Digital Decorating:

Sublimation for Small Signage

From name badges to POP and outdoor usage, learn how you can use sublimation and different substrates to accommodate a wide range of customers.

By David Gross, Contributing Writer

Sublimation is a unique and low-cost way to transfer vivid, full-color photos and designs onto an exciting selection of blank substrates.

October 8, 2021

I think the philosophy of lagniappe should be taught at every school and practiced by every business. A French word meaning “unexpected extra gift,” lagniappe often is used in Louisiana. In fact, sublimation decoration is a fantastic example of this.

The technology delivers stunning visual impact along with a few bonus features that help ensure customer satisfaction. Often, consumers of sublimated products become both fans and cheerleaders for your business.

This also can apply to small signage. ChromaLuxe products, in particular, can have a profound impact on sublimated point-of-purchase (POP) signage. The following are a few different ways you can use these photo panels to meet signage needs. First, though, let’s explain the nature of the sublimation process.

Sublimation Explained
Sublimation imprinting is a unique and low-cost way to transfer vivid, full-color photos and designs onto an exciting selection of blank substrates, ranging from polyester fabrics and wood plaques to metal panels.

It starts with printing a photograph, design or logo via a sublimation printer (e.g. Sawgrass SG500, Sawgrass SG1000, Epson F570, etc.) onto sublimation release paper. Next, you place the blank imprintable substrate, printed transfer and protective paper — which I like to call a “sublimation sandwich” — in a heat press and press for the recommended time, temperature and pressure for that specific product.

Heat will cause the dispersed dyes in the sublimation ink to change from a solid state to a gas. When this happens, the dyes transfer into the oil-loving molecules found in polyester fabric and those substrates that have had a polyester coating applied to their surfaces. Pressure is important because it provides proper contact between the printed sublimation transfer and the substrate, ensuring vivid, crisp image quality across the substrate’s entire imaging area. The result is an amazing, eye-popping and high-value personalized product.

ChromaLuxe Panels
Produced in a range of precut sizes (and large sheet stock for fabricating with a computer numerical control (CNC) router), ChromaLuxe aluminum photo panels are an exciting dimensional display/mounting option for photographs and full-color signage.

The 0.045-inch-thick panels are available with a white or clear imprintable coating, feature rounded corners, and are ultraviolet- and scratch-resistant. The metal is fabricated by Universal Woods by applying a thick, high-tech, optically clear sublimation coating onto the metal’s surface. The coating — along with the sublimation process — delivers some exciting features when used as full-color POP signage.

The final image becomes encapsulated inside this hard and non-porous coating that is antimicrobial and resistant to abrasion, chemicals and graffiti. The resulting products are ideal for hospitals and restaurants, where continuous cleaning is the norm.

ChromaLuxe, Dry-Erase Markers & Chalk
ChromaLuxe’s ultra-smooth surface can be easily drawn or written on using dry-erase markers. It’s as simple as leaving a white or light-colored area in the transferred design.

Easily imaged with standard sublimation equipment, decorators can transfer full-color, photo-quality designs onto the textured panels to create one-of-a-kind dry-erase boards with a rustic, modern, industrial or shabby-chic aesthetic. I recently noticed ChromaLuxe signage in a local restaurant, and the manager raved about it, saying it held up perfectly under the constant cleaning and sanitation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Universal Woods recently added an exciting new textured option to its selection of sublimatable hardboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF) and metal photo panels. Contrasting those products with an ultra-smooth finish, the textured finish provides a unique tactile feel for sublimators wanting to offer customers more variety.

For POP applications, one of the best characteristics of the textured products is that they’re compatible with colored chalk. These types of signs are fun to write on, easy to wipe clean with a damp cloth and provide lots of indoor signage options for homes and businesses.

Smaller sizes can be used in the kitchen for recipes, notes and shopping lists, while larger sizes can be used in classrooms, churches, meeting rooms, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Larger chalkboard signs also can be used as one-of-a-kind wedding or baby-shower signage with plenty of room for handwritten messages.

Stacked Metal
An excellent way to add value to sublimation metal is to stack a smaller piece of imaged aluminum on top of a larger piece. Sublimate the larger piece with an appropriate background image and place your foreground photo on the smaller piece. Then, using a spacer block, mount the smaller piece of metal onto the larger one.

This approach produces a stunning POP sign at little additional cost. Decorating options can include multiple layers — a larger background piece with multiple foreground pieces. You also may vary the types of metal by having a matte background finish and a glossy foreground finish. This stacked-metal approach — sometimes called 3-D aluminum — is a standard offering in many photo gift shops and works well as high-value signage.

A Desktop Printer & Heat Press
In the sublimation world, the largest substrate that can be produced is determined by the printer and heat press’s size. For example, a Sawgrass SG1000 printer (with its optional bypass tray attached) can print a 13″ x 21″ transfer and a Geo Knight DK20S heat press can press substrates up to 16″ x 20″. This popular printer-and-heat-press combo can, therefore, produce substrates up to 12″ x 18″ with full coverage.

If you consider this to be a small size when it comes to POP signage, rest assured there is a way to make larger pieces using desktop equipment. Often, POP signage easily can be designed with an area left over for customization. For example, you can decorate the upper portion of an 18″ x 24″ panel and leave the lower half blank for use as a dry-erase sign or chalkboard.

Alternatively, you can print the image in two sections and transfer them in two separate pressings. This is only recommended for artwork that easily can be broken up into separate pieces.

Employees as Walking Billboards
Although small, ChromaLuxe name badges are ideal for a company’s employees to project a professional image and promote a specific product or service. For example, using a ChromaLuxe 2″ x 3″ metal name badge, place the person’s name and title on the top two-thirds of the badge and place advertising for new products or special deals on the lower one-third.

This approach provides more value for your customers and keeps them coming back with replacement orders once there’s a new product or special deal to promote. Always remember to sublimate your company’s name and reordering information on the back of the name badge for easy reference.

David Gross is president of Mobile, Alabama-based Condé Systems Inc. For the past 26 years, he has devoted himself to advancing sublimation decorating technology. He recently co-authored a book with J. Stephen Spence titled “The Road to Sublimation Success: Cashing in on the ChromaLuxe Revolution.” It is available from Condé Systems and Amazon. For more information or to comment on this article, email David at

Durable Outdoor Signage

Several years ago, Universal Woods introduced an exterior grade of aluminum signage. The 0.045-inch-thick aluminum-sign blanks are UV-rated for an expected outdoor life of at least three years and are resistant to graffiti, scratches and chemicals.

The panels are offered in a variety of precut sizes ranging from 5″ x 7″ to 40″ x 60″, with some of the smaller sizes even featuring holes for hanging or mounting. The ChromaLuxe 12″ x 18″ size is an example of a full-color parking sign that easily can replace a boring one- or two-color version.