3 Groups Who Should Never Do Sublimation (and 1 Group Who Should)

by Tom Chambers

There are 3 groups of people who should never do sublimation.  Are you one of them?

  1. People who have absolutely no interest in sublimation.

Hey, I’m not here to convince you to do something you have no interest in.  If you aren’t interested in a way to decorate thousands of items in full photo-realistic color easily and quickly at high profit margins – who am I to suggest otherwise?

  1. People who have no creativity.

While practically everyone has some level of creativity out there including most who think they don’t, there are a handful of people that just have no imagination at all. If you can’t take a picture of your cat, write a sentence, or print something, then sublimation probably isn’t for you.

  1. People who cannot use a computer.

Let’s face it, not everyone is a computer nerd.  Not everyone wants to be, and thankfully, no one has to be.  Most people have at least had limited exposure to computers on some level.  However, if you are one of those who prefer to avoid such modern contrivances in favor of more conventional means like pen and paper, then you probably shouldn’t do sublimation.

If you don’t fall into one of the above groups, then read on, this article is for you.

Sublimation is EASY.  That’s right, EASY, in all CAPS.  People get hung up all the time on the word “sublimation” and the definition, because it sounds scientific and complicated, which apparently makes it so intimidating that people will sometimes buy a sublimation system and then store it in a corner and look at it periodically, too afraid to even open the box.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ok, so “sublimation” IS scientific and complicated – but you don’t actually need to know any of that, any more than you need to know what science is behind the print-head and the electronics inside your printer that make it work to print pictures of your children, pets, or a business plan for that great idea for a sublimation business.

When you print something, you don’t think about printing – you just print, right?  Sublimation is like that too.  In fact, printing is the first step in the process, so if you have already printed something, you already know what to do.  Not very intimidating is it?

Sublimation is FUN.  Here again, FUN in all CAPS.  You should enjoy what you do, and if you can make money at it, that’s even better.  Sublimation is fun because you are limited only by your imagination.  If you can imagine something and print it, then you can put it (sublimate it) onto one or more of the thousands of blank items just waiting for your sublimativity (sublimation + creativity; I just made that up – feel free to credit me).

Once you’ve sublimated something, you can sell it and make money.  Putting the image you printed onto a sublimation blank is the second step in the process, which usually involves a heat press.  Doing all that IS fun, and not very intimidating either.

Sublimation is PROFITABLE.  Yes, I know, to be redundant, PROFITABLE in all CAPS.  That’s because the margins can be quite astounding.  Where else can you start up a business for under $2000 (and in some cases, even under $700!), have fun doing it, and make anywhere from 2 to 6 times your cost, typically on the higher end of that range?  For the mathematically challenged, that means if you have a product that costs you $3, including the cost of the ink and paper and your time, you can sell it for $6 to $18.

Oh, and did I mention that from the point in time you decide to embark on a sublimation journey until you will be making products to sell can be as quick as 1 day?  Contact us for more information and if you have any questions.

This introductory article is broad in scope, but future articles will expand some of the individual points mentioned into their own articles.

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. 

What Sublimation Is (and Isn’t)

The calls are almost always the same.   At least a couple of times a week,  someone calls EnMart wanting to know about sublimation.   What it is,  how it works,  what can be made,  what it costs,  what kind of equipment is necessary,  the questions are all over the board.  Since the same sorts of questions come up relatively frequently,  it seemed like a good idea to do a post detailing what sublimation is,  and what it’s not.

What Sublimation Is:

First,  the technical stuff:  the official definition of sublimation is as follows:  “In chemistry, the direct conversion of a solid into a gas, without passage through a liquid stage. (See phases of matter.)”  Dye sublimation is the process by which heat is applied to inks turning them into a gas and bonding the ink with the polyester fibers of fabric or the poly coating on hard goods.  The result of the bond is a print that won’t wear out until the imprinted  item does.

