the White Label solutions allow you to price the products yourself, get the payments directly from your customers, and even to promote products not produced by the supplier.
Some printers charge a small fee to get on board; others deliver "turn-key solutions" for free. As far as we can see, most White Label solutions work pretty well. However, expect limited features, slow if any, frequent updates - and be aware that your "supplier" knows all about your online business.
However, this is good if you want easy access to commodity products at the lowest prices, and you will get some experience with web-to-print. Don't expect to become the next VistaPrint based on this venture, however. Be sure to get ALL your data when you leave the solution behind and move ahead. Be also sure to have in writing that the supplier won't contact your customers - just in case.
Open Source Solutions are not any better or any worse than any of the commercial solutions. You just have to expect more work. You also must expect limited support. Some of the Open Source solutions have excellent feature-sets, and from what I could see, excellent technical documentation. With Open Source, many consider this as 'free,' however, nothing comes for free, so expect to spend money and/or time on people who can set up the store, integrate it with your workflow, and other IT systems - exactly like with a licensed solution. The main difference is that you don't have a company to call or to blame. For printing companies with dedicated IT-departments, this may be an excellent route to take.
The biggest threat to your Open Source solution is most likely that development may suddenly stop, or the software isn't updated to the newest and latest server developments. You become dependent on something you can't control, and where there are no incentives for the programmers, except the fun.
Plug-ins are seen more and more often. The advantage of plug-ins is that the advantage of many of the most common platforms. Magento, Shopify, and WordPress are the typical platforms supported. The plug-ins you find both as Open Source and commercially available solutions. Some suppliers may offer you support, some will for sure leave all the problems to you. However useful, a plug-in may be, it still depends on the core. So if WordPress comes in a new build not compatible with your plug-in, you are doomed, at least for a period. However, using platforms like Magento, Shopify, and Wordpress, you get features that you will only find on the way more expensive solutions, and their focus on the eCommerce part may be valuable to you.
SaaS solutions are typically solutions that have developed from current or previously licensed versions. With SaaS solutions, you usually have a relatively low entrance fee, plus a monthly or quarterly recurring payment. The number of solutions in the market is enormous, and it is impossible to make an overview of the options. You can, however, divide them into various price segments that often also represent the features offered. Most SaaS solutions are sold directly online, with online training and support.
The mid-segment is typically priced around $300-$500 per month, and what surprises me is how even the feature-sets are.
From the open-source solutions, I have checked, and compared with some of the SaaS solutions, the feature set is very comparable. When you choose to invest in a commercial solution, you can expect support. The quality of the solutions most likely various - and so the technical quality.
One thing that I've noticed, which was kind of strange, to be honest, is that US-based vendors have a tendency to mainly support their customers during the US opening hours, and European vendors mostly during the European business hours. However, almost every Indian vendor offers support 24/7, and therefore have staff handling customers in both the US and Europe. Maybe that indicates that US vendors mainly deliver solutions to customers in the US and European vendors to customers in Europe - I don't know. Just a funny observation.
Licensed solutions are as the title indicates licenses. Licenses are typically a one time fee, but then have recurring AMC (Annual Maintenance Cost) based on the total price. Companies regularly investing in software know this, but it is something you have to have in mind. Where SaaS solutions mostly are hosted and hosting is included in the monthly fee, you will typically pay, manage, and handle hosting yourself when investing in a licensed solution.
Companies invest in Licensed solutions when they need specific requirements for the solution or have requirements for hosting internally. With GDPR, the demand to control hosting has evidently grown. Many of the major hosting companies like Amazon, Google, etc. can deliver European located servers today, so it usually isn't a problem.
More and more suppliers offer their services as both licensed and SaaS. If you don't have requirements that specifically require a licensed solution, the SaaS solution has a considerably lower entrance fee, but will over time, become more expensive (maybe).
Developed from scratch, solutions seem for some companies to be ideal. We don't recommend home-grown solutions unless the decision is founded for very specific reasons. These can be application dependent or since you have a large company where you need more control over the development. But for those smaller printing companies who believe they can do it better or maybe more important cheaper will fail. Maybe version one has a price point that you can justify, but your business develops, and therefore your software always needs more features.
The larger printing companies developing home-grown solutions rarely rely on their own development hundred percent. They may build a core that interfaces to loads of various components like Enfocus Switch, Enfocus PitStop, various imposition tools, eCommerce solutions, CHILI publisher, etc.
Be aware that all cost, development, and support involved is all on your shoulders. Don't do this without a rock-solid plan, employees to handle this (and who will work for you for years), and economy to expect delays in development and customer adoption.
Design tools are obviously not web-to-print solutions, but I have chosen to include some aspects here anyway. Some of the cheapest web-to-print solutions in the market only allow their customers to deliver ready-made PDFs. Most of the solutions, however, offer some kind of design-tools. Of course, one thing is the ability to offer users an online design-tool, use of templates, etc. Often the design tools are also added since they offer the ability to render PDF files dynamically.
Some web-to-print vendors have developed their own design tools. Some are licensed or open-source. Very few web-to-print solutions offer integration to third-party solutions like CHILI publisher, Lucidpress, and others.
The two above are competent solutions, however, also relatively pricy.
In a later chapter, we will discuss some of the obstacles you have with online design tools vs. desktop counterparts. So as usual stay tuned!