Knowing People who Know Stuff

Whenever you embark on something new, or try to take a current endeavor to the next level,  it helps to know people who have already been down the path on which you are starting.   I know it helps me when I write these posts.  My expertise is writing,  not sublimation or ChromaBlast.   What helps give this blog it’s usefulness is exactly what what the title says,  I know people who know stuff about sublimation and ChromaBlast,  they tell me things and this blog becomes a venue through which I can share that knowledge.

Knowing people who know stuff isn’t as hard as you might think,  particularly if you’re working with EnMart.    We have several groups of people who are very knowledgeable about sublimation and ChromaBlast printing,  and they’re all glad to share their knowledge with us and with you.   In no particular order those groups are:

  1. EnMart’s tech staff – Tom and Bill,  EnMart’s tech staff,  have been dealing with sublimation for many years.  They know printers.  They know the problems you can encounter,  having encountered and figured out those problems themselves.   If you call us with a problem or a question regarding sublimation or ChromaBlast,  it’s likely you’ll talk to either Bill or Tom at some point.   They know their stuff and have helped many people.
  2. Sawgrass Ink – I tend to talk about Sawgrass a lot,  largely because they created the ink we sell and they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to use that ink best.   Their technical support is very helpful if you find yourself having an issue.    They also have a terrific educational program.   If you want to learn more about sublimation or about how to make your sublimation business prosper,  these are the people with whom you should speak.
  3. Rowmark – Rowmark is another supplier with whom EnMart works.  They are the creators of the terrific Mates product line.    Rowmark offers a lot of great technical support for those people who sublimate using their products.   They also have downloadable MSDS sheets on their site,  for those shops that need to have such things on file.
  4. Forums – EnMart is a part of a couple of great forums that offer helpful and useful sublimation knowledge.   The ADF or Apparel Decorators Forum if a very friendly, rapidly growing forum.  The members of the forum range from screenprinters to embroiderers to sublimators to those who rhinestone.  There’s a great deal of knowledge here and it’s offered in a helpful manner.   Another great forum is the T-Shirt Forums which has a large knowledge base  and has been around for several years.

The thing to keep in mind is that knowing people who know stuff about sublimation and ChromaBlast is half the battle.  If you want to win the battle you need to ask questions and try to learn everything you can.    If you have questions,  or need assistance,  don’t be afraid to contact us,  ask questions on our Facebook page or Twitter feed, or leave a comment right here on this blog.   We’ll be happy to help you,  or to put you in contact with the person or organization who can.


Printing on Cotton

EnMart is a sponsor of T-Shirt Forums, and a regular on several other forums,  including the terrific Apparel Decorators Forum,  so I get to see firsthand the questions that people ask about sublimation and printing on garments.    One of the questions I see frequently being asked is whether a design can be sublimated on a cotton garment.  The answer to that is always no,  as sublimation works only with polyester fabric of substrates.    Those people who want to print on cotton should not lose hope however,  for there is a solution,  and its name is ChromaBlast Ink.

For those who are unfamiliar with ChromaBlast,  the first thing you need to know is that it is not a sublimation ink.    ChromaBlast ink uses a patented chemical process which, combined with heat and pressure,  set up a cross-link between the cotton fabric,  the ink and the media which transfers the image.   The end result is a garment that has vibrant color,  superior washability and a soft hand.

ChromaBlast is like sublimation in that it is easy to create customized cotton items.   All you need to do is create your image or design,  print your image using ChromaBlast Ink and ChromaBlast paper,  and then press your image onto a cotton substrate.    Like sublimation ink, ChromaBlast Ink is available for both the Epson and Ricoh printer models,  so you can choose the system that best suits your needs.

Cotton and cotton blend products will both work well with ChromaBlast ink.    You can print on any substrate made of cotton,  which makes this an ideal ink for shops that create a lot of corporate apparel.    Whether you’re adding a logo to a polo shirt,  or creating golf towels for a corporate golf tournament,  ChromaBlast will let you customize cotton items exactly as you customer requests.   ChromaBlast ink also allows you to offer things like printed monograms on cotton sheets,  or personalized tote bags or aprons.   If the substrate is cotton,  you can use ChromaBlast ink to customize it.

If you’re unfamiliar with ChromaBlast,  Sawgrass does offer information that will help you get started.  You can view a video about applying digital transfers to cotton apparel, or one about applying digital transfers to tote bags.    There is also additional technical support information offered on their website.

