Selling Your Art with Sublimation

For most artists,  a major goal is to get the art out into the marketplace,  hopefully to be purchased,  which generates income,  which allows for more art to be made.  The problem for a lot of artists is that creating a unique artwork takes time,  and each piece can only be sold to one customer.  What is needed is the ability to reproduce a unique piece of art a number of times,  on a number of different substrates.   It would also be great if the reproductions could be created relatively easily and quickly,  at a low cost per print.   It would be even better if the method used to create the reproductions had, compared to other decoration options, a low cost of entry.

Sublimation is, as far as we’re concerned,  the perfect decoration method for artists who want to reproduce and sell their work.   For those who don’t know,  sublimation is a printing method which can be used on both soft and hard goods,  as long as the item is either made of polyester or has a poly coating.   Using ink and paper created for sublimation,  transfers are printed which are then set on the item being decorated using heat.   The ink bonds with the poly material or coating,  so the prints have no hand,  and are dishwasher safe.   The printer that’s used is a standard inkjet printer and the designs can be created with any graphics program.

There are several advantages to printing your saleable products using sublimation.   One is the cost of entry.   Compared to other decoration techniques,  like machine embroidery or direct to garment printing,  sublimation has a relatively low cost of entry.    An SG800,  which is the larger of the two desktop printers used for sublimation,  can be purchased in a package for under $2,000.    A heat press, which is also a necessary part of the process, can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand,  depending on the brand and model purchased.    Most blanks are also relatively inexpensive.   The cost for a cartridge of ink ranges from slightly above $60 to just over $100,  depending on the printer make and the size of the cartridge.

A second advantage is the fact that creating a sublimated design doesn’t require learning any new software.   Any graphics program,  Adobe,  CorelDraw,  whatever is currently being used can be used to create designs for sublimation.   If you don’t currently have a preferred graphics program,   Sawgrass’ Creative Studio comes with every purchase of a Virtuoso printer package.   This program is touted as being easy to use,  and contains a curated library of templates for the items that are most often offered by those who sell sublimated products.

One of the best things about sublimation,  especially for photographers,  is that the prints are photo realistic.   If you’re interested in selling your photography or your original art,  sublimation is the perfect decoration discipline for you.  Prints will reproduce exactly as they were created.   Photos will look like photos.   Hand drawn art will retain the qualities that make hand drawn art so unique and special.   The only difference is that sublimation allows the photo or drawing or design to be recreated over and over again on a variety of different substrates.

There are also advantages to owning your own system versus using a contract printer who will do the work for you.   Owning a sublimation system means you can print when you want and as many items as you need,  so you won’t be tied to minimum order requirements,  or have to carry an inventory of a design that didn’t sell.  You also have control over the quality of the finished product,  you create the prints and you can reject them based on your quality standards.   You also know all the costs involved in creating the product in advance.   There’s no last minute shipping or blank good upcharges and no potential delays in production due to weather or problems at the plant producing the goods.

All in all,  sublimation is a great option for a lot of artists.  While there will be a slight learning curve when starting with sublimation,  most people are up and running within hours.   Add to that the relatively low cost of entry,  and the fact that the entire process is controlled by the artist,  and the advantages, for an artist, of purchasing a sublimation system become quite clear.

What Is Sublimation?

When I started writing this blog I made a mistake that many writers make, I assumed that everyone who read this blog would have the same level of knowledge that I do.   I didn’t remember that giving out tips about finding the right printer or sublimating a certain product wouldn’t be very useful if you didn’t even know what sublimation was or why you’d want to do it.  Today I wanted to correct my mistake and start at the very beginning,  with a basic overview of what sublimation is and what the process can do for you and your business.

First, let’s start with exactly what sublimation is. defines it this way:

In chemistry, the direct conversion of a solid into a gas, without passage through a liquid stage. (See phases of matter.)

When it comes to garment and product decoration, sublimation printing allows businesses to create  specialized, customized images on demand.  The specially formulated ink actually bonds with the fibers in polyester garments or the coating on the sublimation blanks and create a colorful and personalized image.

Sublimation is relatively simple to learn.  If you can run a graphics program, print to a printer, and use a heat press you can sublimate.  The steps in the sublimation process are as follows:

1. Create and import your artwork.  To do that, you can use a program like Adobe Photoshop or CorelDraw.  You can also use specially designed sublimation software like Hanes SublimationMaker 2.0.

2. Print your image using Sublijet Ink and one of the sublimation printers for which the ink has been formulated.  You will also need to be sure you are using transfer paper that has been designed for sublimation.

3. Press your transfer on to the sublimation blank you have chosen.   You can either use a standard heat press or a mug press.

When sublimation inks are heated to 400°F, they turn into a gas and bond permanently to 100% polyester fabric or any items with a polymer coating. The image that remains is a premium full-color, photographic-quality image that will not crack, peel or wash away from the substrate.

Sublimation can add a wide variety of new products to your business.   If you embroider, and were formerly limited to fabric items, sublimation allows you to add mousepads, mugs, jewelry boxes and much more.  If you’re a photographer, sublimation gives you the ability to create personalized mementos using your own photographs.   For a relatively small investment,  sublimation can be a great way to increase your business and your profits.

For a complete description of what sublimation is, what it does and how it can be useful to your business,  please download the Dye Sublimation Guide from the EnMart website.

Why Not Just Sublimation?

If you visit the EnMart website or read anything that we write about our sublimation and ChromaBlast products, you’ll probably notice almost immediately that we’re very scrupulous about using both words, sublimation and ChromaBlast.   This tends to confuse some people.  I have even had colleagues point out to me that I have made an error when I refer to both names in my writing.  The conversation usually goes like this:

Colleague (looking over my shoulder at my computer screen):  “You made a mistake there.  That should just  say sublimation”

Me:  “Nope, it’s right the way it is.”

Colleague: “But aren’t ChromaBlast and Sublimation the same thing?”

Me: “They aren’t the same thing.  Hmm, I guess I should write a blog post and explain exactly how they’re different.”

Then, of course, I write a post like this explaining that there are significant differences between the two processes. While both can be used to decorate garments, they don’t work the same way or on the same types of fabric.

Sublimation is the process by which a solid converts to a gas without first going through a liquid state.  The example of sublimation that most people would be familiar with would be dry ice. Sublimation as a printing method can be used only on polyester and polymer coated items.  When sublimation inks are heated to 400 degrees F they turn to gas and form a permanent bond with the polyester fibers.   The garment or item is actually dyed and the color will not peel, crack or wash away.

By contrast, ChromaBlast is used on cotton garments and items.  It uses a chemical reaction between the ink and the cotton substrate to create a nearly permanent bond.   Unlike sublimation ink, ChromaBlast ink does not pass directly from a solid to a gaseous state.   Heat and pressure are used to transfer the ink from the printed transfer to the cotton item to be imprinted.   ChromaBlast can be used on any cotton item that can withstand the heat of a heat press.

Where both Sublimation and ChromaBlast are alike is in the fact that both are great ways to expand your business and offer more decorated products and garments to your customers.  There are relatively low start-up costs, few barriers to entry, and it is generally easy to set up and run a sublimation or ChromaBlast system.

If you are thinking of purchasing a ChromaBlast or Sublimation system, EnMart will be happy to advise you on your purchase.  We also offer a complete line of Sublimation and Chromablast supplies and inks.