Working with Mates

Some of you may already know that EnMart carries the Rowmark MATES product.  We offer MATES in 8.5 x 11 sheets and in 12 inch x 50 foot rolls.    The MATES line is very versatile and can be used for a variety of applications.   Basically, MATES are sublimatable pre-adhesive flexible plastic.    The product is ideal for signage, name plates, award plaques, packaging and many other uses.

If you  aren’t familiar with MATES  or have not worked with the product before you might be a bit wary of giving it a try,  but you shouldn’t be nervous about it.  Working with MATES is very like working with any other sublimation product.   For the white MATES product, which is what EnMart sells,   it is recommended you do the following to achieve optimum print quality:

  • heat your press to 400 degrees
  • press for 60 to 70 seconds
  • medium to heavy pressure

Rowmark also notes that White MATES can be pressed with the backing down between two pieces of sacrificial paper.

While MATES are generally very easy to work with,  there may be occasions when issues crop up.  Fortunately, Rowmark has provided solutions for the common problems that may occur.

  • If you have poor color saturation or your colors have a pastel appearance  it may indicate insufficient pressure, time and/or temperature.  Try increasing each of these items one at a time to see if that corrects the problem.   If you are using the Power Driver software,  you could also try setting the Vector Color Management to “none”.
  • If you are getting a double image when pressing,  it could indicate that the transfer is moving after the press is open and before the dyes have cooled.   Make sure the transfer is attached securely to the MATES product and be sure to open your press slowly and smoothly.
  • If you get a bubbling appearance when pressing the white MATES,  your time, temperature and/or pressure may be too high.   Try reduce the time, temperature and pressure to see if that eliminates the issue.   You may also want to consider purchasing and using a digital pyrometer to make sure that your press temperature gauge is accurate.
  • To find more MATES troubleshooting tips,  visit the Rowmark website.

Mug Shots: 6 Tips for Sublimating Mugs

Anyone who does sublimation or has done sublimation most likely has contemplated sublimating mugs at some point.  People who are considering sublimation are often considering it because it offers the opportunity to create personalized mugs.   Everyone likes a mug with a design that has meaning,  and creating those mugs can be relatively easy,  if you keep the following tips in mind.

Tip 1:  Buy the right kind of mugs – Any good that is sublimated must be either made of polyester materials or poly coated.   If you’re looking for dishwasher safe mugs,  you will also need to look for mugs that have the ORCA coating.  All the mugs that EnMart sells,  both the 11 oz.  mugs and the 15 oz. mugs,  have this coating.   Our frosted glass beer mugs also have this coating.

Tip 2:  Find the optimum image area on your mug – Mug size and design can vary slightly from batch to batch.  It is always a good idea to create a test mug.  This will allow you to find the proper placement for your design and will help ensure that placement will be correct on future mugs.

Tip 3:  Make sure your transfer is secure –   Sublimation heat tape is always a great way to secure your design to the mug.   The tape will ensure that your transfer doesn’t slip or slide during the pressing process.

Tip 4:  If you use a press,  take into account every type of mug you want to sublimate –  Some mug presses are designed only to handle the smaller types of mugs, or conventionally shaped mugs, which leaves out options like latte mugs or travel mugs.   To get the most out of your press, you need one that is versatile,  like the DK3 Mug Press from George Knight.

Tip 5:  Wraps are a viable option too –  If you are doing a large number of mugs,  it might be quicker to sublimate the mugs using a mug wrap and an oven.   You can use anything from a toaster oven to a conventional oven as long as it can heat up to 400 degrees.   Sublimating and cooking in the same oven is also not recommended.

Tip 6:  Mugs need to cool off after pressing – Once you’ve finished sublimating your mug,  cool it off in a bath of lukewarm water.  This will stop the sublimation process.   Make sure the water is not too cold, or you may crack your mug.

Helpful Hints and Timely Tips from Sawgrass

When you’re first starting out with sublimation or ChromaBlast,  it can seem overwhelming.  There’s so much to learn that it’s hard to know where to start.   From simple things like the time and temperature at which certain blanks should be pressed to more difficult issues like sublimating a particular item,   it can be easy to get so lost in the forest that you forget the trees even exist.  If you do find you need a bit of direction,  EnMart is here to be your guide and to point out some items that may be helpful as you find your way.

The first item I wanted to mention is the Sawgrass HTV series.  The How-To Video (HTV) Series features a variety of videos  created by Sawgrass experts in which they sublimate various goods.  From flip flops to signs to photo panels,  these videos provide instructions on sublimating a wide number of goods.  As a side note,  make sure and pay attention to the heat press that is used in the videos.  If you check out the heat press section of our web site,  that press may look familiar.

