Digital Decorating:

Sublimation Staples

These five promotional products are proven to generate big profits.

By Aaron Montgomery, Contributing Writer

Sublimation is ideal to decorate can coolers for clients that don’t need large quantities, but still want full-color designs.

February 27, 2018

The promotional products industry recently was estimated to be valued at more than $21 billion, according to a 2016 report from Promotional Products Association Intl. (PPAI).

If you’ve invested in sublimation or have a partnership with a contract sublimator, you can grab a piece of that lucrative pie. Better yet, you won’t be fighting with overseas suppliers for nickels of profit, since sublimation can supply a promotional product that has a nice profit margin.

The following are five promotional products that can perform well for any sublimator, with tips for best practices to ensure success.

Rally Towels
Towels have been a staple in the promotional products industry for years, with all sorts of decorating methods offered to fit many needs. Many screen printers hate towels due to the printing difficulties they present and cumbersome sizes.

For years, sublimation couldn’t compete in the towel world, as most of the products were made of cotton, while polyester versions were more like blankets. Today, you can find sublimation-ready towels that are polyester on one side and cotton on the other. They are a great fit in the promotional products world for brand awareness.

However, the rally towel is underutilized in that world. This towel typically is about 11″ x 18″ in size and is given away at sporting events to help fans cheer for their favorite teams. If you have sublimation capabilities, you can decorate the towel’s entire face with a full-color image that will show off team colors. Sponsor logos also can be included.

Take it a step further by individually numbering towels for a random giveaway — a simple add-on since the sublimation process is digital and doesn’t require setup for each towel.

If you have access to a rotary heat press, you can aggressively go after large projects (think 10,000-piece orders) and be competitive. The biggest challenge to overcome is the full-color vs. single-color competition you will face. To be successful, you must sell the value of full-color decoration when it comes to brand awareness and the value your permanently imprinted rally towel brings compared to cheaper cotton offerings.

Can Coolers
Neoprene or closed-cell foam products are promotional-industry staples. Some companies specialize in creating them, and many are turning to sublimation to meet customer demand.

Sublimation is an ideal option to help companies that don’t need 20,000 units, but still want full-color decoration. Like all of these products, the way to promote them is by focusing on sublimation’s strong points: full-color, short-run, personalized items with no setup fees, color separations, digitizing, etc.

Many sublimators wonder how to decorate can coolers without crushing them. The trick is to press them flat and then sew them together, which can be done using a simple stitch. If you don’t have the proper embroidery equipment to do this, a local upholstery shop probably can do it at a fair and economical price. This way, you can deliver a product with seamless decoration.

Coffee Mugs
Putting a logo on a coffee mug has long been profitable for promotional products decorators and resellers alike. Drinkware, according to PPAI’s report, is the largest of all promotional-product categories. The typical promotional-product price list reads like a screen-printing price list, with a list of colors on one side and quantities on the other. The fine print is littered with color-change, setup and separations charges, etc.

Sublimators can provide a full-color, nearly full-coverage coffee mug to distributors. The key to success is to start with a quality mug. Saving a few cents by working with mugs that are not smooth or flat is no way to be successful. Plus, the AAA-grade sublimation mugs available on the market today typically are dishwasher and microwave safe.

Also, don’t limit yourself to standard white coffee mugs; look for specialty mugs with colored handles, metallic finishes or the color-changing variety. They will add more value at minimal cost to make your promotional offering stand out.

Floor/Auto Mats
These products may not be top of mind as your first options to decorate. You will need a wide-format heat press or a relationship with a contract sublimator. If you offer these types of products, they typically are found in the gift or home décor spaces.

How about offering car mats to industrial companies as a promotional product or customer gift? But beware: When sublimating a loop-style floor or car mat, the ink only dyes the top of the loop. So there may be small, undyed areas where the loop folds over, especially on solid dark colors. For such colors, I suggest using more of a felt-style car or floor mat.

This product is included in one of the top categories for promotional-products sales: wearables. Even those who wear a necktie on a daily basis still will wear them to show off something or stand out. This makes for a great promotional product.

Ties are ideal for trade-show or restaurant wait staff, or other places where people want to stand out from the crowd. A colorful, vibrant tie, worn with a white dress shirt, will achieve this. Even if you don’t have wide-format equipment, you still can decorate a tie. Remember to do it in such a way that includes breaks and space between the decoration so it looks like a normal part of the design. If you are pressing in multiple locations, use as little pressure as possible so that heat-press lines don’t ruin the tie.

Don’t be afraid to use your sublimation tools and relationships to decorate these five staple products. You’ll be glad you did when you’re able to grab your share of the profits in this lucrative promotional-products industry.

Aaron Montgomery has been involved with the garment decorating and personalization industry since 2000 and the digital printing industry since 1997. He co-hosts the 2 Regular Guys industry podcast at, and you can find blogs about a wide range of topics at

Hot Products for 2018

1. Silicone Phone Card Holder: Wallets are becoming a thing of the past, as many consumers now keep their phones in their back pockets. Phone cases with attached wallets were hot, but as phone sizes increased, they became too bulky.

The silicone phone card holder can hold credit cards or a driver’s license, and can be attached to the back side of a phone. It doesn’t add much bulk and, in addition to holding a card, it doubles as a screen cleaner.

This product fits in the top-five program categories, according to PPAI: brand awareness, business gifts, employee relations, trade shows and new customers. These categories accounted for more than half of all promotional products sold in 2016.

2. Double-Walled Tumblers: These drinkware products were made popular by a few influential retail brands, and the laser-engraving business has dominated their decoration. We now are finally starting to see some quality sublimatable products available.

These tumblers typically are silver, so plan accordingly when decorating. Light, soft colors will not look as good, but dark colors, and black-and-white images look fantastic. By using shrink film, you even can decorate around the entire tumbler.

Just be careful about how you market these products, as the brands that made them popular are protective of their trademarks.