Dendritic cell (DC) active immunotherapy is potentially efficacious in a broad array of malignant disease settings. However, challenges remain in optimizing DC-based therapy for maximum clinical efficacy within manufacturing processes that permit quality control and scale-up of consistent products. In this review we discuss the critical issues that must be addressed in order to optimize DC-based product design and manufacture, and highlight the DC based platforms currently addressing these issues. Variables in DC-based product design include the type of antigenic payload used, DC maturation steps and activation processes, and functional assays. Issues to consider in development include: (a) minimizing the invasiveness of patient biological material collection; (b) minimizing handling and manipulations of tissue at the clinical site; (c) centralized product manufacturing and standardized processing and capacity for commercial-scale production; (d) rapid product release turnaround time; (e) the ability to manufacture sufficient product from limited starting material; and (f) standardized release criteria for DC phenotype and function. Improvements in the design and manufacture of DC products have resulted in a handful of promising leads currently in clinical development.