Sublimation vs. Heat Transfer Vinyl

One of the fun things about garment decoration is the fact that there are so many methods of decoration from which to choose.   Two of the popular methods for which EnMart sells supplies are sublimation and heat transfer vinyl (HTV).  These methods share some of the same characteristics,  they both need to be applied with heat, for example,  but they’re also offer many different options when it comes to decorated goods.   Given that,  how do you know which option is the right option for your project?  Here are some guidelines that may help you with that decision.

First of all,  while both decoration disciplines work with heat,  the heat required for sublimation is much higher.   For polyester shirts or poly coated hard goods,  that won’t matter and sublimation is a great option.   If you’re working with fragile fabrics or items that have a low melting point,  you’re going to want to work with the EasyWeed Vinyl, which seals at a lower temperature.

Second,  what color is the item in you’ll be decorating?  It sounds like a silly question,  but sublimation works best on light colored garments and items.   HTV,  on the other hand,  is not effected by the color of the item onto which it is put.  So,  if you’re working with a dark or strongly colored item,  you might want to opt for heat transfer vinyl as opposed to sublimation.  (Although, side note,  tone on tone sublimation can be a very attractive option,  and works well as long as the fabric is lighter than the print. )

Third question,  what sort of fabric are you using,  or what type of coating does the item you’re decorating have?   As stated earlier,  sublimation only works with polyester fabric and poly coated items.   If it isn’t polyester or poly coated,  it can’t be sublimated.   For other fabrics,  or items without a polyester coating,  HTV is your option.

Fourth,  does the decoration you’re adding include a photo?   While vinyl cutters are great for cutting out designs and silhouettes,  and there are such things as printable vinyls,   the sort of vinyl EnMart sells is probably not the best option for photos.   When you want to add a photo realistic image to something,  sublimation is the decoration discipline with the major advantage.   You can print your exact photo on to the sublimation paper and transfer that directly to your garment or hard good.

Don’t forget,  there’s always the option of using heat transfer vinyl and sublimation together,  either by sublimating the vinyl,  or by combining the two disciplines in a mixed media decoration.    The effects offered by some of the vinyls,  like Holographic or Glitter,  can be very complimentary to the sublimation and add a little extra eye catching glamour to the design.

 

How Do I Use Sublimation Transfer Markers?

For those who are new to Artesprix Permanent Thermal Heat Transfer Markers,  let’s first start with what they are.    Basically,  this is sublimation ink in a marker,  which means you don’t need a printer to create sublimated products.   These markers are a great option for preserving children’s artwork,  creating a one of a kind craft project and personalizing almost anything that’s polyester or poly coated.    If you’re a great free hand artist,  these markers would allow you to create original works of sublimated art.

Unlike using a sublimation printer and sublimation ink cartridges,  these markers allow art to be drawn on any type of paper and then sublimated on to the polyester garment or poly coated item of choice.  The first step is to make your drawing,  it can be line art or colored in as you prefer.   The next step is to press your drawing onto the item you want to embellish.    You can use an iron (making sure not to use steam and have the iron on its highest setting)  but the best results will probably come from using a heat press.

One little quirk of the process is that the final product is a mirror image,  so any text will need to be reversed in the drawing if it is to come out properly in the completed version of the product.  Stencils or light boxes might be helpful for this part of the process.

Once you’ve completed your drawing,  secure it to the item you want to sublimate with thermal heat tape.   The tape will secure the drawing and ensure it doesn’t move during the transfer process.  Heat tape, rather than regular tape, is necessary since sublimation requires a fairly high temperature.   Make sure to remove any protective covering on the item you’re sublimating as well.

Place the securely taped blank and drawing under a heat source.   For best results, the manufacturer of the markers recommends using a heat press.  As stated earlier,  the temperature,  time and pressure used with the press will vary based on the item being decorated.    If using an iron,  use the highest heat setting with no steam.   You will need to press (hold the iron on the transfer and keep it stationary) for anywhere from one to five minutes.    Mugs can also be put in an oven using a mug wrap.   Remember that you should never leave a transfer under a heat source unattended.

Once the press is complete,  allow your item to cool and carefully remove the transfer.   You should now have a unique decorative item or garment customized with your hand drawn artwork.   Artesprix Markers come in a 10 pack and include the following colors: yellow, magenta, orange, red,  light blue, green, dark blue, purple, brown and black.

