Sublimation: Garments vs. Hard Goods

sublimation blanks. jpgOne of the questions we frequently get when discussing sublimation is a fairly simple one “What can you sublimate?”.   The answer,  the basic one,  is fairly simple too,  anything made of polyester fabric or with a poly coating.    Where it becomes complicated is when the question morphs from simply “what can I sublimate” to “what kind of garments can I sublimate” or “what sells better sublimated hard goods or sublimated garments?” or the ever popular “I’m adding sublimation to my shop,  what sublimated goods should I offer?”.

One way to answer these questions is to consider the market to which you will be selling.    Some markets love hard goods,  personalized puzzles,   water bottles for fun runs,   plaques for sporting competitions,  souvenirs for local tourist attractions,  all that stuff can be snapped up quickly.    Other markets,  on the other hand,   are all about garments.    Sweatshirts,  polos,  hats,  socks,  you name it,  they want it decorated.    In this market,  hardgoods would not have as much appeal.     So,  a lot depends on the make-up and preferences of your particular market.   You have to know that before deciding what sublimated items to offer.

Another way to answer the question is to look at the possibilities.   Sublimation can be a great method for decorating garments,  but it does have some limitations.   The items to be decorated must be polyester only.   Because sublimation dyes the fabric,  anything but a white garment will interact with and effect the color of the finished design.    Sublimation also has no option for white ink,  so it doesn’t work well on very dark colors.   All over sublimation is very popular,  but it works best on fabric which is sublimated and then sewn into a garment.     On the other side of the coin, however,  sublimation dyes the fabric,  so designs have no hand.  Because designs are dyed into the garment,  the design is also pretty much guaranteed to last as long as the garment does.   There have also been great advances in the look and wearability of polyester garments,  so they are now much more attractive to consumers.

When it comes to hardgoods,  the first thing to mention is that anything that is to be sublimated must have a polyester coating.   There are a number of distributors,  EnMart among them,  who sell sublimatible blanks,   so finding a source for hardgoods to sublimate shouldn’t be too difficult.    The problem here may be that a decorator would be spoiled for choice,  faced with such an array of blanks from which to choose.   It should also be noted that mastering the technique necessary for sublimating some hardgoods may take time and practice.    Sublimating hardgoods may also require special jigs or platens for a heat press,  so that should be considered as well.

In the final analysis,   the items you sublimate will most likely be determined partly by what the market wants,  partly by what you enjoy doing,  and partly by what items you put in the effort to sell.    There is no hard and fast rule about what sublimated good will work for every situation.   It’s up to you to do the research and to know your market well enough to make educated choices about what sublimated goods to stock.

What We Can’t Teach

professorIt’s a new year and I would guess that many shops are taking a look around and deciding what new decoration techniques or disciplines they’ll be adding to their shop in 2016.   I always think the beginning of a new year is an exciting time,  because it seems that so many things are possible,  and so many options are available.    The first quarter of the year is a time of learning and questioning for a lot of companies,  as they find out what they could do and make a decision about what they should do to increase their profits.

At EnMart,  we always find this a fun time of year,  because we get to spend time talking with customers who are considering whether or not sublimation is a good choice for their business.   We’ve been working with dye sublimation,  through both EnMart and our parent company Ensign Emblem,  practically since inkjet sublimation was a thing,  so we love sharing what we know with people who are just starting out.   Part of our mission here at EnMart is to be educators,  helping business owners learn how to use their supplies and their equipment to the best advantage.

We can teach you how to sublimate.    We have the equipment and we have the skill.   We know about transfers that slip and cause ghosting,  about printing on the wrong side of the paper,  and about picking up that mug or tile when it’s still just a little too hot.    Having been sublimating for so many years,   we understand the wonder of that first print,   and we also know you can still feel that wonder after the 500th or 5000th print.    Our customers have gifted us with their joy as they understand what can be done with sublimation,  and their gratitude when we’ve explained a problem they weren’t able to solve.   Really,   we can teach you,  through blog posts, on social media,  through articles,  on the phone, or face to face,  almost everything you need to know about sublimation,  except for these things.

We can’t teach how exciting it will be the first time you successfully sublimate something.    You won’t really understand the value of sublimation as an upselling tool until you add an order of coffee mugs to that logowear order you get every year.     We can’t replicate the first time you see the variety of products that can be sublimated and realize in how many ways sublimation can expand your business and your potential profits.     There are no words that can convey the satisfaction of landing the account you’ve been trying to get for years and finally landed,  because you had something new to offer.     We can teach you the nuts and bolts of sublimation,  but the intrinsic things,   the fun and profit of sublimation,  you have to learn on your own.

