The 5 Ws of Sublimation: Why Sublimate?

Note:  This post is the third in the series called the 5 Ws of Sublimation.  The traditional five Ws are who, what, when, where and why.    For the purposes of this series, however,  I’m changing the five Ws to who, what, why, which and when.   This post deals with why a business would want to add sublimation to their product offerings. 

Probably the biggest question we get from people who aren’t familiar with sublimation is that of why anyone would want to sublimate.   The easy answer would be that sublimation can add another profit center for a business,  and that’s a good answer,  but it’s not really a complete answer or the only answer.    If you really want to deal with the question of why a person or a company would want to add sublimation to their product offerings,  you have to examine the entire picture.   As I see it,  there are four main reasons why sublimation is a good idea for most decoration businesses.

Reason 1: Sublimation offers more options –  Most, although not all, decoration options seem to be about clothing or tote bags or hats.   Adding sublimation allows a business to expand to a wide variety of hard goods as well as offering the ability to decorate clothing and hats.    Sublimated products can open an entirely new market, or can serve as good add-ons for those companies that primarily order garments.

Reason 2: Sublimation has relatively low financial barriers to entry –  EnMart offers a basic sublimation package for $419.00 on our website.   Other sublimation supply companies may offer something similar. Granted that basic package has to be augmented with blanks for sublimation and a heat press,  but you can still start out with sublimation for a relatively small initial start-up investment.

Reason 3: Sublimation does not require a lot of extensive training –   If you can use a printer, a heat press and have some knowledge of graphic software,  you’re probably going to find sublimation fairly simple.  While there are manuals and videos and blogs like this one that offer tips and advice,  in general you don’t need extensive training to operate the equipment necessary for sublimation.     Creating designs and printing goods is generally fairly simple as well.  There may be some trial and error at the beginning or when attempting to sublimate a new item but, in general, sublimation is fairly easy to master.

Reason 4:Sublimation is less harmful than the inks and materials used in other decorating disciplines – Sawgrass sublimation ink is considered “green” ink and, as such, is less harmful to the environment or the people that use the ink.    While it is not recommended, simply for common sense reasons, that you sublimate products in the same oven where you cook your family’s dinner,  in general sublimation residue and fumes are considered to be non-toxic.


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.

Making Peace with the Mistakes

Since EnMart has been selling sublimation supplies,  we’ve helped start a lot of people start their journey toward creating a viable sublimation business.  It’s always fun to hear the excitement in our customers’ voices when they buy their system,  or to see their faces when they carry a QuickStartR package away from our trade show booth, but it’s also a bit frustrating.   As excited as people can be when they make the initial purchase,  many people can be intimidated by sublimation once they’ve gotten their purchases home and started to set up production.    The initial excitement becomes concern.


“What if I don’t format the artwork correctly?”

“What if my color settings are off?”

“What if I don’t secure the transfer properly and the paper moves?”

“What if my time, temperature and pressure settings aren’t correct?”

Sublimation isn’t complicated,  but there are things that need to be understood and done correctly in order for goods to be sublimated properly.    It can seem intimidating.   Sublimation inks are an investment.   Sublimation blanks and paper cost money as well.   No one likes to waste supplies or waste money, and some people are so paralyzed at the thought that they might that it becomes a struggle to even set things up to start sublimating.

The thing is,  sublimation doesn’t have to be intimidating.  All you have to do is realize one simple thing,  at some point you will screw something up,  it’s inevitable.    It could be a temperature variance in your press.   You might miss a setting on your color management software.  You might press something for more time than recommended.   Something, at some point, will happen.  That’s why EnMart includes things like practice fabric with our packages.  Mishaps and mistakes happen to everyone,  beginners and seasoned pros alike, and practice is what helps keep the mistakes to a minimum.

Once you’ve made your peace with the idea that you will,  at some point in your sublimation career,  screw up a transfer, or sublimate something upside down,  or have color issues or whatever the problem may be,   you can move on to the fun part,  the times when you get things right.    For every mistake  there will be hundreds of products you sublimate beautifully which go on to be products you can sell proudly and profitably.    If you focus on that instead of on the idea that you might make a mistake,  you’ll find that sublimation becomes fun  and relatively easy.

