Help! My Sublimation System Has Been Sitting, and I Can’t Print Out!

by Tom Chambers

A not uncommon tech support question I get is “I bought a sublimation system  ___ years ago, and I never opened the box. What do I need to do?”  Another variation is, “I bought a sublimation system ___ years ago, and used it a couple times and then ___ happened and I never got back to it.  What do I need to do? Now it won’t print.”

OK, I know, it’s your money, and you can spend it however you want, but if you have that much money lying around to spend on something you aren’t ever going to use, send it to me instead, and I’ll go on vacation.  I’ll even send you pictures if you want.  Or you can go on vacation yourself, see the world, and enjoy life; donate to a charity or other worthy cause.

Unlike some out there, we don’t want to “just get the sale”.   We want to help you to be successful too. If you are uncertain, do more research until you aren’t. Ask us questions.  If you are still too intimidated, find someone who does sublimation, and if they will let you, work with them for a while for free to learn about it (preferably not a potential competitor in the same area or that could be awkward).  Or consider that maybe sublimation just isn’t for you.

A lot of system purchases are impulse buys.  I was told once several years ago that up to 80% of all sublimation systems purchased were never used, or only used once or twice.  I was recently told that the numbers have improved, but it’s still over 50%.

Look, we sell sublimation systems, and we will happily take your money if you want to spend it, but we’d much rather help you to do what’s right for YOU in YOUR situation for what YOU want to do.

If you have already spent your money on a system and you are still too intimidated to open up the box,  or maybe “life happened” and there are no plans to use the system, I recommend you just sell it on eBay,  Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, one of your local Facebook yard sale groups, or any of a thousand other venues before you lose your entire investment.  Getting something back is better than nothing.

You’re probably wondering why any of this matters, so to that end, here are some significant reasons not to buy a system and let it sit unopened or unused.

  1. The ink expires. Yes, that’s right, that expensive sublimation ink has an expiration date on the cartridge.  While it won’t magically stop working on that exact date, it is a fact that over time the ink will degrade, the sublimation dye will separate out, and the particles will clump together.  All that is a recipe for clogging up the print heads, lines, and ruining the printer.
  2. Ink dries up. Over time, the ink that is loaded into your printer will eventually dry out if it sits idle, especially if there’s any air in it. The Sawgrass Virtuoso printers are much more forgiving of sitting idle for periods of time – but even those can’t sit indefinitely for months and months or years without suffering consequences.  And other printers?  Good luck getting those working again after sitting unused like that.
  3. Hardware goes bad. Granted, a lower risk than the ink, but all those parts and electronics in the printer – capacitors in particular – age and can go bad after enough time, even if they aren’t being used.
  4. Hardware becomes obsolete. If enough time elapses, even if the printer is still in good condition and would work – it may not be possible to obtain sublimation ink for it any longer.  While Sawgrass does make ink for many models of printers long past their obsolescence date, that support does eventually end.

So what if you have already purchased a system and it is either still sitting in the box, or just hasn’t been used for a long time, and now you want to give it a go?  Regardless of your reasons, there’s no judgment here – we’re here to help.

If you have an unopened, unloaded system you bought some time ago and want to start using now, first check the expiration date on the ink.  If it’s well expired – throw it away and buy a new set of sublimation ink for your printer before you do anything else.  Otherwise, your printer becomes a slot machine in Las Vegas, and that long expired ink could ruin you.

On the other hand, if you have a system that has been sitting loaded but unused for a very long period of time, you have nothing to lose by trying to print again.  The ink is already in it, and either it is bad, or it isn’t.  If it does print correctly right away or after a few nozzle checks and cleanings, you should still check the expiration date on the ink.  If it is well past expiration, replace it immediately, and run a few cleanings to flush the old ink out.

If the print quality is still bad and your ink has expired, you have a couple of choices – either buy new ink and try to revive the printer, or just buy another system.

