Category: Tips and Tricks

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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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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Actual Advice: Answering your Sublimation Questions

Advice-2We just started a series called Actual Advice,  in which we answer questions from customers,  on SubliStuff’s sister blog, EmbroideryTalk,  and I thought it would be fun to have the same series over here.    Often the best indication of what people need and want to know is in the questions they ask,  and I figured it would be helpful to share the questions and answers here on this blog so more people can benefit.    So,  without further ado,  here are a few questions we’ve been asked.

Question 1:  Can you buy mugs from the dollar store and sublimate them?   The first thing to say here is nothing is impossible.  Yes,  theoretically,  you could buy mugs from the dollar store,  buy a coating spray designed for sublimation, coat the mugs yourself and sublimate them.   In practice, however,  that’s a dicey proposition.  Coating items for sublimation yourself is difficult,  and getting the coating evenly applied can be problematic.   Dollar store mugs may also be less sturdy and less able to stand up to the heat and pressure of a mug press.   There’s also the fact that sublimating mugs this way won’t save you much.   The cost of buying a dollar store mug,  purchasing coating and the implements to apply that coating and then spending the time necessary to apply the coating would probably far outstrip the cost of buying drinkware for sublimation that is already professionally coated and prepared.

Question 2:  Do you do sublimation tutorials at your EnMart locations?  We do set up sublimation tutorials upon request, provided we have the necessary equipment and personnel available.   We do keep printers set up in the R&D lab,  but they are sold as demos after a certain period of time.    The R & D heat press also tends to get sold at trade shows,  as it doubles as our trade show press.   On the plus side,  this allows us to ensure that we have the latest equipment in the lab.   On the minus side,  it sometimes means that we don’t have the necessary equipment available.   The other half of the equation is that our sublimation lab and our sublimation experts are at the company headquarters in Michigan,  which is the only location that offers tutorials.     If you are interested in a tutorial,  and are able to come to the Michigan location,  you can always contact us to see if we can set one up.

Capitalizing on Holiday Cash

SantaMoney1-300x199The holidays are the time of year when people are not only looking for unique gift ideas,  they’re also looking for holiday decorations for their home and/or business.   Sublimation is a great option both for gifts and for holiday decorating,  as it offers a wide range of options and allows the creation of personalized items as well.    If you have a sublimation system,  you could end your year profitably by capitalizing on the holiday cash that’s waiting to be captured.   Here are a few ideas about how that can be done.

1.  Show examples –  If you have a brick and mortar store front,  decorate with your own personalized ornaments and other items.   If you sell online,  create a Pinterest board or an ideas page on your website which showcases the many sublimated decorating and gift options available.    Even if you have a brick and mortar store front,  I would recommend using Pinterest as well.   A simple search will show you a lot of people creating holiday decorating boards,  and they have to get the pins they’re saving from somewhere.  It might as well be your board of holiday decorating ideas.

2. Generate some publicity – Although gift guides are usually put together months in advance,  it’s always a good idea to search out any in your area or target market and see how you can get included.   If your market is local,  television stations,  regional magazines and newspapers are fertile ground for free publicity.  Come up with an idea for a short segment on unique decorating ideas for the local morning show,  or create a list of the top ten personalized gifts for the local paper.   Local media tends to like spotlighting local businesses,  and providing a seasonal bit of news will help both them and you.

3.  Push personalization –  When I was a child,  a mug with my name on it,  or a puzzle that showed a favorite photograph would have been a treasured gift.    Personalization doesn’t have to be confined to gifts, however,  it can also extend to home decor.   Who wouldn’t like a ceramic tile mural with a Christmas theme or a personalized plate to celebrate Baby’s First Christmas?   Remind your customers frequently that you can create unique, personalized items for a reasonable cost.

4. Don’t forget pets –  There’s many a Fido or Fluffy that has a gift under the tree on Christmas morning.   If you let people know that you can do items like pet tags and pet bowls,  that gift might well come from your business.

SubliStuff Sublimation Series Posts

series listOver on the EmbroideryTalk Blog,  I just did a post where I collected all the links to my series posts in one place.  For those who don’t know,  a series post is when I deal with one subject over several posts,  talking about a different aspect of the topic in each post.   I’ve also done some series posts here on the SubliStuff blog,  so it seemed like a good idea to collect links to those posts all in one place so people can more easily find them.

Subject:  Getting Started with Sublimation

Target Markets for Sublimated Products 

Sublimation: It’s (Not) Complicated 

Create, Print, Press! Is It Really that Easy?

Choosing a Heat Press

Choosing a Printer 

Target Market 

Sublimation Reality Check

Subject: How to Sublimate a Specific Item

How to Sublimate a Shot Glass

What Exactly Can You Sublimate 

How to Sublimate Tiles 

Subject:  Sublimation Paper

Mpres Paper 

The Quest for Fire… Sublimation Paper, pt 1

The Quest for Fire… Sublimation Paper, pt 2

Subject:  ChromaBlast Ink

ChromaBlast:  A Comparison 

ChromaBlast for Cotton

ChromaBlast Printing for Dark T-Shirts

Please keep in mind that this blog has been around since 2010, so some of the printers mentioned may no longer be offered.   I do think the information contained in these posts is still helpful, however, and hopefully you will as well.

