By Tom Chambers

So you’ve decided to enter the world of sublimation.  Now what?  Where do you start?  What do you do first?  And most importantly, how do you make it a success?

There is so much information on the internet about sublimation these days that it can be overwhelming.  In fact, it’s much easier to be overwhelmed and confused than it is to just do it.  Yes, it really is that easy – and it’s fun too.

The purpose of this article isn’t to tell you how to create a business plan, how to go out and sell sublimation, or specifically what to charge for it.  It IS however a general guide to using your system to create a successful business.

A good starting point once you understand just what sublimation is (and isn’t), is to ask yourself these 6 questions.  But what if you’ve already done all your research, purchased a sublimation system and blanks, and now you are wondering where to go next?  In that case, here are some tips that will help you on your way to success.

  1. Set up your system. Yes, first, you have to take the system out of the box and set it up.  While that may seem obvious, you’d be surprised at the number of people that let it sit unused for months or years, whether from subli-timidation or some other reason.  But if you don’t set it up, you definitely won’t be successful, and the sooner you do it, the sooner you will succeed.
  2. Understand your equipment, and how to operate it. Realistically, if you are even slightly tech savvy, you can probably set up your sublimation system, turn on your heat press, and start sublimating something all without reading a single word.  But those instructions contain details that are important, like turning off color management in your chosen graphics program for example. So for the best results, read the instructions, follow them in order, and understand what you are doing – not just on your printer and computer, but your heat press(es) as well.
  3. Learn to use your chosen graphics program. There are several graphics programs available, but these 3 are the most common in sublimation.  A little study and practice will pay off many times over with better quality artwork, which ultimately translates into better looking products and hopefully more money for you.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Experiment on your chosen blanks, and make sure you always have extra.  Don’t assume that you will never make a mistake or ruin something – you will.  And don’t be afraid to make mistakes either.  It’s ok, and all part of the process.  No matter how many settings charts you manage to obtain, depending on the exact mix of equipment, blank products and manufacturers, you will likely have to do some troubleshooting and make a few adjustments that only reveal themselves with practice.
  5. Make samples. Whether you are selling on Etsy, Amazon, at a fair or trade show, or in your own storefront, you will need samples to make photos of and to show people.
  6. Sublimation is best suited for smaller orders and custom work. While that doesn’t necessarily mean you should turn down that order for 1000 mugs of the same design, most people expect a price reduction when ordering larger quantities.  Since sublimation costs you virtually the same amount of money per item to produce no matter the quantity, any price breaks come directly out of your pocket.  Sublimation is especially well suited for doing small orders and custom work.  As a result you can charge a premium price for it, and increase your profit margin.  So unless you have a wide format system and a large shop devoted to mass sublimation production, focus on smaller and custom orders for the most profit.
  7. Know your market. Simply put, know who you are selling to, what they want to buy, and how much they’re willing to pay.  That’s easier said than done though, and will likely require some research on your part – but this step is very important to your success.  Just because you have 3 other people doing sublimation on your block doesn’t mean there isn’t room for you too – especially if you are doing something they aren’t.  And if everyone you know is doing performance apparel – that doesn’t mean you should too (unless there’s more business to go around than your competition can handle).
  8. Don’t compete solely on price. Ah, the price trap.  Many people make the mistake of falling into this pit of constantly lowering prices until there really isn’t any incentive for you to do sublimation any longer.  Here’s the thing – there will ALWAYS be someone that will beat your price, somewhere.  Set your prices for the item you are selling and area you are in and the amount of profit you require.  If you can’t compete on service and quality in this case without losing on pricing, then consider making other items that aren’t as highly competitive on price.
  9. Offer good service and quality. Service and quality go a long way to make up for price differences.  There will always be those people who buy solely on price, but chances are that whomever they do wind up buying from will wind up sacrificing either or both service and quality in the process, and sooner or later that customer will most likely wind up back at your shop or website.

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, but the 9 basic principles here will create a sound foundation for you to build on.  Or maybe you have already created a successful business doing sublimation, and if so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments with your own steps to success.

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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