Category: 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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Cracking the Hospitality and Tourism Market

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

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

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

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

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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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What’s the Best Printing Method?

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

That depends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Sublimation and Multimedia Decorating

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

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

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

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

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

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T’was the Night Before Christmas – Sublimation Version

christmas2010wallpapers16Note: I first wrote this parody of The Night Before Christmas in 2011. It amused me, and some other people, so I thought it was worth making it a Christmas tradition.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the shop
All the printers were printing and going non-stop
The pressers were pressing with all of their might
For presents, for Christmas, were needed that night

The t-shirts were folded up neatly and boxed
And dreaming of sublimation transfers that rocked
And mamma in her apron and I in the same
Were printing sports jerseys with numbers and names

When out front of the shop there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my work to see what was the matter
Away to the entrance I stumbled pell-mell
Threw open the door and screamed out “What the … bell?”

I clung to the doorframe, exhausted and drawn
Wondering where all the daylight had gone
A miniature sleigh, and Santa, plus eight
Reminded me quickly that orders were late.

The little old driver, that lively St. Nick
Cried, “Bring me those orders, and move them out quick!”
Bring mousepads, bring mugs and t-shirts galore
Bring bookmarks and puzzles and tote bags and more!

Now Printer, you know this, stop looking so ill
There’s children, world over, with stockings to fill
Bring jerseys; bring car flags, and maybe a plaque
But hurry, please hurry and fill up my sack!

I’d never made claim to being an elf,
But found, by St. Nick, I could not help myself
The printers sprayed color, the heat presses pressed
And presents were finished for Santa’s great quest

The last transfer was printed, the last item dyed
When I turned to find Santa smiling by my side
“Printer you’ve done it!” he said with a grin
And his sack started bulging as the last gift went in

Whether mugs for a latte, plain coffee or tea
A puzzle, a clipboard, a box for jewelry
A key chain or shirt with a logo so bright
There’ll be happy children with gifts made this night

How Santa’s eyes twinkled, his belly it shook
As he gave me the kindest and nicest of looks
His laughter was merry, his praise much desired
My gifts had passed muster and were much admired

As I stood in my shop, all the gifts finally made
The stress of the holidays started to fade
Personalized gifts, sublimated, jolly and fun
Would delight gift recipients, every last one

With a wink and a nod Santa sprang to his sleigh
Gave a flip of the reins and was flying away
His bag bulging with presents, his sleigh loaded down
He set off to being joy to every city and town

I laughed as I saw him, that jolly old elf
Flying off with gifts made by my very own self
With his bag full of pet tags and beer mugs and all
I waved as he flew off and then heard him call

Hey Printer, keep working, there’s always next year
And I’ll be returning now never you fear
Until then, keep printing, with colors so bright
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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2017 Sublimation Trends to Watch

child clothesline with socks, isolated on white background

One of the fun things about sublimation is how the craft is always evolving.   As new products and new techniques are developed,   the horizons of what sublimation can do,  and what can be sublimated expand.   Sublimation isn’t just for mugs and mousepads,  although those can be profitable items.    In 2016,  new items have become available for sublimation,  and new techniques and uses as well.   Building on what’s happened in 2016,  these are some of things we predict will be the trends in sublimation for 2017.

Socks – Colorful, decorated socks have been a trend for a while now.   Some people,  especially men, have taken to wearing colorful socks to express their individuality and deal with the conformity that business wear requires.   Socks that can be sublimated are now available from companies like Vapor Apparel.    Capture this trend by offering sublimated socks to your customers.   They’d be great sellers for high school sports teams,  bands or cheer squads.    Decorated socks could also make fun souvenirs for gift shops.

Multimedia – Many decorators are discovering that sublimation goes well with other decoration disciplines.  Whether it’s adding bling to a sublimated design with rhinestones,  or adding texture with embroidery or vinyl,  sublimation plays well with others,  and the resulting designs are definitely fun to view and to wear.   The trick to combining sublimation with another discipline is to find a design that recognizes and uses the separate strong points of each decoration technique,  and combines them to create a design that is greater than the sum of its parts. Multimedia designs can be great sellers for dance and cheer clubs,  or for a group or company that wants corporate logowear that offers a little extra flash.

Bandanas, beanies and bibs – Sublimation is not just for shirts anymore.  When it comes to wearable sublimated garments,  new options,  like bandanas and beanies,  are popping up regularly.   Sublimatable wearable accessories also extend to bracelets and necklaces,  headbands and hand warmers.   Baby is even getting into the act with sublimatable bibs and onesies.   It is now possible to make an entire business out of sublimating small wearables and accessories.

