Author: enmartian

What Sublimation Is (and Isn’t)

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.

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Cracking the Hospitality and Tourism Market

In the last post I gave 5 tips for finding your sublimation markets.    Today I want to talk about how to crack a specific market,  because I think it’s one that’s available in most areas,  but one that many people don’t think about.   When considering tourist attraction or souvenir work,  most small businesses probably think there’s a big business somewhere that’s making the t-shirts and mugs and mousepads and other personalized souvenirs that the attractions are selling.   In some cases, you may be right.   When it comes to big organizations,  like Disneyland,  their souvenir production is often built right in to running the park and is just another profit center.   For small and medium size attractions, however,  the business might just go to whomever asks for it.   Why shouldn’t that be you?

If you counted all the tourist attractions in the United States,   from the small, roadside ball of string or mystery spot kind of tourist trap all the way up to San Diego Zoo or Six Flags,  you’d probably discover there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands,  in existence.  Just looking at the area where EnMart is located,  I can point to Sleeping Bear Dunes,  Old Mission Lighthouse,  The Music House, and  countless wineries and craft breweries .  There are also events like music festivals,  the National Cherry Festival,  and wine and food tastings that could definitely use souvenir items.   The possibilities are almost endless.

There are many ways to go about approaching an attraction or festival and asking who’s doing their work and if you could make a bid,  but here are a few tips that might help you get started.

  • Attend the event in question before you contact anyone to make a pitch.   Get a feel for the event, the crowd and what sort of items work there.   A gourmet wine and food tasting,  for instance,  might love etched wine glasses or decorated plates,  but wouldn’t be wild about beer mugs or coozies.   A craft beer and music festival might have the opposite reactions.   Knowing the event will help you figure out what will sell and will also help when you make your pitch.  No one likes to be sold stuff they don’t need or which doesn’t suit the character of their event.
  • Once you’ve been to the event,  brainstorm ideas for products you could make.   Take into account the character of the event and how existing souvenir products are sold.  Also,  try to get some sense of budget.  A smaller event will,  most likely,  have a smaller budget,  but not always.  Ticket or admission prices are one clue to a possible budget.   The number of people attending may be another.   Obviously,  you won’t know the budget for sure until you actually talk to the event management,  but working within a supposed budget will help you bring ideas to the table that will fit the character and the depth of the pockets the event may have.
  • Schedule a meeting with event management.  Check out the event website to find out with whom you should speak.  Don’t send a to whom it may concern e-mail or call someone randomly.   Also avoid sending any unsolicited items to show off what you can do.   The goal at this point is to get a meeting.   Sending items that weren’t requested most likely will be a waste of work for you and a waste of time for those you’re trying to impress.
  • Once you have a meeting,  make up some samples of the sort of items you’d like to make.  Do a couple that are your version of things you saw when you visited the event.  Make a few tweaks to make your version a little more attractive,  but keep the item essentially the same.  Events carry what they know will sell,  so there’s no harm in showing you paid attention to what they were already selling.
  • The other half of your product samples should be new and different items you think would do well at the festival.   For these items,  make sure you can explain why you chose the item and why you think it would sell well at that particular venue.   Before you ask “It just looks so cool!” is not a good selling proposition.  This is another chance to let the event management know that you’ve researched their event and paid attention to what you learned.

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5 Tips For Finding Your Sublimation Market

Sometimes it seems that buying a sublimation system is, for a given value of easy,  the easy part of the process of selling sublimated goods.    Granted there are things to learn so you can create the best sublimated goods possible,  and there will be some trial and error,  but it’s what happens after you’ve made the goods that can sometimes be the hard part.   Once you have the system, and you know how to make fabulous sublimated products,  you have to find a market for those products.   That can be the part which causes some confusion and frustration,  but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The great thing about sublimation is that there are a wide variety of goods,  hard goods like mugs and business card holders to soft goods like t-shirts and tote bags that can be decorated to suit a vast array of tastes and markets.   The trick is to find and engage the markets in your sales area,  whether that area is the town you live in or the world wide web.     Here are five tips to help you find the market which suits you best.

