Are you planning to start a printing business based on the sublimation technique but you don’t know how? Well, you are in the right place. This printing technique is unique and commonly used in high-end graphic apparel designs, advertising displays, and home décor, among other things. But what matters the most is how to do it efficiently and deliver quality products. And with these tips at hand, you can run a successful business based on quality prints. Let’s start:
What is sublimation printing?
Sublimation printing is a popular printing technique that not only delivers distinct, quality, and high-resolution prints but also long-lasting. Further, this technique is versatile as it can apply to multiple products like fabrics, mugs, bags, phone cases, key chains, and notebooks, among others.
Being a digital process, you only need to transfer your designs whether handcrafted or digital images to sublimation paper through printing. Once that’s done, you can easily transfer the print onto another material/product from the sublimation paper via heat and pressure (350-400oF). As easy as such, it’s a cost-effective printing technique for product personalization.
The top-notch quality print that results from sublimation printing has drawn the attention of individuals, businesses, and companies that want to personalize their products. And with this, you have a diverse market to tap into if you can manage this printing technique effectively.
And as such, you need to use any relevant material to clearly understand this technique and how to apply it. You need to learn various ways of developing designs effortlessly before you launch it as a business. So, if you are interested in learning more about this printing technique, then continue reading this article.
Note: if you apply this technique incorrectly, the ghosting patterns and white creases is what you will get from your prints. And with this is the result, it means a loss of both time and other resources. And this calls for the need to test your skills first with several designs before trying this venture in bulk.
You need familiarity with what this technique is all about and how to use the various machines. Thereafter, use various materials and products to test your skills. And once you’ve grasped this technique effectively, then you are ready to launch your business and serve various clients.
The science behind this printing technique:
Scientifically, sublimation as a process involves the transformation process of matter in its solid state to gas. And this doesn’t involve the solid changing to liquid state first. But if you think about it, this might seem strange considering the ink used is in a liquid state. But if you look closely at the science behind sublimation ink, you will realize it’s not ink.
Instead, the “ink” is a vicious mixture comprising solid dye particles and a carrier fluid. So, during the heat and pressure step, the solid dye embedded on the sublimation paper is transferred to the product/ fabric material via the sublimation process.
What is heat transfer?
Heat transfer is a popular printing technique that originated from the traditional iron-on decals. Being a digital printing technique today, you can easily create amazing prints through it. What you need to do is print your custom design or digital design on a transfer paper.
Thereafter, place the transfer paper on the blank material you want to transfer the content to. And then use heat and pressure to thermally transfer the print from the transfer paper to the blank material.
Difference between sublimation printing and heat transfer:
Longevity: sublimation printing creates a permanent print on the material with no external feel or possibility of scratching it off. On the other hand, heat transfer creates a layer of the print on the material surface. And as much as you can scratch it off, the print can last for long when left undisturbed.
Colors: sublimation printing offers unlimited color combinations and ranges during printing. Therefore, you can printout any graphic design without stress. On the other hand, heat transfer relies on the capability of a laser printer or inkjet which is unable to deliver the exact print quality as dye-sub.
Detailing: dye-sub relies on a specialized printer for this role to deliver superior and detailed quality prints. On the other hand, heat transfer relies on the ordinary printer which is not reliable in creating quality prints.
Print Runs: Both printing methods are well matched for print runs. However, if you are to print at least one t-shirt per month, then heat transfer is a perfect choice. And this is while considering the initial cost.
All that you need for the sublimation printing business:
The sublimation printer is amongst the essential requirement if you want to start this printing business. Through it, you can print the graphic design directly on the products or material you’ve chosen. But not all printers work in this manner. Some rely on the transfer paper to print on material or products. So, while choosing the printer you want to use in your business, check its versatility when it comes to compatibility with different printing mediums and compounds. That said; consider the following factors while choosing the printer:
- Review the printer layout
There are various kinds of sublimation printers in the marketplace. Some have been designed to print directly on the products or materials. But some rely on transfer paper to print on materials. Therefore, pick the option that will suit your printing business.
- Consider the printer cartridges
It’s important to have a look at the cartridge the printer utilizes before you get it. Are the cartridges able to support sublimation dye and deliver exceptional work? Further, you may need cartridges that are precisely for specific dye colors. And some of them include Yellow, Magenta, and Cyan cartridges.
- Consider the materials you will work with
The best printer varieties to consider are those that work with transfer paper. Further, you need to review the capabilities of the printer you choose while considering the different printing materials.
