Getting Started with Sublimation

What is sublimation?

Sublimation is a digital printing process that uses heat and pressure to put ink into a product instead of on it. It utilizes a special dye and a molecular bonding process to apply and permanently adhere HD images, graphics and photos to polymers and polyesters at a sub-surface level. 

How is sublimation different from other product decoration?

Other printing processes utilize chemicals called binders to bond their inks to the surface of a product.  Binders are present in the ink and/or paper (for transfer processes.)  Over time, the binders will break down and the ink will crack, peel and fade. In contrast, because sublimation bonds at a sub-surface level rather than on top, it provides a high-quality image that won’t crack or peel. And in the case of apparel, it will not fade when washed.  Sawgrass sublimation inks are HD and provide stunning graphics and photos, something most other decoration processes cannot achieve.
With sublimation, images can be applied to thousands of different products including mugs, signage, bags and apparel, and to many different materials including ceramics, wood, metal, polyester and glass.

What do I need to get started?

Sublimation requires a graphics program, a sublimation printer, sublimation inks, sublimation paper and color management software.  Sawgrass provides an integrated solution that includes all of these elements, each of which has been engineered to work hand-in-hand to deliver high-quality images quickly and easily.  In addition, you will need a good quality heat press.  Our products are only available through a global network of authorized dealers.  The Sawgrass Dealer Network sells complete startup packages so you can get everything you need in one place.

How do I choose a printer and heat press?

The most important question is: which products do you want to make?  Printers come in different sizes in terms of the largest image they can produce.  The Sawgrass line includes three different printers.  The smallest, a desktop unit, can handle up to 8.5” x 14” (22cm x 35.5cm) media.  The next size up, also a desktop unit, can handle up to 13” x 19” (33cm x 48.3cm) media.  The third unit, an industrial 8-color system, prints on 25” (63.5cm) wide roll fed paper. 
Your heat press must always be larger than the largest image you can print with your printer.  For example, if you bought the printer that can produce 13” x 19” (33cm x 48.3cm) media, you would need at least a 16” x 20” (38 cm x 50 cm) heat press (a standard sized unit in the industry). 
You should also consider a swing-away heat press rather than a clamshell heat press as it can handle thicker items such as wooden plaques, ceramics and more. To handle cylindrical objects, such as mugs and drinkware, you'll need a mug press, 3D heat press or convection oven.
The Sawgrass Dealer Network carries a wide range of heat presses and will be able to help you choose the best model for your needs.

What can types of surfaces are good for sublimation?

Sublimation only bonds to polymers and polyesters.  However, there are more than 1,000 sublimation-ready “blanks” available in the marketplace, meaning they already have a polymer coating.  This includes products made of wood, metal, slate, glass, acrylic, ceramics, hard plastics and more.  In addition, polyester and polyester blend fabrics can be sublimated.

How can CreativeStudio help with design?

CreativeStudio is a design software created by us, specifically for sublimation, and is included free with the purchase of any Sawgrass printer. It includes thousands of royalty-free designs, images and product templates,  which means you don't have to worry about commercial licenses or wasting time searching the internet for beautiful imagery. No graphics experience is needed - you can get started as soon as you get your Sawgrass printer! 
To access even more designs, CreativeStudio offers a monthly and annual membership program. Learn more about our premium collection.

How do I print on fabric?

Sublimation will bond directly to most polyester fabrics using the standard Sawgrass inks and transfer papers.  Sublimation will not bond directly to cotton, but there are special transfer papers that will allow Sawgrass inks to bond to the surface of cotton fabric. In addition, Sawgrass has partnered with Siser to produce a special edition of our sublimation inks, called EasySubli, which can be used to print on Siser vinyl. This vinyl can then be applied directly to fabrics such as cotton and dark colored polyester.  Sawgrass routinely works with partner companies to develop new applications for sublimation in terms of fabrics and non-fabric products.

How do I print on a mug?

Because a mug is round, it will not fit in a traditional heat press.  There are three solutions for sublimating a mug. The first is to use a mug press, which has a cylindrical heating element. The mug is placed in it and the unit is clamped shut around the mug. 
The second method is a convection oven (not a microwave nor a standard kitchen oven where you will prepare food). A special wrap is applied to the mug, which holds the transfer against the surface of the mug. The mug is then placed in the convection oven for “pressing”. 
The third is to use a 3D heat press, which utilizes heat, vacuum and wraps to sublimate rounded products such as mugs.
Each method has different settings for time, temperature and pressure that will vary with the equipment and the product, and these setting should be available with the products.

Does it matter what ink/printer I use?

Very much so! All inks are not created equal. Think about a paint store. You have good quality paints that provide superb and accurate color that can last for many years, and then you have the low cost paints that do an OK job at best. You also have different paints for different surfaces. With sublimation, higher quality inks like those produced by Sawgrass provide more accurate color, a wider gamut (range) of color and higher quality images on each and every job, always.
Sawgrass makes the world’s only desktop printers engineered for sublimation from the ground up. The printers were designed for the ink and ink for the printers - both were made purely for sublimation. In addition, the software for color management and CreativeStudio were also designed specifically to work with Sawgrass inks and printers. It is the only integrated system available for sublimation. 