5 Tips for Selling Sublimation with Pinterest

For those who may not have heard one of my rants regarding how valuable a tool Pinterest can be for decorators,  I thought I’d recap.   Because Pinterest is about aspiration and ideas,  it’s a great place to sell the work decorators do.   It’s especially great for sublimation because a lot of people don’t know what dye sublimation is or what can be done with it.   Creating boards on Pinterest allows you to essentially create a lookbook or a gallery where your customers can browse,  learn about sublimation,  and get ideas for products they may want to buy for themselves.   If you’re a sublimation business and don’t have Pinterest boards,  you should set some up immediately.   Here are some tips to get the most out of your Pinterest account.

#1Set up a business account –  A Pinterest business account will offer anyalytics and other tools that a regular account won’t offer.  It’s also something you need if you want to offer buyable pins.    Business accounts also allow for advertising,  something a basic account does not do.

#2 – Follow strategically – You’re setting up the accounts to draw in new business and to educate your customers,  so you want to be sure you’re information is getting to the right people.   Figure out who your target market is and where they are on Pinterest and then make sure your information is in those places.    You can have the best boards in the world,  but if they’re not seen by the right people,  it won’t matter.

#3 – A picture is worth a thousand words – Pinterest is all about the visuals,  so make sure you have the best pictures you can possibly take.   While captions and informative descriptions are helpful,  it’s the picture that’s the first introduction to the product.  Make sure that introduction is a good one.

#4 – Educate your customers – A lot of people don’t understand what sublimation is,  so make sure your boards do more than just showcase the products you can create.   Give glimpses of the process and behind the scenes.   Help potential customers understand what dye sublimation is and what it can do.   The more your customers understand what can be done,  the more likely they are to ask you to do it.

#5 – Create boards around a specific theme – If there’s a particular product you like to make,  or a particular market to which you’d like to sell,  create boards that target that theme.   One of the things people do on Pinterest is try to get ideas,  for a party,  for a gift,  for an event and so on.   If you want to do items for family reunions create a family reunion board where you show pictures of families using and wearing your work,  showcase new ideas you have for family reunion themed merchandise,  and maybe even include tips about planning a reunion.   Same for schools or clubs or whatever you might want to target.  Specific boards tend to sell better than general boards,  as you’re narrowing in on a target and providing the info your potential customers need all in one place.

Choosing Sublimation Mugs

By Tom Chambers

As one of the most popular of all sublimation blank items, mugs are available in a variety of styles and rim, handle, and/or interior colors.  But the most common of them all is the omnipresent 11 ounce white “C” handle coffee mug.  These are available from a wide range of manufacturers, distributors, and resellers, in almost as wide of a variety of quality levels.  All of these mugs are not created equal, and if you find some bargain mugs and have problems with image quality, soft coatings, or shape irregularities, any cost savings go out the window.

So just how do you go about the task of choosing mugs to sublimate?  Here are 5 basic tips that will ensure you pick the right mugs.

  1. Buy from a reputable supplier. First and foremost, you want to buy your mugs from someone who has a reputation for selling quality products at a good price, with great customer service in case you do have questions or a problem.   Someone like us here at EnMart.  Yes, I am admittedly biased, but to be fair, there are some other reputable suppliers out there as well.
  2. Mugs should be perfectly round with straight and smooth sides. All mugs have a slight taper or curve to the top rim and bottom edge.  This is to assist removing the mugs from the mold when they are made.  That curve should be very minimal though, with the area between the top and bottom of the mug as smooth and straight as possible, and perfectly round.  That lets your press provide even pressure and heat to produce the best image quality, with full top-to-bottom printing around the entire mug being easily achievable. Lower quality mugs can have uneven sides, larger curves and tapers on either the top or bottom, and can even be out of round.  All these things can make it challenging to get a good print, and nearly impossible to print full top-to-bottom.  If this happens to you, then you are buying the wrong mugs, and should definitely give our high quality mugs a try.
  3. Mugs should always have a hard coating. All coatings are not made equal either, and there’s a big difference in how a hard and soft coating sublimates.  Soft coatings typically require lower temperatures to sublimate, or you’ll wind up softening the coating up so much the paper will stick to the mug to where you may never get it off. Hard coatings, on the other hand, don’t get soft until a much higher temperature, so your paper isn’t likely to stick at all.  Another huge plus is that hard coatings are dishwasher safe, and the images you put onto these mugs will last for years – much longer than any softer coated mugs.
  4. Mugs should always have a smooth, even coating. Inferior coatings may have visible blemishes, or even thin areas in the coating.  You may even see spots where there is no coating, and no coating equals no sublimation.  You want to see a smooth, glossy finish with no imperfections.
  5. Mugs should sublimate with full, rich color. Even if you follow all of the above tips, there is no substitute for sublimating a mug and seeing what it looks like.  Assuming all of your settings are correct and there are no issues with your sublimation system, you should see rich vibrant color similar to the image on your monitor.  If not, you might have mugs with a lower quality coating.