Once you’ve acquired all the printing equipment and you have set them up, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. But this will be possible if you have blank products to start with. However, it’s important to note that this technique does not work with all products.
Blank products that work efficiently with this technique should have a polyester coating or make from polyester. And don’t mind about the kind of product you want to use. Choose the types you intend to specialize in while doing this business.
It can be flip flops, mugs, T-shirts, bags, and napkins among others. Lastly, do not limit yourself to polyester material, several other materials work perfectly with this printing technique and some of them include:
- Plastic coated with a polymer
- Polyester fabric
- Metal coated with a polymer
- Aluminum coated with a polymer
- Polycotton textile
If you are searching for the best materials that guarantee exceptional results, then consider ceramic and polyester. And while working with fabrics, you can use multiple designs that are contrary to the traditional printing techniques that only support one print or logo per product.
And that’s all with materials that support this printing method. However, you should also know printable materials that dint support this technique. Some of them include pure cotton fabrics among other natural fabrics. Therefore, avoid such materials and use any of the mentioned materials in the above list.
3.Sublimation Heat press:
The heat press is another primary piece of equipment essential for this printing technique. Luckily, there are tons of sublimation heat presses out there in the market. As they come in different varieties, you can easily get one that fits your taste. Some are high end and quite expensive while others are standard quality with a budget-friendly value.
Further, some of them are designed for small DIY projects while others are handy for commercial purposes. So, if you are getting the heat press for business projects, then consider the commercial ones.
Another important factor to consider while choosing the heat press is purpose. If you are going to deal with a specific function for instance printing t-shirts, then you can get a heat press for this role. Also, you can mug press if you are going to work on cups and mugs.
And lastly, there is a multipurpose heat press that can work on various functions at the same time. This will be handy if you are dealing with a wide range of products.
4.Computer and Software:
The other piece of equipment you need before you launch your printing business is a computer and relevant software. In this case, you are free to use any type of computer as long as it can run the design software you will use. Some of the design software you can consider before choosing a PC to use are:
- Sawgrass CreativeStudio
- Core Draw
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe InDesign
- Autodesk SketchBook
Once you’ve chosen any of the above software or others that are not mentioned above, you can then decide on which PC to get. Ensure the PC can run the software efficiently.
Most of the sublimation printer comes with a complete set of ink. However, it’s important to have an extra set for an emergency. You never know when your ink might run out. It’s a strategic means if avoiding stressful scenarios where you have an order but out of ink or the ink cartridge is malfunctioning.
So, while considering the spare set of ink to get, avoid being lured by price. Some of these ink might be cheap but poor quality. And to ensure your clients stick with you, choose quality inks that guarantee exceptional results after printing.
Once you’ve acquired all the essential pieces of equipment to launch this printing business, don’t rush. There are extra suppliers you need to consider. These suppliers will be handy in ensuring you reduce mess during printing and deliver exceptional results. Some of these suppliers include:
- Foam Pillows – they are handy in protecting your fabric from the harsh conditions of the heat press. Further, they prevent press lines from forming during the heat and pressure transfer process.
- Silicone sheet covers – they create a barrier that protects the heat press from getting into contact with the sublimation ink.
- Spray adhesive – with this, you can secure the transfer paper on the product during heat transfer.
- Thermal tape & tape dispenser– you need the thermal tape to hold together your paper and the sublimation blanks. This will prevent shifting and save you from creating ghosting prints.
- Transfer gloves – these are handy during heat transfer. It protects your hands from being burned.
Sublimation printing process:
This is a chemical process that involves the sublimation process (where the solid change to gas without becoming liquid). Thus, the name of this technique alone is enough to let you know what it’s all about. And the sublimation process involves the dye change of state from solid to gas. Let’s start:
The computer has an essential role to play in this technique. Through it, you can develop digital designs that you want to print on the product or material of your choice. Also, it allows transforming your handcrafted designs into digital form for printing purposes. Thus, the first step is to prepare your printing design on the computer first. And once it’s ready, you move to the next step:
You need a printer exclusively for sublimation printing. And it’s through this printer that you will be able to print out the graphic designs you’ve prepared earlier on your computer. All you have to do is connect your computer and the printer and then initiate the printing process of the graphic design in your computer onto the transfer paper via the printer.
You will need this paper for printing purposes. And ensure you get the transfer paper exclusively for this printing technique. If they are ready, put them in your printer for your graphics to be imprinted on them before you transfer the design to your fabrics or products.
