The Value of a Good Heat Press

The key to successful heat transferred images using transfer paper and vinyl is heat and pressure.  Follow the instructions exactly and ensure enough pressure is applied to your item.  A combination of not enough pressure and incorrect heat will result in incomplete transfers and/or washing problems.

Heat presses can affect heat and pressure when doing transfers.  As a result, one of the most important big ticket items you buy for your digital decoration business will be your heat press.   When you first start out or are looking to upgrade, make sure to ask the right question when purchasing a heat press.

It’s a heat press, how much can they differ?
One of the main differences is the size of the heat platen.  Most standard heat presses come in 16×16 or 16×20 platen sizes.  The platen size determines the maximum image size you can press onto your fabric.  The standard size heat presses are sufficient for the majority of businesses as your desktop printer or cutter probably cannot produce images bigger than that.  Ensure you have the right size for your type of images.

There are also two main types of heat presses.  One is the clamshell model and the other is the swing away model.  The Insta 138 is an example of your standard clamshell model and the Insta 228 is an example of your standard swing away model.   There really isn’t a right type here, it is just personal preference.

Another major difference in a heat press is how it is operated.  There are heat presses that are Air Automatic, Auto Release and Manual Heat Presses.  An air automatic press (Insta 728) is basically a heat press that is automatic in almost every way.  It automatically closes and opens the press using air pressure.  You simply dial the pressure in and press a button and it will close and open after the pressing is done.  An Auto Release Press (STX AutoClam) is one that requires the user to set the pressure and manually close the press, but when the pressing is done, the heat press will automatically open.  This is handy because there is no risk of it overcooking your items.  The last one is a manual heat press (Insta 138) which require the user to manually close and manually open the press when it is done.

Other Heat Press Functions
Modern day heat presses are normally digital ones which display temperature and time on a LED screen.  There are older models that will display temperature on a gauge and some require the user to use a separate stop watch for the press time.  We recommend using a digital press because it is much more accurate and consistent in measuring temperature and time.

Quality of Heat Press
Aside from the differences of a heat press, you should also consider the quality of the heat press.  Ensure the heat press is well built and that it gives you consistent pressure and temperature.  Your vendor should be able to give you a recommendation for a good heat press.  Also quality brands will have warranties which will ensure that if it breaks during the period of the warranty, that the manufacturer will fix the problem for you.
Not only should you ensure the heat press is in good working order at the time of purchase, you should consistently check that the heat press is in good order over time.  It is recommended that you buy a heat gun to check for cold spots that may occur over time.

The Importance of Image Resolution


Why is Resolution Important to Your Digital Decorating Business?
Ever have a customer come into your shop and ask you to print a photo they downloaded off the web?  When you print the image, it looks pixelated and out of focus?

This isn’t something that you did wrong, but it is because the image was not at the right resolution.

Normally Web graphics are 72 dots per inch (dpi) and printed graphics are 300 dpi.  Why the difference?  The reason is because web graphics need to be small in size so that it can be downloaded and viewed quickly.  On your computer screen, 72 dpi is enough resolution, however when you print the images/graphics on paper or any other substrate, it will require approximately 300 dpi (more than 3 times the acceptable screen resolution).     This all has to do with the way the images are produced on your screen and on paper.  As a result, what may look good on the computer screen, may not look good when printed.

When a customer sends a file, ensure you check the resolution before printing it.  This will prevent you from wasting paper on poor resolution graphics and images.  In Photoshop, you can click image -> image size.  This will tell you the size of the graphic and its resolution.  In Corel Draw, you can check the resolution by selecting your image and then checking the bottom bar for the resolution, and the top left corner for the size of the image.

You can change the resolution of an image by shrinking it.  If you shrink the image by 10%, the resolution will increase by 10% and vice versa (ensure that resample image is off in Photoshop).  However, if you want to increase a 72dpi image to a 300dpi image, you would have to shrink it by more than 300%!  Example:  6” x 6” image at 72dpi = 1.44” x 1.44” image at 300dpi

Tips/Hints on Resolution
You are more likely to get away with low resolution images if you are printing onto a t-shirt.  It is harder to get away with low resolution images when printing onto a hard substrate as the smoothness of the surface will show the pixilation more.  In addition, photographs can hide low resolution much better than graphics, text, or solid color images.

If a customer sends you a vector file, you won’t have to worry about resolution because most vector graphics are resolution independent and they do not display dpi in your graphics program.  This is because vector graphics are not images but a series of formulas and numbers that can be scaled with very little problems.  Editable text in a graphic design program are normally vector graphics.

