Tag: Sublimation

3 Things That Make Products Suitable for Sublimation

A common question we’re often asked is what sorts of things can be sublimated.   The questions can range from “Can I use sublimation on a dark shirt?”  to “Are the mugs people use for sublimation special?” to “I found this piece of barn wood/antique tray/glass bowl,  can I sublimate it?”.  The common theme of all these questions is that people aren’t quite sure what products can be sublimated and which can’t or aren’t suitable,  and they’re looking for some guidance.    Basically,  when it comes to determining whether or not something can be sublimated,  it’s about three things:

Thing 1:  Color

As much as we’d all like it to exist,  there is no white ink option for sublimation.   This means there is no way to put a white underbase down.   A white underbase allows for printing of colors on dark shirts,  since the inks actually print on the underbase and not the shirt.    The lack of a white ink option to lay down as an underbase means that sublimation must be done on light colors.   Keep in mind that the ink dyes the fabric when set with heat,  so using any color shirt other than white will change the color of the ink to some degree.

While there is currently no option for direct sublimation, printing the transfer directly on the shirt,  when it comes to dark colors,   there are options for printing a sublimatable material and then transferring that to the shirt.    Our fabric sheets might work in some cases.   There are other thinner options for things like t-shirts that can also work.  There are also a few spray coating options out there  that claim to perform the function of a underbase. Do keep in mind,  however,  that these options are more in the nature of a transfer or a carrier and will have a hand and feel different that actual sublimation would.

Thing 2:  Coating

If you’re working with a 100% polyester light-colored t-shirt,  coating doesn’t matter and isn’t needed.  Where coating is vital is when you’re dealing with hard goods.   Any hard good, a mug, bag tag, key chain etc.  must be coated with a poly based coating that works with the sublimation ink.  With this coating the ink will not transfer well and will certainly not be permanent.

There are two options for getting a coated hard good.   One option is to buy blank items that are already coated,  which means you can simply print your sublimation transfer and proceed to sublimate the item.   The other option is to purchase a sublimation coating spray or liquid and coat the item to be sublimated yourself.   While the do it yourself coatings expand the range of items which can be printed through sublimation,  getting the coating on evenly can be tricky.   If the DIY coating drips or is uneven,  then the finished print will have issues as well.

At EnMart,  we tend to recommend buying pre-coated items,  simply because we’ve seen how tricky it can be to get the sprays or liquids on evenly.    The advantage of a pre-coated item is that it was coated in a factory,  by specialized equipment designed for that job.   While it isn’t always the case,  pre-coated items are more likely to have an even coating and be free of issues that an uneven coating can cause.

Think 3:  Heat and Pressure

An essential ingredient for sublimation is heat.  Without heat,  the ink won’t sublimate properly and the print won’t transfer.    Anything that is going to be sublimated must be able to stand up to the heat of a heat press or a convection oven,  most likely temperatures somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees.   Anything that would melt or warp at those temperatures is not suitable.   That’s why sublimation isn’t often done on plastic items,  they melt at the temperatures that are required.

Pressure is another essential ingredient in the sublimation process.   When an item,  like a mug,  is sublimated in a convection oven,  the transfer is held to the mug with a wrap.   The wrap is usually as silicone band which latches around the item and holds the sublimation transfer securely to it.   A heat press,  which works by latching closed around the item and providing heat also applies pressure to the substrate.  Anything that is thin or fragile will not stand up to the pressure involved and may shatter.

 

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What Sublimation Is (and Isn’t)

The calls are almost always the same.   At least a couple of times a week,  someone calls EnMart wanting to know about sublimation.   What it is,  how it works,  what can be made,  what it costs,  what kind of equipment is necessary,  the questions are all over the board.  Since the same sorts of questions come up relatively frequently,  it seemed like a good idea to do a post detailing what sublimation is,  and what it’s not.

What Sublimation Is:

First,  the technical stuff:  the official definition of sublimation is as follows:  “In chemistry, the direct conversion of a solid into a gas, without passage through a liquid stage. (See phases of matter.)”  Dye sublimation is the process by which heat is applied to inks turning them into a gas and bonding the ink with the polyester fibers of fabric or the poly coating on hard goods.  The result of the bond is a print that won’t wear out until the imprinted  item does.

Sublimation is a process that has less expensive start up costs than most other decoration options.   Those who wanted to go all out and get the biggest printer package and a top of the line heat press and a ton of blanks and the latest graphic design software could probably still set up their business for less than $7500.   Those with smaller budgets, or who may already have some of the components like design software or a heat press, could most likely get started for a few thousand or less.

