How to Choose a Sublimation Paper

Way back in 2010 we did a 2 part series detailing everything you needed to know about choosing a sublimation paper.   Eight years later (doesn’t time just fly) it seemed like a good idea to summarize some of what was in that series in an effort to help a new group of sublimation printers make their paper choices.   The original posts are still very relevant and worth reading in full, so if you’re inclined,  please take a moment to read Part 1 and Part 2.    If you’re short on time,  this summary will give you the basics.

To begin,  let’s talk about the three categories into which we at EnMart divide sublimation paper.  Our categories may be different than those other suppliers use,  but our experience has shown these category designations to be accurate, so they’re the ones we use.   In our experience, sublimation paper is either

  • High release
  • Low or Standard Release
  • Hybrid (combines properties of both)

High Release paper typically requires less time to press to release the majority of the ink onto the substrate.  This type of paper tends to work well for soft goods and may provide slightly superior color transfer.   One of the main issues with this paper may be smearing,  as high release paper tends not to dry quickly.   You may also experience “blow out” on hard goods like ceramic tiles of FRP key chains,  as the dye may be released so quickly that the harder materials can’t absorb it fast enough.    High release paper may also be more prone to curling, printer jams,  humidity and other environmental issues.

Low or standard release paper is pretty much the opposite of high release paper.   It dries quickly,  so smearing issues are minimal.   This type of paper works very well with hard goods and has little instance of “blow out”.   A potential drawback of low release paper is that it takes far more time in a press to draw the dye out.   Extensive time in a heat press can cause damage to or yellowing of coatings or fabrics,  but shortening the press time could result in colors that are less vibrant than desired.   On the positive side,  low release paper does tend to be resistant to jams and other environmental factors.

Hybrid paper,  as the name implies,  combines the qualities of both high and low release papers.   Some hybrid papers are more on the high release send of the spectrum while other are similar to low release paper.   The goal with this type of paper is to capitalize on the good points of both the other types of paper while minimizing the down side.   Based on our experience,  hybrid papers tend to be the best for all around use on all substrates.

If you’re wondering what type of paper Mpres Paper,  the sublimation paper that EnMart sells is,  it’s a hybrid paper.  The time required in a heat press is closer to the high release end of the spectrum,   but it mimics the low release papers in it’s capacity for quick drying to eliminate smearing, and the excellent release of color.   This is the paper that our parent company,  Ensign Emblem uses to create sublimated patches every day.     It’s been battle tested and proven worthy and we highly recommend it.

 

Get Started with Sublimation in 2012

To get started in sublimation you need five things:

  1. A printer
  2. Sublimation ink
  3. Sublimation paper
  4. Blanks suitable for sublimation
  5. A heat press

Your selection of printer really depends on what size prints you want to make.  If the biggest thing you’ll ever print will fit on an 8.5 x 14 sheet of paper,  then you might do well with a Ricoh 3300.   If you want to print 13 x 19 right out of the box,  it might be wise to consider a Epson WF1100.   If you want to print large images and think you will be doing quite a bit of production,  your best choice might well be the Ricoh GX 7000.   Different printers work best in different situations,  so please be sure to take into account how much you want to print and the largest thing you might want to print when deciding which printer to buy.

Sublimation ink is fairly simple –  if you run a Windows system,  you can purchase Sublijet ink for the Ricoh or the Epson printer of your choice.    If you use a Mac,  then you’re best off selecting Artainium ink,  as Sawgrass supplies ICC profiles for that ink which work with Macs.   Enmart does not currently list Artainium ink on our website,  but we can get it for customers who request that we do so.

When it comes to sublimation paper,  EnMart recommends our Mpres Paper.   We’ve tested many different kinds of paper over the years,  and Mpres is the best we’ve found.

Choosing sublimation blanks largely depends on what it is you want to sell.    EnMart offers a wide selection of blanks for sublimation,  everything from dog tags to mousepads, coffee mugs to jewelry boxes.   We also carry Vapor Apparel t-shirts, which are very well suited for sublimation.    EnMart also allows you to purchase just one of any item you might like to try,  subject, of course, to our $25 minimum order.

Finally, in order to sublimate, you need a heat press.   EnMart’s parent company, Ensign Emblem has a long history with George Knight heat presses, and has known them to be durable and reliable.  Since we’ve had such a good experience with these presses,  Geo. Knight is the brand of press that EnMart sells.   If you’re looking for a press,  remember to take into account the largest thing you will every sublimate, as you want to make sure your press is able to handle it.