Tip 1:  Mine your contacts – Chances are you already know a lot of people who would want sublimated goods.   Those people might be coaching the team your child plays on,  leading the yoga class you attend every week,  or part of the online Star Wars fansite you visit every night.   Make sure you always have business cards with you for face to face meetings and have a short explanation of what you do prepared so you can help people quickly understand what you can offer them.   Always be alert.  Opportunities to make a sale can pop up at any time.

Tip 2:  Showcase what you love – Hobbies and avocations can be a great source of sublimation sales.   If you’re a photographer or artist,  start putting your work on coffee mugs or mousepads.    If you belong to a group that participates in a particular activity,  start coming up with products that can be used during that activity, or can showcase the results,  and use or showcase those products while a part of the group.   Make sure you’ve taken into account your time, labor and supply pricing,  so if someone asks,  you can easily tell them what you’ll charge to make them the cool thing that you are using.

Tip 3:  Figure out what you don’t want to do – If you’re going to do plaques for little league teams or tiles for a wedding party,  do you want to take the pictures yourself, or do you simply want to receive the art and make the sublimated product?  For some people,  controlling the whole process will be more comfortable.   For others,  having to go through the whole process would be torture.  Is sublimation the main part of your business,  or simply something you’ve added to capture a few more dollars by upselling customers?  Know what you want to do and what you don’t want to do, and how much time you want to spend on doing it,  and charge accordingly.

Tip 4: Find new uses for common products – A business card holder could also be sold as a portable medication container.  Tiles can be used for murals,  but they can also be trivets.  Coffee mugs can be paired with candy and streamers to make a cute accompaniment for a bouquet of flowers.    Showing a customer a new way to use something is a great way to sell them a sublimated product and a terrific way to build profit for both your businesses.

Tip 5:  Talk to other sublimation businesses – Some people are reluctant to talk to others who are in the same business for fear that business secrets or customers will be stolen.   It’s true there may be a slight risk of that,  but that risk is far outweighed by the benefits of sharing ideas and tricks of the trade with others who are doing the same thing.   Sublimation groups on Facebook or in forums are great places to connect with other people who are doing what you do.   Never be afraid to ask questions.   What you learn could lead you to a whole new market.

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The Intangible Extras

Ordering a sublimation system means that you’re going to get basically the same thing – a printer,  some ink,  some paper,  maybe some practice fabric,  maybe some blanks,  but the essentials won’t vary all that much.   Prices may vary some,  depending on where and when you’re buying,  but they most likely won’t be all that different from place to place.   Really,  when you’re purchasing a sublimation system,  it’s about the intangible extras,   the things you can’t really see or touch,  but which can make your shopping experience, and your subsequent sublimation experience, good or bad.   Since some of you reading this may not be entirely familiar with Enmart,  I thought I’d take a minute to point out the extras that EnMart can offer to those buying a sublimation system.

Knowledge – EnMart has been involved in inkjet sublimation practically since inkjet sublimation has existed.    Our parent company,  Ensign Emblem,  worked to bring inkjet sublimation to industrial laundries.   Ensign Emblem also does production sublimation,  primarily patches,  for customers of both Ensign and EnMart.   We understand sublimation.   We’ve done it for years,  and all the knowledge and expertise we’ve gained is now available to our EnMart customers.   If you have questions about sublimation,  and want answers from people who’ve actually sublimated goods in a production setting,  you want to talk to us.

Support – The same techs that support our in-house sublimation would be the ones who would support your sublimation efforts if you purchased a system from EnMart.   Our techs are experienced at keeping sublimation systems running on a continual basis.   Our support is available during East Coast business hours,  but our techs also often answer questions submitted via e-mail in the hours when the company is closed.   We do our best to make sure our customers get a rapid response when they have issues.

Speed – When you’re on a deadline,  getting goods quickly is vital.   At EnMart,  most orders for in stock goods will ship same day if ordered by 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.    We are also a one or two day ground shipment away for almost half the country.   Don’t wait days for your order to ship – order from EnMart and get your items when you need them.

Minimums – Other than a $25 minimum order requirement,  which can be met with a combination of any items in the store,  EnMart doesn’t have minimum requirements.   Want to order one mugcutting board or ink cartridge?  Go right ahead.   As long as you meet the $25 minimum order requirement,   you can purchase one of everything we have in stock if that’s what you want to do.