For those who want to see ChromaBlast in action,  please visit the EnMart booth at any of the shows at which we exhibit.  We have samples of printed cotton garments in the booth,  along with ChromaBlast transfers and a ChromaBlast printer.  We’ll be happy to discuss ChromaBlast ink and the printing process with you.


Performing a Nozzle Check

When a sublimation printer is having issues with colors dropping out or really faint prints,  we often recommend that the owner of the printer do a nozzle check.    For those who are familiar with sublimation, that may not be a problem,  but for those who have just purchased their system,  doing a nozzle check may be an unfamiliar task.    Today I wanted to point out some resources that may help make doing a nozzle check easier.

First,  we need to define what a nozzle check is and what it helps you determine.   A nozzle check is a test that helps you determine if all the nozzles in your print head are printing properly.   The nozzles on a inkjet printhead are not that big and can become clogged in the course of a normal print day,  or if the printer is left to sit for a period of time.   Most printers do a nozzle check before they start their day’s work and several times over the course of the day.  Nozzle checks are also good to run daily while the printer is experiencing minimal use.   Nozzle checks help keep the nozzles from clogging and can point out any problems with a nozzle, so those problems can be cured.

If you have an Epson printer,  you can find instructions on how to do a nozzle check on the Sawgrass website.  Sawgrass also offers videos on troubleshooting your nozzle check.

Once you’ve done your nozzle check,  the next step is to know how to evaluate what the check shows you.  A nozzle check will print lines of each color ink out on a piece of paper.  A good nozzle check will have no breaks in the lines.  A nozzle check that indicates problems will have breaks or gaps in the line of color.  A break in the line of color is evidence of a blocked nozzle, which will need to be corrected in order for your printer to print properly.   Sawgrass offers examples of good and bad nozzle checks for comparison on their site.

After you’ve done your nozzle check,  if you determine that it does have issues,  the next step is to repair those issues.   The first step in correcting a problem with a nozzle check is doing a head cleaning.    Please keep in mind that repeated head cleanings are generally excessive and may lead to a waste of ink.   One or two head cleanings will usually suffice for cartridges,  and five should be the maximum done by users with bulk systems.   You can perform a headcleaning through your PowerDriver or ChromaBlast driver software.

Once your printhead has been thoroughly cleaned,  perform another nozzle check to see if the problem has been alleviated.  If it has,  you are all set to continue printing as normal.  If it hasn’t,  you best bet would be to call Technical Support for further assistance.


5 Questions about Sublimation and ChromaBlast

Since we’ve sold a lot of sublimation systems in the past month, I thought today would be a good day to do a sort of resource round-up post.  There are some questions that we get asked quite frequently, so I wanted to put the answers all together in one place.   Please keep in mind you can always call us for assistance, and we’ll be glad to help,  but if we’re not available for some reason,  here are some other places that can be accessed 24/7.

Question 1:  How do I set up my printer? –  Although we include instructions with each system we sell,  this is a question we get a lot.    If you need assistance with setting up your printer,  one great resource is the installation/setup videos that Sawgrass Ink offers.  You can access these videos at any time on their website,  and they walk you through the process of installation.  If you’re confused about how to get things going,  these videos should help.

Question 2:   Where can I find templates? –   I’ve written a couple of posts about where to find sublimation templates.   One was called, appropriately enough Sublimation Templates.   This contains links to templates for the blanks that we sell.

Question 3:  Where can I get MSDS sheets for the ink I use? – Sawgrass has made MSDS sheets available on their website.  You can find MSDS sheets for ChromaBlast and for both SubliJet IQ and SubliJet R on that site.

Question 4:  I use a Sawgrass  Ink that isn’t listed on your website,  can I still buy it from you? –  One of our scheduled website upgrades for the year is to update the listings of the Sawgrass inks that we sell.  Until that time,  however,  you can simply call us if you’re looking for an ink that isn’t listed on our website.   We will be happy to assist you with your order.

Question 5:  I need a guidebook or something to help me get started.  Where can I get one? – Sawgrass created a great beginning guide to sublimation called Sublimation 101.  You can download a copy of the guide from our website.   To get a preview of what’s in the guide,  please read this post.

As always,  we want everyone to remember that EnMart is ready and eager to help you with your sublimation and ChromaBlast questions.   Please feel free to contact us at any time if you need assistance.

