Category: Get Started with Sublimation

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.

 

Interested In Sublimation? Visit EnMart at a DAX Show

sublimation blanks. jpgEvery year,  EnMart exhibits at all three of the Decorated Apparel Expo (DAX) Shows.   Every year,  at least one person, and usually more,  stops me at some point in the show and tells me how useful it was talking to Tom Chambers,  our sublimation expert.    Tom has a great deal of knowledge about sublimation,  and shares it in a way that answers questions and provides solutions.   He is willing to spend the time to help people make the decision about the system that will work best for their needs and we’ve had many satisfied customers start their sublimation businesses after talking to Tom at one of these shows.

If you’re wondering why I’m telling you this,  it’s that time of year again.   Our first DAX Show will be in Kansas City on March 4 – 5.    We’ll be in the Rosedale Room there.  After that we’ll be in Minnesota (Booth 105) on April 1 – 2,  and Tinley Park (Booth 124) on April 22 – 23.    At each show we will have sublimation equipment and samples available for those who are interested.    It is definitely worth it to spend some of your time visiting us and talking to Tom.  You’ll learn a lot,  and you may walk away with an entirely new profit center for your business.

What We Can’t Teach

professorIt’s a new year and I would guess that many shops are taking a look around and deciding what new decoration techniques or disciplines they’ll be adding to their shop in 2016.   I always think the beginning of a new year is an exciting time,  because it seems that so many things are possible,  and so many options are available.    The first quarter of the year is a time of learning and questioning for a lot of companies,  as they find out what they could do and make a decision about what they should do to increase their profits.

At EnMart,  we always find this a fun time of year,  because we get to spend time talking with customers who are considering whether or not sublimation is a good choice for their business.   We’ve been working with dye sublimation,  through both EnMart and our parent company Ensign Emblem,  practically since inkjet sublimation was a thing,  so we love sharing what we know with people who are just starting out.   Part of our mission here at EnMart is to be educators,  helping business owners learn how to use their supplies and their equipment to the best advantage.

We can teach you how to sublimate.    We have the equipment and we have the skill.   We know about transfers that slip and cause ghosting,  about printing on the wrong side of the paper,  and about picking up that mug or tile when it’s still just a little too hot.    Having been sublimating for so many years,   we understand the wonder of that first print,   and we also know you can still feel that wonder after the 500th or 5000th print.    Our customers have gifted us with their joy as they understand what can be done with sublimation,  and their gratitude when we’ve explained a problem they weren’t able to solve.   Really,   we can teach you,  through blog posts, on social media,  through articles,  on the phone, or face to face,  almost everything you need to know about sublimation,  except for these things.

We can’t teach how exciting it will be the first time you successfully sublimate something.    You won’t really understand the value of sublimation as an upselling tool until you add an order of coffee mugs to that logowear order you get every year.     We can’t replicate the first time you see the variety of products that can be sublimated and realize in how many ways sublimation can expand your business and your potential profits.     There are no words that can convey the satisfaction of landing the account you’ve been trying to get for years and finally landed,  because you had something new to offer.     We can teach you the nuts and bolts of sublimation,  but the intrinsic things,   the fun and profit of sublimation,  you have to learn on your own.

The fun part,  from our perspective,  is we know that,  if you add sublimation to your business,  you will.

 

 

4 Reasons to Add Sublimation to Your Shop

four_previewPeople who are not currently sublimating often ask why they need to add dye sublimation (often just referred to as sublimation for brevity’s sake)  to the decoration processes their shop offers.   Now,  let me say up front,  no one needs to add sublimation to their shop.    If you choose not to offer sublimation services,  the world will not spin off its axis,  a meteor will not hit your shop,  and things will go along as they normally do without any horrific consequences.   The only bad thing that will happen is that someone else in your market will be making a profit on sublimated goods and your shop will not.   So, really the question is not why do you need to add sublimation to the decoration techniques your shop offers,  but why you should want to add sublimation.     Here are a few reasons why we think most shops would want to add sublimation.

1.  It’s a new profit center –  In order to stay profitable,  shops need to diversify.   While there are shops out there that do only one thing and make a living that way,  most decorators have learned to offer a variety of decoration techniques.   Sublimation is simply another decoration technique to have in your arsenal.

2.  Sublimation opens up new products – If you’ve primarily decorated clothes,  adding sublimation to your shop allows you to add hard goods,  mugs,  plaques and the like.  There are a wide variety of sublimation blanks available for decoration and an equal variety of markets to which those goods can be sold.   Adding sublimation gives your shop the ability to offer additional categories of goods,  and to capture additional dollars when a client places a clothing order.

3. Financial barriers to entry are comparatively low – We’re not saying that sublimation is inexpensive,  larger printer packages can be in the $1500 to $2000 range,  and a quality heat press can add another few thousand dollars to that total,   plus the price of blanks.   Still,  when comparing that cost to the cost of a new DTG printer or screen printing press,  sublimation is a relatively economical way to get started in a new business.

4. The learning curve is fairly low – Yes,  sublimation is a decoration discipline and, as such,  it has its own quirks and tricks that need to be learned and understood.    That said,  if you can use graphics software,  know how to print to an inkjet printer and understand how to use a heat press,  you can sublimate.   There are a number of resources out there to help you get started,  and learning to produce a usable print should not be that difficult.

What Can I Sublimate?