Six Tips for Successfully Sublimating Several Substrates*

six tipsOne of the beauties of sublimation is that it isn’t limited to one type of item.  You don’t have to just embellish garments,  or just work with fabric,  or just work with hard goods and never work with fabric.  Sublimation allows you to decorate a wide variety of items,  some fabric,  some hard goods and some in the spectrum in between.  While each specific item will have its own unique characteristics,  there are some things that are fairly universal.   Here are six tips that can help you in sublimating almost any substrate,  from poly t-shirts to puzzles and mousepads to mugs.

Tip 1:  Each item is different, read the instructions and then test – It’s easy to think that a ceramic tile is a ceramic tile or a polyester shirt is the same regardless of manufacturer,  but that isn’t always the case.   Make sure you read the instructions specific to the item you are pressing and then do a test run before you start your production run.  Each heat press, batch of ink and substrate will react a little differently.  Purchasing one extra item to test can save you a ton of money in ruined items down the line.

Tip 2:  Too much moisture is a bad thing – If the room where you’re sublimating is too humid,  it can cause problems with your paper and with the items you’re sublimating.   Make sure your sublimation paper is stored in a cool dry place.   If you suspect your paper is too moist put it on your press for several seconds to to evaporate the moisture.  You can also press garments for 10 seconds if they’re retaining more moisture than they should.  It may also be a good idea to use an absorbent cloth or a non textured paper towel behind your transfer to absorb excess moisture.

Tip 3:  Don’t leave the transfer on too long – This tip may be especially relevant when it comes to ceramics, like tiles or mugs.   Removing the transfer quickly helps prevent ghosting of the image and prevents the paper from sticking.  Once the paper has been removed,  cooling the ceramic in a bucket of water is recommended.

Tip 4:  Make sure your pressing time is just right –  Press your item for too few seconds and you won’t get a good print,  in the case of garments,  you may even get a print that washes out too quickly,  as the ink hasn’t had time to dye the fibers.   Press the item for too long and you could get image fade on fabric,  or ghosting on ceramic items.   Check the instructions for the item you’re pressing to be sure you’re sublimating at the right time and temperature.

Tip 5:  You will make a mistake.  Deal with it –  In my opinion, one of the biggest problems novice sublimators have is the fear that they’ll make a mistake and ruin an expensive blank.   I hate to be the bearer of bad news,  but that will happen.  Plan for it to happen,  deal with it when it does happen and move on.   Don’t let fear of making a mistake stop you from ever trying at all.

Tip 6:  Information is your friend –  The more you know,  the better you can sublimate.   Sawgrass has a whole host of videos and webinars that can help you learn to sublimate specific items.   Blogs like this one will give you tips and provide advice and encouragement.   Forums like T-shirt Forums or the ADF Forum have whole sections devoted to sublimation.    Google and read and study and learn and then practice,  that’s the best way to get better at sublimation.

 

*Yes,  I like a bit of alliteration on occasion.   Why do you ask?

Selling Sublimated Items for Holiday Gifts

T’is now truly the season,  with Thanksgiving behind us,  for purchasing holiday gifts.  In all the drift of Cyber Monday and Black Friday sales,  there are people out there who are looking for something unique to give as a gift.   It could be something with a personal meeting for the recipient,  or simply something that is one of a kind that couldn’t be purchased off the shelf.   If you’re the owner of a sublimation shop,  this time of year can be a perfect opportunity.   People are looking for personalized and specialized gifts,  and you have the ability to offer them.   All you have to do now is let potential customers know what you can do.     Here are a few tips on how that can be done.

Tip 1:  Don’t neglect local media – Local newspapers,  magazines,  radio and television stations are always looking for stories,  and plan their holiday schedules quite far in advance.  Contact a local television station and offer to show off some great sublimated gift ideas on one of the local news broadcasts.   Do a press release or offer to write an article for the local paper about this great method called sublimation that can be used to personalize gifts.    Get creative with your holiday story ideas and approach the local media earlier in the year.

Tip 2:  Don’t neglect social media – Local businesses can use social media very successfully,  if they put some thought into who to follow and what to post.   Make sure to follow local businesses and local residents.    Ask your current customers if they’re on the same social media sites that you are,  and make sure to include your social media information on receipts and any brochures or flyers.  Once you have established a following,  make sure your feed is more than just a series of “buy my stuff” messages.   Use your feed to show off work you’ve done,  interact with customers and suggest ideas for holiday gifts.

Tip 3:  Create an idea center – Some customers will come to you knowing exactly what they want,  but others might only have a vague idea or no idea at all.    To help those customers see the possibilities,  create an idea center that showcases possible gifts.   It could be a binder with pictures,  or a portion of your shop wall that showcases actual items you’ve created.    The main point is to have examples that can help spark ideas.