The bottom line is that if you are using the correct settings, proper sublimation ink, quality sublimation paper, and a well made mug press, then you should expect no less than great results when you sublimate your mugs.  If you have light areas of thin color, can’t print all the way to the edge, have poor and dull colors, or any other quality issue, then it might be time to look for a new mug.  After all, the price difference between a soft coated economy mug and a high quality hard coated mug usually isn’t more than a few cents anyway, and that can easily be recouped by eliminating wasted mugs and time, along with gaining a reputation for selling quality products.

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. 

9 Steps to Sublimation Success

By Tom Chambers

So you’ve decided to enter the world of sublimation.  Now what?  Where do you start?  What do you do first?  And most importantly, how do you make it a success?

There is so much information on the internet about sublimation these days that it can be overwhelming.  In fact, it’s much easier to be overwhelmed and confused than it is to just do it.  Yes, it really is that easy – and it’s fun too.

The purpose of this article isn’t to tell you how to create a business plan, how to go out and sell sublimation, or specifically what to charge for it.  It IS however a general guide to using your system to create a successful business.

A good starting point once you understand just what sublimation is (and isn’t), is to ask yourself these 6 questions.  But what if you’ve already done all your research, purchased a sublimation system and blanks, and now you are wondering where to go next?  In that case, here are some tips that will help you on your way to success.

  1. Set up your system. Yes, first, you have to take the system out of the box and set it up.  While that may seem obvious, you’d be surprised at the number of people that let it sit unused for months or years, whether from subli-timidation or some other reason.  But if you don’t set it up, you definitely won’t be successful, and the sooner you do it, the sooner you will succeed.
  2. Understand your equipment, and how to operate it. Realistically, if you are even slightly tech savvy, you can probably set up your sublimation system, turn on your heat press, and start sublimating something all without reading a single word.  But those instructions contain details that are important, like turning off color management in your chosen graphics program for example. So for the best results, read the instructions, follow them in order, and understand what you are doing – not just on your printer and computer, but your heat press(es) as well.
  3. Learn to use your chosen graphics program. There are several graphics programs available, but these 3 are the most common in sublimation.  A little study and practice will pay off many times over with better quality artwork, which ultimately translates into better looking products and hopefully more money for you.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Experiment on your chosen blanks, and make sure you always have extra.  Don’t assume that you will never make a mistake or ruin something – you will.  And don’t be afraid to make mistakes either.  It’s ok, and all part of the process.  No matter how many settings charts you manage to obtain, depending on the exact mix of equipment, blank products and manufacturers, you will likely have to do some troubleshooting and make a few adjustments that only reveal themselves with practice.
  5. Make samples. Whether you are selling on Etsy, Amazon, at a fair or trade show, or in your own storefront, you will need samples to make photos of and to show people.
  6. Sublimation is best suited for smaller orders and custom work. While that doesn’t necessarily mean you should turn down that order for 1000 mugs of the same design, most people expect a price reduction when ordering larger quantities.  Since sublimation costs you virtually the same amount of money per item to produce no matter the quantity, any price breaks come directly out of your pocket.  Sublimation is especially well suited for doing small orders and custom work.  As a result you can charge a premium price for it, and increase your profit margin.  So unless you have a wide format system and a large shop devoted to mass sublimation production, focus on smaller and custom orders for the most profit.
  7. Know your market. Simply put, know who you are selling to, what they want to buy, and how much they’re willing to pay.  That’s easier said than done though, and will likely require some research on your part – but this step is very important to your success.  Just because you have 3 other people doing sublimation on your block doesn’t mean there isn’t room for you too – especially if you are doing something they aren’t.  And if everyone you know is doing performance apparel – that doesn’t mean you should too (unless there’s more business to go around than your competition can handle).
  8. Don’t compete solely on price. Ah, the price trap.  Many people make the mistake of falling into this pit of constantly lowering prices until there really isn’t any incentive for you to do sublimation any longer.  Here’s the thing – there will ALWAYS be someone that will beat your price, somewhere.  Set your prices for the item you are selling and area you are in and the amount of profit you require.  If you can’t compete on service and quality in this case without losing on pricing, then consider making other items that aren’t as highly competitive on price.
  9. Offer good service and quality. Service and quality go a long way to make up for price differences.  There will always be those people who buy solely on price, but chances are that whomever they do wind up buying from will wind up sacrificing either or both service and quality in the process, and sooner or later that customer will most likely wind up back at your shop or website.