The fun part,  from our perspective,  is we know that,  if you add sublimation to your business,  you will.

 

 

Happy New Year!

happy new year 3EnMart will be closed on Friday, January 1, 2016 so we may celebrate the New Year.   We will reopen on Monday,  January 4, 2016.

We wish everyone a happy and safe New Year!

EnMart East is On the Move

moving-dayEnMart East, our location in New Jersey, is moving to a new facility. As of 1/4/16, they will now be located at the following address:

8555 Tonnelle Avenue Unit 306
North Bergen, New Jersey 07047

The phone number has also changed. The new phone number is (201) 662-1816.
Orders may still be placed by calling the toll free number – 866-516-1300.
Local pick-up will be available at the new location.

Selling Sublimation

ST_Ch1_Pt3_Selling_and_Small_BusinessAs any decorator knows,  selling a decorated product takes a unique set of skills.   You have to understand the product,  including what can and can’t be done with the decoration technique in question.   You have to understand your market and the needs of your target customers.  Most of all,  you need to understand how the needs of your customers and the unique characteristics of your problem can come together,  and you have to show your customer how that can happen.

When it comes to sublimation, the first thing a decorator needs to understand is the strengths and limitations of sublimation as a decoration option. One large strength, of course, is that sublimation can be done on more items than garments or things made of cloth. Sublimation can be done on mugs, mousepads, clipboards, plaques and many more items. When selling sublimation, make sure you have plenty of examples or a look book of the hard good options available, so customers can see that sublimation is about more than just garments. Keep in mind this is also a great opportunity for upselling. Customers who buy garments may also want a coffee cup or a travel mug or a keepsake box emblazoned with their logo. Any additional item a customer buys is more money in your pocket, so make sure to seize every opportunity to super size an order.

One large weakness of sublimation, at least in some people’s eyes, is that it works best on polyester. A lot of people tend to equate polyester with the scratchy leisure suits of the 70’s or the old pantsuit that Grandma wore. The current polyester fabrics are nothing like the poly fabrics of old. In order to combat polyester prejudice, it’s always wise to have samples of the current poly fabrics on hand. Allowing customers to experience the new fabrics will go a long way toward combating any dislike of polyester they may have. Keep in mind that polyester prejudice can also be combated by offering hard goods instead of shirts.

Selling sublimation is like selling any other decoration technique, you need to emphasize the strengths and downplay the weaknesses. The biggest thing to remember is that selling sublimation will be most successful when you understand the needs of your client. Taking a few extra moments to talk about what’s needed and expected can go a long way toward making a sale.

T’was the Night Before Christmas – Sublimation Version

christmasNote: I first wrote this parody of The Night Before Christmas in 2011. It amused me, and some other people, so I thought it was worth making it a Christmas tradition.  This is the fourth year this has been posted,  so  guess it’s firmly a tradition now.  

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the shop
All the printers were printing and going non-stop
The pressers were pressing with all of their might
For presents, for Christmas, were needed that night

The t-shirts were folded up neatly and boxed
And dreaming of sublimation transfers that rocked
And mamma in her apron and I in the same
Were printing sports jerseys with numbers and names

When out front of the shop there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my work to see what was the matter
Away to the entrance I stumbled pell-mell
Threw open the door and screamed out “What the … bell?”

I clung to the doorframe, exhausted and drawn
Wondering where all the daylight had gone
A miniature sleigh, and Santa, plus eight
Reminded me quickly that orders were late.

The little old driver, that lively St. Nick
Cried, “Bring me those orders, and move them out quick!”
Bring mousepads, bring mugs and t-shirts galore
Bring bookmarks and puzzles and tote bags and more!

Now Printer, you know this, stop looking so ill
There’s children, world over, with stockings to fill
Bring jerseys; bring car flags, and maybe a plaque
But hurry, please hurry and fill up my sack!

I’d never made claim to being an elf,
But found, by St. Nick, I could not help myself
The printers sprayed color, the heat presses pressed
And presents were finished for Santa’s great quest

The last transfer was printed, the last item dyed
When I turned to find Santa smiling by my side
“Printer you’ve done it!” he said with a grin
And his sack started bulging as the last gift went in

Whether mugs for a latte, plain coffee or tea
A puzzle, a clipboard, a box for jewelry
A key chain or shirt with a logo so bright
There’ll be happy children with gifts made this night

How Santa’s eyes twinkled, his belly it shook
As he gave me the kindest and nicest of looks
His laughter was merry, his praise much desired
My gifts had passed muster and were much admired