A Plug for ChromaBlast Ink

If you read this blog with any regularity you’ll probably notice I tend to talk about sublimation more than any other topic.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  One is simply that this blog is called SubliStuff,  and so it stands to reason that we’ll discuss sublimation topics the most.    Another is that sublimation is a versatile process,  allowing you to decorate a wide variety of items.   More options for decoration means more subjects for posts,  and anyone who has ever tried to write anything knows more topics about which to write is always a good thing.   Finally, we tend to talk about sublimation more because really there doesn’t appear, at first glance, to be much to say about ChromaBlast.  You can use the ink to decorate cotton fabrics, the end.   That doesn’t make for a very long post unless, of course, you dig a little deeper.

The first thing you find when you dig deeper is the fact that cotton is one of the most popular fibers for clothing.  Cotton is used for shirts, dresses, socks,  almost any garment you can imagine.   Since many people like the softness and breathability of cotton clothing, it also sells well.    Even if you limited yourself to simply decorating cotton t-shirts,  you’ll still have a product made of a fabric that people like to wear and use.

The second thing to remember is this:  should you choose to use ChromaBlast Ink,  you aren’t necessarily limited to decorating simply t-shirts or even clothing   There are also cotton hats,  cotton tote bags,  cotton fabrics for pillows and upholstery and more.   From bed sheets to Christmas stockings to diapers,  there are a large number of products made of cotton.

A third thing to consider when considering ChromaBlast is that it offers a way to decorate cotton garments that generally has less barriers to entry than direct to garment printing.    Back in May we did a post in which we compared ChromaBlast printing with other decoration options.   In that post we discussed that fact that direct to garment printers tend to have more maintenance issues and that the cost is quite a bit higher than the cost of purchasing a ChromaBlast printing system.  While direct to garment printing is a great choice for many people,  it may not be the best choice for someone who is just starting out,  or who only wants to decorate a limited number of garments.

In the end,  ChromaBlast can be a great choice and a useful addition to a garment decoration business.  If you already do sublimation,  ChromaBlast adds the option of decorating cotton garments.   If you’re simply interested in decorating cotton fabrics,   ChromaBlast is a less expensive and has less of a learning curve than other types of cotton decoration methods.   EnMart’s Ricoh GX e3300N ChromaBlast package starts at only $419.00, which is a fairly minimal investment when it comes to garment decoration equipment.

If you are interested in learning more about ChromaBlast Inks and the options they offer,  please contact us.  We’ll be happy to help you decide if ChromaBlast is the right choice for your business.

Pushing Past the Barriers

If you’ve ever tried to start something new,  be it a new routine,  a new habit or a new business,  you’ve probably encountered an obstacle or two.  Very few roads to something new are ever completely smooth,  and part of the fun is finding ways to circumvent the challenges that might keep you from meeting your goal.   Nothing worth while happens without effort,  and we know adding sublimation to your business will be very worth while.  We also know that there may be some barriers standing in your way.  Today I wanted to make some suggestions for circumventing some of the most common challenges.

Challenge 1 – I don’t know what sort of system to buy – First you need to answer some basic questions.   Do you want to decorate cotton garments?  Then you need a ChromaBlast system.  Are you more interested in creating colorful mugs and mousepads and flip flops?  In those cases,  you best bet would be a sublimation system.  Once you’ve decided what sort of products you want to decorate,  you just need to figure out what the biggest thing you would ever want to print would be.  This will help you zero in on the type of printer and heat press that will be right for you.

Challenge 2 – I don’t know where to find customers for my new business – Sawgrass offers webinars about finding new customers.   We offer tips on this blog about finding new customers for your sublimation or ChromaBlast business.   Most communities have a Chamber of Commerce which is generally eager and happy to help new businesses get established.   Twitter and Facebook can be great places to find customers online.  Sometimes finding new customers is as simple as wearing your work and handing out business cards.  If you get the word out about what you can do,  and keep putting it out there,  customers weill come.

Challenge 3 – I don’t know anyone else who does sublimation – Having a mentor or someone you can call on when you have a question or a problem is a great comfort.   If you’re looking for a community of people who already sublimate,  two great places to check out are the T-shirt Forums and the Apparel Decorators Forum.   Both forums contain a lot of helpful sublimation information and have members that are ready and eager to answer questions.  Also, keep in mind that,  should you purchase your system or supplies from EnMart,  you’ll also have us in your corner.  We’ve been working with sublimation and sublimation inks since the late 90s, and we’re always happy to share what we know with our customers.

