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Choosing and Buying Blanks

By Jimmy Lamb

Did you know that in the world of sublimation there are more than 1,000 different blanks (substrates) to choose from?  That’s a lot of variety. Yet, the average sublimator only uses a handful of what is available to them.  A great way to expand your business reach is to expand your knowledge of the range of substrates just waiting to be discovered. 

Too many times a business owner says no to a customer request because they don’t know of a suitable blank to fulfill the request.  Here is one of my well-learned tips – find a substitute that can be used for their needs, even if it is not what they requested.

For example, I had a customer who asked about sublimatable cremation urns.  At the time there was nothing on the market for that purpose, despite all of my sources and searching.  Instead of saying “sorry I can’t help you” I changed my tactic and looked for something that might work for the clients purpose.  What they wanted was a container for their loved one’s ashes and the ability to have a photo sublimated on it somewhere. 

Using these requirements, I took another look a substrates and quickly found what I thought would work nicely.  A jewelry box made by Unisub.  It was large enough and the top had a removable panel which could be sublimated.  It turned out to be the perfect solution.  For added security, a small screw can be used to keep the top from accidently opening.


Years later, at least one Sawgrass Dealer now offers a sublimatable urn, which is similar to the jewelry box concept. 

This illustrates my first point about blanks.  You have to have a working knowledge about the vast assortment of sublimation substrates available to you, and that is no small task.  Starting TODAY, you should make it a point to visit at least one sublimation Dealer’s website per week and review in detail every product they carry.  If you are like me, you probably won’t remember everything you see, but at least you will be expanding the inventory in your brain.  You will probably be amazed to see all the cool stuff from jewelry to belt buckles to fishing lures and so much more.

In addition to studying up on what’s available and what’s new, start learning the options for certain common products like coasters.  It’s amazing to see the variety of shapes and materials available in this product genre.  Plus, some are cork-backed, meaning no slip.  Then there is drinkware, which has to be one of the largest substrate groupings of all.  Too many times we stick with the standards like coffee mugs and water bottles.  Make it a point to start moving past those basics.  The more variety you can offer to the customer, the more likely you are to expand your sales.

As you broaden your repertoire of products, it starts to make you a master of substitution.  You will find yourself able to put products to use for a totally different purpose from which they were designed.  This adds in a high level of fun and creativity to what you do and keeps you a step ahead of the competition until they figure out how you created something that didn’t exist. 

When it comes to buying substrates, most of us just buy on demand to save money, but in reality it doesn’t always save money.  Start tracking your substrate usage.  Use a spreadsheet and list every item that you purchase per month.  The items that you use the most, you should consider buying in higher quantities so that you have extra inventory on hand.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  The first is that you can typically get a lower price per piece when you buy in higher quantities.  The second is that the shipping cost per piece typically goes down as well with higher quantities.  The third reason is that you have some extra inventory on hand for quicker turn-around when needed.  Lastly, you will have extra inventory if your supplier is back-ordered. 

Keep your eyes open for sales, and then make buying decisions based on long-term use of substrates not short term.  Ultimately you will save a few dollars if you do it right.

Blanks are an important part of what you do and are typically the most expensive part of every job, so choose carefully and take advantage of any cost-savings you can find.  It’s a good business practice that will help you control your expenses and maintain your margins.

Be sure to check out our Premium Designs from Premier Artists.  Great artwork turns a blank substrate into a masterpiece.  Then tune into some webinars to learn how to make money with the products you can create from all those wonderful blanks.

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