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.

Finding the Value

When asked what the hardest thing is about sublimation,  I often smile,  because the hardest part of running a business selling sublimated goods,  or running a business selling any decorated goods isn’t what most people would think.   It’s not figuring out what equipment to buy.   It’s not finding good suppliers.   It isn’t even learning to use the new equipment and supplies and becoming skilled enough to turn out exceptional product.  The hardest part of running a decoration business,  in my opinion anyway,  is finding the value in what you make.

Finding the value of a decorated product sounds pretty easy,  at first.  Common sense says you take the cost of the materials,  multiply it by the cost of your time,  and add a certain percentage for overhead.   You should probably also do some market research to figure out what others in your market are charging and what customers are accustomed to paying.  With all those data points covered,  it should be easy to set a price.

Sadly,  setting a price is often more complicated than that.

One thing that complicates pricing is education,  or the lack of education among the customer base.  People who buy decorated personalized goods like the fact that they’re one of a kind,  or can be customized,  but they don’t often understand what goes in to making the goods they love so much.   When people say “500 for that family tree quilt, that’s outrageous!” or “I can get a printed mug at the dollar store for less than this!”,  they’re not being cheap or mean,  they’re just being uneducated.   As decorators,  part of our job is to help customers understand what goes into making the products they buy.   Once they understand,  the majority of customers will also come to understand why you charge the prices you do.

Another obstacle to proper pricing is often the attitude of the person creating the product.  Many creators dismiss their work as a hobby,  or think they’re not really in business because their shop is in the basement.   Often,  people who do this sort of work get told that it’s just something they do for fun or something anyone could do,  if they had the time.   The result is a craft that is made to seem less valuable and,  if the creator of the goods believes this sort of thing,  a craft that is sold for less than it’s worth.    Remember,  if you don’t stand up for the value of your work,  no one else will.

Competitors can also throw a wrench into a pricing scheme.   The old saying “A rising tide lifts all boats”  is a saying for a reason.   If all the competitors in a market work to keep prices reasonable for both the customers and the business,  then everyone gets a fair deal and the businesses make what they need to make to stay open.   All it takes,  however,  is one company in the marketplace making their selling proposition low prices and the playing field changes.  Customers,  especially those who have not been educated about the value of decorated goods,  will often be attracted to the lowest priced option,  and other businesses may lower their prices to compete.   Before you know it,  customers are getting lower quality goods from businesses that aren’t making enough money to do better.   Don’t fall into the lowest price as a unique selling proposition trap.   Make good products and charge what they’re worth,  regardless of what the rest of the industry is doing.   In the end,  quality products and service will win the day.

How to Sell on Social Media

Almost every business wants social media to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,  the place that helps generate leads and turn leads into sales with almost no effort at all.   There are classes and books and webinars and seminars about how to make big bucks with Facebook or Twitter or Instagram,  and most of them won’t say the one thing that you really need to know.   The best way to sell on social media is not to sell at all. 

While that sounds like some kind of zen saying,  in reality it’s anything but. It’s a truth that most people want to ignore,  because selling,  putting up a whole line of posts advertising your goods,  or entreating everyone to come look at the latest product in your store or simply blasting people over and over again with a plea that they shop with you seems easier and faster and certainly less work than what actually helps you make sales.

The truth is that finding true customers,  those customers who will buy from you again and again and who will help promote your business,  takes time and effort.   The first step in the process is creating a social media profile that does a lot more than just sell.   A good profile gives some backstage access to how your business runs.   It spotlights your skills and expertise.   It offers education on how the decoration processes you use work,  and ideas for how your customers can benefit from those processes.   It sells,  but subtly,  never screaming but softly whispering how your products and services can benefit your customers.

The next link in the chain is building your company’s reputation and building trust with the other members of your social media community.   This means helping simply for the sake of helping,  and making connections because you have things in common,  or because you can learn from each other,  not because you see everyone else on social media as a mark,  someone to whom you can sell.  Studies have shown that people tend to buy from people and companies that they trust.   Building trust among the members of your community will lead to sales and most likely long lasting relationships.