Avoiding Intimidation by Sublimation

At least once at every trade show we do we’ll ask someone if they’re interested in sublimation and get the response, “Oh no,  it looks too complicated.”  or some variation.   Because sublimation is used to decorate garments and poly coated substrates,  some people tend to think it’s some arcane and mystical procedure that’s too complicated for the average decorator to master.  In reality,  nothing could be further from the truth.  If you’re willing to spend a little time experimenting,  and you can accept the idea that there may be some failures before success is reached,  then you’re perfectly qualified to take up sublimation,  and I’m guessing you’ll find it’s not intimidating at all.

The first reason sublimation is not intimidating is that it uses a standard inkjet printer.   Pretty much everyone in today’s world has used a printer,  and the printers for sublimation are just like the ones you could buy at your local office supply store.  There are no extra parts,  no magical additions,  it’s just a printer.   Plus,  if you do have issues with set-up, Sawgrass Ink offers installation and set-up videos that can help.

The second reason sublimation is not intimidating is the variety of help that is available to those who are new to sublimation.  Sawgrass Ink has a blog.  There’s the blog you’re reading now.   We also provide tech support,  as does Sawgrass.   If you get stuck,  have a question or just feel lost as to how you should proceed,  there are resources available to help you solve the issue you face.   All you have to do is ask for help.

The third reason sublimation is not intimidating is the fact that you can use graphics software you already own to create your designs.   There is software specifically for sublimation but,  if you are familiar with Corel Draw or Adobe or any graphics program,  you can search out free templates and create your designs with the software of your choice.   If you’re not familiar with any graphics program,  there are a variety of classes available that can teach you to use these programs.

The fourth reason sublimation is not intimidating is the fact that there are a variety of step by step videos to walk you through the process of sublimating a particular item.    EnMart has favorited some of these videos on our YouTube channel.   Sawgrass offers a variety of how to videos as well.   If you’re uncertain about how to sublimate flip flops or mugs or shirts,  you can find a video that will guide you step by step through the process.

Like many things,  sublimation can appear a bit intimidating at first,  but it’s really much simpler than it seems.   As I wrote back in April of 2010,  sublimation really can be as easy as create, print, press.  Sublimation can also be a great source of additional revenue for your shop.    If you’ve been considering sublimation,  but thought it was too complicated, take a moment to look at all the resources available to you.   I think, once you’ve seen what’s out there,  you’ll find you’ve changed your mind.



4 Ways to Combat Sublimation Anxiety

I’ve seen it happen more than once.    We talk to someone at a trade show or work through the purchase process with them over the phone,  and a new system makes its way to a new home and a very excited new owner.  Once the system arrives, however,  the person who purchased it decides that maybe sublimation might be more complicated than they first thought,  and suddenly it’s been a couple months and the system still hasn’t been put through it’s paces.  We know that trying anything new can be intimidating,  but we also know that sublimation can be another great profit center for almost any business, and that a printer and ink that are sitting unused aren’t generating money for anyone.

There are several causes of sublimation anxiety and writing a post about all of them would result in a very long post.  Today I thought I’d address the 4 types of sublimation anxiety that I’ve seen most often,  and offer some suggestions for combating each type.

Sublimation Anxiety #1: I’m Going to Mess Up – This is the type of anxiety that keeps people from doing test prints or sometimes even starting up the system.  Blanks and paper and ink cost money and no one likes to lose money.  By the same token,  if you don’t ever print anything,  you will be losing money because you won’t be producing anything you can sell.  Making a mistake and misprinting or smudging a print or having something come out a funny color will happen,  but that’s all part of the process.  The key to minimizing this issue is to learn all you can.  Attend seminars and webinars,  watch videos, ask questions and most of all practice.    The best way to ensure you don’t mess up is to become expert and the only way to become expert is to practice.

