• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Thing 39: Print On Demand (Lulu, CafePress, etc)

Page history last edited by Karla Irwin 11 years ago

By Heidi Butler


Print On Demand (POD) services came into being soon after the advent of digital publishing. These services allow for convenient and quick one-off or small-run printing jobs based on digital publishing software, without a lot of printing setup costs. Some university and other presses use POD in order to maintain a large backlog of materials they wish to keep “in print,” which also helps reduce waste from overproduction in an unpredictable market.


Print On Demand services are beneficial to individuals for personal publishing projects, as well, and can be lots of fun to experiment with. Some of the ways in which an individual might use POD services are:


  • Creating scrapbook-like photo books for weddings, travel, new baby, or other personal event
  • Self-publishing a novel, a family history, poems, or a comic book
  • Publishing a blog in hard copy
  • Producing a portfolio of writing or artwork
  • Publishing individual or group cookbooks
  • Creating calendars
  • Producing music or interactive CDs and DVDs
  • Creating ephemeral items like kitchen aprons, coffee mugs, stationery, or stickers featuring your words or images.


Print On Demand services available include LuluBlurbCafePressCreateSpace(from Amazon), and LightningSource, among many others. Some of them have added optional features such as editorial services or assistance with distribution of both print and digital editions. Most of them can help in some way with selling what you produce, such as the option to set up a personal “storefront” on the site.


For the purposes of this 23Things thing, we’ll focus on those services that are oriented primarily toward the individual user and/or more personal projects. Lulu was established in 2002 and offers a range of publishing options, with the traditional bound book as one of their strengths. With Lulu, a user uploads his or her content to the site and then works with online tools to determine the results.  Lulu takes images from a user’s existing account on FlickrPhotobucket or other image-sharing sites as well  – in fact, many of the image-sharing sites can be used as a starting point for projects that are then produced by partner POD services.


Blurb is somewhat different from Lulu in that there are two options for creating your projects. One allows for online creation of photo books of 160 pages or fewer. For everything else, they provide a downloadable program for Mac or PC. Both methods are integrated with online image-sharing sites like Flickr, and the software works with various blogging platforms if a user wants to extract content for a project.


CafePress is also notable among POD services. It is likely one of the earliest POD companies oriented toward the individual user, having been founded in 1999, and most people know it from products such as mugs, t-shirts, or stickers, and from users’ ability to set up individual “storefronts” to sell products that might be linked to a blog or an Internet meme. CafePress has expanded to include production of things like photo books and music CDs; their first book was printed in 2003.


How might POD services be used by archives and libraries? The University of South Carolina, the University of Michigan, and Cornell University, among others, use POD to produce duplicates of manuscript and other archival material. Beyond large university press use, public libraries, historical societies, corporate archives and other small organizations can all come up with creative ways to make use of these services. With such a range of products, POD services could come in handy for fundraising projects, institutional anniversaries, or sharing collections that might otherwise be overlooked.  It’s important to read the POD services’ user agreements carefully, because sometimes they may conflict with the policies of your organization or the conditions of specific archival collections.




  1. Choose a small personal or archives-related publishing project like a photo book or a calendar, and set up an account  at Lulu, Blurb, or CafePress.
  2. Upload your content, explore different layout options, and even order some copies if you like the results.
  3. Blog about your experiences. Did you like the options? Was the POD site you chose easy to use? If you ordered something, did you like how it turned out?


Blog Prompts


  • Which POD service(s) did you try out? What did you like or dislike about the features, services, or results?
  • What did you attempt to create? Talk about the process you went through.
  • Do you think you or your organization would find POD useful for archives applications? Would your typical users find value in purchasing or using items generated via POD?
  • There are many other POD services out there. If you are familiar with, or want to explore, one not listed here, blog about it!




  1. Now that you’ve explored Print On Demand possibilities, brainstorm some ways that POD could be used in your specific archives setting.
  2. Look into the various rights agreements with the POD sites. Do you see any potential issues with how you might use your archives collections and what the POD services require? What about with regard to your personal materials?





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