Customer Service – A friendly voice on the other end of the phone when you have a problem or question can be invaluable.   EnMart’s customer service staff is dedicated to providing fast,  efficient service,   while also being friendly and approachable.   We make an effort to get to know our customers and remember their preferences.    A supply company and a customer service rep that knows your company can be a valuable source of support and advice.

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Buying a Heat Press

dc16ap3A question that often comes up in forums and groups about sublimation is what kind of heat press is necessary.   Do you need specialized presses for mugs?  How big should the press be?   Is a cheap press made in China that you found on eBay going to work?  What brand of press do experienced sublimation experts recommend?   A heat press is a larger purchase,  so it’s easy to understand why there would be a lot of questions.   Since we’ve been sublimating and dealing with sublimation supplies (and heat presses) for a lot of years,  I thought I’d try to answer some of the questions I see most frequently.

Q1:  Do you need a specialized press for any good that isn’t flat?  For the most part,  yes.   Hats,  mugs,  plates,  anything that isn’t flat will most likely require a specialized press in order to take a sublimated print.    In some cases,  where a lot of different items will be sublimated,  a combo heat press might be the best option.  This type of press is usually a flat swingaway press that comes with attachments that will allow you to do mugs and other goods that aren’t flat.   A standalone cap press will have a curved platen that allows you to sublimate caps faster and more easily.    Mug presses are generally adjustable and are designed to handle different sizes and shapes of mugs.    If you’re planning to sublimate a lot of one particular item,  investing in a specialty press can be a wise move.

Q2:  How big should the press be?  What’s the biggest thing you’ll ever be likely to sublimate?   The answer to that question will help determine how big your press should be.   Keep in mind that smaller presses may have smaller price tags,  but they aren’t always suitable for a production environment.   When deciding on the size of your press,  you should also take into account how often it will be used,  and for how long each time.    Optional extras like air operated opening should also be considered.   They may add to the cost of the press,  but they’ll save a ton of wear and tear on the operator.

Q3:  Is a cheap press worth the money? There are a lot of off brand heat presses from China available on eBay,  with prices that can be very attractive when you’re on a budget.   Two things to consider before purchasing a press like this are 1) who will service it should it break down and 2)is cheap necessarily going to translate into reliable and accurate?   A press from an eBay seller that may have been made in a foreign country is not likely to have maintenance or tech support attached, and that matters.   Service for a malfunctioning machine can help extend its life and get you back to work faster.   Tech support can help you solve problems and teach you how to use your heat press more efficiently and profitably.     A cheap press may also come with a set of reliability and accuracy issues.   Temperature gauges may not accurately reflect temperatures.   The platens may not heat to the required levels.   There are good bargains to be had,  and there are people who have purchased off brand presses and had them work fine,  but it’s a calculated risk.

Q4:   What brand of press do experienced sublimation experts recommend?  To answer this question,  all I can do is tell you what we know,  from years of experience.    We sell George Knight heat presses,   and the reason we sell them is because we’ve used them.   Our parent company has six plants across the United States,  and all of them have heat presses.   George Knight presses have been in our shops,  working day in and day out for years.     The presses are reliable,  easy to use,  and George Knight has top notch technical support.   So,  when asked,  George Knight is what we recommend,  and not just because we sell them.   We’ve used them,  so we know how well made and reliable they are.   Yes,  they may cost a bit more,  but they’re worth every penny.

If you have a question about sublimation,  please feel free to leave a comment here or to contact us and ask.   We’ve been working with heat presses and sublimation for quite some time,  and we’re always happy to help.

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What’s the Best Printing Method?

question-markYou have a shirt – or a tote bag – or a mug or mouse pad – and you want to put a design on it.  You also have,  since this my scenario,  access to several methods by which you can print these items – a direct to garment printer,  a screen printing press and inks and a sublimation printer and inks.   The question many people would ask at this point is the question in the title;  which of these options is the best printing method?   The answer we’d give you?

That depends.

There are several factors which will determine what printing method works best,  and there is no single method that will always be the best option in every situation.  Determining the print method that should be used requires knowing things about the substrate your going to print as well as understanding the properties of the machines and inks you’ll be using to make the print.   If you understand both the substrate and the process you’ll be using to print it,  you’ll make the best choice and produce the best print – both for the substrate in question and for your customers.

