What is sublimation? Why would it benefit my business?

I get asked this a lot at trade shows.  They see our impressive sublimation display and want to add it to their business.  But they don’t know what the process is or how it works.

Sublimation is a heat transfer process that transfers special sublimation ink onto 100% polyester materials or polyester coated materials.  The key as you might have guessed is in the sublimation inks.

All you need to start sublimation printing is the following:  A sublimation printer, sublimation inks, heat press, sublimation paper, and a polyester substrate or polyester coated substrate.  These can all be purchased in a single package to make it simpler for new users.

The real definition of sublimation is the process of a solid turning to a gas bypassing the liquid state.  This is exactly what happens in sublimation printing.  A sublimation printer prints the ink on a specially coated paper.  The ink dries and turns into a solid.  When heat and pressure is applied to the sublimation inks on the paper, it quickly turns to gas and is forced into the polyester substrate.  When heat is taken away, the gas becomes trapped in the polyester permanently.

Why would it benefit my business?
With sublimation you can add 1000s of new items to your product offerings.  Sublimation has been around for over 20 years; thus you can source over 1000s of different types of sublimatable blanks that are either made of polyester or are polyester coated.  That alone will attract new customers and allow you to make additional revenue from existing customers.  In addition to new products, the sublimation process prints full color images.  This is huge because a sublimated mug can produce much better gradients and drop shadows than a screen printed mug can.  It’s ideal for photographs!  Also, sublimation has no minimums, it costs the same price to produce one item as it does a hundred items.


Making Your Own Templates for Sublimation or Laser Transfers

Templates are excellent tools for imaging onto small items.  They guide you on how to resize your image to fit the substrate as well as allow you to see a mock-up of the final imaged product.   In some instances, you can see what parts of the picture is cut-off by holes in the substrate (such as an iPhone cover camera hole).

While most vendors will provide you with templates for your imprintable blanks, not all blank items will have their own template.  So it is useful to know how to make your own templates.

Here’s how to make your own template:

Cylindrical Objects
cylindrical objects such as mugs and water bottles are especially challenging when making your template as the surface is not flat.  But you can always wrap a piece of paper around the surface and mark critical boundaries on the paper.  Once the critical points are marked, you can easily measure out the dimension as the printable area is likely to be a rectangle.

Here’s an example of making a template from a travel mug white patch.

I have marked the corners with a pencil.  Once marked, I can easily connect the crop marks to make a rectangular shape that I can measure with my ruler and input the template size in my graphics software.

Irregular shaped items
Ceramic ornaments with irregular shapes such as a star, heart, snowflake, etc. are items that you cannot measure with your ruler.  However they can easily be traced or scanned in your copier.  One method is to use a pencil and carefully trace the edges of the object.  After tracing is complete, you can scan it into your computer.

It is recommended to use a scanner and not a camera.  Scanners are more accurate because it keeps the sizing of the template consistent, whereas a camera doesn’t do a good job as taking pictures from different distances will change/affect the size of the template.  It’s best to trace your object on paper and then scan it.  Try to avoid placing the object directly on your scanner to scan as ceramic items may scratch the glass on your scanner.  Once scanned use the pen tool or outline trace tool in your graphics design program to make your template.

Here are some examples below.

In this example, I have traced the heart ornament on a piece of paper.

Here is a scan of the iPhone cover with a black background from our scanner.

Tips and hints on making your own templates
Remember when you are finished scanning or measuring your template, make sure to add a bleed border to your template and to consider safe print areas.  This will account for any tiny difference between the size of the substrate and the size of your template.

And finally here is a link to all of Joto’s imprintable blank templates.

www.jotopaper.com (click on the product to get the template)
Unisub blanks templates

Centering Your Image on One or Multiple Small Items

Centering your image is easy to do when you are doing a full bleed image.  But what if you are doing an image with just a white background?  It’s difficult to see your image as the substrate or the paper will be blocking the image.

Centering your image on small items such as name tags is quite simple and is similar to bleeding your image on a substrate.  All you need is a border around your image.

Putting a border around your image helps to center the image especially if you plan to have white as your background.  Simply scan in or get the dimensions of your substrate.  Remember when making a border; always make it 0.25-0.50 inches bigger than the actual printing size of the substrate.  This way, you will not accidentally print the border onto your substrate but you will still be able to use it for centering purposes.  Once the border is made, you can center align your image to the border and print!  See picture below.

Here is an example of a name tag (1” x 3”).  I have created a 1.25” x 3.25” border and have centered my image in the middle of the border.   Once printed, simply place the substrate within the borders with roughly equal space between the substrate and the border on all 4 sides.  Then place a blank sheet on top and press.

For items that require the paper to be put on top of substrate, simply tape the substrate onto the paper after alignment and flip over to press.

Bleeding your images and why it is sometimes useful for sublimation

With sublimation, it is absolutely necessary for the substrate you are printing on to be white or light colored in order to image the substrate.  Sometimes substrates come with just a white patch, which in many cases helps to mask that it is a sublimated item once sublimated.  In some cases, it may be like an iPhone case where the sublimatable piece is an insert and imaging right to the edge of the insert is better.

Most sublimation users will print an image onto the entire white patch to mask the patch after it has been imaged.  There are two reasons why lining up your image with the white patch would be challenging

1.)    It is difficult to measure the exact area of the white patch.  If your measurements are short a millimeter, it will show a thin white  line after sublimating.

2.)    Even if you get the exact measurements, it is difficult to align your image exactly to the white patch

The solution is to bleed your image!

Bleeding also allows you to print all the way to the edge of a sublimatable item!

What is Bleeding?
It is the process of printing your image a little bit larger than the area you plan to print.  This is often used in commercial printing on paper.

How Much Should I Bleed the Image?
Normally a bleed of 0.125 or 0.25 inches for all 4 sides would be enough.  When resizing, be sure to remember to proportionally resize (make sure you increase the size the same amount vertically and horizontally).   Using CorelDraw you can simply add an extra 0.25-0.50 to your vertical or horizontal size.  The reason you have to double the value is because the x or y axis has two sides each.


Safe Printing area
When you are bleeding your image to the edge, it is recommended that you print in the safe area to avoid important elements of the image (such as text) being cut off.  The safe area should be about 0.125-.25 inches within the substrate size.  This is to account for tiny differences in size of your printing area and also to account for human error (in case you printed your image more to the right, left, top, or bottom).   Here’s a diagram below:

Black color represents the tile, Red line represents bleed area, Inside Green Line is safe printing area