Another handy social media function that a lot of decoration companies neglect is the ability to present your customers with ideas for what they could purchase from you.   Pinterest is great for this.   Create idea boards for specific customer categories to which you’d like to sell.   Want to sell to local schools?   Create innovative spiritwear designs and showcase them on a spiritwear board.    Have a certain hobby or activity that you really enjoy?  Create themed garments centered on that hobby and put them up on a board.   Pinterest is aspirational,   and along with the people looking for 10 ways to decorate their kitchen,  or six fun summer activities for kids,  there are people looking for shirts for their family reunions or hats for their over 50 baseball team.    Be the place where the find what they’re looking for.

Finally,  successfully selling on social media requires thinking about who your target customers are,  and where they can be found.   It means not simply asking all your friends and family to like your page,  but going out and finding the people who want to buy what you have to sell.   It means building your follower count slowly and strategically,  with a clear goal always in mind.   Selling on social media is most successful when you’re talking to a group of followers who need what you have to offer.   Being strategic and smart about how you build your page’s follower network will take more time and effort,  but will result in connections with a group of people who want to buy what you have to sell.

Sublimation Hints and Help

Like most decoration techniques,  sublimation does have a learning curve,  although it’s considerably less steep than some other decoration options.   Still,  if you’re just starting out,  or even if you’ve been creating sublimated goods for a while,  there are probably things you don’t know that could help you create sublimated items a little faster and a little better.   Every once in a while we like to do a sort of round-up post where we list some sublimation hints and tips,  in the hope of assisting our customers in their quest for the best possible sublimated product.

Cool, man! A basic step in the sublimation process is letting items cool.   Make sure the transfer paper is removed quickly when the item comes off the press,  and make sure items are laid out separately and not overlapped when cooling.   An item like a sublimated mug can be cooled in a room temperature bucket of water.   Make sure the water is not too cold,  as that could cause the mug to crack.

Humidity is the Enemy! Moisture can make a mess of your sublimated supplies,  so it’s always good to make sure humidity is kept to safe levels.   Protect your sublimation paper from humidity by keeping it in a plastic bag,  or a resealable bin.   If you’re worried the paper you’re using is too moist,  set it on your press for a few seconds.  The warmth will help remove excess moisture from the paper.   The pre-press technique can also work for garments.   Also,  using a cover that absorbs moisture,  like newsprint, in place of Teflon can help eliminate moisture problems.   Just make sure to change out the absorbent cover sheet after every press.

The Heat is On! One of the most common issues that cause sublimation failure is a heat press that isn’t heating up to the correct temperature.   Yes,  the gauge may show the proper reading,  but the actual temperature of the press can vary widely.   Make sure to test the temperature of your press frequently,  using either a heat gun or temperature test strips,  to make sure the press is actually heated up to the required temperature.

Stick to It! Heat tape is probably one of the most underrated items in your sublimation arsenal,  but it’s a must have for every shop.   Use it to keep your transfers securely positioned on your blanks.   Make sure not to tape across the image area,  instead securing the transfers on the sides.    Another useful item is a strong adhesive tape,  which can be used to secure sublimated images onto things like pendants or belt buckles.

Primary Colors! Anyone who prints on an inkjet printer knows about nozzle checks,  but they might not be as familiar with primary charts.   A good primary chart will show solid blocks of color without any lines or gaps.   Running a primary chart and a nozzle check is definitely a good idea if you haven’t used your printer for a while.   For details on how to run a primary chart from your Virtuoso printer,   visit this blog post from Sawgrass Ink.

 

What Is A Sublimated Patch?

californiaSealSometimes,  when you ask a “what is” question,  you’re asking it in a larger way –  inquiring into the meaning of a particular object or thing.   Other times,  you just want to know how something is made and how it can be used.   This post deals with one of those times.

One of the popular items we sell is our sublimated patches.   These patches are a great option for hats,  for backpacks and jackets,  for anything that needs a logo or decoration,  but is too awkward or bulky for embroidery or screen print.   They’re also a terrific workaround when artwork has a lot of colors, gradients or fades,  making it difficult to reproduce correctly with other decoration techniques.   Since sublimation is a digitally printed method of decoration,  it can create photo quality prints which can then be transferred to an emblem.   The most complicated and colorful artwork can be printed with ease.

