Think Ink

Cobra Ink.   No name ink from China.  Sawgrass Ink.   When it comes to sublimation,  it seems like there are a lot of choices for the ink that can be used,  but that’s a bit misleading.  Yes,  there are a number of inks that advertise themselves as sublimation ink,  but not all of them work the same way in your printer.   An ink that isn’t high quality can cause nozzles to clog,  print heads to break and designs to print with reds that aren’t red and blacks that look gray.   The quality of the ink you use matters,  for a couple of reasons.

The first is the fact that calling sublimation ink by the name ink is a bit of a misnomer.   Sublimation ink is made up of a carrier fluid that carries dye solids.     Because of this,  sublimation ink has a high viscosity and, at times,  more trouble going through standard inkjet print heads.   Keep in mind,  this is not in all cases.   We have countless examples of customers who have printed successfully for years with their Ricoh 3110 or 7700 printers.  Still,  sublimation ink does have an increased potential to cause problems when used in a standard inkjet printer.  One of the reasons that the Virtuoso Printers were created was so they could be designed specifically to meet the special needs of sublimation ink.

Another issue that can create problems for sublimation printers is refillable cartridges.   When it comes to printer systems,  there are generally two types,  a closed system and an open system.   A closed system is one in which the cartridges are prefilled and installed directly into the printer.   In this type of system,  there is no opportunity for dust or other contaminants to mix with the ink.    By contrast,  an open system,  one where ink from bottles or bags is poured into refillable cartridges offers the opportunity for air bubbles or contaminants to mix in with the ink.   The result can, at worst,  be damage to the print head.

Those of you reading this,  after even a cursory glance at the sublimation section of our website,   will probably notice that we carry Sublijet Ink and Virtuoso Printers and may,  as a result,  conclude everything we’ve said up to now is biased,  but you’d be wrong.    EnMart,  or EnMart’s parent company, Ensign Emblem,  has been working with inkjet sublimation practically since the process existed.    We were instrumental in bringing inkjet sublimation to the industrial laundry and rental uniform community.   After years,  even decades,  of sublimating emblems,  and occasionally making mugs and mousepads and shirts,  we understand how sublimation works,  and we know that the products we sell will provide the best finished goods,  because we use them too.

PowerDriver Color Management Software

If you’re wondering about color management for your sublimation projects,  EnMart wants you to know that we include a CD containing Sawgrass Ink’s PowerDriver color management software in each sublimation combo package we sell.  The PowerDriver software was developed specifically for SubliJet desktop sublimation and offers advanced color output and a higher level of functionality.   Using this software will help you achieve accurate, brilliant color, whether you’re on your printing transfer number five or transfer number five hundred.

The PowerDriver software contains the ColorSure palette,  which includes 170 colors.    Using the palette,  you can control how the colors in your image will look when they are transferred.   The palette must be loaded into your graphic design software.  Once it is loaded, you should have one step color matching,  allowing you to duplicate custom colors for particular orders.

Please note,  PowerDriver software will not run on a Macintosh computer.   The software was written specifically for a Windows platform.   If you use a Mac,  you can either sublimate using ArTainium ink,  which does offer a set up that is compatible with the Mac platform.   It is not recommended that a generic color driver be used with sublimation inks,  as the results may not be the quality required.

Can I Sublimate on Dark Fabric?

Printing on dark fabrics successfully and easily is probably one of the holy grails of garment decoration,  and decorators are always searching for new solutions.   One of the questions we get asked quite often is whether or not sublimation can be done on dark fabrics.    Since sublimation has a lower cost for entry than other forms of printing,  many people are eager to sublimate on light and dark fabrics but,  as of right now,  it doesn’t work that way.   Sublimation can only be done on light colored polyester fabrics or poly coated items.

There are two reasons that sublimation doesn’t work on dark colors.  The first is that sublimation ink dyes the fibers of the garment.   Sublimation is a process by which a solid turns into a gas without going through a liquid state.  Through the use of heat,  the gas bonds with the fibers of the garment,  or the poly fibers in the coating on the sublimation blank,  and dyes those fibers.   There is no coating and no underbase,  the ink literally dyes the fibers and becomes part of the fabric.  Using this process on darker fabrics doesn’t work because,  although you can dye the darker fabrics with the ink,  you won’t be able to see the resulting design.

The second reason that sublimation won’t work with dark colors is the lack of a white underbase to make the colors stand out.  Any type of printing that is even moderately successful with dark colors, whether it’s screenprint or direct to garment printing,  requires laying down an underbase of white before the colors are applied.   Sublimation ink only works on polyester,  so laying down an undercoat of white would require something that had polyester fibers in it,  which may not even be possible when it comes to ink.

Currently,  sublimation only works with lighter colors.   It is recommended primarily for white,  as white will not interfere with the colors of the ink.   If you do choose to sublimate on a light color,  please understand that the color of the fabric will have an impact on the color of your ink.    Oftentimes the tone on tone color contrasts are attractive,  but the fact that garment color can alter ink color slightly should be kept in mind.

