The calls are almost always the same. At least a couple of times a week, someone calls EnMart wanting to know about sublimation. What it is, how it works, what can be made, what it costs, what kind of equipment is necessary, the questions are all over the board. Since the same sorts of questions come up relatively frequently, it seemed like a good idea to do a post detailing what sublimation is, and what it’s not.
What Sublimation Is:
First, the technical stuff: the official definition of sublimation is as follows: “In chemistry, the direct conversion of a solid into a gas, without passage through a liquid stage. (See phases of matter.)” Dye sublimation is the process by which heat is applied to inks turning them into a gas and bonding the ink with the polyester fibers of fabric or the poly coating on hard goods. The result of the bond is a print that won’t wear out until the imprinted item does.
Sublimation is a process that has less expensive start up costs than most other decoration options. Those who wanted to go all out and get the biggest printer package and a top of the line heat press and a ton of blanks and the latest graphic design software could probably still set up their business for less than $7500. Those with smaller budgets, or who may already have some of the components like design software or a heat press, could most likely get started for a few thousand or less.
Sublimation is a decoration technique that has a lower learning curve than some. In order to create sublimated goods, a person must know how to operate a heat press and an ink jet printer. Some knowledge of graphic design and graphic design software is also helpful, but not necessarily required. There are programs, like Creative Studio from Sawgrass which can help with the design side of things.
What Sublimation Isn’t:
Sublimation isn’t suitable for dark colors. The printing disciplines that work on dark colors are those that offer an option for white. Anything printed on dark shirt is usually printed over a white underbase. If your printing process does not offer that option, then it is not suitable for use with dark colors. Sublimation does not offer an option for white ink.
Sublimation isn’t suitable for fabrics other than polyester. Poly blends may print well enough for some people, but use of a poly blend garment will result in a more distressed look. For best results, print on 100% polyester garments or poly coated items. It should be noted that there are coating sprays available which can be used to turn almost anything into an item suitable for sublimation, but application of those sprays or coatings outside of a professional coating booth can be tricky.
Sublimation isn’t intimidating. Some people are worried they’ll ruin a few blanks when they start out. Don’t worry, that will happen, it happens to everyone and it’s part of the learning process. If you can handle a printer and a heat press, you can handle sublimation. Fear of the unknown keeps a lot of potential decorators from trying something new and that’s a shame. Sublimation does have a slight learning curve, but it’s not that difficult to master.