Getting started with sublimation is not difficult, and EnMart is here to help make it even easier.  If you have questions or concerns, we’ll be happy to help you, or to connect you with people who can.

White Paper and What You Make of It

I have to admit,  I’m long past the days of sitting in front of  a blank piece of paper with a pen waiting for inspiration to strike.  Nowdays I sit in front of a computer screen looking at a blank white square with a blinking cursor,  both waiting to be used to create a blog post, or a piece of collateral material or whatever else I may want to create.   My mind conceives,  my hands do the work, and the end product is something more than the white space, whether paper or programmed, where everything started.

While it’s true that everything combines to create something bigger than the sum of the parts,   that doesn’t make the parts inconsequential.  The right ingredients matter.  Your white paper,  whether computer generated or an actual piece of paper,  needs to be quality stuff,  which will work well for the purpose to which you are to put it.   You have to have experience and knowledge of how to use the supplies you are given,  whether those supplies are things like words and ideas,  or ink and printers. Finally,  you have to have the courage to take the leap between where you are and where you envision you could be.   After all blank paper and unused supplies don’t really amount to anything.  It’s what you do with those things that gives them meaning.

Sublimation starts with a piece of blank paper,  or a blank white surface of a mug or a mousepad,  and an idea.  The idea may be an abstract design,  a photograph,  or simply a logo or name.   When these things are combined,  the end result is a product that can be sold,  which might become a sign for someone’s shop or a keepsake on someone’s mantel.  The magic ingredient that changes the blank white space into something special is your imagination,  your knowledge and your willingness to try something new.

If you’re starting out,  looking at the white paper or the white sublimation blank may seem a little overwhelming,  but really all you’re looking at is a blank slate that is waiting for you to leave your mark.  We know that leaving your mark can seem like an intimidating thing to do,  or that you may think you need more knowledge before you make an attempt, and that’s why we’re here to help.  Whether it’s guiding you to the right resource,  or sharing with you some of our own knowledge and expertise,  we’ll be happy to help you find the assistance  and knowledge you need.

It all starts with a blank sheet of paper.  Where it ends is up to you.

Knowledge = Power (and a Good Supplier)

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that I often talk about the fact that EnMart’s parent company, Ensign Emblem,  was instrumental in bringing inkjet sublimation to industrial laundries.    In fact,  Ensign has been involved with sublimation in some form since the early 1990’s.    Later this week, I will be writing a post about Ensign’s history with sublimation, but today I wanted to talk about why that history matters and what it means for EnMart customers today.

First of all, for those who are not aware,  EnMart is part of the Ensign Group,  which was created by Ensign Emblem.   The Ensign Group was formed so that Ensign Emblem could create subsidiary companies and bring quality products and the benefits of the knowledge Ensign had accumulated to new markets.   EnMart is the first company in the Ensign Group and sells machine embroidery and sublimation supplies.

When EnMart was created,  it automatically had access to all the knowledge Ensign Emblem had accumulated over the years.    We could speak knowledgeably about the best paper for sublimation because we’d tested many types of paper until we found what we felt was the best.    EnMart’s sublimation experts could give advice on sublimation ink because we’ve worked with Sawgrass for years and had seen the development of sublimation ink.  We know how to get the best sublimation prints possible because we’ve created tons of sublimated emblems, and we’ve developed systems that allow Ensign’s industrial laundry customers to do the same.

In the end,  what all this means is that EnMart customers have access to a large database of sublimation knowledge.  Whether it’s a consultation about  which printer or heat press to buy,   or tips on how to get the most from your sublimation ink,  or advice that helps you figure out a problem,  we’re very likely to have the knowledge you need.  Best of all, becoming an EnMart customer gives you access to that knowledge, any time you need it,  every time you need it.

Why Paper Type is Important

When most people talk about sublimation they generally tend to talk about the inks or the printers or maybe the awesome varieties of sublimation blanks available.   I would guess that most people spare little if any thought for the paper on which the transfers will be printed.    This lack of thought about the paper you choose can be a serious oversight and have major consequences for the cost and quality of your printing.   Given that,  I thought it might be a good idea to discuss why paper matters and what qualities a good sublimation paper should have.

