Author: enmartian

Sublimation Hints and Help

Like most decoration techniques,  sublimation does have a learning curve,  although it’s considerably less steep than some other decoration options.   Still,  if you’re just starting out,  or even if you’ve been creating sublimated goods for a while,  there are probably things you don’t know that could help you create sublimated items a little faster and a little better.   Every once in a while we like to do a sort of round-up post where we list some sublimation hints and tips,  in the hope of assisting our customers in their quest for the best possible sublimated product.

Cool, man! A basic step in the sublimation process is letting items cool.   Make sure the transfer paper is removed quickly when the item comes off the press,  and make sure items are laid out separately and not overlapped when cooling.   An item like a sublimated mug can be cooled in a room temperature bucket of water.   Make sure the water is not too cold,  as that could cause the mug to crack.

Humidity is the Enemy! Moisture can make a mess of your sublimated supplies,  so it’s always good to make sure humidity is kept to safe levels.   Protect your sublimation paper from humidity by keeping it in a plastic bag,  or a resealable bin.   If you’re worried the paper you’re using is too moist,  set it on your press for a few seconds.  The warmth will help remove excess moisture from the paper.   The pre-press technique can also work for garments.   Also,  using a cover that absorbs moisture,  like newsprint, in place of Teflon can help eliminate moisture problems.   Just make sure to change out the absorbent cover sheet after every press.

The Heat is On! One of the most common issues that cause sublimation failure is a heat press that isn’t heating up to the correct temperature.   Yes,  the gauge may show the proper reading,  but the actual temperature of the press can vary widely.   Make sure to test the temperature of your press frequently,  using either a heat gun or temperature test strips,  to make sure the press is actually heated up to the required temperature.

Stick to It! Heat tape is probably one of the most underrated items in your sublimation arsenal,  but it’s a must have for every shop.   Use it to keep your transfers securely positioned on your blanks.   Make sure not to tape across the image area,  instead securing the transfers on the sides.    Another useful item is a strong adhesive tape,  which can be used to secure sublimated images onto things like pendants or belt buckles.

Primary Colors! Anyone who prints on an inkjet printer knows about nozzle checks,  but they might not be as familiar with primary charts.   A good primary chart will show solid blocks of color without any lines or gaps.   Running a primary chart and a nozzle check is definitely a good idea if you haven’t used your printer for a while.   For details on how to run a primary chart from your Virtuoso printer,   visit this blog post from Sawgrass Ink.

 

What Is A Sublimated Patch?

californiaSealSometimes,  when you ask a “what is” question,  you’re asking it in a larger way –  inquiring into the meaning of a particular object or thing.   Other times,  you just want to know how something is made and how it can be used.   This post deals with one of those times.

One of the popular items we sell is our sublimated patches.   These patches are a great option for hats,  for backpacks and jackets,  for anything that needs a logo or decoration,  but is too awkward or bulky for embroidery or screen print.   They’re also a terrific workaround when artwork has a lot of colors, gradients or fades,  making it difficult to reproduce correctly with other decoration techniques.   Since sublimation is a digitally printed method of decoration,  it can create photo quality prints which can then be transferred to an emblem.   The most complicated and colorful artwork can be printed with ease.

Blank Patch Construction

All patches from EnMart are made of 100% polyester twill.   The twill is die chopped into the size required.   Before the patches are chopped,  all fabric is laminated with a layer of pellon and a layer of backing,  either sew on,  which is a fabric backing or heat seal which is an industrial strength adhesive.    One the fabric is chopped to the necessary size,  it is merrowed with merrow floss – which is 100% polyester as well.     These patches are designed to withstand an industrial wash and dry,  so they are durable and will most likely last as long as the garment to which they’re attached.

Adding Sublimation

Sublimation is the process of printing artwork onto sublimation paper,  creating something called a transfer.   The printed image is then transferred, using heat,  to polyester fabric or a poly coated item.   Sublimation only works if sublimation ink,  paper and polyester fabric or a poly coated item are used.

When we sublimate the patches,  we create the sublimated images first,  then die chop and merrow the patches.    For those who want to purchase blanks and do the sublimation themselves,   both the patch fabric and the merrow can be sublimated,  although we make no claims about how well the merrow thread will sublimate.  If the blank patch being sublimated has heat seal backing,  put a piece of Teflon under the patch when pressing the image.   The adhesive on the patch can be easily peeled off the Teflon and,  once cooled,  can be sealed to a garment without issue.

What About Artwork?

As with any decoration technique,  great artwork leads to a great finished product.   Vector artwork is always preferred,  although our Design Department can work with .jpgs and pdf files if necessary.   The thing to keep in mind is that quality artwork,  high resolution,  which can be resized up or down without loss of crispness or integrity,  will produce the best prints and the best final product.   EnMart’s sublimated patch costs do not include a separate artwork charge unless we have to redraw or extensively manipulate the submitted artwork to create an acceptable finished product.   In those cases,  there will be an art fee charged.