 

Selling Sublimation with Social Media

One of the questions we get asked quite often is how to find a market for sublimated goods or simply how to sell sublimation.   Now,  of course,  there are many ways to sell a product,  and the ones that work for your particular business will certainly depend on your target market.   The first rule of sales is to always know your market,  how they communicate and where they get their information from,  and then to become part of those communication channels yourself,  which is what brings me to social media.

If you read much about modern marketing,  social media is certainly already on your radar.  While I won’t say social media is for every business or will work with every market,  it is a great weapon to have in your sales arsenal.   Selling sublimation with social media works pretty much like selling sublimation with any other sales tool, but there are a couple of differences.   If you want to try using social media to boost your sublimation sales,  here are a few things to consider.

1. Social media is about relationships,  not selling.  It’s easy to get so caught up in making the sale that you forget you’re talking to real people.  The average person doesn’t want to be sold,  they want to get to know your company and you,  and to trust that you’ll do good work.  Once that is accomplished,  a sale may well be made,  but the relationship has to be there first.   A constant stream of messages that scream nothing but “buy my product” will have your potential customers saying a “bye” of a different kind.

2.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Instagram is a great resource for people who make things.  Facebook and Twitter allow you to post pictures as well.  Creating albums of your work,  or spotlighting a new product with a post and a picture is great publicity.  Plus these sites allow you to create a display of your work that is available 24 hours a day,  7 days a week, 365 days a year.

3. Social media helps educate customers.  Make sure part of your social media strategy encompasses helping your customers learn about your business and the sublimation process.   Share pictures of your equipment or supplies.  Post a video that shows how a mug or a mousepad is made.   Don’t release trade secrets,  but allow your customers to understand how you do what you do and why sublimated products might be a viable option for their business.

Same Old Stuff, Different Use

One of the things we often get asked here at EnMart is where and how sublimated goods can be sold.   Usually I tell people who ask that the key to selling sublimated goods it to think beyond the standard uses for the sublimation blanks we sell.  Take, for instance,  one way that we’ve used our metal license plates.  Instead of going on the front of a car,  we sublimated them with appropriate graphics and used them as signs in our trade show booth.    Pieces of FRP sheet stock, drilled with the necessary holes,  were also sublimated and made into signs.   Instead of the usual signs or banners that one normally sees in a trade show booth, although we had those as well,  we had a bunch of unique signs that also showcased our products and our expertise.   Same old stuff, different use.

The same thing can be done for almost any sublimation product.    Sublimate an theme appropriate picture on a 15 oz. mug and fill the mug with candy,  soup mix or coffee or cocoa products.    Personalized frosted glass beer mugs could be coupled with a home beer brewing kit.   An aluminum water bottle could be paired with an exercise DVD,  or a pair of hiking boots and a map of local hiking trails.    A lot of these items could be sold to local businesses in your area,  if you help them think outside the box about how they could display and sell these items.  Personalization is always an added attraction,   and studies have shown that promo goods with logos tend to stay in a customer’s memory and keep them coming back.

You also shouldn’t forget that a product may be called one name,  but isn’t necessarily dedicated to that function until it’s put into use.   Pet bowls would be one example.  Until they actually get filled with that first scoop of kibble, they’re simply bowls.   Use them to create a personalized set of bowls for the family dinner table.   Sublimate the appropriate motto and sell them as change or key bowls.   The same kind of thinking can be used for pet tags.  They can be zipper or curtain pulls,  or made into jewelry.    The possibilities are far wider than we might think.

Imagination is definitely a key factor when it comes to selling sublimation.  Just because something is called a license plate or a pet bowl doesn’t mean that has to be it’s only use or function.   When it comes to selling,  thinking beyond the current limits is what will help you get new clients and help you make more money with your sublimation system.

Double Sublimation

It seems like, every day,  I find out about another use for EnMart’s sublimated patches.  The latest use was revealed to me courtesy of a customer who asked some great questions,  and our tech staff,  who always have great and useful answers.   In this case,  the question was how to create sublimated patches that could be customized down to lots of one patch.   Say, for instance,  you wanted a patch to commemorate a scholastic award,  a sports achievement or an employee’s anniversary date with a particular company.   Obviously,  you don’t need more than one patch for the recognition of an individual significant event,   but it would be nice to have all the patches be tied together with a common theme.   That’s where EnMart’s sublimated patches and double sublimation comes in.

Double sublimation is the process, as the name implies,  of sublimating an additional image onto something that has already been sublimated.  In this case,  the patches could first be sublimated with a school or company logo,  a photo of a particular golf course or sporting arena or some image that would be emblematic of the event or venue.  The patches could then be stored until needed.    When an event occurred which needed commemoration,  the necessary information, award given,  score achieved etc., could be sublimated over the original image.    When finished,  you’d have a patch that had both a connection to the particular venue where the event happened,  and a unique record of the event to be commemorated.

The process of double sublimation is fairly simple,  but there is one vital thing you should remember.   When you do the second sublimation you will want to cover over the patch and your design with a sacrificial sheet (thin paper, tissue paper, etc) as re-heating the patch will allow some of the dye to leave the patch.   If that small amount of dye gets on your press head,  it will wind up on the next thing you sublimate.  The small amount of dye that will leave the patch the second time should not, however,  make a noticeable difference on the patch.