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, but the 9 basic principles here will create a sound foundation for you to build on.  Or maybe you have already created a successful business doing sublimation, and if so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments with your own steps to success.

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. 

The Three Stages of Sublimation

By Tom Chambers

Oscar Wilde once said of absinthe that “After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were.  After the second you see them as they are not.  Finally you see things as they really are…”  I stopped there with the quote because after that it gets a bit weird, which could have had something to do with Oscar having drank absinthe for 3 days.  But I digress.  That part of the quote, in a kind of absinthe-y way, makes me think about sublimation.  Or perhaps sublimation makes me think about this quote (or maybe absinthe; it is currently New Year’s Eve as I write this).  In any event, let me explain the odd connection between the two in my mind.

After many years of fielding trade show questions, most would-be future sublimation practitioners seem to follow a certain path of research to three basic levels of awareness that I’ve nicknamed “The Three Glasses Stages of Sublimation Absinthe”.  Those may be simply put as:  what you wish sublimation were; what sublimation is not; and finally, what sublimation really is.

Now hopefully the connection to the Oscar Wilde quote is obvious enough to keep you from thinking that this article is really all about absinthe, or that it is all I’m thinking about.

What You Wish Sublimation Were.

At first contact, sublimation can sound to some like an end-all be-all solution for all decorating styles and mediums that is just short of magic, that can put full color photos on anything quickly and easily for little expense.  My previous article addressed this particular wishful thinking in more detail, but for many, the desire and sometimes even belief, is that sublimation does everything.  Dark garments, light garments, cotton, polyester, nylon, spandex, wood, tile, stuff from Home Depot, race cars, signs, awnings, boat covers, walls, airplanes, everything.  It’s pretty easy to get caught up in all that sublimation WILL do (which is a LOT), forget about what it won’t do, and wind up believing that it does everything except wash dishes.

What Sublimation is Not.

Sublimation (ink) is not really even an ink.  It doesn’t have pigments (think screen print ink, direct to garment ink, or paint), and it doesn’t block other colors from showing through. That means no white ink – not now, not ever.  Without white ink or color pigments, you can’t do dark colored garments or other items, because you need those solid color pigments to cover over the background color with some other color.

Sublimation will not work on anything that is not either made out of polyester, or is coated with a similar polymer coating.  Period.  50/50 polyester/cotton or all cotton t-shirts?  Forget about it.  Only the polyester part sublimates.  Floor tiles from Home Depot?  No way.  The science behind the way sublimation works and what it actually is, just doesn’t allow it.

What Sublimation Really Is.

Now we’re to the good stuff.  Not absinthe, sublimation!  What IS sublimation after all?  In chemistry, sublimation is the transition of a solid to a gas without going through a liquid state. Dry ice is a good example.  For our purposes though, sublimation is the transition of sublimation dye particles into a gas, without going through a liquid state.

In other words, when you put the paper that contains your design that is printed with sublimation dye particles into a heat press at the correct temperature, on top of something made out of, or coated with polyester, then those dye particles turn into a gas that penetrates the polymer chains of the fabric or coating.

Put yet another way, you are dyeing the polyester fabric or coating with a gas created when you heat up dye.

Yes, sublimation ink is really a dye.  We only call it an ink because it comes in inkjet printer cartridges suspended in a liquid, the looks of which tricks our brains into thinking it’s ink.  And because it’s easier to call it “sublimation ink” than “sublimation dye particles suspended in a liquid medium contained in an ink cartridge”.

Because it is a dye, you can only dye something a darker color.  Also, that means it is translucent – it allows light to pass through it.  As in whatever color you are sublimating onto will show through the color(s) you are putting onto it, unless those colors are significantly darker.  This is why sublimation is mostly done onto all white goods.  After all, you can make white into whatever color you want – including white, because it started out that way.

