Six Tips for Successfully Sublimating Several Substrates*

six tipsOne of the beauties of sublimation is that it isn’t limited to one type of item.  You don’t have to just embellish garments,  or just work with fabric,  or just work with hard goods and never work with fabric.  Sublimation allows you to decorate a wide variety of items,  some fabric,  some hard goods and some in the spectrum in between.  While each specific item will have its own unique characteristics,  there are some things that are fairly universal.   Here are six tips that can help you in sublimating almost any substrate,  from poly t-shirts to puzzles and mousepads to mugs.

Tip 1:  Each item is different, read the instructions and then test – It’s easy to think that a ceramic tile is a ceramic tile or a polyester shirt is the same regardless of manufacturer,  but that isn’t always the case.   Make sure you read the instructions specific to the item you are pressing and then do a test run before you start your production run.  Each heat press, batch of ink and substrate will react a little differently.  Purchasing one extra item to test can save you a ton of money in ruined items down the line.

Tip 2:  Too much moisture is a bad thing – If the room where you’re sublimating is too humid,  it can cause problems with your paper and with the items you’re sublimating.   Make sure your sublimation paper is stored in a cool dry place.   If you suspect your paper is too moist put it on your press for several seconds to to evaporate the moisture.  You can also press garments for 10 seconds if they’re retaining more moisture than they should.  It may also be a good idea to use an absorbent cloth or a non textured paper towel behind your transfer to absorb excess moisture.

Tip 3:  Don’t leave the transfer on too long – This tip may be especially relevant when it comes to ceramics, like tiles or mugs.   Removing the transfer quickly helps prevent ghosting of the image and prevents the paper from sticking.  Once the paper has been removed,  cooling the ceramic in a bucket of water is recommended.

Tip 4:  Make sure your pressing time is just right –  Press your item for too few seconds and you won’t get a good print,  in the case of garments,  you may even get a print that washes out too quickly,  as the ink hasn’t had time to dye the fibers.   Press the item for too long and you could get image fade on fabric,  or ghosting on ceramic items.   Check the instructions for the item you’re pressing to be sure you’re sublimating at the right time and temperature.

Tip 5:  You will make a mistake.  Deal with it –  In my opinion, one of the biggest problems novice sublimators have is the fear that they’ll make a mistake and ruin an expensive blank.   I hate to be the bearer of bad news,  but that will happen.  Plan for it to happen,  deal with it when it does happen and move on.   Don’t let fear of making a mistake stop you from ever trying at all.

Tip 6:  Information is your friend –  The more you know,  the better you can sublimate.   Sawgrass has a whole host of videos and webinars that can help you learn to sublimate specific items.   Blogs like this one will give you tips and provide advice and encouragement.   Forums like T-shirt Forums or the ADF Forum have whole sections devoted to sublimation.    Google and read and study and learn and then practice,  that’s the best way to get better at sublimation.


*Yes,  I like a bit of alliteration on occasion.   Why do you ask?

Since We’ve Been Gone…

As I wrote on SubliStuff’s sister blog yesterday, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged on a regular basis.  I’m hoping to change that as my schedule goes back to a more normal routine,  and so I wanted to start the new cycle of blogging with a kind of round up/catch up post.    This post will mostly be a list of things I’ve been wanting to mention to you, but haven’t had the time to mention until now.

First on the docket,  I want to mention that Sawgrass Ink has started a new blog.   The blog is called How to Sublimate, and it’s a brilliant entry into a field that really needed some good, helpful blogs.   I’m so excited that Sawgrass has started blogging.  If you currently sublimate, or are considering it,  this blog should definitely be on your must read list.

Second,  I wanted to say thank you to everyone who came to see us at the NNEP shows in Nashville and Houston.   We got to introduce a lot of people to sublimation and ChromaBlast and it was great fun to do so.    I also want to say thank you to Jennifer, Arch and Susan,  who once again put on some great shows for both exhibitors and attendees.   The NNEP is a great organization.