Sublimation is a decoration technique that has a lower learning curve than some.   In order to create sublimated goods,  a person must know how to operate a heat press and an ink jet printer.  Some knowledge of graphic design and graphic design software is also helpful,  but not necessarily required.    There are programs,  like Creative Studio from Sawgrass  which can help with the design side of things.

What Sublimation Isn’t:

Sublimation isn’t suitable for dark colors.   The printing disciplines that work on dark colors are those that offer an option for white.   Anything printed on dark shirt is usually printed over a white underbase.   If your printing process does not offer that option,  then it is not suitable for use with dark colors.   Sublimation does not offer an option for white ink.

Sublimation isn’t suitable for fabrics other than polyester.   Poly blends may print well enough for some people,  but use of a poly blend garment will result in a more distressed look.   For best results,  print on 100% polyester garments or poly coated items.   It should be noted that there are coating sprays available which can be used to turn almost anything into an item suitable for sublimation,  but application of those sprays or coatings outside of a professional coating booth can be tricky.

Sublimation isn’t intimidating.   Some people are worried they’ll ruin a few blanks when they start out.   Don’t worry,  that will happen,  it happens to everyone and it’s part of the learning process.   If you can handle a printer and a heat press,  you can handle sublimation.   Fear of the unknown keeps a lot of potential decorators from trying something new and that’s a shame.  Sublimation does have a slight learning curve,  but it’s not that difficult to master.

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5 Tips For Finding Your Sublimation Market

Sometimes it seems that buying a sublimation system is, for a given value of easy,  the easy part of the process of selling sublimated goods.    Granted there are things to learn so you can create the best sublimated goods possible,  and there will be some trial and error,  but it’s what happens after you’ve made the goods that can sometimes be the hard part.   Once you have the system, and you know how to make fabulous sublimated products,  you have to find a market for those products.   That can be the part which causes some confusion and frustration,  but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The great thing about sublimation is that there are a wide variety of goods,  hard goods like mugs and business card holders to soft goods like t-shirts and tote bags that can be decorated to suit a vast array of tastes and markets.   The trick is to find and engage the markets in your sales area,  whether that area is the town you live in or the world wide web.     Here are five tips to help you find the market which suits you best.

Tip 1:  Mine your contacts – Chances are you already know a lot of people who would want sublimated goods.   Those people might be coaching the team your child plays on,  leading the yoga class you attend every week,  or part of the online Star Wars fansite you visit every night.   Make sure you always have business cards with you for face to face meetings and have a short explanation of what you do prepared so you can help people quickly understand what you can offer them.   Always be alert.  Opportunities to make a sale can pop up at any time.

Tip 2:  Showcase what you love – Hobbies and avocations can be a great source of sublimation sales.   If you’re a photographer or artist,  start putting your work on coffee mugs or mousepads.    If you belong to a group that participates in a particular activity,  start coming up with products that can be used during that activity, or can showcase the results,  and use or showcase those products while a part of the group.   Make sure you’ve taken into account your time, labor and supply pricing,  so if someone asks,  you can easily tell them what you’ll charge to make them the cool thing that you are using.

Tip 3:  Figure out what you don’t want to do – If you’re going to do plaques for little league teams or tiles for a wedding party,  do you want to take the pictures yourself, or do you simply want to receive the art and make the sublimated product?  For some people,  controlling the whole process will be more comfortable.   For others,  having to go through the whole process would be torture.  Is sublimation the main part of your business,  or simply something you’ve added to capture a few more dollars by upselling customers?  Know what you want to do and what you don’t want to do, and how much time you want to spend on doing it,  and charge accordingly.

Tip 4: Find new uses for common products – A business card holder could also be sold as a portable medication container.  Tiles can be used for murals,  but they can also be trivets.  Coffee mugs can be paired with candy and streamers to make a cute accompaniment for a bouquet of flowers.    Showing a customer a new way to use something is a great way to sell them a sublimated product and a terrific way to build profit for both your businesses.

Tip 5:  Talk to other sublimation businesses – Some people are reluctant to talk to others who are in the same business for fear that business secrets or customers will be stolen.   It’s true there may be a slight risk of that,  but that risk is far outweighed by the benefits of sharing ideas and tricks of the trade with others who are doing the same thing.   Sublimation groups on Facebook or in forums are great places to connect with other people who are doing what you do.   Never be afraid to ask questions.   What you learn could lead you to a whole new market.