Ultimately, there isn’t any better way out there to put full color, photo quality artwork or photos onto such a wide variety of products.  As long as said products are white or light colors; made of, or coated with polyester, and will hold up in a heat press, you’re good to go.

Hopefully this clears up some of the misinformation and myths about sublimation and what it will and won’t do.  If you would like to discuss sublimation (or absinthe) further, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

No absinthe was harmed (or drank) during the writing of this article.

Set Up for Sublimation Success in 2019

The end of the year is typically a time when people,  and businesses, take a moment to examine where they’ve been and to determine where they want to go in the next year.   Since 2019 will be here very shortly,   we wanted to take a few moments to talk about a few things a company could do to set up for sublimation success.

The first thing to think about is whether or not you want to make any large equipment purchases.   If you make those purchases before the end of 2019,  you can deduct the full purchase price from that year’s taxes.   Which means that buying a sublimation system or a heat press could net you a nice tax deduction as well as getting you equipment that can help make your business more profitable.

The next thing to do is take a look at the markets available to you.  Is there something you can do to increase your share of a market in which you already sell?   Working to increase market share should be your first goal, since you already are serving the market and presumably understand what customers in that market segment want.   Now is the time to update your literature,  examine what samples or sales pitches are working best in this particular market,  and to set your sales goals for the next year.

Once you’ve dealt with markets you already serve,  the next question is are there markets which might be interested in products you offer,  but to which you don’t sell?  It’s always good to have a few potential markets in your sights,  since no customer or market segment is ever a sure thing.   With new markets,  do the research to figure out what products might be of interest.  See if you have any contacts who can introduce you to key players in the new market.   Spend some time on social media to learn how the market communicates and what’s important to your potential customers.   Once you’ve gathered your data,  put together some samples and literature targeted to this new market.   The more targeted your pitch is,  the more likely you are to gain entry into the new market and an array of new customers.

Third,  look at the new products that are available from your suppliers.   Obviously,  you should have a slate of tried and true favorites that you offer,  but adding new products,  particularly products your competitors might not sell can be a great competitive advantage.   Visit your suppliers websites,  look out for e-mails advertising new products,  and pick a few to introduce to your customers in the new year.

Fourth,  pick something new to learn.   Maybe you’ll go to a seminar at a trade show.   You might listen to a podcast or a webinar.   There are always workshops available.   The idea is to pick something you’d like to learn or to add to your business and get the skills necessary to do what you want to do.   The method doesn’t matter.   The education does.

Finally,  identify your pain points and make a plan to fix them.   In 2018,  where did your business have issues?  Was it difficult to find new employees?  Did production times leave you scrambling to complete orders?  Were employees absent,  ghosting you or producing product at a snail’s pace?   Did you find order tracking was in chaos and no one knew what was supposed to be done when?  There are a variety of things that might need to be fixed;  the trick is to pick one or two and concentrate on getting the assistance,  finding the information,  or making the policy or personnel changes necessary to fix them.

T’was the Night Before Christmas – Sublimation Version

EnMart will be closed on Monday, December 24 and Tuesday, December 25 in honor of Christmas.   We wish all our customers and friends the happiest of holidays and the merriest Christmas possible.

While we’re gone,  I figured I’d leave you with this parody of T’was the Night Before Christmas with a sublimation theme.  I first wrote it in 2011 and it’s become something of a holiday 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!

Sublimation Issues Made Simple

By Tom Chambers

In my last article, I alluded to a future blog post relating to unacceptable sublimation image quality that was caused by “simple issues”.  Well, here are several simple things that can cause hair pulling moments, sleepless nights, and cost you a lot of money – but are easily checked and corrected.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of everything that can happen or go wrong.  It IS however a basic guide to most of the simpler issues that can arise, especially when a user is relatively new to sublimation.

While the list below is written with the Sawgrass Virtuoso series of inkjet sublimation systems in mind, it will apply to many others as well.  It does not, however, specifically address additional issues that can arise with bulk ink systems, aftermarket systems, or generic inks.

Some of the following may seem a bit obvious or even silly, but you’d be surprised at how many times these occur in real life – sometimes even to people who know better.

Issue:  The sublimated image is faint / faded looking / invisible, even though it looks ok on paper.