Where To Use Sublimated Patches

Sublimated patches are a great accent for almost any item.   They’re particularly useful for items that are perhaps tougher to embroider or screen print,  either due to size or construction.    Hats are one item that work well with sublimated patches.   Backpacks and totes are another.   A sublimated patch can be a great option for a uniform or corporate wear,  particularly if the garments might change owners regularly,  as patches can be removed.   Sublimated patches are also great brand building tools,  as they allow the addition of branding to almost any item of apparel.     Keep in mind that the ability to withstand high heat is not necessarily a qualification for the use of a sublimated patches,  even though the standard backing on a sublimated patch from EnMart is a heat seal backing.   This in no way precludes sewing the finished patch on the item to be decorated.

Common Questions About Sublimation

Getting started with sublimation is really pretty simple,  but there are some common questions that people always seem to ask.   Since,  we know,  from talking to customers,  that people who are thinking of getting into sublimation do a lot of research online,  it seemed like a good idea to answer some of these common questions in a blog post.   So that’s what we’re going to do.

Common Question #1:  What does it cost?   First of all,  there are the costs of buying the equipment and the inks and the blanks and heat press and paper you’ll need to get started.    Often you might be able to find a package that will allow you to buy those items bundled together at a discount.     So that’s your initial cost to get set-up and ready to print.   What many people forget or calculate incorrectly,   are the costs that come along with setting up a business.  Overhead,  salary,  electricity,  heat,  all those things have to be considered when figuring out what having a sublimation business costs.   Sawgrass has done a terrific post on this subject for those who want more detail.

Common Question #2:  What should I charge?  A perennial problem for people who do creative work is figuring out what to charge.   Some use a formula,  their cost times a certain amount.   Others add up all their expenses and then figure out how much they need to make per hour to cover their overhead costs and salary.   One issue that can occur,  whatever formula used,  is that the business in question is charging less than the market will bear.   Leaving money on the table is never a good idea,  so make sure you know your market and what sort of prices your competitors are getting.   You can read more about how to set your prices in this post.

Common Question #3:  Is sublimation hard?  This is a question that can be answered in a couple of different ways.   One answer is this:  when compared to other decoration disciplines,  sublimation probably has the smallest learning curve and the shortest time from set-up to production.   Another answer is this:  Sublimation does require at least a basic knowledge of graphic software,  a comfort with working with a heat press and the ability to conceptualize designs.   For most people, sublimation should be pretty easy to learn and do.   The big trick is avoiding sublimation intimidation and getting yourself to take the first steps and try decorating some blanks.

Common Question #4:  How many items can I print per kit of ink/pack of paper?  Honestly,  if there’s a common question we dislike intensely,  it’s this one,  because of all the variables involved.   Things like your printer settings,  the size of the items being sublimated,   and other factors that will vary from shop to shop make it hard to give a precise estimate.   Generally,  we decline to speculate,  simply because it’s often assumed that what we’ve said is written in stone and not our best guess.

Trends to Watch in 2018

Every year brings with it a new set of trends that can be capitalized on to bring additional business.    In 2018,  there are some interesting trends that could be of huge benefit to those who have sublimation businesses.  Here are a few things to watch, and perhaps add to your sublimation business,  in 2018.

The first trend to consider is bags.   Tote bags,  backpacks,  wallets,  clutches,  cross body messenger bags,  the possibilities are endless.   Of particular interest is the trend of reusable grocery bags and the fact that some cities are banning plastic bags.   There will definitely be opportunities for those who sublimate in that area,  particularly making reusable totes for groceries or organic food stores.   Decorated backpacks are another fertile area.   More brands are developing backpacks that can be sublimated.   There are also a variety of companies that are making faux leather wallets and clutches that can be sublimated.

The second trend to keep in mind is decorated footwear.  Sublimated socks were something we talked about last year,  and that craze still continues.   More men are getting into the idea of wearing a colorful sock,  and sublimation is a perfect way to create a unique design.   Shoes are also being sublimated,  from flip flops to boat shoes or sneakers.    Keep in mind that sublimation can only be done on polyester or poly coated items,  so not all footwear will be suitable.

A third trend that is just starting to take hold is garments you can color.   With these garments,  a design is sublimated,  usually in black,  and then the wearer is given fabric markers and allowed to color in the design.    This also occurs with things like mugs or mousepads.   The same trend is also being exhibited with sublimated patches,  which are created in outline and then colored in by the wearer.  The advantage to these sorts of designs is that people can color them in to suit their own tastes and create something original.

Pillows are another decorating trend that has started to take hold.     They could be monogrammed,  decorated with a favorite picture or saying or made from a fabric that was specially designed to coordinate with a specific theme or interested.   Pillows suitable for sublimation are available in a variety of sizes.