SubliJet and ArTainium UV Ink: A Comparison

Anyone who has visited the EnMart website knows that we sell Sublijet ink.  What you may not know is that we have access to and can sell ArTainium UV Ink,  which is also manufactured by Sawgrass and is also suitable for sublimation.  Both inks can be used in the same types of printers and with the same sorts of substrates.  If you’re wondering which ink you should be using,  here’s a breakdown of some of the key features of each ink.

ArTainium Ink is only available for Epson printer models.    This ink delivers vibrant color and is perfect for professional photographers or anyone who needs precision and fine detail in the images they produce.   This ink is designed to interface with a variety of ICC profiles,  so it can work well in any production environment.  ArTainium Ink is a great solution for those who are familiar with and comfortable using design programs like Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator,  since ICC profiles must be used through one of these programs.   If you prefer to rely on your own color management rather than a print interface that manages color,  this ink is the one for you.  While EnMart currently does not stock this ink,  we do sell it and can stock it at customer request.  If you are interested in purchasing ArTainium Ink from EnMart,  simply contact us for more information.

Sublijet Inks are the inks that EnMart currently has in stock.  These inks come with Sawgrass’ PowerDriver Software, which guides users through the color management process.   Sublijet inks are a great choice for those who want a little more assistance with their color management, or perhaps aren’t as familiar with graphic software.    Epson printer users can purchase Sublijet IQ ink,  while Ricoh printer users can purchase Sublijet R.    Both inks are currently available on the EnMart website.

For more information on ArTainium UV inks and the SubliJet Inks,  please visit the following links:

SubliJet IQ

SubliJet R

ArTainium UV

Technical Support

Save Money on Sublimation Supplies

It’s a well known fact,  among those who know us anyway,  that EnMart doesn’t generally do sales and special offers.  A lot of the reason we don’t tend to do a lot of sales is because we’ve structured our pricing so that our regular prices are reasonable and we also offer quantity discounts so the more you buy, the more you save.    We’re also a bit wary of sales because everyone and their brother already offers sales on a regular basis.   If everyone else is doing something,  it’s usually a better strategy to try and stand out in another way,  so we concentrate on speedy order fulfillment,  responsive and experienced customer service and an easy to use web site.    So far,  near as we can tell anyway,  that seems to work.

Still,  every once in a while a customer says to us that it would be great if we offered free shipping on something,  or a discount on a high dollar item.     We always keep those suggestions in mind and, on occasion,  the stars align and we can satisfy one of those requests.    The proper alignment of the stars happened recently, and we are now offering two specials on sublimation supplies:

Special #1: If you need a heatpress, this is the special for you.  EnMart is offering a DK20S, a 16 x 20 manual swinger heat press, for $1255 + $95 flat rate shipping anywhere in the lower 48.   This is a great press and very durable,  plus Knight has a terrific customer service program.   If you’re looking to upgrade your press, or to buy a new press you can use for years and years,  this special is a great opportunity.

Special #2: – One of the things we get asked about a lot is offering free shipping on our ink products.   We have, for a limited time,  made that happen.  Order any sublimation ink product from EnMart and get free ground shipping on your order.   This offer has a limited duration,  so stock up now!

If you want to keep up with whatever special promotions EnMart is offering,  one way to do that is to read this blog.  Most specials will be announced here.  You can also keep track of what’s happening at EnMart by following us on Twitter or liking our page on Facebook.  While you’re there,  you can also join our mailing list.   Most sales and specials are announced by e-mail as well.

Think Ink

Many times when we talk about sublimation,  we talk about the printers or the blanks or the paper.  All of those items are important and necessary for sublimation,  but none are quite so vital as the sublimation ink.   Without the ink there is no printed transfer,  and without the transfer there is no image to place on your shirt or mug or mousepad.    The ink is where everything begins.

Dye sublimation is a process by which an ink is turned form a solid to a gas without going through the liquid state.    The conversion from one state to another occurs when the ink is heated  and is controlled through time and pressure.   When the ink is used with the proper paper and transferred to a polyester or poly coated substrate,  the result is a vibrant print that is sturdy enough to withstand washing and sun.

Sublimation ink is manufactured by Sawgrass Technologies,  and is available as Sublijet for Epson printers and Sublijet-R for Ricoh printers.    Both formulation and cartridge size can differ based on the make and model of the printers you are using,  so please be sure you select the correct ink category for your printer.    You should also keep in mind that sublimation ink is designed for printing on polyester fabrics or poly coated items.  If you attempt to use transfers printed with Sublijet ink on any medium other than polyester,  your transfers will not print correctly.

If you would prefer to print transfers for use on cotton garments,  the ink option you should explore is ChromaBlast Ink.   Like the Sublijet Ink,  ChromaBlast ink is available in formulations suitable for Ricoh or Epson printers.    ChromaBlast is for use on cotton fabrics only,  and is suitable only for white or light colored fabrics.   For some people,  ChromaBlast Ink and paper offer an alternative to direct to garment printing.