  • Are you using sublimation paper? Yes, sometimes people will get the idea to save some money and try regular inkjet paper or even copy paper.  Results will vary, but in general you will never achieve good quality results with any paper other than one designed for sublimation.
  • Are you printing on the correct side of the sublimation paper? Most sublimation paper has a printable, coated side which is typically a brighter, whiter color, and a non-printable side that is off white, duller, or even watermarked.  Depending on your printer and its printing path, the paper could need placing either face up or face down.
  • Are you using sublimation ink? Believe it or not, this happens.  Simply put, sublimation requires specific sublimation ink designed for the printer that you are using.  Regular ink will not work.
  • Is your heat press on / fully heated up / actually at the displayed temperature? Always give your press time to warm up to the correct temperature first, and you should also be using a pyrometer to keep tabs on the actual vs. displayed temperature.  Read this article for more in-depth information on that subject.

Issue:  The images printed on paper don’t look like what is on the computer screen.

As long as there are no defects showing in the print, this is usually not a problem.  It is normal for the printed image to look duller, darker, or even have different colors from the image on the screen.  Unlike printing a photo onto regular photo paper for example, during the sublimation process the color also changes and becomes more like what you see on your monitor.  The best thing to do is to sublimate the image first, then compare.  If you have doubts, use a piece of polyester fabric to test on first.

Issue:  The sublimated image has a double image / faint outline or shadow, but the printed image is fine.

This is called “ghosting” and is caused when the paper shifts sideways during sublimation while everything is hot.   Most often, it happens when the press head comes up too fast creating a vacuum that sucks in air, causing the paper to move.  It can also happen when you are removing the paper if you pull it sideways instead of quickly pulling it straight up.  Another possibility is on a draw press, when drawing the platen out too fast.  Be a bit more careful, use heat tape to affix the paper to your sublimation blank, use a tiny amount of a temporary spray adhesive on the paper, or use an adhesive type sublimation paper.

Issue:  The printed image and / or sublimated image has light or dark horizontal lines in it.

Light lines are most often caused by one or more clogged print nozzles, where there is no ink being printed of a particular color.  The first thing you should do is print a nozzle check, and look for any gaps in the lines.  You may see only one, or it could be several.  If you do, run a head cleaning, followed by another nozzle check.  You should see fewer or no gaps.  If there are still gaps, repeat the process and check again.  As long as the number of gaps decrease or change locations, continue this process around 5 times, and by then you shouldn’t have any gaps remaining.  If some gaps remain and are always in the same place after a few cleanings, you may have more serious issues that require a call to tech support.

Dark lines are usually caused by the print head being out of alignment, and to a lesser extent, light lines can point to this as well.  To correct this, follow the procedures for your printer to print and adjust the print head alignment.  This is typically a straightforward process that gives you step by step instructions to follow.

Both nozzle check and print head alignment procedures are usually accessed in your printer driver maintenance area.

Issue:  The sublimated colors don’t closely match what it shows on the screen.

This one is a bit trickier to explain as there are a variety of possible causes and troubleshooting is considerably more involved, and there will always be some slight differences between what you see and what you sublimate, but I will address the most common, easiest to fix issues here.  Where more specific instructions are needed, always refer to the information provided with your particular printer and sublimation system.

  • Are you printing to the correct printer driver? With many printers that use Sawgrass ink, there are two printer drivers for your printer – a virtual printer driver that does the color correction for sublimation, and the actual OEM printer driver for printing.  Frequently, I see cases where the OEM printer driver has been incorrectly set as the default, so the color correction is being bypassed.  Always make sure you are printing to the virtual printer driver instead.
  • Are your printer driver settings correct? A very common issue that is easy to overlook is the settings within your printer driver.  If you’ve customized it for a particular product, and then go to print something else, you may receive surprising results.
  • Are you using the correct color management settings in your graphics software? Another common issue is not following the correct procedure for a particular sublimation system when configuring graphics software.  Be sure to read any instructions about color management settings for your system, graphics software version, and operating system.  Failing to set up your graphics program properly for sublimation can cause unpredictable results with color, since you essentially wind up with multiple programs fighting for control of the color output.
  • Are you using the correct color profile? If color profiles are a part of your system, they must be set up specifically as recommended by whoever provided the profile.  Color profiles are a complex topic outside the scope of this basic article, but suffice it to say that not having them set up correctly or using the wrong one will definitely affect your color output.

If the above doesn’t solve your issue, or if you have questions about anything, feel free to contact us.  We’re always here to help.