Adding sublimation to your existing business,  or starting up a new business centered around sublimation or ChromaBlast can be done for a relatively small investment,  and the rewards can be quite large.   If you’re thinking about setting up a sublimation or ChromaBlast business of your own,  but have encountered a few barriers to getting things going,  give us a call.  We’ll be glad to help you remove those barriers and get further down the road to sublimation or ChromaBlast success.

6 Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a System

Deciding which sublimation or ChromaBlast system to purchase can be difficult.  There are a lot of issues to consider if you are going to purchase the system that is right for you.   If you’re in the process of purchasing your first system,  or are thinking or upgrading to a larger system,  here, courtesy of our sublimation expert, Tom Chambers,  are some questions to ask that will help you ensure you get the system you both want and need.

1. What is your expected volume?

The answer to this question helps determine whether you should avoid considering an Epson printer based system at all. If you anticipate that your system may sit unused for a day or more at a time, you should probably go with a Ricoh based system. 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 heavy duty commercial grade press.

2. 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. 90% of the
available blank goods will work just fine with 8.5” x 14” prints, or when printed in 2 sheets and taped.
But if you need to print larger items, maybe using 11” x 17” prints, you’ll need a heat press with a 16” x
20” platen as well as a printer capable of printing that size sheet.

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

If you plan on only doing shirts and mousepads, and other flat items, you can save some money
and go with a light duty press, a commercial grade clamshell heat press, or use your current heat press
if you already have one. If you plan on doing mugs, drinkware, plates, or other items, you may need to
consider a combo press, oven wraps, or perhaps even a dedicated mug press.

4. What is your target market?

This may well be the hardest question to answer, and present the greatest unknowns. But if you
have an idea already, you will be ahead of the game, and it will assist you in answering the other
questions. For assistance with determining your target market check out our post on deciding on your target market, and our post on some potential target markets for the goods you create.

5. What graphics software will you use?

You can use whatever graphics program you are comfortable with to design your artwork for
sublimating or ChromaBlast. The two most common ones are CorelDRAW and Adobe Illustrator.
However, you can use anything from Open Office Draw to Microsoft Word or Front Page – anything that
will let you design and print what you want. But you will need to use something.

6. 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 and ChromaBlast are probably two 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.

Think Ink

Many times when we talk about sublimation,  we talk about the printers or the blanks or the paper.  All of those items are important and necessary for sublimation,  but none are quite so vital as the sublimation ink.   Without the ink there is no printed transfer,  and without the transfer there is no image to place on your shirt or mug or mousepad.    The ink is where everything begins.

Dye sublimation is a process by which an ink is turned form a solid to a gas without going through the liquid state.    The conversion from one state to another occurs when the ink is heated  and is controlled through time and pressure.   When the ink is used with the proper paper and transferred to a polyester or poly coated substrate,  the result is a vibrant print that is sturdy enough to withstand washing and sun.

Sublimation ink is manufactured by Sawgrass Technologies,  and is available as Sublijet for Epson printers and Sublijet-R for Ricoh printers.    Both formulation and cartridge size can differ based on the make and model of the printers you are using,  so please be sure you select the correct ink category for your printer.    You should also keep in mind that sublimation ink is designed for printing on polyester fabrics or poly coated items.  If you attempt to use transfers printed with Sublijet ink on any medium other than polyester,  your transfers will not print correctly.

If you would prefer to print transfers for use on cotton garments,  the ink option you should explore is ChromaBlast Ink.   Like the Sublijet Ink,  ChromaBlast ink is available in formulations suitable for Ricoh or Epson printers.    ChromaBlast is for use on cotton fabrics only,  and is suitable only for white or light colored fabrics.   For some people,  ChromaBlast Ink and paper offer an alternative to direct to garment printing.

Finally,  we can’t forget that EnMart also offers ink for those who print directly to garments using a Brother GT-541 printer.  EnMart sells NaturaLink B from Sawgrass.  This ink is color matched with the Brother OEM inks, and is available at a less expensive price.    For more information on NaturaLink B and Brother, please read our in-depth FAQs on the subject.

Whatever your ink requirements,  be it sublimation,  ChromaBlast or direct to garment printing with a Brother GT-541,  EnMart has the supplies and ink you need.   If you’ve been looking for a one stop shop for sublimation,  or for a quick and efficient shipper for your ChromaBlast or NaturaLink B inks,  look no further than EnMart.    We will be happy to assist you in finding the ink you need for your particular printing requirements.