Third,  I wanted to give everyone a little advance notice of a price increase that will be occurring soon.   In early September,  prices for all our Geo. Knight heat presses will be rising.   If you were thinking of buying a press,  there are a still a few days to get your order in before the prices rise.    While the increase won’t be that severe,  everyone likes to save a little money,  and placing an order now will help you do just that.

Fourth,  anyone going to ISS Atlanta or ISS Ft. Worth should stop by and visit the EnMart booth at those shows.   We will be in booth 332 at ISS Atlanta and booth 812 at ISS Ft. Worth.   While we will not have a sublimation set-up in the booth,  our sublimation expert will be at both shows and available to answer questions.   It will definitely be worth the visit.

That’s about it for now.   We will be going back to our regularly scheduled round of posting,  so if there is a topic you would like to see covered,  please share your suggestion.

How to Get the Most from Your Sublimation Products

Sublimation can be a great profit center for almost any garment decoration or souvenir or gift shop business, but getting your printer and inks and sublimation blanks only gets you half way to your profits.    Once you’ve got the necessary items, you still need to know how to use these products to their fullest advantage.  This post contains some tips that will help you do just that.

Tip 1: Remove the protective film carefully – To keep the surface of the sublimation blank from being marred or scratched, most are covered with a plastic film.   When trying to remove the film, do not pick at the plastic covering with a fingernail or sharp object.   The best way to remove the film and reduce the risk of damage is to use something like tape with a sticky side to pull the adhesive from the blank.  If you don’t have any tape, use the pad of your thumb or forefinger to peel back the edge of the plastic.   Do not use anything sharp as this could nick or leave gouges in your unprinted sublimation blank.

Tip 2: Add a “bleed” to your artwork – Enlarge your artwork so it is 1/16″ to 1/8″ larger than the blank you will be sublimating.  Align your blank by placing it with the side to be printed covering the transfer.  When you can see an even amount of ink on all sides of the transfer, the blank is aligned properly.   Hold the transfer in position by folding two sides of the transfer over the back of the blank and securing it with heat resistant tape.

Tip 3:  Avoid “blowouts” – The term “blowout” is a reference to an image that has colors which have “blown out” of the borders of the design and appear smudged.  Blowouts are generally caused by uneven heating, excessive pressure or overheating.  To avoid this issue, use a Teflon pad to cover your transfer and lessen the variations in temperature.  You can also detect temperature variances through the use of a digital pyrometer.

Tip 4:  How to store finished product – Do not place sublimated products in direct contact with each other or with any other synthetic product.  The inks will migrate from the substrate to the synthetic material as time passes.  There is also the risk of scratching the substrate.  It is recommended that you store sublimated items with a piece of paper inserted between each item.  This will help eliminate ink migration and the reduce the potential for scratches.

Sublimation Resources

Earlier in the week  I asked you all what videos you would like to see us make first,  and I’m still hoping for answers to that question.   Our goal is to build up a library of video and written resources that will educate and inform our customers and help them make the most of the sublimation and ChromaBlast products.   The reality of the situation,  however,  is that we can’t cover every subject and every project,  even if we worked 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives.  For one thing,  there are simply too many subjects to cover.  For another,  we can only shoot one video at a time.   That’s why I’ve been searching the web to find some alternative sources that can help answer some of your questions.

If you’re interested in creating a tile mural,  there are a couple of tutorials that could prove very useful.  The first tutorial features  Hanes SublimationMaker 2.0.   The second tutorial covers the same subject,  but using Corel Draw.   These tutorials feature 6 x 6 tiles.

Another option for learning about sublimation and how to be successful with it is the Sawgrass webinar series.  These webinars cover everything from publicizing your business to managing color and working with Corel Draw.   You can  attend a webinar the day it is offered,  or you can view archived webinars at your own convenience.

