Digital Decorating:

3 Tips for Successful Sublimation

By Christopher Bernat, Contributing Writer

April 9, 2018

Sublimation is a process that is enjoying immense popularity among end users, whether at retail or among wholesale clients. However, for decorators looking to make a foray into offering the process, there are some variables that can make the difference between success and failure.

Remember the following three tips about this in-demand decoration process:

1. Know your substrate. Dye sublimation, or DS, must be applied to polyester-based goods. The process will work on blends, but remember that if the garment is a 50/50 blend, then 50% of the ink will not saturate 50% of that garment. This results in a lot less color.

Also, some polyester garments are not made specifically for sublimation. Choosing a supplier that offers sublimation-certified products is necessary for the best printing outcome. This means the goods aren’t finished at a high temperature and when you expose them to heat, the shirt’s dyes will react with those in the ink — ultimately affecting the final output.

2. Know your equipment. Investing in DS has an upfront equipment cost. Inks, paper, printer and heat press are the four main components. Some companies focus on supplying those key things for startup businesses. Inks, paper, and the printer all need to be in a temperature-controlled environment. There are many heat press types and sizes. Know your target market so you can work with someone to select the best equipment.

3. Know the pressing variables. Tattoos don’t wash off; likewise, neither does DS. Have good quality-control standards in place to avoid mistakes because they can get costly. Time, temperature, and pressure are the three main heat-pressing variables.

Keep in mind that you are placing a garment under direct high heat and using pressure. There is a fine line of adjusting the three variables to avoid blow through — where the ink blows through to the opposite side of the garment — and shiny squares — where there is too much time, temperature or heat, resulting in a shiny square around the design. Back down on the variables. Try 375˚F degrees at 32 seconds as a rule of thumb as a starting point for pressing.

Christopher Bernat is chief revenue officer and co-founder of Vapor Apparel. He speaks on sublimation and apparel topics for the Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS), Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), FESPA and other events, and serves on the executive board of directors for SGIA.