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The Intangible Extras

Ordering a sublimation system means that you’re going to get basically the same thing – a printer,  some ink,  some paper,  maybe some practice fabric,  maybe some blanks,  but the essentials won’t vary all that much.   Prices may vary some,  depending on where and when you’re buying,  but they most likely won’t be all that different from place to place.   Really,  when you’re purchasing a sublimation system,  it’s about the intangible extras,   the things you can’t really see or touch,  but which can make your shopping experience, and your subsequent sublimation experience, good or bad.   Since some of you reading this may not be entirely familiar with Enmart,  I thought I’d take a minute to point out the extras that EnMart can offer to those buying a sublimation system.

Knowledge – EnMart has been involved in inkjet sublimation practically since inkjet sublimation has existed.    Our parent company,  Ensign Emblem,  worked to bring inkjet sublimation to industrial laundries.   Ensign Emblem also does production sublimation,  primarily patches,  for customers of both Ensign and EnMart.   We understand sublimation.   We’ve done it for years,  and all the knowledge and expertise we’ve gained is now available to our EnMart customers.   If you have questions about sublimation,  and want answers from people who’ve actually sublimated goods in a production setting,  you want to talk to us.

Support – The same techs that support our in-house sublimation would be the ones who would support your sublimation efforts if you purchased a system from EnMart.   Our techs are experienced at keeping sublimation systems running on a continual basis.   Our support is available during East Coast business hours,  but our techs also often answer questions submitted via e-mail in the hours when the company is closed.   We do our best to make sure our customers get a rapid response when they have issues.

Speed – When you’re on a deadline,  getting goods quickly is vital.   At EnMart,  most orders for in stock goods will ship same day if ordered by 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.    We are also a one or two day ground shipment away for almost half the country.   Don’t wait days for your order to ship – order from EnMart and get your items when you need them.

Minimums – Other than a $25 minimum order requirement,  which can be met with a combination of any items in the store,  EnMart doesn’t have minimum requirements.   Want to order one mugcutting board or ink cartridge?  Go right ahead.   As long as you meet the $25 minimum order requirement,   you can purchase one of everything we have in stock if that’s what you want to do.

Customer Service – A friendly voice on the other end of the phone when you have a problem or question can be invaluable.   EnMart’s customer service staff is dedicated to providing fast,  efficient service,   while also being friendly and approachable.   We make an effort to get to know our customers and remember their preferences.    A supply company and a customer service rep that knows your company can be a valuable source of support and advice.

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What’s the Best Printing Method?

question-markYou have a shirt – or a tote bag – or a mug or mouse pad – and you want to put a design on it.  You also have,  since this my scenario,  access to several methods by which you can print these items – a direct to garment printer,  a screen printing press and inks and a sublimation printer and inks.   The question many people would ask at this point is the question in the title;  which of these options is the best printing method?   The answer we’d give you?

That depends.

There are several factors which will determine what printing method works best,  and there is no single method that will always be the best option in every situation.  Determining the print method that should be used requires knowing things about the substrate your going to print as well as understanding the properties of the machines and inks you’ll be using to make the print.   If you understand both the substrate and the process you’ll be using to print it,  you’ll make the best choice and produce the best print – both for the substrate in question and for your customers.

So,  that said,  what should you look at when deciding which method to use?

First,  look at fabric type.   Fabric type can make a difference because certain fabrics won’t work well with certain printing disciplines.   Sublimation,  for instance,  only works on polyester.   It can be done on polyester blends,  but only if a distressed look is the end result.    On the other hand,  screen printing on polyester can be problematic because of dye migration,  which means the ink bleeds into the fabric.    Some of this can be avoided by using an underbase,  but it should be considered.    If the fabric is cotton,  sublimation is out,  as it won’t work on cotton.   Screen printing or direct to garment printing would work,  it just depends on the sort of finished look the customer desires.

Second, color is another issue.   Sublimation does not offer a white ink option – so it only works on light colors.    If the goal is to sublimate a dark shirt,  about the only option would be to sublimate a lighter piece of poly fabric and attach it to the shirt.  Direct to garment printing and screen printing both allow for the printing of a light colored underbase,  over which a colored print can be laid,  so they’re often better options for dark colored garments.

Third,  hard goods have different rules.  If the substrate to be printed is not a garment,  the printing choices become somewhat more limited.   Should the item in question be blank that is coated for sublimation, then sublimation would clearly be an option.   In some cases,  posters for instance,  screen printing might be an option.  Screen printing can also be done on things like can coozies and certain types of water bottles.    Direct to garment printing,  as the name implies, is generally confined to wearables.

Obviously,  this is a basic overview,  but it offers a bit of insight into printing methods and how to determine which one will work in a given situation.   The main thing to remember is that each printing method will have strengths and limitations,  and knowing those strengths and limitations will ensure that you offer the best option to your customer when the time comes to print.