Sublimation is a process that has less expensive start up costs than most other decoration options.   Those who wanted to go all out and get the biggest printer package and a top of the line heat press and a ton of blanks and the latest graphic design software could probably still set up their business for less than $7500.   Those with smaller budgets, or who may already have some of the components like design software or a heat press, could most likely get started for a few thousand or less.

Sublimation is a decoration technique that has a lower learning curve than some.   In order to create sublimated goods,  a person must know how to operate a heat press and an ink jet printer.  Some knowledge of graphic design and graphic design software is also helpful,  but not necessarily required.    There are programs,  like Creative Studio from Sawgrass  which can help with the design side of things.

What Sublimation Isn’t:

Sublimation isn’t suitable for dark colors.   The printing disciplines that work on dark colors are those that offer an option for white.   Anything printed on dark shirt is usually printed over a white underbase.   If your printing process does not offer that option,  then it is not suitable for use with dark colors.   Sublimation does not offer an option for white ink.

Sublimation isn’t suitable for fabrics other than polyester.   Poly blends may print well enough for some people,  but use of a poly blend garment will result in a more distressed look.   For best results,  print on 100% polyester garments or poly coated items.   It should be noted that there are coating sprays available which can be used to turn almost anything into an item suitable for sublimation,  but application of those sprays or coatings outside of a professional coating booth can be tricky.

Sublimation isn’t intimidating.   Some people are worried they’ll ruin a few blanks when they start out.   Don’t worry,  that will happen,  it happens to everyone and it’s part of the learning process.   If you can handle a printer and a heat press,  you can handle sublimation.   Fear of the unknown keeps a lot of potential decorators from trying something new and that’s a shame.  Sublimation does have a slight learning curve,  but it’s not that difficult to master.

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4 Reasons to Add Sublimation to Your Shop

four_previewPeople who are not currently sublimating often ask why they need to add dye sublimation (often just referred to as sublimation for brevity’s sake)  to the decoration processes their shop offers.   Now,  let me say up front,  no one needs to add sublimation to their shop.    If you choose not to offer sublimation services,  the world will not spin off its axis,  a meteor will not hit your shop,  and things will go along as they normally do without any horrific consequences.   The only bad thing that will happen is that someone else in your market will be making a profit on sublimated goods and your shop will not.   So, really the question is not why do you need to add sublimation to the decoration techniques your shop offers,  but why you should want to add sublimation.     Here are a few reasons why we think most shops would want to add sublimation.

1.  It’s a new profit center –  In order to stay profitable,  shops need to diversify.   While there are shops out there that do only one thing and make a living that way,  most decorators have learned to offer a variety of decoration techniques.   Sublimation is simply another decoration technique to have in your arsenal.

2.  Sublimation opens up new products – If you’ve primarily decorated clothes,  adding sublimation to your shop allows you to add hard goods,  mugs,  plaques and the like.  There are a wide variety of sublimation blanks available for decoration and an equal variety of markets to which those goods can be sold.   Adding sublimation gives your shop the ability to offer additional categories of goods,  and to capture additional dollars when a client places a clothing order.

3. Financial barriers to entry are comparatively low – We’re not saying that sublimation is inexpensive,  larger printer packages can be in the $1500 to $2000 range,  and a quality heat press can add another few thousand dollars to that total,   plus the price of blanks.   Still,  when comparing that cost to the cost of a new DTG printer or screen printing press,  sublimation is a relatively economical way to get started in a new business.

4. The learning curve is fairly low – Yes,  sublimation is a decoration discipline and, as such,  it has its own quirks and tricks that need to be learned and understood.    That said,  if you can use graphics software,  know how to print to an inkjet printer and understand how to use a heat press,  you can sublimate.   There are a number of resources out there to help you get started,  and learning to produce a usable print should not be that difficult.