Woman with question marks on a blackboardOne of the most common questions about sublimation that we get asked is “what can I sublimate?”.   It’s a common question because people either assume you can sublimate anything  or they assume you can only sublimate items that are in some super secret special category to which not everyone has access.    The truth is somewhere in the middle.   Not every item is suitable for sublimation, as with most decoration disciplines,   there are items that cannot be sublimated because of how they’re made,  what they’re made of,  or because they won’t fit properly into the  heat presses or other heating methods available.     On the other side of the coin,  items suitable for sublimation are not some magically coated items that only a select few can use or buy.   In reality,  sublimation is really a fairly easy decoration discipline to enter and master.  If you are thinking of starting a sublimation business or wondering what you can and can’t sublimate,  here are a few pieces of information that should help you understand what you can sublimate and what may not be an ideal choice when it comes to sublimating a product.

The first thing you need to know is that hard goods suitable for sublimation need to be poly coated.   This means,  as I said in my last post,   that you can’t go to the dollar store and buy a mug and sublimate it.   Yes,  there are sprays that can be used to coat items for sublimation,  and going that route may be a viable choice for some people.   For most people, however,   the easiest route is to buy sublimation blanks already coated.  This will ensure that you get a quality blank with a smooth coating that is designed to stand up to the temperatures needed to get a good sublimated print.

When it comes to sublimating fabric,   100% polyester fabric will always give you the best result.   There are several t-shirt brands,  among them Vapor Apparel,  that make 100% polyester shirts that are comfortable to wear and have a nice feel.  These shirts are designed especially for sublimation and come in an array of colors that are suitable for this decoration discipline.

People often ask if it is possible to sublimate a polyester blend,  and the answer to that question is yes,  with a qualification.   Yes,  you an sublimate a poly blend but,  because it is a blend,   the sublimation ink will only dye the poly fibers.   This results in a more distressed look for your print.   Some people find this sort of look attractive and desirable.   Others do not.   If you want a full color print,  your best bet is to start with a garment that is 100% polyester.   This will always produce your best and most colorful result.

Sublimation is actually fairly simple when you get right down to it.   You need sublimation ink and sublimation paper and a blank suitable for sublimation.     You need a heat source that can reach 400 degrees,  either a heat press that can accommodate the blank you want to sublimate,  or  a wrap that can hold your transfer in place while the item is in an oven.  Finally you need a blank that is suitable for sublimation and some graphic software to create the graphic you want to print.   If you have all those things,  you’re ready to sublimate.

Save Big on Sublimation in 2015

EnMart is starting out 2015 by slashing prices on our inventory of sublimation and ChromaBlast packages.   If your New Year’s Resolution was to add an additional profit center to your business,  there’s no better time than now.   Take advantage of these great deals and be sublimating or printing ChromaBlast transfers by the weekend.

XT PRO Ricoh 7100 System – 13″ x 19″
sublimation xt pro package

Everything you need for production sublimation printing – the largest size Ricoh 7100 printer plus bypass tray for maximum size 13″ x 19″ prints, eXTended size ink cartridges, various sizes of Mpres paper, a spare waste ink tank – and more!
20% off full price – now only $1769

Standard Ricoh 7100 System – 11″ x 19″
proprintr3 sublimation or chromablast system

Print 11″ x 17″ images with this Ricoh 7100 system. Comes with paper, a standard set of ink, and more!
Available in either Sublimation or Chromablast package configurations.  Or get one of each!

Entry Ricoh 3110 System – 8.5″ x 11″
quickstartr2 sublimation chromablast system

Need to print smaller items? Just starting out? This wildly popular Ricoh 3110 system comes with paper, a complete set of ink, and more!
Available in either Sublimation or Chromablast package configurations. Or get one of each!

Starting a Sublimation Business in 2015

startWe all know that the beginning of the year is a time when many people embark on new adventures.   If you’ve been thinking that 2015 is the year you should start that sublimation business you’ve been contemplating,  EnMart can help.

The first place to start is in the sublimation category on the EnMart website.  There you can see the printers available,  a selection of the blanks that can be sublimated,  and get an idea how much things like ink and paper will cost.     You can also download the 2011 edition of the Dye Sublimation Bible.   Although this book is now a few years old,   it still provides a good basic overview of sublimation and how to sublimate various blank items.

Another helpful resource is this blog.   From time to time,  I write a series of posts that deal with a particular aspect of sublimation.  It might be how to get started with sublimation,  it might be how to sublimate a particular item,  or it could be a discussion about paper or ink.     The posts are designed to help you gain more knowledge about sublimation and how to successfully make it part of your business.

There are also a variety of magazines and trade organizations that deal with sublimation.  Most magazines will have archives of back issues so you can find sublimation related articles you may have missed.    The organizations all deal with sublimation in some form.   In addition to those mentioned,  you may also want to check out the Advertising Specialties Institute,  which may be a useful resource when you’re working to find markets for your sublimated goods.

Sawgrass Technologies,  the manufacturer of sublimation ink,  provides a wide variety of helpful resources on their website.   They offer webinarsvideos and a library of articles about sublimation.    They also offer technical support and advice should you have issues getting started with sublimation.

Keep in mind,  the biggest resource for sublimation is the willingness to try something new and a comfort with the idea that you’ll probably mess things up once or twice.   Sublimation is not hard to learn,  but there are tricks and tips that can help you successfully sublimate almost any substrate suitable for sublimation.   The resources listed above will help you learn what you need to know to make your sublimation business a success.