 

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Sublimation and Multimedia Decorating

puzzle-piecesMultimedia decorating,  which is essentially decorating a garment or wearable by combining two or more decoration techniques,  is a popular way to add a lot of visual interest to a garment.  When people talk about multimedia decorating,  however,  they tend to talk about adding rhinestones to embroidery,  or combining vinyl with screen print.   Sublimation is often left out of the conversation,  which is sad,  because sublimation can combine quite well with a number of other decoration techniques to create a one of a kind garment for your customer.

Let’s start with embroidery.    One of the fun parts of machine embroidery is that it can be done with polyester thread.   Polyester is the material that can be dyed by sublimation inks.   So,  it is possible to embroider a design using white polyester thread,  and then to sublimate another design in color on top of the thread.    This also has the advantage of giving the design a bit of a 3-D effect,  since the embroidery will be slightly raised.   Another option is to sublimate the garment first and then embroider over portions of the sublimated design.   Either way,  combining sublimation and embroidery will add visual interest and definition to the finished design.

Next up is vinyl.   There are many heat transfer vinyls that will also work for sublimation.   Get some glitter vinyl and make a sublimated design that sparkles!   Another advantage to using vinyl is that a vinyl transfer can often be applied to fabric types other than nylon.   If you want to put a sublimated design on a cotton shirt,  put the design on vinyl and it can be added to the shirt without a problem and without loss of color.  Sublimating on vinyl,  particularly glitter vinyl,  could prove very popular with cheer and dance teams and certainly could add some sparkle to fashion designs.

Another option for a multimedia design using sublimation and another decoration technique is rhinestones.    Anyone who likes bling will already be aware of rhinestones and how they can be used to add sparkle and shine to garments.   Combining rhinestones with sublimation allows for full color prints embellished by rhinestones,  which give the design flash and a bit of height.   Rhinestones can be incorporated into the design by hand,  or through the use of a rhinestone template.

When considering which decoration techniques to combine with sublimation,  there are a few things to keep in mind.   One is that sublimation requires heat,  and relatively high heat at that.  Some inks or vinyls might not react well to the temperatures that sublimation requires,  so keep that in mind.   Another thing to remember is that the decoration technique chosen must compliment sublimation and work with the sublimated design.   The best multimedia pieces are the ones where both decoration techniques combine to make a design that is fresh and interesting.

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New Sublimation Blanks = Great Holiday Gifts

beltbuckle1_lThe holidays are coming,  and one thing that is always true about the holidays is that people love personalized gifts.   EnMart has added some great new sublimation blanks to our offerings this year.  We’re sure one of these new items will make the perfect gift for someone on your gift list!

Belt Buckles – Our belt buckles can be easily personalized with sublimation.   The sublimation insert is large enough that the image can be clearly seen,  but not so large that it looks like the gift recipient is wearing a championship belt of some kind.   All buckles are made of brass and accompanied by a sublimatable insert.

State Ornaments – While we don’t yet carry every state,  our stock of state ornaments is growing.   Celebrate the sun with an ornament in the shape of Alabama or California or Florida.    Show your midwest roots and display an ornament in the shape of Illinois or Michigan.    Create ornaments to celebrate a favorite vacation spot or to commemorate a hometown that may now be far away.    Keep in mind,  this item can also be used as a luggage tag or a souvenir.

Pendants  – A personalized necklace is something anyone who wears necklaces would be sure to love.    Available as both a square and a round,  these pendants have patterned embossed back and are recessed to accept an aluminum sublimation insert.    Sublimate a family picture,   a favorite saying,  or simply an intriguing design to create a one of a kind piece that is sure to be treasured.

Pet Tags – Don’t forget Fido or Fifi when handing out the gift wrapped packages this year.     Sublimatable pet tags are a great way to identify your pet and give them a bit of style.   Our pet tags are aluminum and can be printed on both sides.    These tags are also great options for key fobs,  luggage tags,  zipper pulls or necklaces.

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Sublimation Section Update

sublimation blanksIf you haven’t been to the sublimation section of our website lately,  you may want to pop in and take a look.   We’ve added some new things and rearranged things a bit to make it easier to find the items you want to purchase.     Today I thought I’d give you a brief tour.

First let’s start with the sublimation blanks section,  as that has probably had the biggest overhaul.    We added some new items,  like blank fabric and Christmas stockings and also now include Vapor Apparel in the sublimation blanks section.    If you’re looking for mugs,  mousepads,  t-shirts or ornaments,  this is the section to visit.

