By Tom Chambers

I get a lot of questions from people looking to purchase sublimation systems, and these potential buyers run the gamut from “just what is sublimation?” to “I’m looking to buy today”.  Most fall somewhere in between though, and usually have a lot of questions.  Many are uncertain about doing it at all, and a few appear to be so intimidated as to be almost petrified.  To help eliminate a lot of that uncertainty and give you some confidence before you go out and start shopping, here are 6 questions you should answer for yourself first.

  1. What is the largest size image you will probably need to print?

This is perhaps the single MOST IMPORTANT, and most overlooked question, because it determines what printers, blanks, and heat presses are available for you to choose from.  The answer to this question determines whether you should go with a desktop Virtuoso SG400 System that will print up to 8.5” x 14”, or a larger 11” x 17” SG800 System with the capability of upgrading to 13” x 19”, or even larger wider format roll systems.

A majority of available blank goods can be printed just fine with 8.5” x 14” or smaller paper.  You can even sublimate designs larger than your system can print when they can be split in two and printed in 2 (or more) sheets and taped.  But if you need to print and sublimate larger items on a regular basis, you’ll need a larger system and a larger heat press.

  1. What is your expected volume?

If you anticipate that your system may sit unused for a day or more at a time, you should probably go with one of the two Virtuoso desktop systems from Sawgrass,  as they handle sitting idle for periods of time better than anything else on the market.  If you plan on having a high-volume production operation, it would be best to start with the largest, widest format printer you can afford based on your estimated volume and type of work.

If you don’t already have a heat press, your estimated volume can also help determine whether an inexpensive light duty or all in one press will work, or if you need a more specialized  or dedicated heavy duty commercial grade press.  Large volume shops may opt for a larger format shuttle heat press. 

  1. Will you be producing only flat goods, or will you do mugs too?

If you plan on only doing shirts, fabrics, name tags, metal, Unisub, and other thin, flat items, you can save some money and go with a good clamshell press, or use your current heat press if you already have one.  Plaques, slate, and other thicker flat products require a heat press that you can adjust the head clearance on, in which case the industry standard swing-away type press is the best option.  If you plan on doing mugs, drinkware, plates, or other items, you may need to consider a combo press, a convection oven and oven wraps, or perhaps even a dedicated mug, cap or even plate press.

  1. What is your target market?

This may well be the hardest question to answer, and present the greatest unknowns.  If you have an idea already, you will be ahead of the game, and it will assist you in answering the other questions.  If you don’t… my advice is to spend some time doing a bit of research into your local area. See what’s already available, and what isn’t.  Some possible options are schools, clubs, teams, florists, souvenir shops, and any local stores or other businesses where you can either make promotional items for them, or items for them to sell.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, as it never ceases to amaze me at the creative and unique uses customers come up with for sublimation systems.

  1. What graphics software will you use?

You’ll need to learn and use a computer and graphics software program to create all that artwork before you can print and sublimate it.  The bottom line is that you can use whatever graphics program you are comfortable with as long as you can turn off any color management features and let the Sawgrass printer color management software control it.  The three most common graphics programs are CorelDRAW, Adobe Illustrator, and Creative Studio (an easy to use, online based free system from Sawgrass).

  1. Last but not least, what’s your budget?

Ok, now you’ve figured out what system you need, what blanks you are going to print, and what kind of heat press you require, so how much does it all cost, and does it fit within your budget?  The good news is that sublimation is one of the least expensive businesses that exist to start up, and no matter what budget level system you choose, with a little effort, forethought, and planning, you will be successful.

When it’s all said and done, if you have incomplete or conflicting answers to some or all of the above questions, it can present a problem in making your decision.  In that case, here are a couple of basic fundamentals to clear things up and break any deadlocks.

  1. If money is the primary issue and you have some trepidation – play it safe and buy the smaller SG400 desktop system and a smaller less expensive press. When you are successful and have more than paid for the smaller system and have plenty of business – then purchase a larger system and press.  Keep the smaller one for small jobs and as a backup, and use both of them.
  2. If money is a secondary issue to uncertainty about what sizes of items you will be printing – then always start with at least the larger size desktop SG800 Sublimation System  and a larger heat press. In this case, bigger is indeed better.  It’s kind of like when purchasing a television – was anyone ever unhappy because they went with a larger tv?  The same principle applies here.
Tom Chambers is EnMart’s sublimation guru,  the guide and mentor regarding all things sublimation.   Tom was instrumental in introducing inkjet sublimation to industrial laundries, and has been working with the process since the early days of thermal ribbon sublimation. 

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