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.

Common Questions About Sublimation

Getting started with sublimation is really pretty simple,  but there are some common questions that people always seem to ask.   Since,  we know,  from talking to customers,  that people who are thinking of getting into sublimation do a lot of research online,  it seemed like a good idea to answer some of these common questions in a blog post.   So that’s what we’re going to do.

Common Question #1:  What does it cost?   First of all,  there are the costs of buying the equipment and the inks and the blanks and heat press and paper you’ll need to get started.    Often you might be able to find a package that will allow you to buy those items bundled together at a discount.     So that’s your initial cost to get set-up and ready to print.   What many people forget or calculate incorrectly,   are the costs that come along with setting up a business.  Overhead,  salary,  electricity,  heat,  all those things have to be considered when figuring out what having a sublimation business costs.   Sawgrass has done a terrific post on this subject for those who want more detail.

Common Question #2:  What should I charge?  A perennial problem for people who do creative work is figuring out what to charge.   Some use a formula,  their cost times a certain amount.   Others add up all their expenses and then figure out how much they need to make per hour to cover their overhead costs and salary.   One issue that can occur,  whatever formula used,  is that the business in question is charging less than the market will bear.   Leaving money on the table is never a good idea,  so make sure you know your market and what sort of prices your competitors are getting.   You can read more about how to set your prices in this post.

Common Question #3:  Is sublimation hard?  This is a question that can be answered in a couple of different ways.   One answer is this:  when compared to other decoration disciplines,  sublimation probably has the smallest learning curve and the shortest time from set-up to production.   Another answer is this:  Sublimation does require at least a basic knowledge of graphic software,  a comfort with working with a heat press and the ability to conceptualize designs.   For most people, sublimation should be pretty easy to learn and do.   The big trick is avoiding sublimation intimidation and getting yourself to take the first steps and try decorating some blanks.

Common Question #4:  How many items can I print per kit of ink/pack of paper?  Honestly,  if there’s a common question we dislike intensely,  it’s this one,  because of all the variables involved.   Things like your printer settings,  the size of the items being sublimated,   and other factors that will vary from shop to shop make it hard to give a precise estimate.   Generally,  we decline to speculate,  simply because it’s often assumed that what we’ve said is written in stone and not our best guess.

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!

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.

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.