To help determine which choice to make, run a nozzle check followed by a head cleaning and another nozzle check.  Compare the nozzle checks, and note the position of any gaps.  Repeat the process a few times.  If the gaps are always in the same spot, your head is likely permanently clogged and you probably need a new system.   If the gaps change location, this is a good candidate for trying a new set of ink – but there are no guarantees, and a new system is always a safe bet.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

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. 

 

 

How Many Prints Can You Get From a Kit of Sublimation Ink?

Alternative title:  How Many Prints Could a Printer Print, if a Printer Could Print Prints?
By Tom Chambers

If you really just want an answer to take away and skip reading the rest of this article –  then figure a penny per square inch is what it will cost you for the ink to print sublimation*.  That’s a safe number that you probably won’t go wrong with, and your paper cost is simply the cost of a sheet of paper divided by how many items you get out of it.  If you’d like to know the “why and how” though, then read on.

One of the most common questions I hear at trade shows and over the phone regarding sublimation is “How many prints can I get out of a set of sublimation ink?”  It’s a great question that is asked in all sincerity, but one that is completely impossible to answer.  I will even go so far as to say that anyone that will tell you a specific number of prints in answer to that question either isn’t being truthful or doesn’t understand the question.  Why?   Because everyone and every design is different.  What you print and sell isn’t going to be the same thing that someone else prints and sells, plus you aren’t going to be printing the same exact design over and over again.  To illustrate this, here are a couple of basic examples.

Susie prints full color, full coverage 11” x 17” size paper prints for Vapor Apparel t-shirts on her SG800 sublimation system using extended ink cartridges**.  John on the other hand sells to souvenir shops, florists, does some custom work, uses standard size 8.5″ x 11″ paper on the smaller SG400 system, but prints a wide variety of name tags, belt buckles, ceramic tiles, the ever ubiquitous 11oz coffee mugs, and a few other products – all having different sizes, different types of art, and different levels of ink coverage.

In the two scenarios above, who uses the most ink?  How many t-shirt prints does Susie get vs. John when he prints name tags?  Any effort to answer the question would result in Susie having to print as many pages of a particular full page t-shirt design as she could before the ink ran out, and John printing out pages and pages of name tags until the ink ran out.  And the end result of this particular test would ultimately be useless against any future projections, unless Susie and John only ever printed that one design.  Apples and oranges comparisons like this never work.

The real problem here is with the question itself.  The one people should be asking, and the one that they really want the answer to anyway even if they don’t know it, is “What’s it going to cost me to print something?”  And THAT question has an answer – one that is based on 3 very simple principles and some pretty basic math.

  1. The Coverage Area: How many square inches are in your design?
  2. The Coverage Percentage: What percentage of the coverage area is printed?
  3. Designs Per Page: How many designs can you print on a single page?

Calculating this is a lot easier than it sounds, and the important thing here is to realize that it isn’t necessary to be absolutely precise – some rounding and fairly close guesses are perfectly fine.

First let’s figure out your coverage area.  To do that, take the overall height of the image and multiply it by the width of the image to obtain the area in square inches (or centimeters, if you are using metric).  You can even do circles the same way, just lower your coverage percentage estimate since the “corners” don’t really exist and are empty.

For any mathematicians out there that want greater accuracy with circles, the formula is A = π r2 (take half the diameter, times itself, times 3.14.)

For example, your design for an 11oz mug that measures 3.25” high x 8” wide would be 26 square inches.  Or, a 3” circle ornament or coaster would be 7.1 square inches.

Once you have the square inches in your coverage area, estimate your percentage of coverage based on a visual “best guess” of the amount of that area covered by your design.  Keep in mind that light, pale colors use less ink and are thus considered to be lower coverage, while darker colors are considered higher.  Open areas and white space are zero coverage.  Consider light coverage to be below 40%; medium is 40%-60%, and heavy is above 60%.