In the spirit of full disclosure,  I wanted to point out that some of the topics I’ll cover here were first mentioned in our post “The Quest for Fire … er… Sublimation Paper”,  which was offered on this blog as Part 1 and Part 2.   Those posts made their debut on the blog back in April,  and I figured some people might have missed them.   Because of that fact,  I feel pretty safe going over some ground we’ve already covered.  I did, however,  want you to know the full posts were there in case you wanted to read them in their entirety.  I do recommend doing that if you haven’t already done so.

The first thing you need to know is that EnMart divides sublimation paper into three categories.  We recognize that our categories may only be valid to us,  but they work for our purposes and may work for yours.   Those categories are:

  1. High Release
  2. Low or Standard Release
  3. Hybrid (combines properties of both)

High Release sublimation papers typically require lower press times  to release the majority of their sublimation dye into the substrate.  This decreased press time can also decreas your production time, and may  increase your  margins.  High release papers work very well for lower DPI prints of artwork on fabrics or other “soft goods”, and may also provide slightly superior color transfer. One thing you should be aware of is that high release papers typically don’t dry as fast.   If you are printing large numbers of sheets and allow the sheets to stack up, you may experience some smearing of the ink as one sheet feeds out on top of another.  There is also the potential for “tracking” where the feed wheels on your printer function pick up and deposit “tracks” of ink.  There is also the potential for  instances of “blow out” on hard goods like ceramics and FRP, if the dye is released so quickly that the coating cannot absorb it at the same rate.  High release paper may also be more susceptible to curling, printer jams, humidity, and other environmental issues.

Low or Standard Release papers usually have just the opposite qualities from high release papers.  They dry very quickly, so there are rarely any smearing issues.  They also work very very well on all hard goods like ceramics and FRP with little, if any, “blow out”.  Unlike high release papers, however, they require much more time in the heat press to get the dye out.  Reducing the press time even a little can cause colors to be less vibrant.  Long amounts of time in the heat press can also cause yellowing or other damage to coatings and fabrics.  This class of paper, however,  is virtually immune to paper jams or other environmental issues, and works equally well in a variety of printers and environments.

Hybrid papers, as you may have already figured out,  combine the best properties of both of the previous types of paper.   After testing a wide variety of papers over the years,  EnMart has settled exclusively on a hybrid paper.  We call the paper Mpres and it is the only paper we use internally and the only paper we sell.    If you want to know more about why we chose Mpres and why we think it’s a good option for our customers,  you can read this post, written back in May, that covers the subject.

As you can see,  the type of sublimation paper you choose can have a large bearing on the success and cost of your sublimation printing.   All sublimation papers are not created equal,  and the cheapest option may not always be the best.   Before you settle on one paper,  take the time to test a few and see which one works best for you and your business.  If you are interested in testing EnMart’s Mpres paper,   simply contact us and ask for a sample pack.  We’re confident in our paper,  and we believe,  once you’ve tested a sample,  you will be as well.

Humidity and Sublimation Paper

We’re having another hot and relatively humid week in  Northern Michigan today,  and I know other parts of the country are currently experiencing something like a steam bath.  Humidity levels have reached 100% on some days,  and dew points are very high.   That type of weather is generally pretty uncomfortable for humans,  and it doesn’t do your sublimation supplies, like paper,  all that much good either.   Since the weather has provided me with a ready made subject,  I thought today would be a good day to discuss humidity and sublimation paper.

First of all,  let’s discuss what humidity does to sublimation paper.    Your sublimation paper can retain an enormous amount of moisture,  so  exposing it to humid air is like setting a sponge in a pool of water.    Excess moisture in your paper is not a good thing and can lead to problems like color shifting (colors lose accuracy), bleeding of the image, and uneven transfer of solid filled areas. If you can,  store your sublimation paper in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.   If that isn’t possible,  try to avoid humidity related problems by keeping  your sublimation paper  sealed in a plastic bag.

If you paper is exposed to humid air and does soak up some excess moisture,  you have a couple of options.  One is to set the paper on your press for a few seconds. Do not press it. Just expose it to the warmth. The heat radiating from the press should help evaporate most of the moisture.  If you’ve already printed a transfer  you can try to save the transfer by heating it in your heat press.   To eliminate the excess moisture,  place the printed transfer 2″ to 3″ below the heat platen for 30 – 40 seconds.   When you do this,  the result may be that the colors in the transfer appear washed out or faded.  This is normal and the anticipated result of color adjustment for the transfer process.