Establishing a Sublimation Business

I have a printer, but how do I make money?

The best way to get started is to select a specific market and learn everything you can about the needs of the people who are in that market. You will need to create ideas and products to demonstrate how you can satisfy those needs. For example, the restaurant market has a need for: promotional products, drinkware, clothing, aprons, signage, table toppers (menus that sit on a table), place mats, linens, and more. 
Put together a sample kit containing a number of products for the market you want to target. For example, create one not for a specific restaurant, but for restaurants in general, and then generate a list of every restaurant in your area. Think through the message and concepts you want to present to them. Write a script.  Then start setting up appointments. Show your samples and discuss your ideas. You may not get a sale every time, but listen to what the potential client has to say and learn from it.  As you get more comfortable with a given market, you will begin to make more sales.
There are also online marketplaces such as Facebook, Etsy, Ebay and Amazon. Make sure your images are bright, clear, in focus and that your descriptions accurately describe your product.
CreativeStudio is a tool that can simplify this process. In many cases it’s the image that sets the value, not the product itself.

What type of space do I need to run a sublimation business?

A sublimation business takes up very little space. Your main physical components are a computer, a printer and a heat press. In many cases all three can fit on an 8 ft (2.5m) table. But a better scenario is to have the computer and printer on one table or desk and the heat press on another along with ample space for preparing products to be sublimated. Heat presses are HEAVY so make sure the table or counter is sturdy enough to support it. 
Ideally, you will be working in a climate-controlled area where you can manage the temperature and humidity levels. 
You should also have storage bins for supplies like scissors, transfer paper, heat tape, spray adhesive, heat resistant gloves, sheets of newsprint and substrates. 

What is a sample kit and do I need one?

You will need not just one, but multiple sample kits. Each one should be targeted to a different market. The ideal kit will have 5-10 sublimated items that are focused on the given market. Consider creating fictious organizations and then building kits around them. This will ensure that you don’t have any copyright or trademark issues. Remember to make it market-focused, not organization focused. 
The kit should have unique products that would be useful to the targeted market. Be creative and do your best to be unique. 

Technical Questions

How can I get technical support?

Try searching our extensive knowledge base to see if there's already a solution, or contact Sawgrass Technical support.

Why do I need to always leave my printer on?

Sawgrass printers are unique in the fact that they have an auto-maintenance program that ensures the printer is always ready to print without any quality issues.  If you turn off the printer, the auto-maintenance program will not be able to operate, which could lead to printing issues.

How do I know what time, temperature and pressure to use?

When you purchase blank substrates from a Sawgrass Dealer, they should include the proper settings for sublimation. Many products use 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius), medium pressure for 60 seconds, but not all of them. Always check with the manufacturer of the substrate before proceeding.

Can I put a different type of ink in my printer?

We do not advise changing the ink in your printer. Sawgrass printers have been designed to work optimally with genuine Sawgrass inks. If you use different inks, then you can cause problems with the printer and you risk damaging the print head. Your Sawgrass printer comes with a valuable warranty, which could be voided if the printer is misused and if you do not use genuine Sawgrass ink in the printer. You should note that changing the type of ink in a printer is very involved and may not be successful.
If you want to change from the Sublijet HD inkset to the EasySubli inkset, then you should contact Sawgrass Technical support who can guide you through the process to ensure you do not cause any damage to your printer and to ensure your warranty can be retained.

What is the difference between PowerDriver and Sawgrass Print Manager?

PowerDriver was the original color management and printer driver software product that was created for legacy printers such as the Ricoh series.  Sawgrass Print Manager (SPM) has been created for the current Sawgrass (SG and VJ) generation of printers. Regular updates are released for SPM and you should always ensure that you are using the latest version for the best performance and to ensure it is optimized to work with your computer’s operating system.  PowerDriver and Sawgrass Print Manager are not compatible and you must use the one that was designed for your printer.  If you are not sure what to use, contact Sawgrass Technical Support.

What do I need to know about sublimating on polyester vs cotton?

Sublimation will bond directly to most polyester fabrics using the standard Sawgrass inks and transfer papers.  Sublimation will not bond directly to cotton. However, there are special transfer papers that will allow Sawgrass inks to bond to the surface of cotton fabric or you can use the EasySubli solution, which was developed in a partnership between Sawgrass and Siser.

Why is there banding in my prints?

Banding is usually caused by a blockage in the print head preventing the ink from being properly dispersed to the paper. Perform a nozzle check to see if this is the case. If so, then you should perform a head cleaning to try to correct the problem. These functions can be accessed via the control panel on the printer or through Sawgrass Print Manager. Low ink levels can also cause banding. Always ensure that you are not low on ink. Learn more in our Knowledge Base, or contact Sawgrass Technical Support

Why is my color output inaccurate?

Color management is an important aspect for all forms of digital printing. In terms of sublimation, there are several factors that can affect the color including the printer, the ink, the paper and the substrates.  Sawgrass created Sawgrass Print Manager to address these issues and provide tools to help ensure the accuracy of the color output. If you are having issues, contact Sawgrass Technical Support for assistance.

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