Finally,  a trend that seems to be working well in the embroidery world is kits.   Creating a kit requires putting together items that would work together, some decorated and some not,  and selling the whole thing in a bundle.    You could make a kit out of mugs and a serving tray.   A kit could be a cutting board,  some oven mitts with recipes or monograms on them,  and some serving tools.    The only thing that really defines a kit is that everything in it goes together in some way.

Merry Christmas!

EnMart will be closed Monday,  December 25, 2017 so our employees may celebrate Christmas with their families.   We will re-open on Tuesday,  December 26.  

We wish all of our friends and customers a merry and safe Christmas!  

T’was the Night Before Christmas – Sublimation Version

Note: 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!

How to Cash In On The Holidays

T’was the night before Christmas,  and if you’re still printing sublimated items,  you’re way too late to capitalize on holiday gift giving.   While it’s tough to start thinking about Christmas when it’s not even December,   the time to secure those gift giving dollars is now,  not a week before Christmas.

One of the best ways to capture some of the spending that’s being done on gifts this holiday season is to offer some ideas for unique personalized gifts.  Pretty much everyone loves to get an item with their name or monogram on it,  but it’s even better when the item in question is something not everyone has or could buy.   Sublimation allows for the creation of personalized items that stand out,  either because the item being personalized is out of the ordinary,  or the design used to create the personalization is specific to the individual who is receiving the gift.

Another area of potential sales is home decor,  either decoration specifically related to the holidays,  or items that can be used to decorate a home all year.   When it comes to holiday decorating,   there are opportunities to sell things like ornaments,  or you could sublimate fabric to make table runners or a tree skirt.    If your plan is to make home decor items to be given as gifts,  it may be wise to pick a theme around which to center the items you offer.   A lot of people decorate their homes around a theme,  so you may sell more if you’re offering items for a outdoors theme or a country theme.   You could also have success offering to create items as needed,  working with the buyer to create items specific to their particular decorating scheme.

Don’t forget that businesses also need gifts for the holidays,  and many businesses are looking for unique and attractive things they can gift while also sneaking in a bit of advertising in the form of logos or slogans.   A business may also be looking for employee gifts like t-shirts or polos or mugs.    Don’t be shy about pitching gift sets to businesses,  something like a cutting board,  a serving tray and an oven mitt for instance.   Giving things that are useful and emblazoned with their logo is a win-win for a business.   The recipient of the gift gets something they can use,  and the business giving the gift gets multiple chances to make an impression,  since the user will see their logo or slogan every time they use the gift.

Happy Thanksgiving

EnMart will be closed Thursday,  November 23 and Friday, November 24 to allow our employees to enjoy Thanksgiving with their families.   We will re-open on Monday,  November 27.

Among the many things we are thankful for this holiday season,  we must count you,  our loyal customers and friends.   Thank you for supporting EnMart.  We wish everyone the happiest of Thanksgivings.

Selling Your Art with Sublimation

For most artists,  a major goal is to get the art out into the marketplace,  hopefully to be purchased,  which generates income,  which allows for more art to be made.  The problem for a lot of artists is that creating a unique artwork takes time,  and each piece can only be sold to one customer.  What is needed is the ability to reproduce a unique piece of art a number of times,  on a number of different substrates.   It would also be great if the reproductions could be created relatively easily and quickly,  at a low cost per print.   It would be even better if the method used to create the reproductions had, compared to other decoration options, a low cost of entry.

Sublimation is, as far as we’re concerned,  the perfect decoration method for artists who want to reproduce and sell their work.   For those who don’t know,  sublimation is a printing method which can be used on both soft and hard goods,  as long as the item is either made of polyester or has a poly coating.   Using ink and paper created for sublimation,  transfers are printed which are then set on the item being decorated using heat.   The ink bonds with the poly material or coating,  so the prints have no hand,  and are dishwasher safe.   The printer that’s used is a standard inkjet printer and the designs can be created with any graphics program.

There are several advantages to printing your saleable products using sublimation.   One is the cost of entry.   Compared to other decoration techniques,  like machine embroidery or direct to garment printing,  sublimation has a relatively low cost of entry.    An SG800,  which is the larger of the two desktop printers used for sublimation,  can be purchased in a package for under $2,000.    A heat press, which is also a necessary part of the process, can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand,  depending on the brand and model purchased.    Most blanks are also relatively inexpensive.   The cost for a cartridge of ink ranges from slightly above $60 to just over $100,  depending on the printer make and the size of the cartridge.

A second advantage is the fact that creating a sublimated design doesn’t require learning any new software.   Any graphics program,  Adobe,  CorelDraw,  whatever is currently being used can be used to create designs for sublimation.   If you don’t currently have a preferred graphics program,   Sawgrass’ Creative Studio comes with every purchase of a Virtuoso printer package.   This program is touted as being easy to use,  and contains a curated library of templates for the items that are most often offered by those who sell sublimated products.

