Three reasons to add sublimation to your screen printing business

sg_diversifactionThis month Ingrid Van Loocke, channel marketing manager at Sawgrass, takes a look at why screen printers should consider adding dye sublimation printing to their business.

For the large orders of decorated apparel, screen printing wins out in terms of cost and efficiency.  But what happens when a customer comes to you with an order for 12 T shirts that need an eight colour image? What if they also mention a need for matching promotional items and/or signage? As a screen printer, there may not be much you can do to help this customer. However, if you also had a sublimation system in your shop, you could easily win their business.

Sublimation and screen printing are complementary technologies that don’t really compete with each other. Instead, they enhance the capabilities and profitability of shops that offer both.


In an industry that is constantly evolving to meet changing demands, diversification is now a necessity for any product decorating business. The days of being defined by a single decorating technology are over. Doing so risks losing out on revenue opportunities, as customers will have to seek out other providers to meet the needs of their ever changing mindsets and buying habits.

For screen printers, sublimation is a great option. It enables you to profit from small, on-demand orders and opens up a world of possibilities for additional products you can offer. The screen printing process makes sense for large orders, but profit margins get smaller as the number of shirts you need to decorate goes down. Part of the reason for this is the amount of downtime during production. Colour options are also limited, as screen printing can only apply a single colour at a time.

Because sublimation is digital, you’ll be able to offer customers shirts decorated with full colour graphics. The production process has little to no downtime, too, which makes completing small orders not only possible, but profitable. You’ll be able to accept print on demand orders, as well as additional products that complement your existing offerings.

For example, a customer looking for sport shirts may also be in the market for team mugs, promotional products or signs, which you could now offer using your sublimation system. Opportunities for upselling and cross-selling dramatically increase with sublimation capabilities in house.


Without a doubt the weak economy has altered the spending habits of consumers and businesses alike. For example, many screen printing shops have seen clients break a single large job down into several small ones spread over several months. Whereas a 12 dozen shirt order is fine in terms of screen printing production, 12 orders of one dozen shirts is another situation entirely. When faced with these situations, sublimation can help you save the sale and that relationship with your customer.

Sublimation is also one of the most economical product decorating technologies available. Cost-of-entry into the sublimation business is comparatively low. A start-up sublimation system will consist of a computer, a supported desktop printer, inks, transfer paper and a heat press (which is the greatest expense). If you already have a heat press and a computer, a start-up system should cost you between €600 and €950. A good-quality small heat press will give you the best results.

When you look at the cost of adding an additional screen printer or a direct-to-garment printer to your business, sublimation is a much more economical option. Return-on-investment is also much quicker. Labour and overhead costs are very low for creating sublimated products, while the retail value of such items is much higher. This translates into much greater profit potential and quicker return on investment.

In terms of materials cost, sublimation is an extremely low cost process. The real cost is in time, labour and overhead with ink costs generally being less than 5% of the overall finished product cost.

Production speed

Production speed equates to profitability in the product decorating industry, and both analogue and digital technologies have their merits. Screen printing is categorised as an analogue printing process. Analog printing involves a delivery system that is dependent on individual colours being transmitted to a substrate through some type of manually prepared plate, stencil, template, screen, etc.

Sublimation, on the other hand, is a digital printing process. Digital printing reproduces computerised images directly to a surface via the use of inkjet and/or laser printers, such that the colours are created on demand and no templates, screens or plates are required to define the image. Instead the images are produced using tiny droplets of ink, placed via an electronic coding of the image.

Digital printing is ideal for short runs and on demand orders because of the quick setup. Plus it has a much broader spectrum of colour production and in the case of sublimation can deliver photo-quality imaging.

Analogue printing has very long set-up times as well as breakdown time at the end of a job, thus it becomes cost-prohibitive in terms of smaller runs. But for large volume production, it will be cheaper than digital. However, there is always the colour limitation with analogue, something that also has to be taken into account when comparing to digital.

When used alongside each other, these two technologies make a single a business that once only offered one type of product decoration much more profitable.

Final thoughts

Sublimation and screen printing work hand in hand when it comes to providing decorated products to your customers. If you’re considering adding additional printing capabilities to your business, sublimation provides the most value in terms of economy and profit potential. You’ll not only be able to fulfil your customers’ current needs, you’ll also be able to finally take on small orders with quick turnaround and enter new markets with an expanded line of products. Once you’re up and running, it won’t take long to see the difference all of this diversification makes in your profit margins.


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