Finally,  we can’t forget that EnMart also offers ink for those who print directly to garments using a Brother GT-541 printer.  EnMart sells NaturaLink B from Sawgrass.  This ink is color matched with the Brother OEM inks, and is available at a less expensive price.    For more information on NaturaLink B and Brother, please read our in-depth FAQs on the subject.

Whatever your ink requirements,  be it sublimation,  ChromaBlast or direct to garment printing with a Brother GT-541,  EnMart has the supplies and ink you need.   If you’ve been looking for a one stop shop for sublimation,  or for a quick and efficient shipper for your ChromaBlast or NaturaLink B inks,  look no further than EnMart.    We will be happy to assist you in finding the ink you need for your particular printing requirements.

Printing Garments

I was looking back through the blog archives today,  as I sometimes do when I’m at a loss for a post idea,  and I noticed that I’ve talked a lot about sublimation blanks and how easy it is to print those,  while neglecting to discuss printing garments.    Since EnMart sells garments for sublimation,  as well as the inks necessary for printing sublimation transfers and ChromaBlast transfers,  I thought today might be a good time to discuss that very subject.

When it comes right down to it,  printing garments is pretty much like printing anything else.  You print a transfer and then you use your heat press to transfer the ink from your transfer paper to the garment.   If you are using sublimation ink,  your garment should be 100% polyester and the finished product will have almost no hand as the ink dyes the fibers of the garment.    If your garment of choice is cotton,  and of a light color,  than your transfer should be printed with ChromaBlast ink.  These transfers provide bright, clear color,  but they will have a slight hand to them.  You may also see a bit of transfer residue around the edges of the design.  That should disappear after the first wash.

There has been some discussion about whether or not sublimation printing can be done on anything except 100% polyester garments.   If you print on anything other than 100% polyester,  your design may be faded in spots or have uneven printing.  This is because the ink only dyes the polyester fibers.   Some people like the more faded or distressed look and are satisfied with the results they get from using a shirt that is a blend of fibers.   For best results, however, it is always recommended that any garments you sublimate be 100% polyester.

We also often get asked how the people create the get t-shirts that have designs that go down the sleeve and across the back,  or that start in the back and swirl around to the front.   Those shirts are definitely unique and fun to wear,  but they are printed as separate pieces of cloth and then sewn together once the designs have been printed.   It is a more expensive and custom way of creating garments,  but the finished product may well be worth the effort for some people.

As with anything you print,  you should always keep in mind that the size of the transfer should be in proportion to the size of the garment.  Bigger shirts need bigger transfers,  so this is something to consider when purchasing your printer and heat press.  A printer that only prints 8 1/2 x 11 or 8 1/2 x 14 transfers will limit the shirt sizes you can create.  If you want to make sure you can print as many sizes of garments as possible,  make sure you get a printer that allows printing on a variety of paper sizes and a press that can handle the biggest garment size you are likely to use.

Finally, another question that is often asked is where new sublimation and ChromaBlast garment printers can get more information or hints and tips about the garment decoration processes they are using.   One source is, of course,  blogs like this one.   Two additional great resources are T-shirt Forums.com and the Apparel Decorators Forum.   Both forums are terrific resources with a lot of good information and are a great place to ask questions and pick up tips.

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.

Eco-Friendly Sublimation Ink

Since this is Earth Day, I’ve been writing posts for the EnMart blogs that touch on the environmentally friendly products that we offer.   I’m guessing some of you may be wondering how I can write about environmental friendliness or Earth Day on a blog that deals with sublimation topics,  but it is actually easier than you think.  You see, Sublijet ink is a “green ink”  or water based ink and, as such, is considered to be less harmful to the environment than a solvent based ink.

If you want to completely understand the green ink issue as it relates to Sawgrass inks, I would recommend downloading their white paper on the subject.    The subject is a bit too extensive for one blog post, but I did want to try to give you a few of the highlights that support the contention that Sawgrass sublimation ink is suitable for environmentally friendly printing.

First of all, Sawgrass uses the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry as their guideline when determining whether a product can be declared a “green product”.   This list gives a number of ways that companies can manufacture green products.  One of the recommendations is to limit or eliminate the use of solvents.

There are no solvents in any Sawgrass sublimation ink products.  Eliminating the use of solvents has been proven to be good for the environment.  Solvents have been linked to the production of ozone and to the increase in smog production.  Smog contributes to poor air quality which can have a harmful effect on both humans and vegetation.  Some solvents have also been linked to global warming.

Many solvents are also toxic for humans.   The volatile organic compounds in solvent based inks can cause fumes which can be unhealthy for those who work with the ink.  The VOC-free nature of a water-based ink also provides a safer work environment for production employees and eliminates the need for concern about things like personal exposure limits.   Inks that are solvent free are the smarter choice both for the health of the person printing with the ink and for the Earth as a whole.

In addition to using a green ink, you can really create a eco-friendly sublimation station if you  pair your Sublijet Ink with a Ricoh GX e3300N printer. The Aficio GX e3300N Printer is Ricoh’s first printer available in the U.S. with some internal components manufactured using non-toxic, plant-based plastics.   This printer also uses less power when printing, which means you can print with near-instant readiness and zero ozone emissions.