Next, multiply the square inches by $0.0075 (3/4 of a cent) for typical medium coverage designs.  For light coverage, use $0.005 (half a cent), or for heavy coverage, use $0.01 (one cent).

Assuming an average medium coverage design, the ink cost of our mug and ornament examples would be rounded to $0.20 cents and $0.05 cents, respectively.

Last but not least, let’s figure out what the paper cost is.  Using 8.5” x 11” paper, you can fit 3 of those mug designs on one page, or 5 of the 3” ornaments.  Based on the cost of a single pack of 100 sheets of our MPRES sublimation paper at $0.14 cents per page, your paper cost is under $0.05 cents per mug, or under $0.03 cents per ornament.

Add the paper cost to your ink cost, and that brings the total in ink and paper to $0.25 and $0.08 for your mug and ornament, and now you know what your items will cost you to print.  That’s it!

*All calculations used in this article are based on the market standard Sawgrass HD series sublimation ink for the Sawgrass Virtuoso SG400 and SG800 series of desktop sublimation printers.  Other printers, inks, and formats may result in different costs. 

**The extended size ink cartridges save approximately 25% in ink cost over standard ink cartridges due to their larger capacity and lower price per milliliter of ink.

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. 

How To Sublimate Without a Sublimation System

In a previous article I wrote a tongue-in-cheek bit about people who shouldn’t do sublimation.  I said how if you couldn’t use a computer, sublimation probably wasn’t for you.  Like most generalizations though, it isn’t 100% applicable in all cases. Hey, at least I used the word “probably”.

Now, I’m going to tell you how you CAN create unique and interesting items, sublimate them to the sublimation blank of your choice, and sell them to others – even somewhere like Etsy – all WITHOUT a sublimation system.   In fact, you don’t really need a computer, printer, or heat press!  What? Heresy you say?  Read on.

I’m talking about Artesprix Sublimation Markers.  Basically, they took sublimation ink and put it into a set of 10 colors of chisel tip markers that you can draw and color with.  With these markers, you can draw anything that your artistic talents render you capable of drawing, and then put it (sublimate it) onto any of the thousands of available sublimation blank items.

If it sounds simple, it is, and there are a few different ways you can use these markers, depending on your level of sublimativity (sublimation + creativity).

The Artist:  If you have lots of talent in the drawing and painting department, then this opens up a new way for you to create and sell unique one-offs of your work.  Artesprix markers lend themselves well to sketches, line art, and other methods of drawing that aren’t extremely finely detailed.  As an artist you have the most flexibility, since you truly don’t need any of the normal sublimation equipment.

If you do have a sublimation system, you can produce numbered copies of your designs on the system and then use the markers to paint or color and make each one unique in its own way.

While application of the drawing to a sublimation blank is definitely easier with a heat press, you can use an iron for many fabrics and flat goods, or a mug wrap and oven for several different kinds of drinkware.  And, unique, hand crafted items are especially well suited for selling in your Etsy store.

The Colorist:  Love to color in coloring books?  Using your regular non-sublimation printer, paper, and computer, you can find or design and print patterns and drawings for coloring (or just tear out pages from a coloring book).  Then, take the Artesprix markers, trace the lines, color in your design, and sublimate away.  If you happen to already have a sublimation system, you can print patterns and drawings on plain paper using the sublimation ink, and then color in with the markers.

The Memorist:  For lasting memories, give the markers to the kids (or adult kids) and let them draw or color something on paper instead of on the wall.  You take it, sublimate it, and you’ve created a lasting keepsake.  You can do this for your own kids or for other groups such as birthday parties, classes, or even art classes in schools.  Sell the sublimated products to the parents (or the kids), and they’ll have something they can use and will last a lot longer than a refrigerator drawing.

The Craftist:  Check out some craft stores, craft meetups, make-and-takes, or other craft related classes and venues.  Crafters love making unique items and learning something new.  Show them how it works, sublimate their work on site with a heat press (or even show them how to do it), and rake in the dough.

