Five common mistakes that new sublimators make

It’s a known fact that you learn more from getting it wrong than from getting it right, but why waste time learning from your mistakes when you can learn just as much from everyone else’s mistakes? Jimmy Lamb, Sawgrass’ education manager, writes.

On the surface, sublimation is a relatively simple process and easy to learn. Couple that with the low start-up costs and the range of profitable products that can be created, and you have the makings of the perfect add-on to any decorated apparel business.

But sublimation has a learning curve, and more than a handful of entrepreneurs have spent an inordinate amount of time scratching their heads trying to get it all figured out.

Here is a look at five of the most common mistakes that new sublimators make.

1) Printing on the wrong side of the paper

Most sublimation transfer papers have a right side and a wrong side, which are easily identified by the words ‘this side up’… right???… wrong! The majority of transfer papers do not have any identifying mark to designate which side should be printed on. You’ll need to pay attention to the instructions provided by the paper supplier to avoid printing on the wrong surface. Usually, there are markings on the package but if they have been removed, in most cases one side is slightly brighter than the other and that’s the correct side for printing.

You’ll still need to get it into the printer the right way. Be sure to read the printer instructions on this one. With some units, you place the paper so the print side is up, whereas, with others the print side goes down.

2) Not using blowout sheets

What is a blowout sheet? It’s that Teflon sheet that came with your heat press and it has two purposes. The first to protect the surface of the substrate from any dirt, stray ink, or whatever’s on the press during pressing. The second to prevent any stray ink from the transfer paper from migrating onto the pressing surfaces of the heat press.

While most people use the Teflon sheet supplied with the press, eventually it can become soiled and lose its effectiveness. A great alternative is blank newsprint. It’s cheap and quite absorbent but only a one-time use product, so discard after every pressing. If you are pressing both sides of a product like a bag or shirt, you’ll want to add a second blowout sheet underneath when you flip it to do the second side. You may also want to add a third one inside to prevent any unwanted transfer of ink from the previously pressed side.

3) Using poor quality images

It should go without saying that high quality sublimation starts with high quality images, but somewhere along the way, that message seems to get lost. Sublimation is great at printing high resolution, finely detailed, full color images, but it can’t convert bad images into good ones. So what is the ideal resolution? That’s a tricky question, as resolution is tied to image size.

In general, most decorators prefer around 350dpi for the size of the given application. Keep in mind that increasing the size will reduce the dpi, and dpi only applies to raster or bitmap images. Vector art on the other hand is resolution independent, meaning that resizing does not affect image quality. The only limiting factors become the capability of printer.

4) Not mirroring the design

With sublimation you should generally mirror the design when printing. There is a setting on your printer driver for this, but it’s easy to forget, especially since sublimation is pretty much the only application that requires mirroring. But the first time you print something that is spelled backwards you will understand why you need to mirror the image.

5) Not using appropriate substrates

Repeat after me: ‘Sublimation only works with polyester fabrics and polymer coated hard surfaces!’ There are all kinds of cool things that you can sublimate like flip flops, ceramic tiles, mugs, water bottles, puzzles, etc., but in order for the process to work those items must have a polymer coating on the surface.

Same concept applies to apparel. 50/50 shirts will work, but the image will only be absorbed into the polyester fibres (not the cotton fibres) and not look the same as one applied to a 100% poly-performance garment, which is the ideal product for sublimation.

So, there you have it – five common mistakes that new (and some old) sublimators make. It’s not difficult to bring sublimation into your business, but you need to take time and learn the ins and outs so you don’t find yourself making all these common mistakes, which will ultimately cost you money, lower your self-confidence, and delay your ability to generate profitable products for your customers.

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