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. 

Your Heat Press and You

by Tom Chambers

My esteemed colleague and professional writer Kristine Shreve has written much ado about heat presses over the years.  Among those articles are “Buying a Heat Press“, “ Uses for a Heat Press“,  “5 Things to Consider When Buying a Heat Press“, and “A Heat Press Primer“.  I’m sure there are more, and there is a ton of useful information in those articles.

So why am I writing yet another article about a heat press?  Because at some point after you read all the above articles and did all your research, you made the decision and bought a heat press.  Now you have to set it up and learn to use it.  How do you do that?  I know, that may seem obvious and simple, but there’s a bit more to it than just taking it out of the box and plugging it in.  That’s where this article comes in.

Setup

The very first thing you need to do when you receive your new heat press is to open up the manual, read what the requirements are, and do a bit of preparation.  If you have access to the manual before you receive your press, you will be ahead of the game when it arrives.

Before you set it up, you need to have a work area large enough for both the press and the work you will be doing.  If it’s a clamshell, you’ll need enough overhead clearance so the upper platen can be raised and lowered without hitting your knuckles on a cabinet bottom (or anything else).  If it’s a swing-away or drawer press, you’ll need additional space to the side and/or front.  You’ll also need a sturdy table, counter, or dedicated stand to place the press on.

The press should be conveniently located near an electrical source that meets or exceeds the requirements of the press. The electrical requirements will be expressed in amps, volts, and watts in the manual (or on the web site) for the press you bought.

You should make sure that you do not exceed the capacity of your electrical circuit and always plug directly into an outlet, not an extension cord.  Overloaded circuits can cause issues ranging from simply tripping a circuit breaker, all the way up to starting a fire and burning down the building.  My recommendation is that if you don’t know what you are doing here, consult an electrician.

If it is an air operated press, you’ll need an air compressor with enough capacity to supply the press, an air supply line of an appropriate diameter and length, plus any fittings necessary.

Not having appropriate electric and air supplies can also cause issues with the operation of the heat press.

Settings

Once you’ve set everything up, you should familiarize yourself with the features your press offers, especially the controls and how to change the settings.  For example, many presses offer the ability to store presets for various products in memory for easy recall.  This can be a real time saver if you have to press a lot of different products with different settings.

No matter the manufacturer, model, or style of heat press, they all have 3 settings in common.  Those are:  time, heat, and pressure.  Whether you plan to do sublimation, vinyl, transfers, rhinestones, or anything else, every single thing you will want to use your heat press for uses those 3 in varying degrees (bad pun fully intended).

Therefore, you will need to know what those 3 settings should be for whatever you are pressing at any given time, and that the settings will vary widely between products.  Manufacturers and distributors have recommended settings, and you will usually obtain those from your place of purchase.

Of the 3 settings, “time” is most consistent and reliable from press to press.  Typically this is a digital timer that either prompts you to release the press, or automatically does it for you, after your set period of time has elapsed.

You would think that the second setting, “temperature” would be consistent as well, but that is rarely the case.  Most heat presses vary anywhere from a few degrees to 20 or 30 degrees F from their displayed temperature, and this can change as they age.  It is important to know what your actual temperature is, because that directly affects the end results of what you are pressing.

Knowing the actual temperature requires a tool called a pyrometer with a surface probe, and purchasing one will be the best investment you make for your heat press.  It can potentially save you hours of frustration and thousands of dollars in ruined products.

Finally, there’s “pressure”.  On a manually operated heat press, setting the pressure is simply an educated guess.  Heavy pressure means you have to put a good amount of force on the handle to fully close the press.  Light pressure means you only have to put a little force on it.  Some manual presses provide a sensor and graphic display for the pressure, but those should not be taken as precise.  By contrast, an air operated press has an adjustable gauge or dial that shows you exactly how many psi (pounds per square inch) of line pressure is set.

Support

Now you are ready to press.  Follow any additional instructions for your press, but don’t be afraid to experiment either – it’s common to have to make some adjustments to published manufacturer settings as you press different things, and what works on one press may not be exactly the same on another.

It’s usually best to leave your press on even if you won’t be using it for an hour or two.  Turn it off only when you aren’t going to be using it for several hours or more.

Be sure to drain water from any air lines daily, follow any manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations, and keep support numbers handy for any questions or repairs.

As always, contact us with any questions.

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.