There are probably other categories of people who can use Artesprix markers, but I couldn’t think of more clever words ending in “ist” to name them with.  At any rate these should give you lots of start-up ideas on how to use them.

For full directions on using Artesprix markers or to order up a few sets for yourself, see our product page and click on the “Instructions” tab (and the other tabs as well).  As always, feel free to contact us with any questions.

Article by Tom Chambers; Artwork by Carolyn Cagle, Strikke Embroidery
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. 

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.

5 Things to Consider When Buying a Heat Press

Buying a heat press is a big investment,  and the decision about which type of press to buy should be made carefully to ensure that you get the type of press you need and one that will provide the most utility for your shop. Since a heat press is one of the more costly items that people who create sublimated goods will need, it pays to do the research and the math before purchasing a press. When making your buying decision, here are five things you should consider.

#1 Is Cheaper Better – A heat press is a big investment and, especially if a business is just starting out with sublimation,  the impulse might be to go with a no-name Chinese press from eBay or to start with a smaller press that is less costly.   There are,  however,  a couple of problems with this approach.   One is that no-name presses often don’t have service or technical support which leaves you with few to no options if your press breaks.   Buying a smaller, less expensive press can also be problematic as the size of the press will place limits on what can be sublimated.   The rule of thumb is to assess your needs and take into account technical support and repair options and then buy the biggest press you can afford.

#2 Consider your physical abilities – No, running a heat press isn’t as physically taxing as mining coal or being a mover,  but it does take a toll on the body.   Smaller people may have more issue with opening a manual press.  Standing all day can have an impact on the knees and feet.   There are options like auto release pop-up which can make a press easier to operate.   Don’t assume that everyone will be able to operate a press with the same level of ease.   Take into account the physicality of running a press for hours at a time and do what’s necessary to make that physical toll a little less.

#3 What type of goods will you be sublimating? – One of the biggest questions that needs to be answered before any heat press purchase is the type of goods your shop will be selling.   If the goal is to just do garments,  a flat press,  most likely a swing-away press,  would be a useful option.   If you want to do hats or mugs or something that won’t work well in a flat press,   your best bet would either be a specialty press or a combo press.  For those shops doing a variety of items,  a combo press may be best,  as it combines a flat press with the specialty press options.

#4 Where’s the best place to buy a heat press? –  The temptation to buy a heat press on eBay or Amazon,  where the prices seem cheaper may be overwhelming,  but that’s not always the best place to buy a press.   In our opinion,  the best option for purchasing a heat press is from a company that knows and uses heat presses.   If you can purchase directly from the manufacturer that’s great.   When that’s not possible,  the next best option is purchasing from a supplier who uses the presses they sell and knows them well.   Keep in mind the place that sells you the press may also be the place that provides technical and repair support.   The better they know the press,  the more able they will be to assist you when you have an issue.

#5 Can you add other disciplines to maximize the utility of your press? –  Yes,  sublimation is one decoration discipline that requires a heat press,  but it is not the only one.   If you’re buying a press,  you might also want to consider what you already do,  or could add to your shop which could make a heat press that much more useful.   Rhinestones,  screen print transfers,  adding patches to hats or bags,  there are a variety of options for how a heat press can be used.   Spreading the utility out over a variety of disciplines may help your press pay for itself faster,  and help you justify the expense of a bigger and better press.

A Memory You Can Touch

A week or two back I participated in PromoChat, a great discussion from PromoKitchen that happens every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST on Twitter.    One of the questions in that particular week’s chat was how you could sell your products as keepsakes that would stand the test of time and still keep your customers coming back again and again.    My answer to that question was as follows:

Focus on the fact that you’re creating a memory or preserving a special moment with something people can hold in their hands and cherish forever. There are always more special moments that deserve recording.

