Top 6 Questions to Ask (And Answer) Before You Buy A Sublimation System

By Tom Chambers

I get a lot of questions from people looking to purchase sublimation systems, and these potential buyers run the gamut from “just what is sublimation?” to “I’m looking to buy today”.  Most fall somewhere in between though, and usually have a lot of questions.  Many are uncertain about doing it at all, and a few appear to be so intimidated as to be almost petrified.  To help eliminate a lot of that uncertainty and give you some confidence before you go out and start shopping, here are 6 questions you should answer for yourself first.

  1. What is the largest size image you will probably need to print?

This is perhaps the single MOST IMPORTANT, and most overlooked question, because it determines what printers, blanks, and heat presses are available for you to choose from.  The answer to this question determines whether you should go with a desktop Virtuoso SG400 System that will print up to 8.5” x 14”, or a larger 11” x 17” SG800 System with the capability of upgrading to 13” x 19”, or even larger wider format roll systems.

A majority of available blank goods can be printed just fine with 8.5” x 14” or smaller paper.  You can even sublimate designs larger than your system can print when they can be split in two and printed in 2 (or more) sheets and taped.  But if you need to print and sublimate larger items on a regular basis, you’ll need a larger system and a larger heat press.

  1. What is your expected volume?

If you anticipate that your system may sit unused for a day or more at a time, you should probably go with one of the two Virtuoso desktop systems from Sawgrass,  as they handle sitting idle for periods of time better than anything else on the market.  If you plan on having a high-volume production operation, it would be best to start with the largest, widest format printer you can afford based on your estimated volume and type of work.

If you don’t already have a heat press, your estimated volume can also help determine whether an inexpensive light duty or all in one press will work, or if you need a more specialized  or dedicated heavy duty commercial grade press.  Large volume shops may opt for a larger format shuttle heat press. 

  1. Will you be producing only flat goods, or will you do mugs too?

If you plan on only doing shirts, fabrics, name tags, metal, Unisub, and other thin, flat items, you can save some money and go with a good clamshell press, or use your current heat press if you already have one.  Plaques, slate, and other thicker flat products require a heat press that you can adjust the head clearance on, in which case the industry standard swing-away type press is the best option.  If you plan on doing mugs, drinkware, plates, or other items, you may need to consider a combo press, a convection oven and oven wraps, or perhaps even a dedicated mug, cap or even plate press.

  1. What is your target market?

This may well be the hardest question to answer, and present the greatest unknowns.  If you have an idea already, you will be ahead of the game, and it will assist you in answering the other questions.  If you don’t… my advice is to spend some time doing a bit of research into your local area. See what’s already available, and what isn’t.  Some possible options are schools, clubs, teams, florists, souvenir shops, and any local stores or other businesses where you can either make promotional items for them, or items for them to sell.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, as it never ceases to amaze me at the creative and unique uses customers come up with for sublimation systems.

  1. What graphics software will you use?

You’ll need to learn and use a computer and graphics software program to create all that artwork before you can print and sublimate it.  The bottom line is that you can use whatever graphics program you are comfortable with as long as you can turn off any color management features and let the Sawgrass printer color management software control it.  The three most common graphics programs are CorelDRAW, Adobe Illustrator, and Creative Studio (an easy to use, online based free system from Sawgrass).

  1. Last but not least, what’s your budget?

Ok, now you’ve figured out what system you need, what blanks you are going to print, and what kind of heat press you require, so how much does it all cost, and does it fit within your budget?  The good news is that sublimation is one of the least expensive businesses that exist to start up, and no matter what budget level system you choose, with a little effort, forethought, and planning, you will be successful.

When it’s all said and done, if you have incomplete or conflicting answers to some or all of the above questions, it can present a problem in making your decision.  In that case, here are a couple of basic fundamentals to clear things up and break any deadlocks.

  1. If money is the primary issue and you have some trepidation – play it safe and buy the smaller SG400 desktop system and a smaller less expensive press. When you are successful and have more than paid for the smaller system and have plenty of business – then purchase a larger system and press.  Keep the smaller one for small jobs and as a backup, and use both of them.
  2. If money is a secondary issue to uncertainty about what sizes of items you will be printing – then always start with at least the larger size desktop SG800 Sublimation System  and a larger heat press. In this case, bigger is indeed better.  It’s kind of like when purchasing a television – was anyone ever unhappy because they went with a larger tv?  The same principle applies here.
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. 