Blank Patch Construction

All patches from EnMart are made of 100% polyester twill.   The twill is die chopped into the size required.   Before the patches are chopped,  all fabric is laminated with a layer of pellon and a layer of backing,  either sew on,  which is a fabric backing or heat seal which is an industrial strength adhesive.    One the fabric is chopped to the necessary size,  it is merrowed with merrow floss – which is 100% polyester as well.     These patches are designed to withstand an industrial wash and dry,  so they are durable and will most likely last as long as the garment to which they’re attached.

Adding Sublimation

Sublimation is the process of printing artwork onto sublimation paper,  creating something called a transfer.   The printed image is then transferred, using heat,  to polyester fabric or a poly coated item.   Sublimation only works if sublimation ink,  paper and polyester fabric or a poly coated item are used.

When we sublimate the patches,  we create the sublimated images first,  then die chop and merrow the patches.    For those who want to purchase blanks and do the sublimation themselves,   both the patch fabric and the merrow can be sublimated,  although we make no claims about how well the merrow thread will sublimate.  If the blank patch being sublimated has heat seal backing,  put a piece of Teflon under the patch when pressing the image.   The adhesive on the patch can be easily peeled off the Teflon and,  once cooled,  can be sealed to a garment without issue.

What About Artwork?

As with any decoration technique,  great artwork leads to a great finished product.   Vector artwork is always preferred,  although our Design Department can work with .jpgs and pdf files if necessary.   The thing to keep in mind is that quality artwork,  high resolution,  which can be resized up or down without loss of crispness or integrity,  will produce the best prints and the best final product.   EnMart’s sublimated patch costs do not include a separate artwork charge unless we have to redraw or extensively manipulate the submitted artwork to create an acceptable finished product.   In those cases,  there will be an art fee charged.

Where To Use Sublimated Patches

Sublimated patches are a great accent for almost any item.   They’re particularly useful for items that are perhaps tougher to embroider or screen print,  either due to size or construction.    Hats are one item that work well with sublimated patches.   Backpacks and totes are another.   A sublimated patch can be a great option for a uniform or corporate wear,  particularly if the garments might change owners regularly,  as patches can be removed.   Sublimated patches are also great brand building tools,  as they allow the addition of branding to almost any item of apparel.     Keep in mind that the ability to withstand high heat is not necessarily a qualification for the use of a sublimated patches,  even though the standard backing on a sublimated patch from EnMart is a heat seal backing.   This in no way precludes sewing the finished patch on the item to be decorated.

How to Cash In On The Holidays

T’was the night before Christmas,  and if you’re still printing sublimated items,  you’re way too late to capitalize on holiday gift giving.   While it’s tough to start thinking about Christmas when it’s not even December,   the time to secure those gift giving dollars is now,  not a week before Christmas.

One of the best ways to capture some of the spending that’s being done on gifts this holiday season is to offer some ideas for unique personalized gifts.  Pretty much everyone loves to get an item with their name or monogram on it,  but it’s even better when the item in question is something not everyone has or could buy.   Sublimation allows for the creation of personalized items that stand out,  either because the item being personalized is out of the ordinary,  or the design used to create the personalization is specific to the individual who is receiving the gift.

Another area of potential sales is home decor,  either decoration specifically related to the holidays,  or items that can be used to decorate a home all year.   When it comes to holiday decorating,   there are opportunities to sell things like ornaments,  or you could sublimate fabric to make table runners or a tree skirt.    If your plan is to make home decor items to be given as gifts,  it may be wise to pick a theme around which to center the items you offer.   A lot of people decorate their homes around a theme,  so you may sell more if you’re offering items for a outdoors theme or a country theme.   You could also have success offering to create items as needed,  working with the buyer to create items specific to their particular decorating scheme.

Don’t forget that businesses also need gifts for the holidays,  and many businesses are looking for unique and attractive things they can gift while also sneaking in a bit of advertising in the form of logos or slogans.   A business may also be looking for employee gifts like t-shirts or polos or mugs.    Don’t be shy about pitching gift sets to businesses,  something like a cutting board,  a serving tray and an oven mitt for instance.   Giving things that are useful and emblazoned with their logo is a win-win for a business.   The recipient of the gift gets something they can use,  and the business giving the gift gets multiple chances to make an impression,  since the user will see their logo or slogan every time they use the gift.

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.