And as the printing is taking place, ensure the printing products or fabrics are ready. Note- you should adhere to the guidance of the right printing material to use.
5.Heat Transfer press:
Once the printout on the sublimation paper is ready as well as the products or fabrics to be printed on, it’s time for the heat transfer press. And just like other steps, you need a heat transfer machine for this. Ensure the machine you pick fits the shape of the materials or products you want to print on.
Once everything is ready for this step, it’s time for the heat transfer press process. All you need to do is align the print out on the transfer paper with the fabric or product to be printed on. Once this is done, use the heat and pressure machine to complete the transfer of the image from the sublimation paper to the fabric or product that’s being printed on.
The heat and pressure machine transforms the dye embedded on the transfer paper into a gas from a solid-state. The dye then bonds with the product fibers permanently.
Just to be sure you’ve done the printing properly, ensure the results have an excellent resolution. It should be very clear with high detailing. But if you notice ghostly patterns or white creases, then you’ve must have done something wrong. And this is an indication of poor quality work. Therefore, you have to start all over and ensure you do everything right.
Pros and Cons of Sublimation printing business:
- Design Freedom- freedom of designs is one of the major selling points of this technique. It has no limit on the type of design you can choose to print on a product or material.
- Supports printing on hard surfaces apart from fabrics
- Supports unlimited color combination
- It’s a cost-effective printing technique
- Easy to print allowing you to deliver an order on the same day it’s requested.
- Offers a permanent feel of the print unlike using transfer paper where the design can be scratched off.
- UV rays can fade off the print on a fabric
- The printhead is susceptible to clogging when not used frequently.
- Supports non-textile with polyester coating only.
The Materials that can be sublimated:
- Aluminum and Metal
Expect dynamic print results when working on Aluminum or any other metal. But for exceptional results, choose a high-quality material. Meanwhile, do not place the sublimation paper underneath the metal. They are usually placed on top of it. Lastly, the heat should get into both the transfer paper and metal for a quality result.
Working with plastic material relies on a different technology. Instead of using the heat press, you will need an oven press and this is especially if the plastic item is 3D. Further, you will use a film print rather than the usual paper transfer during printing. Lastly, the plastic material should withstand at least 400oF of heat.
Extra care is needed while working with glass. This material can break easily and also it heats up differently. Therefore, you can use a heat press pad to avoid unnecessary breakage and halftones to prevent fogginess on the print. Alternatively, you can use textured material to ensure the final print is very clear.
The fabric material is an excellent choice if you are working with custom tents, tablecloths, dresses, and t-shirts among other items. While printing, be careful as ghosting and white creases are common when working on this material. Any slight fold or wetting of the material and your final result quality is ruined. Also, if someone wants their fabric print slightly textured, it is not possible with this printing technique.
Nylon is a tough material to work with using this printing technique. And since there are various kinds of nylon, you need to do testing first before embarking on large scale printing. Each nylon variety has a unique reaction to sublimation printing and such, great care is paramount.
Working with vinyl is simple like any other material. However, you have to cut it in the required shapes as per the client’s order. Also, ensure the product size is similar to your print edges. Further, you can decide to print multiple vinyl products before cutting them into their various shapes and sizes.
While acrylic is free of polyester, it’s important to use sublimation acrylic products instead. And this is because it supports the dye sublimation process. Further, it can work comfortably with sublimation paper and a heat press to deliver quality results.
Since wood is natural and lacks polyester that’s necessary for this printing technique, use poly elements to coat it. To ensure the poly coating is firm, use heat and roller. Once you are done, use the same printing process when working on pure polyester material. Further, the coating may require less than 400oF standard heat during transfer.
Due to the gallery wrap technique used on canvas, you need to be careful when printing on them. Therefore, ensure the print also extends to the sides continuously from the front since the sides are exposed to the public as well. During heat-press, use a lint roller to clean up the material and ensure the print comes out clean.
Best 10 Sublimation ideas:
Printing on T-shirt is among the most common business when it comes to sublimation printing. This business has the potential for higher profits if you are great at coming up with exclusive graphic designs. In most cases, the retail price of printed t-shirts relies on your skills as a graphic artist.
Mugs can earn you great income considering its popularity in the gifting industry. It’s among the easiest way of making better returns. So if you are looking for a business idea for sublimation printing, don’t think twice about trying it out.