Sublimation Anxiety #2: I Don’t Know Where to Sell What I Make – Many people who sublimate also do other types of decoration work.    If you can sell embroidery or screen printing or vinyl or rhinestones,  you can sell sublimation.   Even if you don’t do any other type of decoration look,  just spending a day going through local stores or simply walking down the street and looking around you will help to point out several potential markets for your work.  Sublimation offers a wide variety of options,  and this opens up a wide variety of markets.

Sublimation Anxiety #3:  I Don’t Know How to Sublimate – You have ink and paper and a printer and a heat press and some sublimation blanks,  but you’re not quite sure how to put those things all together to get saleable product.  Luckily for you,  there are a lot of resources out there.  Sawgrass has webinars,  EnMart has a YouTube Channel and there is also this blog.   The great thing about not knowing how to do something is that you can always learn and the even better thing is that there are a lot of resources available to help you do just that.

Sublimation Anxiety #4:  I Don’t Have Time – Time is a resource,  just like money.   You already spent money to get all the supplies and equipment you need,  but those supplies and equipment aren’t worth anything if you don’t spend the time using them to create goods you can sell.  As you get more and more expert,  sublimating items for sale will take less time,  but you may have to make some time in the beginning as you’re learning.  The nice part about your investment of time, however,  is that it will most likely pay off in increased sales for your company, and investments that pay off are the best kind to make.

In the end,  anxiety is just a way of letting you know you’re trying something new.  If you’re new to sublimation,  don’t let anxiety stop you from making the most of your new equipment and enjoying the fruits of your labor.  If nothing else,  you can always give EnMart a call and ask for help.  We’ll be glad to assist.

6 Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a System

Deciding which sublimation or ChromaBlast system to purchase can be difficult.  There are a lot of issues to consider if you are going to purchase the system that is right for you.   If you’re in the process of purchasing your first system,  or are thinking or upgrading to a larger system,  here, courtesy of our sublimation expert, Tom Chambers,  are some questions to ask that will help you ensure you get the system you both want and need.

1. What is your expected volume?

The answer to this question helps determine whether you should avoid considering an Epson printer based system at all. If you anticipate that your system may sit unused for a day or more at a time, you should probably go with a Ricoh based system. 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 heavy duty commercial grade press.

2. 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. 90% of the
available blank goods will work just fine with 8.5” x 14” prints, or when printed in 2 sheets and taped.
But if you need to print larger items, maybe using 11” x 17” prints, you’ll need a heat press with a 16” x
20” platen as well as a printer capable of printing that size sheet.

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

If you plan on only doing shirts and mousepads, and other flat items, you can save some money
and go with a light duty press, a commercial grade clamshell heat press, or use your current heat press
if you already have one. If you plan on doing mugs, drinkware, plates, or other items, you may need to
consider a combo press, oven wraps, or perhaps even a dedicated mug press.

4. What is your target market?

This may well be the hardest question to answer, and present the greatest unknowns. But if you
have an idea already, you will be ahead of the game, and it will assist you in answering the other
questions. For assistance with determining your target market check out our post on deciding on your target market, and our post on some potential target markets for the goods you create.

5. What graphics software will you use?

You can use whatever graphics program you are comfortable with to design your artwork for
sublimating or ChromaBlast. The two most common ones are CorelDRAW and Adobe Illustrator.
However, you can use anything from Open Office Draw to Microsoft Word or Front Page – anything that
will let you design and print what you want. But you will need to use something.

6. 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 and ChromaBlast are probably two 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.

Getting Into Sublimation (Relatively) Inexpensively

One of the questions I see asked most often on sublimation forums is this one:  what is an inexpensive way to get into sublimation.   Generally people who ask this question are considering adding sublimation to their existing businesses,  or want to try it out as a hobby and see if they can build it into a business.  They don’t want to spend a ton of money on equipment,  but they would like to get a good system that will allow them to easily create top quality sublimated goods.

