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Monica Hensley Learns the Difference Ink and Printer Quality Makes

Posted: 4/25/2018

Monica Hensley owns a Virginia-based product decorating business. Initially, she focused on heat transfer vinyl (HTV), which she found to be time consuming but profitable. She dabbled in screen printing, but felt the time and expense was too much for her business. After joining several social media groups that focused on sublimation technology, Hensley felt that she may have found the right fit to take her business to the next level.

After making the decision to add sublimation to her HTV business, Hensley had to decide which system to start with as she learned how to master digital transfers.

“I found all the machines so expensive and an aftermarket printer was a cheaper option,” Hensley explained. “Being that I didn't know if it would work out, I didn't want to spend a whole lot of money, just it in case things didn't work out.”

After much debate and research, she chose an aftermarket printer and ink combination for her first sublimation solution.

"On the surface, the aftermarket printer was the more economical choice at the time ... I had nothing but issues EVERY time I went to use it."

“This wasn't a decision that was easy,” Hensley said. “My husband told me to go with a Sawgrass system first, but, I just couldn't do it. I thought if it didn't work out, I would be out less than the $500 bucks I spent on the aftermarket system. If I went with the Sawgrass SG800 solution and found that sublimation wasn’t for me, I would be out $2,000. On the surface, going with aftermarket products was the more economical choice at the time.”

Hensley had found through her social media groups many people who have had success with aftermarket printers and inks, but also many who lost time and money using printers and inks not meant for sublimation production. She hoped that her experience would be among those that were positive but found the opposite to be true.

“I had nothing but issues EVERY time I went to use my aftermarket printer,” Hensley said. “I tried printing transfers for mug after mug, and the colors were off, even when I followed everyone's suggestions. Then I decided to try a keychain. I knew it didn't look quite right, but it was ‘good enough’ and the closest I had come to finding the right colors. I still thought it was kind of grainy looking, but thought because I was new, it could be the substrate itself...or the heat press...or just lack of experience.”

After 10 months of issues, Hensley started to think it was the printer itself that was causing her issues. She needed to clean the heads with every print. Yellow was the only consistent color she was able to print. And though she was able to sell some products through online avenues with some consistency, she noticed that other dye sublimation product decorators did not have the kinds of issues and limitations she was experiencing.

“Basically, I couldn't accept that it might be the printer itself,” Hensley said. “I knew there were a lot of head cleanings that needed to be done (every time I used it), the only color that never failed on me was the yellow, but just kind of figured that was how it was. Then I noticed others with nice printers never complained of the issues I was having.” When Christmas orders started rolling in, and both time and quality were of the essence, Hensley reached a crossroads.

“I got orders for 18 glass cutting boards for Christmas,” she said. “After working with the customers to get the designs right, I went to go print and the printer was having issues again. Head clean, nozzle check, head clean, nozzle check - and still nothing. No blue, or no red, maybe no black. It really seemed to depend on what kind of mood it was in as to whether it was going to work for me. I was so frustrated. As Christmas got closer and closer, day after day, I couldn’t get it to work. I just cried.”

After seeing the stress his wife was under, Hensley’s husband urged her to get a system made for sublimation. She had heard great things about the Virtuoso SG800 HD Product Decorating System, which would print large enough for her to make her customers’ cutting boards. With her husband’s encouragement, Hensley pulled the trigger and purchased the system.

“My first print was great,” she said. “It wasn't clogged. I didn't have to clean the heads or anything, like with my other printer. I printed off the next couple prints for my cutting boards, taped them all up and put them under the heat press. I was relieved when the first one pressed great. I noticed the real difference when I pulled the paper off. There was hardly any ink on the paper and the colors were just right. It was nothing like what I’d had experienced before.”

Hensley said she didn’t realize the difference using high-quality inks and a printer manufactured for sublimation printing make until she used her new Sawgrass Virtuoso system.

“My production time is so much quicker with my SG800.”

“My production time is so much quicker with my SG800,” she said. “I'm not wasting time fiddling with whatever color isn't showing up on my nozzle checks. I even reprinted and pressed a cutting board I had made for myself, and the difference was clear. I was amazed at how much crisper and clearer the SG800 print was. They both had a wooden background, but the wood from the old print looked ashy and grayed. The one with the SG800 print was nice and dark. Just the perfect look.”

Hensley is quickly making back the money she invested in her Sawgrass solution and says that the expense of using high-quality ink and sublimation printers is well worth it compared to the time and production waste involved with using aftermarket solutions.

“The aftermarket printer, while being a more economical choice on the surface, was not made to be a sublimation printer,” she explains. “Using it with aftermarket inks for this purpose caused me a lot of grief and headaches. Sawgrass’ printer is virtually trouble free. I create designs and print them. It really is that easy. I have the faith knowing that when I hit the print button, my design is going to come out looking like it should. It won’t have lines in it or be missing a color that printed fine just five minutes ago, which happened a lot with my other printer.”