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.

Sublimation Vocabulary

When starting a new venture,  like adding dye sublimation to your business,  one of the things that can be confusing is the vocabulary that is specific to the discipline.   Today I thought I’d create a glossary of terms specific to sublimation.  Hopefully this will prove helpful to those of you who are new to sublimation and just learning the lingo.

Vocabulary for Printers and Ink

Bulk Ink Kit –  A bulk ink kit is used with some models of sublimation printers.  It uses bags of ink instead of cartridges and is attached to your printer by feed lines.    Bulk ink kits can allow you to use a larger quantity of ink than cartridges.

CMYK – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black – The four ink colors used in four color printing.  The four ink cartridges that go in a four color printer.

Vocabulary for Sublimation Blanks, Including Garments

FRP – Fiberglass reinforced plastic.  Many sublimation blanks, like name badges for instance,  are made of FRP.

Hand –  This is how much you can feel the print on the cloth.   Screenprint transfers tend to have high hand since you can feel the ink on the cloth,  sublimation prints tend to have low hand, since the sublimation ink dyes the fibers of the material.

Mug WrapsMug wraps are an alternative way to sublimate mugs.   A mug wrap goes securely around the mug and holds the sublimation transfer in place with the proper pressure.  The mug is then placed in an oven and heated to the necessary temperature.

Vapor Apparel –  Vapor Apparel shirts are 100% polyester performance wear that are highly suitable for sublimation.

Vocabulary for Sublimation Paper

Transfer Paper – Any paper that can be used to transfer a printed design from the paper to another substrate.

High Release Paper – This paper is specially crafted to release more ink to the substrate.  Works very well on soft goods. This paper requires less press time.

Low Release Paper – This paper absorbs more ink.  Works well with hard goods and FRP.   This paper requires more press time to achieve maximum color.

Hybrid Paper – A sublimation paper type that combines the best qualities of high and low release paper.   EnMart’s Mpres paper is a hybrid paper.

Vocabulary for Sublimation Problems

Ghosting – When a transfer moves or slips during pressing a double or blurred image can be created.  This is called ghosting.

Blowout – The ink colors expand beyond the borders of the image and appear smeared or smudged.  Blowouts can be cased by uneven heat,  overheating and excessive pressure.

Proper Storage of Sublimation Supplies

Once you’ve purchased your sublimation or ChromaBlast supplies,  you need to make sure they are stored properly so you’ll be able to get the most use from them.   You can often find tips on how to use the supplies you buy,  but finding tips on how to properly store them so they’ll be in the best shape to be used can be a bit harder to find.  Today I thought I’d share a few tips we’ve discovered about how to keep your supplies in the best shape possible.    Proper storage and care can help your ink, paper and other supplies last longer and be much more useful.

ChromaBlast Ink Storage

  • ChromaBlast Ink should not be stored in extreme temperatures.  Anything above 104 degrees F or below 0 degrees F should be avoided.
  • Do not expose ink cartridges or bags to direct light or sunlight for extended periods of time.
  • Make sure the room in which the ink is stored is not too humid.

SubliJet Ink Storage

  • Optimum storage temperature is 70 – 80 degree F
  • Optimum humidity of room is 35% – 65%
  • Do not expose cartridges to direct light or sunlight for extended periods of time
  • Allow SubliJet ink to reach room temperature before installing and printing

Paper Storage

  • Store paper flat
  • Store paper in a cool, dry environment.  Avoid excessive humidity.
  • Once paper has been opened,  store unused paper in ziplock bag

Printer Care

  • Never mix inks.  SubliJet and ChromaBlast inks do not perform well when used in a printer through which other ink has been run.   Even if the lines are purged,  traces of the other ink may still remain and will interfere with the optimum performance of SubliJet and ChromaBlast ink.
  • Keep printer free of lint, dust and other debris that may be in the air of the work space.
  • Run nozzle checks and printer cleanings on a regular basis, particularly if the printer is not in use every day.

Don’t Sell on Price, Sell on Value

We all know that sublimation isn’t always the cheapest way to decorate an item.  There are costs associated with purchasing blanks and purchasing inks and paper and printers and all the rest,  so sublimated items can’t be sold as cheaply as items decorated by other methods.   The other side of that coin, however, is that sublimated items are dishwasher and microwave safe in a lot of cases,  and the decorations that are added to the garments or the hard goods may often outlast the goods themselves.   Still, despite the fact that sublimation may offer brighter, more vibrant color and more durability,  your customers may ask you why the guy who does inkjet transfers down the street can imprint 12 mugs for less than you charge,  or why shirts from the kiosk guy in the mall are priced more cheaply than the shirts you offer.