Another helpful resource,  at least for those who attend trade shows,  is the seminars that Sawgrass presents.   These seminars are in-depth examinations of a particular topic, and topics may range from sublimating goods, to finding a market for your products,  to running a business in general.    Sawgrass maintains a complete list of the seminars they are offering and the shows where the seminars will be offered on their web site.    If you will be attending any of the listed shows,  attending the Sawgrass seminars may be worth your while.

Finally,  I should mention the webinars and that are offered by Sawgrass.   These webinars each deal with a particular topic and are all centered around topics that will be helpful to people who are using sublimation or ChromaBlast Inks.   Best of all,  if you miss a scheduled webinar,  you can view it later as a webcast at your convenience.   Right now, I’m thinking the webinar on innovative products for the holiday season would be a great webcast to watch.   You do need to register to view the webcasts,  but you only need to register one time,  and once you’ve done that,  you can view the webcasts any time and as many times as you wish.

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.

The Dye Sublimation Guide

One of the things that EnMart works to do besides, of course, providing great products,  is to help our customers use those products in the best and most profitable way possible.   That’s why we have this blog,  and that’s why we provide links to help materials on our website.  One of the links we provide in the sublimation section is to something called The Dye Sublimation Guide.   This guide was written by a gentleman called Peter Swain,  and it provides a number of helpful tips and hints and step by step instructions for sublimating various goods.    There is a lot of good information given in this guide,  and I thought it might be useful to spotlight some of it.

There is an entire section, starting on page 12 and going to page 32, on creating images.  If you want to know what types of image files can be used,  how to adjust your colors or how to create and edit images for transfer, this is the section for you.   Editing images properly can have a huge impact on your finished item,  so the time it takes to read this section is definitely worth it.

Beginning on page 33,  you can find instructions for sublimating many common types of sublimation blanks.   If you want to sublimate a t-shirt, the instructions begin on page 35.   Instructions for mugs or steins begin on page 37.   If you’re interested in mousepads,  you’ll find instructions on page 43.   Instructions for ceramic tiles begin on page 44.   The guide also provides instructions on making a tile mural.

It should be noted that this guide was written in 2006,  so it does not contain information on Ricoh printers,  nor does it cover the very latest editions of design software.  While the information provided in the printer and software sections may still be helpful to many people,  it is not necessarily the latest information available.   If you are looking for instructions on how to use a more recent version of a certain design software,  you may be better off looking at the website of the company that created the software.    You can find the latest information about the Ricoh printers on the Sawgrass website.

Overall,  The Dye Sublimation Guide is a very useful tool if you’re just starting out with sublimation, or if you’re trying to sublimate something which you haven’t worked with before and you need instructions.     A link to the guide can be found on the main landing page in the sublimation section of our web site.   Please feel free to download the guide and store it on your computer for future reference.

Fill in the Blank

When you start with a blank canvas,  whether it literally is a blank canvas, or a blank screen or a blank garment or mug,  there is usually at least one moment of  “oh no, what do I do now?”  that occurs before you start.   People who are familiar with this phenomenon often try to combat it by keeping a stash of ideas on hand.   While that’s a great idea,  the trick then becomes building that stash of ideas so they’re ready and waiting when you need them.   Today I thought we could talk a little bit about where and how to find ideas and inspiration.

One way to find inspiration for your sublimation projects is to see what other people are doing.  Visit Sawgrass and check out their webinars.    Check out a forum like T-shirt Forums of the Apparel Decorators Forum.     Look for videos online that will teach you how to sublimate a new product or will show you a new technique.  While we would never recommend copying what someone else is doing exactly,  seeing what other people are doing is a great way to spark your own creativity.

Another way to find inspiration is to take a field trip.  Erich Campbell mentioned this option in a post he wrote for Stitches earlier this year.    He recommends going to the mall,  and it’s good advice.   You can spend time seeing what sorts of sublimated products are out there,  and you can also see what other decorators are doing with them.   As an added bonus,  going to a place with multiple stores allows you to get an overview of a variety of trends.   Keep in mind field trips can also be to places like museums or simply to a nearby lake or woods.  The aim of a field trip is to get some new images and textures to add to your library,  so take a field trip to whatever place you find most inspiring.

Perhaps the best way to figure out how to fill that blank is to experiment.  Find artwork you like and test it out on various blanks to see how it looks.    Buy some cheap polyester fabric and sublimate various designs before you put them on the more expensive blank items.  Find a sublimated item that you really like the look of,  and try to duplicate that effect or look on a blank piece of your own.   While it’s true there will probably be a bit of product waste,  and certainly spend some time on this endeavor,  the result will be an enlarging of your sublimation options and a bigger fund of ideas from which to draw next time a customer wants something spectacular but doesn’t know exactly what they want to do.