One of the things that people selling sublimation forget is that it’s not just a way to put a name on a mug or a picture on a mousepad.   It’s also a method by which memories can be captured and keepsakes created.    Yes,  some of these items might be one of a kind keepsakes,  only special to the particular person that commissions the work,  but one of a kind generally comes with a premium price.

Humans are,  I think,  in some respect hardwired to be collectors.   Maybe it’s shot glasses or spoons.    Could be dolls or dice.   People have collections of postcards,  playing cards and scorecards.   The one thing that holds a collection together is that the particular items are linked to a particular memory.   It could be a memory of place that was visited.   It could be a memory of a much loved person who is no longer around.  Often it’s a memory of a time,  a wedding,  a baby’s first Christmas,   a graduation or a retirement.   The items we collect and keep and cherish may have no significance or value to anyone other than us,  but it’s our relationship to the items and the memories they symbolize that makes them valuable.

People who sell sublimation can often spend a lot of time debating what to make and how to sell what they make.   One of the things they can fail to take into account when figuring out what they’ll offer is what it is they’re actually selling.   Yes,  they’re selling cutting boards,  or water bottles or necklaces,  but they’re also selling memories  that can be touched and held forever.

Photos fade.  Paper degrades.  Letters and pictures and postcards eventually will become nothing but dust.  The mind forgets,  or gets filled with new memories.   You think you’ll never forget that adorable, perky, ears up alertness when your childhood dog wanted a treat,  or the beautiful sunrises at the cottage where your family summered when you were a kid,  but those memories will get less clear over time.    A sublimated keepsake freezes that memory, and gives it a physical form.  It’s something your customers can hold and hug and keep forever.

So when you’re selling sublimation,  remember that you’re selling more than a belt buckle,  or a puzzle or a keepsake box.   What you’re really selling is a aide-memoire,   a help in remembering a place or time or person that is special to the customer purchasing the item.   Memories can be fleeting or fade,  but a sublimated version of that memory will last forever.  And the best thing of all is that there are always new memories to be captured.

 

How to Create a Sublimated Patch

Sublimated patches can be a great option for many decorators.   This type of patch is able to support full color designs,  even those with gradients and fades.   Sublimated patches are a perfect option when wishing to add a photo to an item.   Tiny details that may not be easily duplicated in other decoration disciplines will often easily be handled by a sublimated patch.   Sublimating a patch also ensures that the color will last as long as the patch does,  since sublimation ink actually dyes the fabric to which it is transferred.  Clearly,  there are a lot of advantages that a sublimated patch can offer,  and one big decision that needs to occur,  how will your sublimated patches be made.

There are two options for creating sublimated patches,  buy them already made from a supplier,  like EnMart,  or buy or make blank patches of your own and then sublimate those.  Both options have pluses and minuses.

Buying  Sublimated Patches

When you buy an already sublimated patch,  it comes to you completely done.   All you have to do is put it on whatever item has been chosen for decoration.   So there’s not a lot of time involved,  other than the time to create the art,  place the order and then add the patches to the item in question when they’re received.   Artwork,  at least when ordering sublimated patches from EnMart can be fairly simple too.  While we prefer and request vector artwork,  we can work with something as simple as a .jpg.   One potential drawback of ordering premade patches may be minimum requirements.   At EnMart the minimum is 25 pieces per design, size and color combination.    If you’re doing a small job,  that may be more than you need or want to order.   Price can also be an issue when purchasing sublimated patches.   If you have sublimation capabilities,  you may have to crunch the numbers to see if making your own patches is more cost effective than purchasing them already made and sublimated.

Making Your Own Patch

The other option for creating a sublimated patch is making your own,  and there are two ways of doing this.   One is to buy blank patches already made,  and add a sublimated design to them.    The other is to make your own patches from scratch either with a sublimated fabric or choosing to sublimate the patches after they’ve been constructed.   There are costs and benefits for both methods.