Patches – Many fashion magazines have been proclaiming 2016 as the year that the decorated patch made a comeback.     Patches as decorative accents,  not simply to provide identification or to cover a hole in a garment,  are seeing a resurgence.   Sublimated patches are a great way to capitalize on this trend.    Whether you buy blank patches and sublimate them yourself,   or purchase patches that have already been sublimated,   selling patches can be a lucrative profit center.

 

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New Sublimation Blanks = Great Holiday Gifts

beltbuckle1_lThe holidays are coming,  and one thing that is always true about the holidays is that people love personalized gifts.   EnMart has added some great new sublimation blanks to our offerings this year.  We’re sure one of these new items will make the perfect gift for someone on your gift list!

Belt Buckles – Our belt buckles can be easily personalized with sublimation.   The sublimation insert is large enough that the image can be clearly seen,  but not so large that it looks like the gift recipient is wearing a championship belt of some kind.   All buckles are made of brass and accompanied by a sublimatable insert.

State Ornaments – While we don’t yet carry every state,  our stock of state ornaments is growing.   Celebrate the sun with an ornament in the shape of Alabama or California or Florida.    Show your midwest roots and display an ornament in the shape of Illinois or Michigan.    Create ornaments to celebrate a favorite vacation spot or to commemorate a hometown that may now be far away.    Keep in mind,  this item can also be used as a luggage tag or a souvenir.

Pendants  – A personalized necklace is something anyone who wears necklaces would be sure to love.    Available as both a square and a round,  these pendants have patterned embossed back and are recessed to accept an aluminum sublimation insert.    Sublimate a family picture,   a favorite saying,  or simply an intriguing design to create a one of a kind piece that is sure to be treasured.

Pet Tags – Don’t forget Fido or Fifi when handing out the gift wrapped packages this year.     Sublimatable pet tags are a great way to identify your pet and give them a bit of style.   Our pet tags are aluminum and can be printed on both sides.    These tags are also great options for key fobs,  luggage tags,  zipper pulls or necklaces.

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Sublimation Section Update

sublimation blanksIf you haven’t been to the sublimation section of our website lately,  you may want to pop in and take a look.   We’ve added some new things and rearranged things a bit to make it easier to find the items you want to purchase.     Today I thought I’d give you a brief tour.

First let’s start with the sublimation blanks section,  as that has probably had the biggest overhaul.    We added some new items,  like blank fabric and Christmas stockings and also now include Vapor Apparel in the sublimation blanks section.    If you’re looking for mugs,  mousepads,  t-shirts or ornaments,  this is the section to visit.

In the sublimation ink section,   you can find all the ink you would need for your Ricoh or Virtuoso sublimation printers.   Inks are sorted by the printer for which they are intended.   If you have an Epson printer,  or don’t see the ink for your Ricoh printer on our list,  please contact us and ask about it.  We sell all currently available Sawgrass inks, and can obtain and stock anything that isn’t in our current inventory on request.

We are proud to say we still offer Mpres Paper,  the only paper we carry and exclusive to EnMart.    The paper is still getting rave reviews on our Facebook page.   It’s a great paper and one we not only sell,  but use as well.   If you’re interested in a sample,  send your request with address information to mpres@myenmart.com.    We’ll be happy to send you a sample via USPS.

Finally,  we should talk about the sublimation accessories category,  which has also had some new arrivals.  We’ve added individual PFTE pressing pillows as well as a pressing pillow kit.  We also have waste ink collectors,  heat tape and mug and bowl wraps.  If you need items to make your sublimation go more smoothly,  this is the category to visit.

 

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Custom Sublimated Patches

sublimated patchesSublimated patches can be a great way to present artwork that may have traits that would not allow it to render well in another decoration discipline.   Gradients and fades don’t work well with embroidery.   Tiny details may not show up as well on a screen printed emblem.   Sublimation offers photographic detail and the ability to play with color,  all at a price that is easily within most shops’ budgets.

Many shops will elect to create sublimate patches themselves.  For those that have a sublimation system and access to blank patches,  this may seem like the easiest route to take,  but that isn’t always the case.   EnMart can create custom blank patches at very reasonable prices,  relieving a shop’s burden of production and freeing up time for other revenue generating activities.

If you’ve never ordered a sublimated patch from EnMart,  it’s really quite easy to do.

  1. Go to the sublimated patch section.
  2. Select the shape for your patch.
  3. Select the size.
  4. Select your merrow color (this should harmonize with the colors in the artwork) and the number of patches you wish to order (minimum order is 25).
  5. Complete the order.
  6. E-mail artwork to design@myenmart.com.   Make sure to include your order number in the subject line.

It’s that simple.   Creating sublimated patches will take a few days at most,  depending on the size of the order.    If your shop sells patches,  but doesn’t have the ability to sublimate them,  or if your shop sublimates patches in house,  but could use the time to do other things,  order your sublimated patches from EnMart.   You’ll save time and money,  and your clients will get a quality product they can wear proudly.

 

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