One of the best things about sublimation,  especially for photographers,  is that the prints are photo realistic.   If you’re interested in selling your photography or your original art,  sublimation is the perfect decoration discipline for you.  Prints will reproduce exactly as they were created.   Photos will look like photos.   Hand drawn art will retain the qualities that make hand drawn art so unique and special.   The only difference is that sublimation allows the photo or drawing or design to be recreated over and over again on a variety of different substrates.

There are also advantages to owning your own system versus using a contract printer who will do the work for you.   Owning a sublimation system means you can print when you want and as many items as you need,  so you won’t be tied to minimum order requirements,  or have to carry an inventory of a design that didn’t sell.  You also have control over the quality of the finished product,  you create the prints and you can reject them based on your quality standards.   You also know all the costs involved in creating the product in advance.   There’s no last minute shipping or blank good upcharges and no potential delays in production due to weather or problems at the plant producing the goods.

All in all,  sublimation is a great option for a lot of artists.  While there will be a slight learning curve when starting with sublimation,  most people are up and running within hours.   Add to that the relatively low cost of entry,  and the fact that the entire process is controlled by the artist,  and the advantages, for an artist, of purchasing a sublimation system become quite clear.

3 Things That Make Products Suitable for Sublimation

A common question we’re often asked is what sorts of things can be sublimated.   The questions can range from “Can I use sublimation on a dark shirt?”  to “Are the mugs people use for sublimation special?” to “I found this piece of barn wood/antique tray/glass bowl,  can I sublimate it?”.  The common theme of all these questions is that people aren’t quite sure what products can be sublimated and which can’t or aren’t suitable,  and they’re looking for some guidance.    Basically,  when it comes to determining whether or not something can be sublimated,  it’s about three things:

Thing 1:  Color

As much as we’d all like it to exist,  there is no white ink option for sublimation.   This means there is no way to put a white underbase down.   A white underbase allows for printing of colors on dark shirts,  since the inks actually print on the underbase and not the shirt.    The lack of a white ink option to lay down as an underbase means that sublimation must be done on light colors.   Keep in mind that the ink dyes the fabric when set with heat,  so using any color shirt other than white will change the color of the ink to some degree.

While there is currently no option for direct sublimation, printing the transfer directly on the shirt,  when it comes to dark colors,   there are options for printing a sublimatable material and then transferring that to the shirt.    Our fabric sheets might work in some cases.   There are other thinner options for things like t-shirts that can also work.  There are also a few spray coating options out there  that claim to perform the function of a underbase. Do keep in mind,  however,  that these options are more in the nature of a transfer or a carrier and will have a hand and feel different that actual sublimation would.

Thing 2:  Coating

If you’re working with a 100% polyester light-colored t-shirt,  coating doesn’t matter and isn’t needed.  Where coating is vital is when you’re dealing with hard goods.   Any hard good, a mug, bag tag, key chain etc.  must be coated with a poly based coating that works with the sublimation ink.  Without this coating the ink will not transfer well and will certainly not be permanent.

There are two options for getting a coated hard good.   One option is to buy blank items that are already coated,  which means you can simply print your sublimation transfer and proceed to sublimate the item.   The other option is to purchase a sublimation coating spray or liquid and coat the item to be sublimated yourself.   While the do it yourself coatings expand the range of items which can be printed through sublimation,  getting the coating on evenly can be tricky.   If the DIY coating drips or is uneven,  then the finished print will have issues as well.

At EnMart,  we tend to recommend buying pre-coated items,  simply because we’ve seen how tricky it can be to get the sprays or liquids on evenly.    The advantage of a pre-coated item is that it was coated in a factory,  by specialized equipment designed for that job.   While it isn’t always the case,  pre-coated items are more likely to have an even coating and be free of issues that an uneven coating can cause.

Thing 3:  Heat and Pressure

An essential ingredient for sublimation is heat.  Without heat,  the ink won’t sublimate properly and the print won’t transfer.    Anything that is going to be sublimated must be able to stand up to the heat of a heat press or a convection oven,  most likely temperatures somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees.   Anything that would melt or warp at those temperatures is not suitable.   That’s why sublimation isn’t often done on plastic items,  they melt at the temperatures that are required.

Pressure is another essential ingredient in the sublimation process.   When an item,  like a mug,  is sublimated in a convection oven,  the transfer is held to the mug with a wrap.   The wrap is usually as silicone band which latches around the item and holds the sublimation transfer securely to it.   A heat press,  which works by latching closed around the item and providing heat also applies pressure to the substrate.  Anything that is thin or fragile will not stand up to the pressure involved and may shatter.

 

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