As I stood in my shop, all the gifts finally made
The stress of the holidays started to fade
Personalized gifts, sublimated, jolly and fun
Would delight gift recipients, every last one

With a wink and a nod Santa sprang to his sleigh
Gave a flip of the reins and was flying away
His bag bulging with presents, his sleigh loaded down
He set off to being joy to every city and town

I laughed as I saw him, that jolly old elf
Flying off with gifts made by my very own self
With his bag full of pet tags and beer mugs and all
I waved as he flew off and then heard him call

Hey Printer, keep working, there’s always next year
And I’ll be returning now never you fear
Until then, keep printing, with colors so bright
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Dye Sublimation for the Holidays

christmas_snow_trees-wideIt’s the holiday season and a great many decorators are currently hip deep in one of kind gifts they’re creating for holiday giving.   For those who offer sublimation,  the holiday season is a perfect time to offer current and new customers some great sublimated gift suggestions that are sure to wow any recipient.   If you’re out of ideas for what to suggest,  we can help.   Here are some of our favorite sublimated holiday gifts.

Ornaments – A personalized ornament is a keep sake that the recipient will treasure for years.   Whether you’re commemorating baby’s first Christmas,  or simply creating an ornament with a favorite family photo,  personalized ornaments are a great way to add special memories to the family tree.  Sublimated ceramic ornaments are also durable and full color.

Pet Products – When I was a kid,  and still today,  now that I think about it,  any pets in the family get a present at Christmas.   Usually it’s a chewy bone or a new toy,  but there’s no law that says that the family pet also couldn’t get a new pet tag,  or a personalized bowl.   Pets are generally like small children,  they’re more interested in ripping the paper on the package than they are in what’s inside.

Jewelry/Keepsake Boxes – What kid wouldn’t love a personalized keepsake box,  particularly if it was filled with items like baseball cards or hair accessories.    A personalized jewelry box is also a great way to gift a special piece of jewelry to that special someone.   The box,  along with the jewelry preserves the memory of the special occasion.

Kitchen Accessories – From cutting boards to coasters to drinkware of all types,  accessories for the kitchen or entertaining are always popular gifts.  Create a set of personalized coffee mugs.   Make cuttings boards featuring popular local scenes.   Create a set of coasters for the family room.  The ideas for sublimated kitchen accessories are limitless.

Puzzles – Puzzles have been providing hours of fun for families for years.   A sublimated puzzle is a way to take a treasured family photo and turn it into something that is not only a memory,  but entertainment.

It’s About You, Not Us

iStock_000006951680LargeEarlier today I got a call from a customer who had a question about buying a mug press.   We sold this customer her sublimation system,  the blanks she uses, and got her started using an oven and mug wraps.   She’s doing a nice business selling her original artwork which she puts on the mugs,  and was very happy with this method of sublimation until the oven she was using broke.   She purchased a replacement oven,  but it didn’t seem to work as well,  and she called us asking about purchasing a mug press.

Now we sell a high end mug press from Geo. Knight,  and it’s a press I’d recommend to anyone.   Our parent company has used Geo. Knight presses for years,  and we know they’re well made,  and well supported.   I have no problem advising a customer that a Geo. Knight press is a great buy,  except when I can tell  from what the customer is saying to me  that the Knight press,  while a great purchase, isn’t really what the customer wants and needs.

In this case,  the customer wasn’t sure she wanted a press at all,  and certainly wasn’t sure she wanted to spend what it would cost to buy the Knight.   I explained why the Knight press was worth the price,  but she was still hesitant,  so I recommended a few other places,  friendly competitors of ours,  where she might find presses that were less expensive.   I told her if we couldn’t have the sale,  I’d rather that it went to a company I knew would treat her right.

She was still unsure,  so we talked a bit more.   As it turned out,  she liked working with an oven,  had the process down pat,  and found the results were great.   The only reason she was considering a mug press was because her current oven wasn’t giving her the results she wanted,   her previous,  more expensive oven that had worked beautifully had died,  and she was under the gun to finish orders.   As we talked,  she realized she really didn’t want a mug press at all,  that she was just stressed about making her order deadlines and grasping for solutions.   By the time we’d hung up,  she had decided to go out and get another higher end oven and proceed with the sublimation method that she liked and knew to be successful.

If there is a moral to my little story,  and I think there is,  it is this:  our interactions aren’t about us,  they’re about you.    At EnMart,  we believe that our job is to listen to what you need and help you find the best way to meet those needs.   If meeting your needs involves selling you products we carry,  that’s great,  we are a business after all.  If meeting your needs means directing you elsewhere and recommending a solution that may not put any money in our pockets at all,  we’ll do that.   Our goal is always, if we can,  to create a happy customer and one who comes back to shop with us again and again.