In the sublimation ink section,   you can find all the ink you would need for your Ricoh or Virtuoso sublimation printers.   Inks are sorted by the printer for which they are intended.   If you have an Epson printer,  or don’t see the ink for your Ricoh printer on our list,  please contact us and ask about it.  We sell all currently available Sawgrass inks, and can obtain and stock anything that isn’t in our current inventory on request.

We are proud to say we still offer Mpres Paper,  the only paper we carry and exclusive to EnMart.    The paper is still getting rave reviews on our Facebook page.   It’s a great paper and one we not only sell,  but use as well.   If you’re interested in a sample,  send your request with address information to mpres@myenmart.com.    We’ll be happy to send you a sample via USPS.

Finally,  we should talk about the sublimation accessories category,  which has also had some new arrivals.  We’ve added individual PFTE pressing pillows as well as a pressing pillow kit.  We also have waste ink collectors,  heat tape and mug and bowl wraps.  If you need items to make your sublimation go more smoothly,  this is the category to visit.

 

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Sublimation Package Offer

system pictureEnMart’s sublimation packages have always been a great value,  we designed them to provide everything (except a heat press, accessories and blanks) needed for sublimation at an affordable price.  This June, however,  we’ve upped the ante,  and the value,  and put together a special that is truly unprecedented.

We know sublimation can be a great profit center for a decoration business,  we have customers that are making that happen every day.   We also know that sometimes taking the step required to purchase a system can be tough.   Any business that puts out money for equipment has to be reasonably sure of a return on their investment.  They also want to be sure they’re getting the most value for every dollar spent.

If you’re thinking of investing in a sublimation system,  and want the most flexibility in the size and type of products you can sublimate,  a Virtuoso SG800 system is your best bet.   It offers the most flexibility in paper sizes, and offers larger paper sizes than the SG400.    From now until June 30,  EnMart is making all of our SG800 packages available with the following FREE extras:

You must call us at 866-516-1300 (select option 3)  to place your order.  Offer is valid until midnight,  June 30, 2016.

 

Sublimation: Garments vs. Hard Goods

sublimation blanks. jpgOne of the questions we frequently get when discussing sublimation is a fairly simple one “What can you sublimate?”.   The answer,  the basic one,  is fairly simple too,  anything made of polyester fabric or with a poly coating.    Where it becomes complicated is when the question morphs from simply “what can I sublimate” to “what kind of garments can I sublimate” or “what sells better sublimated hard goods or sublimated garments?” or the ever popular “I’m adding sublimation to my shop,  what sublimated goods should I offer?”.

One way to answer these questions is to consider the market to which you will be selling.    Some markets love hard goods,  personalized puzzles,   water bottles for fun runs,   plaques for sporting competitions,  souvenirs for local tourist attractions,  all that stuff can be snapped up quickly.    Other markets,  on the other hand,   are all about garments.    Sweatshirts,  polos,  hats,  socks,  you name it,  they want it decorated.    In this market,  hardgoods would not have as much appeal.     So,  a lot depends on the make-up and preferences of your particular market.   You have to know that before deciding what sublimated items to offer.

Another way to answer the question is to look at the possibilities.   Sublimation can be a great method for decorating garments,  but it does have some limitations.   The items to be decorated must be polyester only.   Because sublimation dyes the fabric,  anything but a white garment will interact with and effect the color of the finished design.    Sublimation also has no option for white ink,  so it doesn’t work well on very dark colors.   All over sublimation is very popular,  but it works best on fabric which is sublimated and then sewn into a garment.     On the other side of the coin, however,  sublimation dyes the fabric,  so designs have no hand.  Because designs are dyed into the garment,  the design is also pretty much guaranteed to last as long as the garment does.   There have also been great advances in the look and wearability of polyester garments,  so they are now much more attractive to consumers.

When it comes to hardgoods,  the first thing to mention is that anything that is to be sublimated must have a polyester coating.   There are a number of distributors,  EnMart among them,  who sell sublimatible blanks,   so finding a source for hardgoods to sublimate shouldn’t be too difficult.    The problem here may be that a decorator would be spoiled for choice,  faced with such an array of blanks from which to choose.   It should also be noted that mastering the technique necessary for sublimating some hardgoods may take time and practice.    Sublimating hardgoods may also require special jigs or platens for a heat press,  so that should be considered as well.

In the final analysis,   the items you sublimate will most likely be determined partly by what the market wants,  partly by what you enjoy doing,  and partly by what items you put in the effort to sell.    There is no hard and fast rule about what sublimated good will work for every situation.   It’s up to you to do the research and to know your market well enough to make educated choices about what sublimated goods to stock.