If you have a lot of specific questions for which you need answers,  or if you’re looking for information on a particular product,  your best resource could be a forum.  EnMart participates in two that I find especially helpful.  One is T-Shirt Forums and the other is the Apparel Decorators Forum.  Both forums are populated by helpful, knowledgeable people who are always happy to give assistance and share knowledge.

The companies that make the sublimation blanks are also typically a good resource if you’re having a problem with a particular product.  EnMart is a distributor for Rowmark,  and the company provides an extensive technical help section.   If you’re having an issue sublimating a particular blank correctly,  it would be worth checking out their information.

You should also check out magazines like Awards & Engraving and Printwear for sublimation tips.   Both have offered great articles with sublimation tips in the past and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so in the future.

Sublimation: It’s (Not) Complicated

When I first started working for Ensign Emblem, EnMart’s parent company,  what I knew about sublimation was that it was a psychological term.   Once I’d been with Ensign for a while,  I learned that we made emblems, and sometimes other things,  using sublimation,  but I figured the process was hard to do and required lots of expensive equipment and a lot of training.   My job, up until EnMart was founded at least,  had always been more to talk about what we did than how we did it,  so all I needed to know, when it was just Ensign, was what the finished product was and how it could be used.  I didn’t need to know how we got to that point.

Of course,  as I continued to work for the company,  I learned.   Our experts here were kind enough to share the process as well as the product with me.  I learned why color matching mattered.  I was educated about materials.   I came to understand the importance of good artwork.   I saw how what we did and what we used to do it impacted the final product.   While I would not, and do not, call myself an expert,  I have a much better understanding of sublimation as a decorative art than I did when I walked in the door for my first day with the company.   I’ve learned a lot,  and one thing I’ve learned is that sublimation, in the end, is not really that complicated.

Basically, in order to sublimate you need five things.  First you need sublimation ink.  Then you need the printer for which the sublimation ink was designed.    You also need some sublimation paper on which to print your transfers.   Then you need some polymer coated blanks or polyester garments to which you can transfer your designs.   Finally you need a heat press to facilitate the transfer of the ink to the substrate.    It is also helpful if you have some sort of design software although that isn’t necessarily required.

One you have all these items the process is pretty simple.  First you create your design.  Then you print the design.  Then you press the design.    Creating the design requires using the software you have chosen and perhaps a template for the blank you wish to print.   Printing the design requires the printer, paper and ink you purchased earlier.    Once you’ve got your transfer printed,  you need to press it on to your substrate, using the recommended time, temperature and pressure.  It’s that simple.

Since the advent of EnMart and the addition of sublimation to our product offerings, I’ve become a lot more familiar with the process.  I’ve even tried sublimation out for myself, and did all right with it, and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m the last one who would be expected to do well with anything that involves the visual arts.   If I can successfully sublimate an item,  anyone can do it.

If you’re interested in learning more about sublimation and how you can use it to increase your business,  give us call and we’ll be happy to help you get started.   Take a moment or two to look through this blog and read what we’ve said about the subject in the past.  Contact us on Facebook or Twitter and tell us what you want to know.  Sublimation could be a great addition to your product offerings  so it is definitely worth some consideration.   We’ll be happy to give you the information and assistance you need to decide if sublimation is right for your business.

Create, Print, Press! Is it Really That Easy?

We’ve been doing a lot of trade shows in the last few months, and I’ve noticed a funny thing that seems to happen at almost every show (or at least the ones to which I’ve been).  At some point, one of us working the booth will be telling someone who isn’t familiar with sublimation how the process works, and as the explanation  goes on the person who is listening starts to get the look my Mom would get when I was a kid and explaining something to her, usually something like why we felt it was a good idea to open the front door and the sliding door to the backyard and have a water fight through the house.   It’s the look that says, “I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, and I know you believe what you’re saying,  but I’m not entirely sure that I do”.  When it comes to sublimation, the look really seems to translate to this question:  can sublimation really be as easy as  1) Create, 2) Print and 3) Press?