5 Reasons Why You Should Add Dye Sublimation To Your Shop

One of the questions we often get asked when someone is first discovering dye sublimation is why, if a business owner already screen prints or embroiders,  adding sublimation is necessary.   There are a lot of reasons why adding sublimation could be advantageous to the owner of a decoration business,  and I thought I would cover a few of them today in this post.

Reason #1:  Reasonably low cost –  Adding a new decoration discipline to your shop can be expensive.  Embroidery machines, vinyl cutters and direct to garment printers generally aren’t cheap and can represent a significant cost outlay for a business.    A sublimation system, on the other hand,  including a heat press,  can generally be purchased and set up for significantly less than $5,000,  which in business terms is not that big an investment.

Reason #2:  Reasonably high profit margin – People love personalization and they’re willing to pay for it.  Most sublimation blanks are fairly inexpensive,  and the cost to make an item will of course, also include paper and ink and labor costs, but many personalized, sublimated items can often be sold for double or triple their cost.

 Reason #3:  Lots of support – EnMart has been doing sublimation for many years,  and our techs have encountered pretty much every sublimation problem.   We can advise you on the best ways to get started and help you solve any problems you may have.    Sawgrass Ink also offers a wide variety of education and events,  from videos to seminars,  which can be useful to those running a sublimation business.

Reason 4:  Relatively small learning curve – We’re not going to tell you sublimation is easy because,  like any discipline,  it has it’s own quirks that need to be solved and techniques that need to be learned.   Sublimation may, however,  be easier to learn than some other decorating disciplines.   The printers are inkjet printers that most people are already familiar with,   the graphics software used can be the software you’re comfortable with and already know.  There are plenty of webinars,  seminars and articles out there  to help you get started.   If you understand how to use graphic software,  can run a computer and printer and are familiar with a heat press,  you shouldn’t have a huge difficulty in learning to sublimate.

Reason 5:  Wider variety of products – Most decoration disciplines are centered on garments which isn’t a bad thing – but doesn’t leave room for a lot of diversity.  Sublimation, on the other hand,  does allow you to decorate mugs and mousepads,  puzzles and tote bags,  a wide variety of hard and soft goods that other decorating disciplines can’t accommodate.   A wider variety of products either allows you to upsell your current customers or to have products to entice new customers and either will be a benefit.

Sublimation Start Up

We recently did some crunching of the numbers for 2011 and discovered that one of the most popular items that we sell at trade shows is our QuickStartR package.   That’s really no surprise,  the package is a great offer and reasonably priced.  What was a surprise, however,  is the number of people we spoke with on follow up calls who, even months after the show was long over,  had not yet set their system up or weren’t printing with it on a regular basis.

Very few people, obviously,  purchase a product for their business with the intention of letting it sit in a corner and gather dust.    The goal behind the purchase is to create a new profit center,  which can’t be done if the system never comes out of the box or is barely used after it’s set up.   If you have a system and haven’t yet done much of anything with it,  here are some places you can look for help in getting started.

One place to turn to for help is the Sawgrass Ink website.   They have how to videos,  webinars,  videos on how to set up your printer and a terrific technical support staff.   Sawgrass also has a blog called How to Sublimate.   The Sawgrass site provides a lot of resources,  so it’s definitely worth checking out.

Another option would be to download the Dye Sublimation Guide from the EnMart website.   This guide was created by Sawgrass and contains a lot of information about how to get started with sublimation.  The guide also contains step by step instructions for sublimating some common items.   The entire guide is 62 pages long,  so it could easily be printed.

EnMart also has a YouTube channel where you can see videos about sublimation and about Knight heat presses.  We’ve put together some videos of our own and also favorited some videos from our suppliers which should be helpful.   Sometimes a picture, or a video is worth a thousand words.

Finally, you can get help here on this blog.  We have an entire category of blog posts devoted to getting started with sublimation.    You can always leave a comment on a post with questions.   You can also visit us on our Twitter feed or Facebook page and ask questions there.