3 Groups Who Should Never Do Sublimation (and 1 Group Who Should)

by Tom Chambers

There are 3 groups of people who should never do sublimation.  Are you one of them?

  1. People who have absolutely no interest in sublimation.

Hey, I’m not here to convince you to do something you have no interest in.  If you aren’t interested in a way to decorate thousands of items in full photo-realistic color easily and quickly at high profit margins – who am I to suggest otherwise?

  1. People who have no creativity.

While practically everyone has some level of creativity out there including most who think they don’t, there are a handful of people that just have no imagination at all. If you can’t take a picture of your cat, write a sentence, or print something, then sublimation probably isn’t for you.

  1. People who cannot use a computer.

Let’s face it, not everyone is a computer nerd.  Not everyone wants to be, and thankfully, no one has to be.  Most people have at least had limited exposure to computers on some level.  However, if you are one of those who prefer to avoid such modern contrivances in favor of more conventional means like pen and paper, then you probably shouldn’t do sublimation.

If you don’t fall into one of the above groups, then read on, this article is for you.

Sublimation is EASY.  That’s right, EASY, in all CAPS.  People get hung up all the time on the word “sublimation” and the definition, because it sounds scientific and complicated, which apparently makes it so intimidating that people will sometimes buy a sublimation system and then store it in a corner and look at it periodically, too afraid to even open the box.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ok, so “sublimation” IS scientific and complicated – but you don’t actually need to know any of that, any more than you need to know what science is behind the print-head and the electronics inside your printer that make it work to print pictures of your children, pets, or a business plan for that great idea for a sublimation business.

When you print something, you don’t think about printing – you just print, right?  Sublimation is like that too.  In fact, printing is the first step in the process, so if you have already printed something, you already know what to do.  Not very intimidating is it?

Sublimation is FUN.  Here again, FUN in all CAPS.  You should enjoy what you do, and if you can make money at it, that’s even better.  Sublimation is fun because you are limited only by your imagination.  If you can imagine something and print it, then you can put it (sublimate it) onto one or more of the thousands of blank items just waiting for your sublimativity (sublimation + creativity; I just made that up – feel free to credit me).

Once you’ve sublimated something, you can sell it and make money.  Putting the image you printed onto a sublimation blank is the second step in the process, which usually involves a heat press.  Doing all that IS fun, and not very intimidating either.

Sublimation is PROFITABLE.  Yes, I know, to be redundant, PROFITABLE in all CAPS.  That’s because the margins can be quite astounding.  Where else can you start up a business for under $2000 (and in some cases, even under $700!), have fun doing it, and make anywhere from 2 to 6 times your cost, typically on the higher end of that range?  For the mathematically challenged, that means if you have a product that costs you $3, including the cost of the ink and paper and your time, you can sell it for $6 to $18.

Oh, and did I mention that from the point in time you decide to embark on a sublimation journey until you will be making products to sell can be as quick as 1 day?  Contact us for more information and if you have any questions.

This introductory article is broad in scope, but future articles will expand some of the individual points mentioned into their own articles.

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. 

5 Ways to Sell Sublimation on Social Media

Social media can be a great place to sell your work,  as long as you take care to position your accounts correctly and make sure that you’re putting your work in front of people who will want to buy it.  There are also ways to showcase your products to make them more attractive to those who might want to buy.   None of this is particularly difficult,  but it takes a little thought if it is to be done properly.   Here are some places where sublimation might be sold successfully, and some things to consider when you’re working on selling what you’ve made.

Consider this:  Pinterest can be a goldmine for decorators – Pinterest is a built in lookbook and memory aid all in one.  You can build boards that showcase various events or needs for which you can make items.   It could be a family reunion board,  or a cheer camp board or a baby shower gift board.   On the board you can showcase ideas for those events,  helping those who are lost for an idea themselves.   Pinterest also encourages people to save pins to their own boards,  which means that your ideas will be saved in other places and serve as a reminder that your services exist.

Consider this: Solve a problem,  don’t sell a product –  I’ve said this a million times before,  but it’s true,  people don’t like to be sold.  If your social media feed are a constant blare of “buy me” messages,  people will get turned off.  What you need to do instead is solve a problem for those who visit your feeds.  The problem may be as simple as “what type of shirt should I get for Larry’s retirement party”,  but answering that question could get you a sale.   When you’re posting to social media,  don’t ask “what do I need/want to sell”,  ask yourself “what problem can I solve for my customers?” and then post accordingly.

Consider this – Know your customer – No business has a customer group labeled “everyone”.  Before you set up any social media profiles or start selling anything,  you need to know who your target customers are and where they are on social media.   The best sales pitch in the world won’t work if it’s being made to the wrong people.

Consider this – Groups may be great places to sell – If you have a hobby or activity that you particularly enjoy,  consider making sublimated goods that relate to whatever it is you like doing.  It may often be possible to find groups on Facebook,  or forums,  or boards on Pinterest,  that are focused on that particular hobby or activity.   Make sure to obey the rules of the group,  but there are groups that allow sales,  and this gives you a guaranteed audience who most likely will be interested in what you have to sell.

Consider this – A good picture is worth a thousand words –  Social media is visual,  even the sites that do allow more words center around pictures.   It’s worth it to invest in the best options you can afford for taking photos.  It’s also worth the time to do research online regarding how to take good product photos.   Remember,  this is a showcase of your work,  so present it in the best light possible.  Good product photography can make a huge difference in sales,  so it’s well worth the time it takes.