Our answer to that question is yes, sublimation really can be that easy, which isn’t to say that it’s simple.  Like anything else, there are skills that need to be mastered and conditions that need to be met to help ensure that your sublimated project will end in success.

Let’s start with Create.   In order to create the graphics you want to print, you either need a source of photographs or a source of clipart or the ability to design graphics from scratch.   You also need a graphic software program of some kind.  What program you use is up to you.   Some people prefer to keep it simple and use something like Hanes SublimationMaker 2.0.   Other people design their own graphics using CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator.   Regardless of which route you choose, you have to have the ability to maneuver a mouse and use a computer, and an understanding of whatever graphics program you choose to use, but that’s really all it takes.

After you’re created your artwork, your next step is to Print.   If you wish to create sublimated items, then obviously you need sublimation ink and sublimation printers.   You need to be willing to maintain the printers and do the proper nozzle checks and cleanings so the printer stays in good working order.  You also need to purchase sublimation paper and to keep that in an environment that will provide optimum printing capability.   You need to understand how the Sawgrass PowerDriver software works and how to use it properly.    Other than that, printing a graphic for sublimation is like printing anything else.

Finally, once you’ve printed your design, you need to Press it onto whatever substrate you’ve selected.  The main requirement here would be a heat press.   You need to make sure that you have the proper size and type of press for whatever it is you want to press.  There needs to be an  understanding of  how variations in press temperature can impact the finished product.  To ensure an optimum result, you need to make sure to follow the instructions given regarding pressure, temperature and time.

Obviously, for the purposes of this post, I’ve only touched on the highlights of the process.  Each person will encounter their own learning curve when it comes to sublimation, and the steepness of that curve will largely depend on previous experience and willingness to experiment.   All things being equal, however, sublimation has less barriers to entry, and less potential issues than other types of garment decoration, with the added benefit of offering the ability to decorate items beyond garments.

What Is Sublimation?

When I started writing this blog I made a mistake that many writers make, I assumed that everyone who read this blog would have the same level of knowledge that I do.   I didn’t remember that giving out tips about finding the right printer or sublimating a certain product wouldn’t be very useful if you didn’t even know what sublimation was or why you’d want to do it.  Today I wanted to correct my mistake and start at the very beginning,  with a basic overview of what sublimation is and what the process can do for you and your business.

First, let’s start with exactly what sublimation is. defines it this way:

In chemistry, the direct conversion of a solid into a gas, without passage through a liquid stage. (See phases of matter.)

When it comes to garment and product decoration, sublimation printing allows businesses to create  specialized, customized images on demand.  The specially formulated ink actually bonds with the fibers in polyester garments or the coating on the sublimation blanks and create a colorful and personalized image.

Sublimation is relatively simple to learn.  If you can run a graphics program, print to a printer, and use a heat press you can sublimate.  The steps in the sublimation process are as follows:

1. Create and import your artwork.  To do that, you can use a program like Adobe Photoshop or CorelDraw.  You can also use specially designed sublimation software like Hanes SublimationMaker 2.0.

2. Print your image using Sublijet Ink and one of the sublimation printers for which the ink has been formulated.  You will also need to be sure you are using transfer paper that has been designed for sublimation.

3. Press your transfer on to the sublimation blank you have chosen.   You can either use a standard heat press or a mug press.

When sublimation inks are heated to 400°F, they turn into a gas and bond permanently to 100% polyester fabric or any items with a polymer coating. The image that remains is a premium full-color, photographic-quality image that will not crack, peel or wash away from the substrate.

Sublimation can add a wide variety of new products to your business.   If you embroider, and were formerly limited to fabric items, sublimation allows you to add mousepads, mugs, jewelry boxes and much more.  If you’re a photographer, sublimation gives you the ability to create personalized mementos using your own photographs.   For a relatively small investment,  sublimation can be a great way to increase your business and your profits.

For a complete description of what sublimation is, what it does and how it can be useful to your business,  please download the Dye Sublimation Guide from the EnMart website.