4 Reasons to Add Sublimation to Your Shop

four_previewPeople who are not currently sublimating often ask why they need to add dye sublimation (often just referred to as sublimation for brevity’s sake)  to the decoration processes their shop offers.   Now,  let me say up front,  no one needs to add sublimation to their shop.    If you choose not to offer sublimation services,  the world will not spin off its axis,  a meteor will not hit your shop,  and things will go along as they normally do without any horrific consequences.   The only bad thing that will happen is that someone else in your market will be making a profit on sublimated goods and your shop will not.   So, really the question is not why do you need to add sublimation to the decoration techniques your shop offers,  but why you should want to add sublimation.     Here are a few reasons why we think most shops would want to add sublimation.

1.  It’s a new profit center –  In order to stay profitable,  shops need to diversify.   While there are shops out there that do only one thing and make a living that way,  most decorators have learned to offer a variety of decoration techniques.   Sublimation is simply another decoration technique to have in your arsenal.

2.  Sublimation opens up new products – If you’ve primarily decorated clothes,  adding sublimation to your shop allows you to add hard goods,  mugs,  plaques and the like.  There are a wide variety of sublimation blanks available for decoration and an equal variety of markets to which those goods can be sold.   Adding sublimation gives your shop the ability to offer additional categories of goods,  and to capture additional dollars when a client places a clothing order.

3. Financial barriers to entry are comparatively low – We’re not saying that sublimation is inexpensive,  larger printer packages can be in the $1500 to $2000 range,  and a quality heat press can add another few thousand dollars to that total,   plus the price of blanks.   Still,  when comparing that cost to the cost of a new DTG printer or screen printing press,  sublimation is a relatively economical way to get started in a new business.

4. The learning curve is fairly low – Yes,  sublimation is a decoration discipline and, as such,  it has its own quirks and tricks that need to be learned and understood.    That said,  if you can use graphics software,  know how to print to an inkjet printer and understand how to use a heat press,  you can sublimate.   There are a number of resources out there to help you get started,  and learning to produce a usable print should not be that difficult.

What Can I Sublimate?

Woman with question marks on a blackboardOne of the most common questions about sublimation that we get asked is “what can I sublimate?”.   It’s a common question because people either assume you can sublimate anything  or they assume you can only sublimate items that are in some super secret special category to which not everyone has access.    The truth is somewhere in the middle.   Not every item is suitable for sublimation, as with most decoration disciplines,   there are items that cannot be sublimated because of how they’re made,  what they’re made of,  or because they won’t fit properly into the  heat presses or other heating methods available.     On the other side of the coin,  items suitable for sublimation are not some magically coated items that only a select few can use or buy.   In reality,  sublimation is really a fairly easy decoration discipline to enter and master.  If you are thinking of starting a sublimation business or wondering what you can and can’t sublimate,  here are a few pieces of information that should help you understand what you can sublimate and what may not be an ideal choice when it comes to sublimating a product.

The first thing you need to know is that hard goods suitable for sublimation need to be poly coated.   This means,  as I said in my last post,   that you can’t go to the dollar store and buy a mug and sublimate it.   Yes,  there are sprays that can be used to coat items for sublimation,  and going that route may be a viable choice for some people.   For most people, however,   the easiest route is to buy sublimation blanks already coated.  This will ensure that you get a quality blank with a smooth coating that is designed to stand up to the temperatures needed to get a good sublimated print.

When it comes to sublimating fabric,   100% polyester fabric will always give you the best result.   There are several t-shirt brands,  among them Vapor Apparel,  that make 100% polyester shirts that are comfortable to wear and have a nice feel.  These shirts are designed especially for sublimation and come in an array of colors that are suitable for this decoration discipline.

People often ask if it is possible to sublimate a polyester blend,  and the answer to that question is yes,  with a qualification.   Yes,  you an sublimate a poly blend but,  because it is a blend,   the sublimation ink will only dye the poly fibers.   This results in a more distressed look for your print.   Some people find this sort of look attractive and desirable.   Others do not.   If you want a full color print,  your best bet is to start with a garment that is 100% polyester.   This will always produce your best and most colorful result.

Sublimation is actually fairly simple when you get right down to it.   You need sublimation ink and sublimation paper and a blank suitable for sublimation.     You need a heat source that can reach 400 degrees,  either a heat press that can accommodate the blank you want to sublimate,  or  a wrap that can hold your transfer in place while the item is in an oven.  Finally you need a blank that is suitable for sublimation and some graphic software to create the graphic you want to print.   If you have all those things,  you’re ready to sublimate.