The Right Way

For some things,  there is a right way and a wrong way.   When you’re loading ink cartridges into your printer,  there’s the right way,  the way that causes the cartridges to fit snugly into the printer and dispense ink in the proper manner, and the wrong way,  any way that doesn’t cause that to happen.   For most things,  however,  there may be a variety of ways that are the right way,  or which lead to completion of a desired goal.   Sometimes it’s not how you get there that matters,  but the fact that you made it to the end and accomplished a successful result.

So,  why,  given that we’ve just said there may be many right ways to accomplish a particular goal do we often say there are things we don’t recommend?  Aren’t we contradicting our own thesis?

Not really.   When we say that we don’t recommend proceeding in a certain way or using a certain product we’re giving our opinion based on our years of experience.    EnMart and our parent company,  Ensign Emblem,  have been involved with inkjet sublimation pretty much since inkjet sublimation existed.   We’ve seen it evolve and change over the years,  and we’ve been introduced to new products and new printers and new ways of doing things.   Some have worked and been beneficial.   Others have not.

Whenever we dispense advice on this blog,  we’re giving that advice based on the knowledge we have available.   We have sublimation experts on staff who give us the benefit of their years of creating sublimated goods.   Some posts offer you the benefit of our trial and error,  so you don’t have to try the same things yourselves.   Our goal is always to provide the best information we can,  based on what we know and have experienced.

We’re aware that our experience won’t be everyone’s experience.   If you try something and it works for you,  then you should certainly keep on the path you’re on.   The only thing we’re attempting to do is to give you the benefit of our years of experience and the wisdom we’ve gained over those years.   The one thing we’ve never done is claim our way is the only way.   The best way for you is the way that works for you,  full stop.

Still,  if you’re interested in our thoughts about some of the methods and products used in sublimation,  here are some posts it might be helpful to read.

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.

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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Reasons NOT To Try Sublimation (2017 Edition)

A few months short of seven years ago,  I wrote a tongue in cheek post listing 5 reasons not to buy a sublimation system.   While I wrote that post with a light hearted slant,  the intent behind it was to make people think about what sublimation could offer and why a decorator might want to try sublimation.  Roughly seven years later,  we still think that sublimation is a good way to create a profit center for your business and we still advise and encourage those who want to get started with sublimation to give it a try.

Still,  as the post from 2010 says,  there were reasons then not to buy a system and there are still reasons today not to get involved with sublimation.   Here are a few that have cropped up since the original post was written.

Reason 1:  Creative Studio makes design too easy – One of the obstacles to starting with sublimation, for some people anyway,  was the fact that you really needed to know how to use some sort of graphic design program.   Since the release of Sawgrass Ink’s Creative Studio,  a lack of graphic design expertise is no longer an issue.   Creative Studio is designed to be easy to use and doesn’t require an incessant watching of tutorials or reading of manuals.   Using this software,  you can learn to create print ready designs in a matter of minutes.   Best of all, Creative Studio comes free with any Virtuoso Printing System.

Reason 2:  Virtuoso Printing Systems are adapted for sublimation – Nozzle checks take time.  Clogged printheads lead to uneven prints.  One of the issues with sublimation, historically, has been that printers that weren’t designed for sublimation were being used to print transfers.   It made the whole process challenging.   Now,  some of that challenge has been eliminated.  The Virtuoso SG400 and SG800 are the first printers designed specifically with sublimation in mind.   Sawgrass Ink partnered with Ricoh to develop these printers on the Ricoh platform,  taking into account the special requirements of printing sublimation transfers.  The result is a printer that prints fast and with dazzling color.

Reason 3:  So many blanks,  so hard to choose – As sublimation has gotten more popular,  the number of blanks that are available to be sublimated has steadily increased.   Whether it’s a greater array of garments that can be sublimated,   or a larger spectrum of hard goods,  it will take time to decide which blanks you want to offer.     You can even decide to specialize in a particular kind of mug,  or coaster or cutting board,  and make a living doing so.   The possibilities are endless,  and who needs to spend brain power narrowing them down?

Reason 4:  So many places to sell,  so little time – The markets for sublimation have exploded in the last few years.   People are selling on their own sites,  or on sites like CafePress or Zazzle or Etsy.    Some are setting up their own websites.   Other people load a printer and a press and take their business on the road,  printing at sporting events or trade shows.    There’s money to be made in so many places,  no one has the time to get to them all.

Obviously,  like the last post,  this one is intended to be a funny way to make you think about getting started with sublimation.    If you are interested in learning more about sublimation and adding it to your business,  contact us.    We’ll be happy to give give you some advice on and assistance in getting started.

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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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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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Sublimation Package Offer

system pictureEnMart’s sublimation packages have always been a great value,  we designed them to provide everything (except a heat press, accessories and blanks) needed for sublimation at an affordable price.  This June, however,  we’ve upped the ante,  and the value,  and put together a special that is truly unprecedented.

We know sublimation can be a great profit center for a decoration business,  we have customers that are making that happen every day.   We also know that sometimes taking the step required to purchase a system can be tough.   Any business that puts out money for equipment has to be reasonably sure of a return on their investment.  They also want to be sure they’re getting the most value for every dollar spent.

If you’re thinking of investing in a sublimation system,  and want the most flexibility in the size and type of products you can sublimate,  a Virtuoso SG800 system is your best bet.   It offers the most flexibility in paper sizes, and offers larger paper sizes than the SG400.    From now until June 30,  EnMart is making all of our SG800 packages available with the following FREE extras:

You must call us at 866-516-1300 (select option 3)  to place your order.  Offer is valid until midnight,  June 30, 2016.