So,  that said,  what should you look at when deciding which method to use?

First,  look at fabric type.   Fabric type can make a difference because certain fabrics won’t work well with certain printing disciplines.   Sublimation,  for instance,  only works on polyester.   It can be done on polyester blends,  but only if a distressed look is the end result.    On the other hand,  screen printing on polyester can be problematic because of dye migration,  which means the ink bleeds into the fabric.    Some of this can be avoided by using an underbase,  but it should be considered.    If the fabric is cotton,  sublimation is out,  as it won’t work on cotton.   Screen printing or direct to garment printing would work,  it just depends on the sort of finished look the customer desires.

Second, color is another issue.   Sublimation does not offer a white ink option – so it only works on light colors.    If the goal is to sublimate a dark shirt,  about the only option would be to sublimate a lighter piece of poly fabric and attach it to the shirt.  Direct to garment printing and screen printing both allow for the printing of a light colored underbase,  over which a colored print can be laid,  so they’re often better options for dark colored garments.

Third,  hard goods have different rules.  If the substrate to be printed is not a garment,  the printing choices become somewhat more limited.   Should the item in question be blank that is coated for sublimation, then sublimation would clearly be an option.   In some cases,  posters for instance,  screen printing might be an option.  Screen printing can also be done on things like can coozies and certain types of water bottles.    Direct to garment printing,  as the name implies, is generally confined to wearables.

Obviously,  this is a basic overview,  but it offers a bit of insight into printing methods and how to determine which one will work in a given situation.   The main thing to remember is that each printing method will have strengths and limitations,  and knowing those strengths and limitations will ensure that you offer the best option to your customer when the time comes to print.

 

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Sublimation and Multimedia Decorating

puzzle-piecesMultimedia decorating,  which is essentially decorating a garment or wearable by combining two or more decoration techniques,  is a popular way to add a lot of visual interest to a garment.  When people talk about multimedia decorating,  however,  they tend to talk about adding rhinestones to embroidery,  or combining vinyl with screen print.   Sublimation is often left out of the conversation,  which is sad,  because sublimation can combine quite well with a number of other decoration techniques to create a one of a kind garment for your customer.

Let’s start with embroidery.    One of the fun parts of machine embroidery is that it can be done with polyester thread.   Polyester is the material that can be dyed by sublimation inks.   So,  it is possible to embroider a design using white polyester thread,  and then to sublimate another design in color on top of the thread.    This also has the advantage of giving the design a bit of a 3-D effect,  since the embroidery will be slightly raised.   Another option is to sublimate the garment first and then embroider over portions of the sublimated design.   Either way,  combining sublimation and embroidery will add visual interest and definition to the finished design.

Next up is vinyl.   There are many heat transfer vinyls that will also work for sublimation.   Get some glitter vinyl and make a sublimated design that sparkles!   Another advantage to using vinyl is that a vinyl transfer can often be applied to fabric types other than nylon.   If you want to put a sublimated design on a cotton shirt,  put the design on vinyl and it can be added to the shirt without a problem and without loss of color.  Sublimating on vinyl,  particularly glitter vinyl,  could prove very popular with cheer and dance teams and certainly could add some sparkle to fashion designs.

Another option for a multimedia design using sublimation and another decoration technique is rhinestones.    Anyone who likes bling will already be aware of rhinestones and how they can be used to add sparkle and shine to garments.   Combining rhinestones with sublimation allows for full color prints embellished by rhinestones,  which give the design flash and a bit of height.   Rhinestones can be incorporated into the design by hand,  or through the use of a rhinestone template.

When considering which decoration techniques to combine with sublimation,  there are a few things to keep in mind.   One is that sublimation requires heat,  and relatively high heat at that.  Some inks or vinyls might not react well to the temperatures that sublimation requires,  so keep that in mind.   Another thing to remember is that the decoration technique chosen must compliment sublimation and work with the sublimated design.   The best multimedia pieces are the ones where both decoration techniques combine to make a design that is fresh and interesting.

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T’was the Night Before Christmas – Sublimation Version

christmas2010wallpapers16Note: 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.

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!

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