Phone case printing is also a popular gig with this printing technique. It has a huge market you can tap into including friends and family around you. All you have to do is come up with an exclusive design that will complement various phones as well as the personality of the owners.
Nowadays almost every household has a desktop computer. And as such, this has created a potential market for mouse mats. Further, the majority of people prefer custom mouse mats over ordinary blank types. Thus, this is a smart idea you can tap into this printing technique.
Stickers are popular as decorative elements. But that’s not all; they are also an effective marketing strategy through advertising. Therefore, you can start this business by creating promotional stickers for various brands as well as those for decoration purposes.
Printed socks are increasingly becoming popular due to the vibrancy and touch of complement. Many people prefer them over ordinary socks that are somewhat dull and boring when it comes to looks. Thus, you can this as a business opportunity and make huge returns.
Business card printing is another popular venture, especially in the corporate industry. Almost every institution, business premises, company, and even startups have business cards. What’s more, business cards are also handy as marketing tools for business and if you can create an exclusive design, you stand to make a profit in this sector.
In the store, would you choose a printer flip flop or the ordinary plain colored types? Yes, your answer is similar to anybody else. Many people prefer flip flops that have been personalized by various graphic prints. They not only look good on feet but also complement your closet or wherever you keep them.
Canvas printing is also has a great business venture with potential clients. And Canvas is popular as tent coverings and also in the marketing sector as a billboard. Therefore, you can specialize in printing images on tent canvas as well as create exclusive images for billboard canvas used for advertisement, among other applications.
The last but not least business idea you can use this printing technique to generate income is plate printing. In this case, you can use both ceramic, glass, and plastic plates as your blank material. Ensure you choose a graphic design that goes hand in hand with these products and their application.
7 Tips for Sublimation Success:
Whether you are running a startup or an established business venture in sublimation printing, the following tips will be crucial to your success:
- Choose the right equipment
First, you need the right equipment before you launch this venture. Even though is a lucrative opportunity, if you start with the wrong pieces of equipment, you are bound to fail. That said, you will need a sublimation printer, sublimation paper, ink, heat press, and a good PC with relevant design software.
- Get all essential accessories
Perfection in this venture is not only guaranteed by the right pieces of equipment, but also essential accessories. These accessories are meant to improve efficiency during printing and guarantee delivery of quality prints. Thus, you should consider the following accessories:
- Sublimation heating pad
- Heat gloves
- Heat transfer pillows
- Silicone sheets
- Spray adhesive
- Thermal tape and its dispenser
- Teflon sheets
- Plan ahead
This business is relatively simple to launch and do it successfully; however, it’s also tricky. And as such, you need to plan ahead to ensure everything works out successfully without unnecessary setbacks. That said, stock your supplies appropriately, prepare a schedule on how you will handle the orders, and do multiple trials or tests to avoid wastage of resources due to poor quality results.
- Choose design software you are familiar with
Choose design software you are familiar with to avoid confusion and difficulties while working on a project. Don’t be in a rush to try new design software as much as it promises great features. You should work with the software you know your way around it without a hassle.
- Learn from the best
Yes, you may be familiar with this printing technique, but it’s also great to learn from others. This may give you a better idea of how to improve your skills and ways to develop competitive designs and quality prints. Therefore, consider productive blogs and video tutorials to sharpen your printing skills.
- Pressure, moisture, and heat
Pressure, moisture, and heat are vital factors that determine whether your print will come out perfectly or as a mess. Therefore, you should learn how to balance them perfectly if you want to avoid burned, faded, spotty, too light, or white-streaked prints.
This business is dynamic and variables can change anytime. And as such, tests are necessary to ensure your pieces of equipment are working perfectly. First, you need to check the functionality of the heat press. Use black strips to test heat press. If the strip comes out black after pressing in the required time, then your heat press is working perfectly.
However, if it fades and turned grey, this means the heat is low, but if it turns brown, then the heat is too high. Once you are done testing the heat press, you can do the same with other pieces of equipment like the printer.
From the preview of the information above about all that you need to know about the sublimation printing business, it’s an outstanding business with a higher potential on the return of investment.
The result from the printing technique is exceptional, into details and high quality. Thus, it has drawn the attention of retailers, companies, and institutions creating a great market you can tap into and generate great returns.
Therefore, don’t allow yourself to be left out of this lucrative opportunity. If you have the necessary graphics skills with a ready capital to invest, it’s about time you launch your sublimation printing business.