Mug Wrap vs. Mug Press

When it comes to sublimation and selling sublimated goods, one of the best selling sublimated  items would most likely be  mugs.   Sublimated mugs can be a significant source of revenue,  but there are some things you need to decide in order to start successfully sublimating mugs.  One of the first choices you will need to make is regarding your method of sublimation.   When it comes to mugs you have two options.  Option one would be a press specifically designed for mugs which is,  aptly enough,  called a mug press.  Option two would be to purchase some mug wraps and sublimate your mugs using an oven.   Today, in order to help you make a more informed decision, I wanted to examine some of the pros and cons of each of these options .

Option 1:  The Mug Press

When you purchase a mug press,  you can buy a stand alone version or you can purchase a mug press as part of an all in one press.   A mug press is designed to sublimate only mugs, and cannot be used for sublimating any other item.   Many mug presses are adjustable,  which will allow you to do different sizes and shapes of mugs,  from your standard 11 oz. coffee mug to a taller, more slender latte mug to a stein.    Mugs presses allow the sublimation of one mug at a time, so you will need multiple presses if you intend to do a large quantity of mugs.    A mug press is generally a more substantial investment, so if you are just starting out,  you may want to take that into account.

Option 2:  The Mug Wrap

A mug wrap is a rubbery strap which hooks on the end which is designed to wrap around your mug and hold the transfer in place while the mug is sublimated.    The mug wrap is used in conjunction with a common oven, which provides the heat source which causes sublimation to occur.   The oven can be your conventional kitchen oven (although it is not recommended that you sublimate with the same oven in which you cook food) or something smaller like a toaster oven.  The only requirement for the oven is that it can be heated up to 400 degrees and that it can hold a consistent temperature.    Mug wraps are a good option if you plan to do a lot of mugs.  Provided your oven is large enough, and heats evenly,  you can do 20 or 30 mugs at a time.    One thing to keep in mind is that conventional ovens do tend to use more electricity than a heat press, so make sure to factor that in when pricing your mugs.

Whichever option you choose,  it is also a good idea to make sure you have a digital pyrometer on hand.   One of the common problems with sublimating any item,  including mugs,  is hot or cool spots in your press or oven.   A digital pyrometer can help you find those problem areas,  and thus avoid having your mugs come out less than perfect.

Five Tips on Avoiding Sublimation (or ChromaBlast) Mistakes

Everyone knows that mistakes happen.  The paper gets knocked off center and a graphic is skewed.  A cup that is too hot is dunked in water that is too cold and shatters.   A printer isn’t cleaned for a while and a nozzle jams on a day when a lot of work needs to be done.   25 shirts with a quote including the word nuts are printed,  except instead of nuts,  the word stun is used.   Sometimes,  as much as we all try to avoid it,  we’re not the windshield,  we’re the bug,  and there’s nothing that can be done about it except to scrape yourself up and try to avoid the same mistakes next time.

If you’re on a quest to avoid mishaps and mistakes,   here are a few things you can do to minimize the potential for issues.  Some of these sound pretty simple,  but you’d be amazed how often neglecting the simplest things can lead to problems.

Item 1:  Follow instructions –  Sawgrass Ink and most of the sublimation blank companies offer suggested press times and temperature settings.    While it is true that every press and printer may require a bit of trial and error,  it’s also true that it is best to start off with the recommended settings.  This gives you a baseline from which to work.  Once you have established the proper settings for your equipment,  make a note of them and keep them close to your workspace.  That way anyone who works for you will have the proper instructions for the job,  which will save a lot of time and wasted materials.

Item 2:  Use good artwork for  good results –  When you’re in a hurry the temptation to try and squeak something through with a piece of artwork that isn’t the best can be overwhelming.  The problem is that “good enough” often is not even close to good enough.   If you want the best results,  you need to use the best artwork available.   It may take a little more time to get or create the artwork you need,  but the end results will be worth the effort.

Item 3:  Have a regular maintenance schedule –   As I said in last Friday’s post proper maintenance of your printer is important.    I know that sometimes the temptation to skip the maintenance routine,  particularly if you’re short on time and extremely busy,  but taking a few minutes to run a proper nozzle check and do a cleaning can save you a lot of wasted time later in your work day.   Keeping your equipment in good working order will always save you time and money in the long run.