Sales Tax Rules Change

To Our Customers:

Most of you, if you follow the news at all, have probably heard of the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of South Dakota vs. Wayfair.   This decision has altered the rules about when and why sales tax must be collected.

Currently, EnMart and Ensign Emblem collect sales tax in the states where we have a presence, MI, GA, IL, CA, NV and NJ, as was required by previous tax law.   With the advent of the new decision, we will also begin collecting sales tax on all orders that ship to AL, IN, KY, MO, WA and WI.     It is likely there will be additional states added to this list in the near future.

If you are currently in one of the states listed above, you can establish your tax-exempt status with EnMart/Ensign by completing the relevant state sales tax exemption form and submitting it to us.    This form should be completed in your legal business name.   We will begin charging sales tax in the additional six states listed above on October 1, 2018.    If we do not have a completed form on file by that date, your account will be charged sales tax until such time as the completed form is on file.

Please be aware that,  even though we are currently only adding six additional states,  most states will probably be requiring sales tax collection in the near future.   Even if you are not in one of the states in which we currently charge tax,  it still might be worthwhile to complete a sales tax exemption form for your state and send it to us.  All forms are kept on file,  and once an account is set to exempt status it will remain so.

For a current list of taxable states, links to their respective exemption forms, and for submission of your completed forms, please visit our Sales Tax Exemption Forms and Links page.

As always, our goal is to remain compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.

Thank you for your assistance and cooperation.

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.

Trends to Watch in 2018

Every year brings with it a new set of trends that can be capitalized on to bring additional business.    In 2018,  there are some interesting trends that could be of huge benefit to those who have sublimation businesses.  Here are a few things to watch, and perhaps add to your sublimation business,  in 2018.

The first trend to consider is bags.   Tote bags,  backpacks,  wallets,  clutches,  cross body messenger bags,  the possibilities are endless.   Of particular interest is the trend of reusable grocery bags and the fact that some cities are banning plastic bags.   There will definitely be opportunities for those who sublimate in that area,  particularly making reusable totes for groceries or organic food stores.   Decorated backpacks are another fertile area.   More brands are developing backpacks that can be sublimated.   There are also a variety of companies that are making faux leather wallets and clutches that can be sublimated.

The second trend to keep in mind is decorated footwear.  Sublimated socks were something we talked about last year,  and that craze still continues.   More men are getting into the idea of wearing a colorful sock,  and sublimation is a perfect way to create a unique design.   Shoes are also being sublimated,  from flip flops to boat shoes or sneakers.    Keep in mind that sublimation can only be done on polyester or poly coated items,  so not all footwear will be suitable.

A third trend that is just starting to take hold is garments you can color.   With these garments,  a design is sublimated,  usually in black,  and then the wearer is given fabric markers and allowed to color in the design.    This also occurs with things like mugs or mousepads.   The same trend is also being exhibited with sublimated patches,  which are created in outline and then colored in by the wearer.  The advantage to these sorts of designs is that people can color them in to suit their own tastes and create something original.

Pillows are another decorating trend that has started to take hold.     They could be monogrammed,  decorated with a favorite picture or saying or made from a fabric that was specially designed to coordinate with a specific theme or interested.   Pillows suitable for sublimation are available in a variety of sizes.

Finally,  a trend that seems to be working well in the embroidery world is kits.   Creating a kit requires putting together items that would work together, some decorated and some not,  and selling the whole thing in a bundle.    You could make a kit out of mugs and a serving tray.   A kit could be a cutting board,  some oven mitts with recipes or monograms on them,  and some serving tools.    The only thing that really defines a kit is that everything in it goes together in some way.

Merry Christmas!

EnMart will be closed Monday,  December 25, 2017 so our employees may celebrate Christmas with their families.   We will re-open on Tuesday,  December 26.  

We wish all of our friends and customers a merry and safe Christmas!  

T’was the Night Before Christmas – Sublimation Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving

EnMart will be closed Thursday,  November 23 and Friday, November 24 to allow our employees to enjoy Thanksgiving with their families.   We will re-open on Monday,  November 27.

Among the many things we are thankful for this holiday season,  we must count you,  our loyal customers and friends.   Thank you for supporting EnMart.  We wish everyone the happiest of Thanksgivings.