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.

What Can I Sublimate?

Woman with question marks on a blackboardOne of the most common questions about sublimation that we get asked is “what can I sublimate?”.   It’s a common question because people either assume you can sublimate anything  or they assume you can only sublimate items that are in some super secret special category to which not everyone has access.    The truth is somewhere in the middle.   Not every item is suitable for sublimation, as with most decoration disciplines,   there are items that cannot be sublimated because of how they’re made,  what they’re made of,  or because they won’t fit properly into the  heat presses or other heating methods available.     On the other side of the coin,  items suitable for sublimation are not some magically coated items that only a select few can use or buy.   In reality,  sublimation is really a fairly easy decoration discipline to enter and master.  If you are thinking of starting a sublimation business or wondering what you can and can’t sublimate,  here are a few pieces of information that should help you understand what you can sublimate and what may not be an ideal choice when it comes to sublimating a product.

The first thing you need to know is that hard goods suitable for sublimation need to be poly coated.   This means,  as I said in my last post,   that you can’t go to the dollar store and buy a mug and sublimate it.   Yes,  there are sprays that can be used to coat items for sublimation,  and going that route may be a viable choice for some people.   For most people, however,   the easiest route is to buy sublimation blanks already coated.  This will ensure that you get a quality blank with a smooth coating that is designed to stand up to the temperatures needed to get a good sublimated print.

When it comes to sublimating fabric,   100% polyester fabric will always give you the best result.   There are several t-shirt brands,  among them Vapor Apparel,  that make 100% polyester shirts that are comfortable to wear and have a nice feel.  These shirts are designed especially for sublimation and come in an array of colors that are suitable for this decoration discipline.

People often ask if it is possible to sublimate a polyester blend,  and the answer to that question is yes,  with a qualification.   Yes,  you an sublimate a poly blend but,  because it is a blend,   the sublimation ink will only dye the poly fibers.   This results in a more distressed look for your print.   Some people find this sort of look attractive and desirable.   Others do not.   If you want a full color print,  your best bet is to start with a garment that is 100% polyester.   This will always produce your best and most colorful result.

Sublimation is actually fairly simple when you get right down to it.   You need sublimation ink and sublimation paper and a blank suitable for sublimation.     You need a heat source that can reach 400 degrees,  either a heat press that can accommodate the blank you want to sublimate,  or  a wrap that can hold your transfer in place while the item is in an oven.  Finally you need a blank that is suitable for sublimation and some graphic software to create the graphic you want to print.   If you have all those things,  you’re ready to sublimate.