Item 4: Print small, before you print big –  Garments and sublimation blanks can be costly items,  and you don’t want to waste one if you don’t have too.  Often times it will pay to press your transfer on a piece of practice fabric before you move to creating your final product.   The reason that EnMart often includes a small bundle of sample fabric in with sublimation orders is to allow our customers to do test prints of this type.   Doing a test print will allow you to detect any color or orientation issues before you create your final product.

Item 5:  Ask for help –  There are any number of resources out there dedicated to helping people sublimate and use ChromaBlast properly.  There is this blog.  There are both the T-shirt Forums and the Apparel Decorators ForumSawgrass Ink has an extensive website with a lot of tips and videos.    The resources and information are available all you have to do is take advantage of them.   Never be reluctant to ask for assistance.

Backed by Experience

At some point everyone, whether novice or expert, will encounter a problem that stops them in their tracks until they find a solution.    When that happens  there are a couple of options.  One is to access a search engine and see if anyone else has encountered that particular problem in the past.    Another is to visit a forum and leave a post and hope someone has the necessary answer.   Some people might also  check  with  colleagues who sublimate, but that’s still gambling that one of them has either experienced a similar problem or can help figure out a solution.

We all know that the best person to go to when you need your car fixed is the person who spends the majority of his or her time under the hood, not the salesperson who sold the car.   If your sink needs repairing, you call a professional plumber, not the guy who sells sinks.   In order to eat a gourmet meal, you look to the professional chef, not the vendor who sold that chef the food.   The person who sells the item is important but they may not have much familiarity with the item they’ve just sold.   The ideal solution to this problem  would be to make purchases from companies and people who not only use the items that they sell, but who understand how these items work, and who have encountered many of the issues that the average user may encounter.   If you’re purchasing sublimation supplies, the ideal solution would be EnMart.

EnMart itself has only been in existence for a few years,  but our parent company, Ensign Emblem, has been working with sublimation since the late 1990’s.  We know the pain of working with a printer that doesn’t want to print.   Our experts have experienced the frustration of colors that just won’t match and prints that come out a different color than desired.   We’ve taken apart printers and put them back together.   We’ve dealt with clogged printers, spilled ink and transfer paper that wanted to do nothing but curl.  EnMart’s experts were once novices, figuring out the process for the first time, and we still remember how that feels.

When you purchase your sublimation printersSublijet Ink and sublimation blanks from EnMart,  you’re not just buying a product, you’re also buying our expertise.   Every sublimation product we sell is backed by our experience,  which is not just theoretical.  We use the products we sell, and we’ve most likely experienced, and a found a solution for, almost every issue you could face.

Sublimation Tip Sheet 4/15/10

Over the years that we’ve been doing sublimation, we’ve learned a lot.  Some of what we’ve learned needs to be explained in detail, and is best suited to a longer blog post.  Other tips and tricks are just small bits of information that don’t necessarily merit their own post,  but could still be useful.   Because we still want to share these tips and tricks with all of you, I’ve created the Sublimation Tip Sheet.  These posts will appear whenever it seems necessary, and will include various sublimation and ChromaBlast tips and tricks which will help you get the most out of your printers, inks, papers and heat presses.

Tip 1:  Sublimation Paper Storage

Properly storing your sublimation paper is important, and can significantly affect the results you get when you print and press.  Most paper can absorb humidity, and depending on the coating, some absorb a lot more than others.  As a general rule, best practice is to store your sublimation paper sealed either in the original packaging or in a reclosable bag in a dark area in a climate controlled office or other area.  Moderate humidity in the 40% range and temperature around 70 degrees with low or no light, is usually considered ideal storage conditions.  Realistically however, these conditions may not be practical, so just try to get as close to that type of environment as you can reasonably achieve, and you should be good to go.

Tip 2:  Heat Press Temperature

A heat press with an even temperature is a vital part of sublimation success, but not all heat presses heat evenly.  To make sure that your heat press does not have hot spots or cold areas which could have an impact on the evenness of your sublimation print,  check your press frequently with a pyrometer.   Taking a few seconds to check the temperature of your press could save you a lot of frustration and wasted blanks.

Tip 3:  The items you sublimate should be Polyester or Poly Coated

This seems like a pretty elementary fact, but I see this question on forums all the time.   For best results, whatever you sublimate should be 100% polyester fabric or should have a poly coating.  If you sublimate a garment that is some percentage polyester and some percentage of another material, the sublimation ink will only bond with the polyester fibers.   This can lead to a patchy,  faded graphic.   Attempting to sublimate a mug or a mousepad that does not have a poly coating will most likely not work at all.

If you have a sublimation or ChromaBlast tip or trick that you’d like to share,  please leave it in the comments or e-mail me at kristine dot shreve at myenmart dot com.