Fill in the Blank

When you start with a blank canvas,  whether it literally is a blank canvas, or a blank screen or a blank garment or mug,  there is usually at least one moment of  “oh no, what do I do now?”  that occurs before you start.   People who are familiar with this phenomenon often try to combat it by keeping a stash of ideas on hand.   While that’s a great idea,  the trick then becomes building that stash of ideas so they’re ready and waiting when you need them.   Today I thought we could talk a little bit about where and how to find ideas and inspiration.

One way to find inspiration for your sublimation projects is to see what other people are doing.  Visit Sawgrass and check out their webinars.    Check out a forum like T-shirt Forums of the Apparel Decorators Forum.     Look for videos online that will teach you how to sublimate a new product or will show you a new technique.  While we would never recommend copying what someone else is doing exactly,  seeing what other people are doing is a great way to spark your own creativity.

Another way to find inspiration is to take a field trip.  Erich Campbell mentioned this option in a post he wrote for Stitches earlier this year.    He recommends going to the mall,  and it’s good advice.   You can spend time seeing what sorts of sublimated products are out there,  and you can also see what other decorators are doing with them.   As an added bonus,  going to a place with multiple stores allows you to get an overview of a variety of trends.   Keep in mind field trips can also be to places like museums or simply to a nearby lake or woods.  The aim of a field trip is to get some new images and textures to add to your library,  so take a field trip to whatever place you find most inspiring.

Perhaps the best way to figure out how to fill that blank is to experiment.  Find artwork you like and test it out on various blanks to see how it looks.    Buy some cheap polyester fabric and sublimate various designs before you put them on the more expensive blank items.  Find a sublimated item that you really like the look of,  and try to duplicate that effect or look on a blank piece of your own.   While it’s true there will probably be a bit of product waste,  and certainly spend some time on this endeavor,  the result will be an enlarging of your sublimation options and a bigger fund of ideas from which to draw next time a customer wants something spectacular but doesn’t know exactly what they want to do.

Printing Garments

I was looking back through the blog archives today,  as I sometimes do when I’m at a loss for a post idea,  and I noticed that I’ve talked a lot about sublimation blanks and how easy it is to print those,  while neglecting to discuss printing garments.    Since EnMart sells garments for sublimation,  as well as the inks necessary for printing sublimation transfers and ChromaBlast transfers,  I thought today might be a good time to discuss that very subject.

When it comes right down to it,  printing garments is pretty much like printing anything else.  You print a transfer and then you use your heat press to transfer the ink from your transfer paper to the garment.   If you are using sublimation ink,  your garment should be 100% polyester and the finished product will have almost no hand as the ink dyes the fibers of the garment.    If your garment of choice is cotton,  and of a light color,  than your transfer should be printed with ChromaBlast ink.  These transfers provide bright, clear color,  but they will have a slight hand to them.  You may also see a bit of transfer residue around the edges of the design.  That should disappear after the first wash.

There has been some discussion about whether or not sublimation printing can be done on anything except 100% polyester garments.   If you print on anything other than 100% polyester,  your design may be faded in spots or have uneven printing.  This is because the ink only dyes the polyester fibers.   Some people like the more faded or distressed look and are satisfied with the results they get from using a shirt that is a blend of fibers.   For best results, however, it is always recommended that any garments you sublimate be 100% polyester.

We also often get asked how the people create the get t-shirts that have designs that go down the sleeve and across the back,  or that start in the back and swirl around to the front.   Those shirts are definitely unique and fun to wear,  but they are printed as separate pieces of cloth and then sewn together once the designs have been printed.   It is a more expensive and custom way of creating garments,  but the finished product may well be worth the effort for some people.

As with anything you print,  you should always keep in mind that the size of the transfer should be in proportion to the size of the garment.  Bigger shirts need bigger transfers,  so this is something to consider when purchasing your printer and heat press.  A printer that only prints 8 1/2 x 11 or 8 1/2 x 14 transfers will limit the shirt sizes you can create.  If you want to make sure you can print as many sizes of garments as possible,  make sure you get a printer that allows printing on a variety of paper sizes and a press that can handle the biggest garment size you are likely to use.

Finally, another question that is often asked is where new sublimation and ChromaBlast garment printers can get more information or hints and tips about the garment decoration processes they are using.   One source is, of course,  blogs like this one.   Two additional great resources are T-shirt and the Apparel Decorators Forum.   Both forums are terrific resources with a lot of good information and are a great place to ask questions and pick up tips.