Let’s face it,  there’s always going to be someone who will offer to create goods for a cheaper price.  It’s easy to get caught up in a sort of bidding war,  but that’s not the way to approach this problem.   The best way to get a fair price for what you sell is to educate your customers.    Explain what sublimation is and the value of a sublimated good.   Show them that while they may be paying a little more for the items they’re buying,  they’re also getting more value too.   Make the following points:

  • Sublimation ink dyes poly fabric – so there will be no transfer film or rough feel to designs on garments
  • Sublimated hard goods can be both microwaved and washed in a dishwasher
  • Sublimated designs start out vibrant and are more resistant to fading if not consistently exposed to direct sun
  • Sublimated designs will often outlast the garment or item to which they were applied
  • Sublimation offers a wider range of decoration possibilities

I’m sure there are more reasons than these.  What explanation or education do you offer your customer to help them see the value of the sublimated goods you sell?  If you’d care to share your answer,  please leave it in the comments.

Have You Considered Sublimation?

Many people consider sublimation to be a great add-on solution.   People do screen printing and sublimation or embroidery and sublimation.  While sublimation is a great companion for either embroidery or screen printing,  it can also be a great solution for times when screen printing and embroidery may not be suitable.    There may be occasions when a job simply won’t work within the disciplines of embroidery or screen printing,  but you don’t want to turn the job away.  In those instances,  the appropriate question to ask your customers might well be “Have you considered sublimation?”.

Take for instance,  a customer that has very intricate artwork with small lettering or lots of colors.   Those who embroider know that small lettering can be almost impossible to sew out properly.    Lots of colors and color changes can also slow down the sew-out,  or the creation of a screen printed design.   Since sublimation is photo realistic,  creating intricate artwork with small lettering or lots of colors is quite simple.  As long as the design is sized correctly so all the elements can be read,   the artwork can be printed and pressed on a variety of garments or blanks in very little time .

Sublimation also works with gradients or fades.   While these techniques for playing with color can create a wonderful design,  they aren’t always easy to duplicate.   Because a sublimated transfer is simply a print out,  gradients and fades can be reproduced as they were designed.   Of course,  there may be some variance depending on the printer and ink used,  but sublimation may be the perfect option if you’re working with color gradients or fades.

While sublimation is a great decorating solution for garments and many poly coated substrates,  please do keep in mind that it only works with polyester garments and substrates with a poly coating.    You can sublimate garments that are a mixture of polyester and some other fiber type,  but the end result will be a more distressed look,  as the sublimation ink will only dye the poly fibers.  You cannot sublimate any hard good that is not poly coated.

For many people,  sublimation is a valuable decorating technique to have in their arsenal of product and service offerings.    Sublimation can be used in situations where other decorating techniques might not be suitable,  and can also expand the offerings of many shops through the inclusion of sublimated hard goods.   To learn more about sublimation,  please download the Dye Sublimation Guide from the EnMart website.    If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive way to get started with sublimation,  check out EnMart’s QuickStartR package.

5 Tips for Speedy Holiday Ordering

While, for some people,  it has been the holiday season for quite some time already,  the official countdown to Christmas starts on the Friday after Thanksgiving.   If you’ve been making your gift lists and checking them twice,  you may have already purchased the supplies you need.   If not,  here are a few tips for planning your sublimation supply orders from EnMart.  These tips will help ensure that your supplies arrive on time and you can have your gifts completed, wrapped and under the tree long before Christmas morning.

Tip # 1:  All sublimation supplies currently come from Michigan –  Although we do have four locations across the United States,   all sublimation papers, inks, printers and blanks are currently shipped from Michigan.  Please factor shipping time from Michigan to your location into estimated delivery time when you place your order.

Tip 2:  Most orders turn same day if placed early enough – At EnMart we pride ourselves on same day shipment of almost all orders.  The only exceptions are orders for which items need to be created i.e. blank patches,  or orders which come in too late to make our shipment pick-up.    To ensure your order ships the same day you place it,  make sure it is placed early enough in the day to be pulled, packaged and picked-up.

Tip 3:  Sublimation blanks can be bought by the piece –  If you just need one piece of one of our sublimation blanks for a gift,  you can buy just one.   The only requirement is that your order meets the $25 minimum purchase requirement.   As long as your order is $25 or more,  you can buy one of any of the sublimation blanks we offer.

Tip 4:  Combo packages make great gifts – If you know someone who might want to get started with sublimation, one of EnMart’s sublimation combo packages makes a great gift.    We’ll even box everything up and ship it to the intended recipient’s address.    Please do keep in mind that combo packages supply everything needed to print a sublimation transfer.  If you want to sublimate an item,  you’ll need an item suitable for sublimation and a heat press as well.

Tip 5:   Ink prices will rise in 2012, so stock up on ink now – Ink prices are scheduled to rise in 2012,  so now is the time to stock up on sublimation ink.  As always,  EnMart offers free Ground shipping on all sublimation ink,  so now is the time to replenish your supply at 2011 prices and get free shipping.