When we get asked the question about how to get into sublimation for a relatively modest initial investment,  I generally recommend one of two sublimation packages.   Both of these packages include a printer,  a full set of ink, a pack of paper and a USB cable.  This is everything that is necessary to print sublimation transfers.   The only additional items needed would be some soft of software program for printing and creating graphics,  a heat press and sublimation blanks.   Once you have those items,  you would be ready to start sublimating.

The first package I often recommend is the QuickStartR Package.   This is probably our most popular sublimation package.  The printer included in this package is a Ricoh GX e3300N, which is a great basic sublimation printer.   It prints up to 8 1/2 x 14 sheets and prints up to 144 color prints an hour.   These printers are relatively forgiving and tend to have less clogging issues than other sublimation printers on the market.  The sale price for the QuickStartR package is $399.99.

The second package is the Epson WF1100 Package.   The printer included in this package is an Epson Workforce 1100 printer,  which can be fitted with a bulk system,  which is included in the package.   This printer allows you to print 13 x 19 prints out of the box,  without the need for an additional bypass tray. If you think you will be sublimating larger items,  this printer would be a good match to your needs.   In addition to the bulk system,  this package also comes with two packs of paper.    This package retails for $749.00.

We believe our packages will suit the needs of the majority of our customers,  but we know that we could never develop a one size fits every situation package.  That’s why, in addition to our packages,  we also offer the “Your Way” discount.  If you purchase ANY items from at least 4 of the 5 Sublimation categories, we will manually apply a  5% Package Discount to ALL the sublimation or Chromablast related items, supplies, and accessories on your ENTIRE order.  Spend over $2000, and the discount increases to 10%! So, the more you buy, the more money you save.

Our goal is always to save you money while outfitting you with the system and supplies that will suit your business best.  If you have any questions about what system is right for you,  or if you would like assistance in designing your own package,  please feel free to contact us.   We will be happy to assist you.

Get Started with Sublimation: Choosing a Printer

Note: This post is the second in our series “Get Started with Sublimation” which will be co-authored by our sublimation expert, Tom Chambers. In this series we will lead you through the steps you need to take to set up your own sublimation shop and will give you tips that will help ensure you get the right equipment and supplies for your needs. This post deals with choosing the proper printer for your sublimation needs

If you want to be successful with a sublimation business, the first thing to remember is that everything starts with the printer. The printer you elect to use will determine the overall quality of your prints, the size of the items you can sublimate, the speed of your printing, and how many headaches you may have to endure as you work to get the printer printing correctly. Obviously choosing the proper printer is important, but how do you determine which printer is the proper printer for you? Here are three things you should consider.

First, look at the size of the prints you will need. The size of the print is determined by the size of the items you plan to sublimate. Make sure you look at the largest item on your list, as that is the maximum print size your printer will need to create. If your largest item is a license plate or a coffee mug, you won’t need a printer that will print 13 x 19.

Second, consider how often you’ll use the printer and for what. Quality always matters, but so does the rate of usage of the printer and what you’ll be printing. Both Ricoh and Epson printers provide great quality. Epson printers may require more maintenance and more frequent use but (depending on who you ask) the 6 and 8 color models have a very slight edge when it comes to fleshtones and pastels. Epsons are generally preferred by professional photographers. Ricoh printers tend to be faster, generally have very few maintenance issues, can often sit for days or weeks unused without cleanings, and are designed more robustly.

Third, determine the cost of the print. For low to mid level Epsons, ink cartridges are considerably more expensive. Using a bulk system may lower cost, but it can also introduce a whole new set of potential problems into the mix. If you choose to go with a higher end Epson, you can get 8 large size cartridges at a bulk price, without having the headaches that a bulk system might potentially cause. The Ricohs, on the other hand, give you the best of both worlds, four inexpensive cartridges, but enough ink to qualify as large capacity and no need for a bulk ink system. To see more about ballpark price for prints, you can view the EnMart printer comparison and approximate printing cost PDF on the EnMart website.

After you’ve answered the questions and viewed the data, your choice of printer should be fairly simple. Once your printer has been chosen, it’s time to move on to the other major choice you need to make, choosing a heat press. That choice will be the focus of our next “Get Started with Sublimation” post.