If you choose to buy a blank patch,  you will have less of a minimum than you would if you were purchasing a sublimated patch,  assuming you made your purchase from EnMart.   Our blank patch minimum is 10 pieces per size and color combination.  The time invested in production would also be shorter,  as you would only have to print your design and then press it on the patch.    One issue with this method is the fact that designs that go all the way to the edge of the patch would probably not work too well.   Another is the need to purchase extra patches in case you make a mistake.

On the other side of the coin is making your own sublimated patches from scratch.   Here you would need to cut the patch,  create some sort of border,  and also create the sublimated design and add it to the fabric.     This would most likely consume the most production time.  It is also a method that may result in something that looks the least like a professionally merrowed patch,  although that may not matter.    The plus side of this method is that you can make as few or as many patches as you need.

Keep in mind, for either of these options,  you would also need to have a sublimation printer and inks and paper in order to create a sublimation transfer.     That is a cost that needs to be included when calculating what method is the most fiscally sensible for your business.  Creating your own patches may seem to cost less,  but has hidden costs in supplies and labor.

Ultimately the best method for creating sublimated patches is the one that makes the most sense for you.    If you’re working with large volumes and often repeat designs,  than having someone else produce the patches may make the most sense.   If you’re working with short runs of a few pieces,  and only need sublimated patches on an irregular basis,  then making your own could be the best option.    Remember,  the best option is the one that makes the most sense for you and your business.

How to Choose a Sublimation Paper

Way back in 2010 we did a 2 part series detailing everything you needed to know about choosing a sublimation paper.   Eight years later (doesn’t time just fly) it seemed like a good idea to summarize some of what was in that series in an effort to help a new group of sublimation printers make their paper choices.   The original posts are still very relevant and worth reading in full, so if you’re inclined,  please take a moment to read Part 1 and Part 2.    If you’re short on time,  this summary will give you the basics.

To begin,  let’s talk about the three categories into which we at EnMart divide sublimation paper.  Our categories may be different than those other suppliers use,  but our experience has shown these category designations to be accurate, so they’re the ones we use.   In our experience, sublimation paper is either

  • High release
  • Low or Standard Release
  • Hybrid (combines properties of both)

High Release paper typically requires less time to press to release the majority of the ink onto the substrate.  This type of paper tends to work well for soft goods and may provide slightly superior color transfer.   One of the main issues with this paper may be smearing,  as high release paper tends not to dry quickly.   You may also experience “blow out” on hard goods like ceramic tiles of FRP key chains,  as the dye may be released so quickly that the harder materials can’t absorb it fast enough.    High release paper may also be more prone to curling, printer jams,  humidity and other environmental issues.

Low or standard release paper is pretty much the opposite of high release paper.   It dries quickly,  so smearing issues are minimal.   This type of paper works very well with hard goods and has little instance of “blow out”.   A potential drawback of low release paper is that it takes far more time in a press to draw the dye out.   Extensive time in a heat press can cause damage to or yellowing of coatings or fabrics,  but shortening the press time could result in colors that are less vibrant than desired.   On the positive side,  low release paper does tend to be resistant to jams and other environmental factors.

Hybrid paper,  as the name implies,  combines the qualities of both high and low release papers.   Some hybrid papers are more on the high release send of the spectrum while other are similar to low release paper.   The goal with this type of paper is to capitalize on the good points of both the other types of paper while minimizing the down side.   Based on our experience,  hybrid papers tend to be the best for all around use on all substrates.

If you’re wondering what type of paper Mpres Paper,  the sublimation paper that EnMart sells is,  it’s a hybrid paper.  The time required in a heat press is closer to the high release end of the spectrum,   but it mimics the low release papers in it’s capacity for quick drying to eliminate smearing, and the excellent release of color.   This is the paper that our parent company,  Ensign Emblem uses to create sublimated patches every day.     It’s been battle tested and proven worthy and we highly recommend it.

 

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.