What You Can’t Sublimate

Stop you can't do thatMost times, when people write about sublimation,  they write about what you can make.  It makes sense,  that’s a broader topic, and the goal is to sell you on sublimation and all the wonderful things that can be sublimated.   The problem with this approach is that there is a lot of misinformation regarding sublimation out there, and some of that misinformation centers around what can and can’t be sublimated.    Since it can be difficult to know what is suitable for sublimation and what is not,  I thought it might be helpful to discuss what can’t be sublimated and why.

The first and broadest category of items that can’t be sublimated is anything that isn’t polyester or poly coated.   Yes,  some people will tell you that garments that are a 50/50 poly blend can be sublimated, and they’re right,  they can,  if you’re willing to accept a distressed look and that only some fibers in the garment will be dyed.   There are also those who will tell you that DIY coating options are available and, they are,  but they require meticulous coating and often such coating is best done by machine if it’s going to be even.   The hard fact of the matter is that 100% poly garments,  and hard goods that are professionally poly coated are the items that work best in most instances.

Another group of items on the list of things that can’t be sublimated is dark clothing.  There is no white ink option for sublimation,  so there is no base covering over the dark fabric on which you could put an image.   You can sublimate darker images onto lighter dark colors,  a black design on a brown shirt for example,  but the designs most likely won’t pop as they would on a lighter color.    The reality is that any color will interfere with the color and visibility of a sublimated design,  lighter colors just tend to cause less of a problem.   If you are planning to sublimate a color,  be sure you take into account the color of the item being sublimated and how that might impact the color and visibility of your design.

Sublimation is also not possible on cotton garments.   This fact can be a barrier for some people who tend to think of polyester clothing as the leisure suit their Dad wore in the 70s or the awful pantsuit Great Aunt Millie wore at Thanksgiving.   There has been a lot of work done in the area of polyester garments,  and some companies,  like Vapor Apparel have created performance wear that is both stylish and comfortable to wear.   If you are hoping to sublimate on cotton, however,  your hopes are destined to be dashed.   The best option for cotton is ChromaBlast which produces a colorful design with very little hand,  but is still a transfer as opposed to sublimation.

Sublimation can be a very profitable decoration technique for your business and can allow you to offer a wide array of new products,  but you must be aware of what can and can’t be sublimated and why.   Managing your and your customers’ expectations will help you create great sublimated items that meet the needs of your customers and help fatten your wallet.


Five Tips on Avoiding Sublimation (or ChromaBlast) Mistakes

Everyone knows that mistakes happen.  The paper gets knocked off center and a graphic is skewed.  A cup that is too hot is dunked in water that is too cold and shatters.   A printer isn’t cleaned for a while and a nozzle jams on a day when a lot of work needs to be done.   25 shirts with a quote including the word nuts are printed,  except instead of nuts,  the word stun is used.   Sometimes,  as much as we all try to avoid it,  we’re not the windshield,  we’re the bug,  and there’s nothing that can be done about it except to scrape yourself up and try to avoid the same mistakes next time.

If you’re on a quest to avoid mishaps and mistakes,   here are a few things you can do to minimize the potential for issues.  Some of these sound pretty simple,  but you’d be amazed how often neglecting the simplest things can lead to problems.

Item 1:  Follow instructions –  Sawgrass Ink and most of the sublimation blank companies offer suggested press times and temperature settings.    While it is true that every press and printer may require a bit of trial and error,  it’s also true that it is best to start off with the recommended settings.  This gives you a baseline from which to work.  Once you have established the proper settings for your equipment,  make a note of them and keep them close to your workspace.  That way anyone who works for you will have the proper instructions for the job,  which will save a lot of time and wasted materials.

Item 2:  Use good artwork for  good results –  When you’re in a hurry the temptation to try and squeak something through with a piece of artwork that isn’t the best can be overwhelming.  The problem is that “good enough” often is not even close to good enough.   If you want the best results,  you need to use the best artwork available.   It may take a little more time to get or create the artwork you need,  but the end results will be worth the effort.

Item 3:  Have a regular maintenance schedule –   As I said in last Friday’s post proper maintenance of your printer is important.    I know that sometimes the temptation to skip the maintenance routine,  particularly if you’re short on time and extremely busy,  but taking a few minutes to run a proper nozzle check and do a cleaning can save you a lot of wasted time later in your work day.   Keeping your equipment in good working order will always save you time and money in the long run.

Item 4: Print small, before you print big –  Garments and sublimation blanks can be costly items,  and you don’t want to waste one if you don’t have too.  Often times it will pay to press your transfer on a piece of practice fabric before you move to creating your final product.   The reason that EnMart often includes a small bundle of sample fabric in with sublimation orders is to allow our customers to do test prints of this type.   Doing a test print will allow you to detect any color or orientation issues before you create your final product.

Item 5:  Ask for help –  There are any number of resources out there dedicated to helping people sublimate and use ChromaBlast properly.  There is this blog.  There are both the T-shirt Forums and the Apparel Decorators ForumSawgrass Ink has an extensive website with a lot of tips and videos.    The resources and information are available all you have to do is take advantage of them.   Never be reluctant to ask for assistance.