As a general rule,  the optimum environment for sublimation printing is one that has low humidity and is reasonably cool.   You may have to do some experimenting to find the correct humidity and temperature levels for your particular climate.

Top 7 Reasons (and 1 Bonus Reason) to Try Mpres Paper

1. Hybrid high release paper. Mprés releases more dye in less time onto the printable substrate than most other papers of this type for richer, deeper colors and better clarity.

2. Fast drying. Mprés dries almost instantly, eliminating any quality issues like tracking or smudging.

3. Universal sublimation paper. This paper works perfectly with any sublimation printing system including Ricoh and Epson, and any sublimatible material.

4. Print at multiple DPI levels.  This paper allows you to print at higher DPI levels (for use with ceramics, UNISUB materials, etc) and at lower DPI levels (emblems, mousepads, etc) allowing you to save ink.

5. Increased Productivity.  Mprés Paper requires less press time and dries faster than many other papers, and printing at lower DPI levels may also increase printing speeds.

6. First-Hand Product Knowledge.  We not only sell Mprés Paper, we use it ourselves every day.  We have the first hand product knowledge necessary to help our customers successfully use the product.

7.  New Lower Pricing. Bulk purchases and economies of scale have allowed us to lower the price on our 8 1/2 x 11 Mprés Paper.   The new pricing, effective 5/10/10, will save you money on every pack of paper you buy.  Quantity breaks will also ensure that the more you buy, the more you save.  The new pricing is as follows:

1-4 packs   $13.99
5-9 packs  $12.99
10-19 packs  $12.59
20-49 packs  $11.89
50-99 packs  $11.39
100+  packs  $11.19

and one bonus reason…

8. We’ll Send You a Sample of Paper Free! –  We’re so confident that you’ll love Mprés as much as we do, that we want to introduce you to it by offering you a free 10 sheet sample pack of 8 1/2 x 11.   To request your 10 sample sheets, contact us at 866-516-1300 or e-mail us at mpres@myenmart.com.

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.

The Quest for Fire … er…. Sublimation Paper, Part 1

by EnMart’s Sublimation Expert,  Tom Chambers

When you think about how to be successful with Sublimation, you probably guess it would be the ink or the printers that matter the most.  Most people, if they consider sublimation paper at all, probably think that one paper is pretty much like another, and that the paper you use won’t have much effect on your final product.  Everyone sells sublimation paper if they sell any of the ink, blanks, printers, or other items, but all sublimation papers are not created equal.  In order to find the paper that is right for you, you need to know how it works, and what sublimation paper really is.  Most importantly, you need to know how good the paper you’re buying is.

This post is being written to give you the benefit of my experience in choosing sublimation paper. I’ve used many different sublimation papers over the years, from name brands to generics; expensive European products to cheap Chinese options, and a lot of American made papers as well.  .  In this post, I will also explain just what sublimation paper is, and exactly how it works.  Naturally, I want you to choose my MPRES-II paper from EnMart, but  convincing you to do that is not the goal of this post.  Ultimately I want to help you find the ideal paper for your use, since that’s what it is all about.

Sublimation paper can be divided into 3 very generalized categories.  Some vendors may disagree with me or may have different categories of their own. .  My personal experience however has shown these categories to be accurate.

1.  High Release
2.  Low, or Standard Release
3.  Hybrid (combines properties of both – our MPRES-II paper is a Hybrid)

All sublimation paper starts out with a base sheet stock, which varies by manufacturer, brand, etc.  This is important to give the paper its weight, some resistance to curling and humidity, and several other properties.  The base sheet stock is then coated with a variety of chemicals and compounds which vary by manufacturer.

The coating is what actually does most of the “magic” that allows sublimation to occur.  If you’ve ever experimented with sublimation using plain copy paper, you were probably very disappointed with the results.  That’s because there was no coating on the copy paper.  The coating is what actually holds the majority of the sublimation dye in place above the surface of the base sheet, preventing it from being absorbed into the paper fibers, subsequently allowing it to be easily released into the substrate when heated in your press.  Since copy paper has no coating, the dye gets absorbed into the paper fibers, and is very difficult to get out again.

In Part 2, I’ll go into the different types of sublimation paper in more detail.