We’ve been doing a lot of trade shows in the last few months, and I’ve noticed a funny thing that seems to happen at almost every show (or at least the ones to which I’ve been). At some point, one of us working the booth will be telling someone who isn’t familiar with sublimation how the process works, and as the explanation goes on the person who is listening starts to get the look my Mom would get when I was a kid and explaining something to her, usually something like why we felt it was a good idea to open the front door and the sliding door to the backyard and have a water fight through the house. It’s the look that says, “I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, and I know you believe what you’re saying, but I’m not entirely sure that I do”. When it comes to sublimation, the look really seems to translate to this question: can sublimation really be as easy as 1) Create, 2) Print and 3) Press?
Our answer to that question is yes, sublimation really can be that easy, which isn’t to say that it’s simple. Like anything else, there are skills that need to be mastered and conditions that need to be met to help ensure that your sublimated project will end in success.
Let’s start with Create. In order to create the graphics you want to print, you either need a source of photographs or a source of clipart or the ability to design graphics from scratch. You also need a graphic software program of some kind. What program you use is up to you. Some people prefer to keep it simple and use something like Hanes SublimationMaker 2.0. Other people design their own graphics using CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator. Regardless of which route you choose, you have to have the ability to maneuver a mouse and use a computer, and an understanding of whatever graphics program you choose to use, but that’s really all it takes.
After you’re created your artwork, your next step is to Print. If you wish to create sublimated items, then obviously you need sublimation ink and sublimation printers. You need to be willing to maintain the printers and do the proper nozzle checks and cleanings so the printer stays in good working order. You also need to purchase sublimation paper and to keep that in an environment that will provide optimum printing capability. You need to understand how the Sawgrass PowerDriver software works and how to use it properly. Other than that, printing a graphic for sublimation is like printing anything else.
Finally, once you’ve printed your design, you need to Press it onto whatever substrate you’ve selected. The main requirement here would be a heat press. You need to make sure that you have the proper size and type of press for whatever it is you want to press. There needs to be an understanding of how variations in press temperature can impact the finished product. To ensure an optimum result, you need to make sure to follow the instructions given regarding pressure, temperature and time.
Obviously, for the purposes of this post, I’ve only touched on the highlights of the process. Each person will encounter their own learning curve when it comes to sublimation, and the steepness of that curve will largely depend on previous experience and willingness to experiment. All things being equal, however, sublimation has less barriers to entry, and less potential issues than other types of garment decoration, with the added benefit of offering the ability to decorate items beyond garments.