Some images may seem like 300dpi because it says it in your program, but someone may have forced a 72dpi image to a 300dpi, saved it and sent it to you.  If this is the case, it may still not print correctly.

As the old saying goes “garbage in, garbage out” sometimes if your customer sends you an image with low resolution, you simply have to set his/her expectations or flat out reject the image!

Advantages of Sublimation Printing

Sublimation is a digital printing method for a variety of hard surface products and also includes printing onto polyester t-shirts. Because there is such a huge selection of items that can be printed with sublimation, it is a very attractive printing option.

What Do You Need To Get Started In Sublimation?
You will need an inkjet printer (Ricoh or Epson), sublimation inks, sublimation paper, and a heat press. In addition, you will need a white or light colored substrate that is either coated with a polyester coating or made of polyester fabric for sublimation to work.

Inkjet printers that are compatible with Sawgrass (a major distributor of sublimation ink) inks include: Ricoh GX7000, Ricoh GX3300, Epson 1900, Epson 4880, Epson 1800, and many older models that are discontinued.

If you are just getting started on sublimation, it is recommended that you buy a complete packaged system as that will save you a little bit of money compared to buying the components separately.

What Can You Print With Sublimation?
Anything that is flat, white or light colored and is either polyester coated or made of polyester fabric. You can also print on mugs, shot glasses, etc if you use a mug press or a mug wrap with an oven. Here is a small list of popular items that sublimation can be used:

Ceramic mugs | Water bottles | Coasters | Metals | Magnetic sheets | Plaques | Name badges | License plates | Car flags | Mouse pads | Fabric puzzles | Ceramic tiles | Glass tiles | Poker chips | 100% polyester shirts and more!

The Unisub catalog has a huge selection of high quality polyester coated items for you to choose from as well.

Why Choose Sublimation?
Here is a list of the advantages that come with sublimation printing

  • Sublimation is one of the very few methods you can print full colored images onto hard surfaces.
  • It has a relatively low learning curve compared with screen printing.
  • Almost unlimited colors to choose from. Thousands of colors can be produced with sublimation (even if you choose a 4 color printer). And it doesn’t cost extra to add additional colors to your design.
  • Same cost to print one item or 1000 items. So no need for minimum orders, and perfect for 1-up items and promotional items for small businesses, schools, charities, sports teams, parties, reunions, and many more!
  • Complete customization! The advantage of digital sublimation printing is that no plates are required, so it is ideal for customizing designs with changing elements such as names, numbers, etc.
  • Sublimation is quick and easy to produce, allowing for same day or same hour printing, as well as on demand printing that reduces risk and wastage.

Disadvantages
With every printing method there will be disadvantages and so here are a few…

  • Substrates need to be polyester coated or made of polyester fabric.
  • Substrates need to be white or light colored. You cannot print onto dark or black colored items.
  • Printers tend to clog if not used for extended periods of time. With the introduction of Ricoh printers, the clogging risk has been significantly reduced. However we still recommend doing a nozzle check once a week.
  • Sublimation inks are relatively expensive compared with OEM inks. This will need to be factored in when pricing your products.
  • Color Management issues. With the installation of the PowerDriver, color management problems have been significantly reduced. As with all printers, color management issues will vary depending on the graphic/photograph.

With all the advantages of sublimation, it’s obvious why sublimation has become a very popular method with digital decorators!

Preventing Dye Migration on Your 100% Colored Polyester Fabrics

What is dye migration you ask?  Some of you may have had the unfortunate experience of having white lettering on a red 100% polyester shirt turn pink after a few weeks.  This is because dye migration has occurred.

100% polyester shirts are colored using sublimation dyes and thus when you print onto the shirt, you will need a special vinyl with a BlockOut layer to prevent the sublimation dye from migrating from the shirt to your printed vinyl.

There are a large selection of colors out there that are either specially made with a blockout layer, or the pigments used have sublimation dye resistance.  The most popular colors are available with a blockout layer and should be used when imaging polyester fabrics.  For the colors that are not available with a blockout layer you should check with your supplier to ensure they are dye resistant prior to using.

The problem of dye migration may not always occur immediately after pressing.  It may occur right after pressing or over a short period of time depending on the material and the color.  However, there are tell tale signs that the shirt will have the problem of dye migration immediately after pressing.  Here is a picture of the self adhesive backing sheet of a white vinyl after it has been pressed and peeled off of a 100% polyester red jersey.

As you can see there are traces of red on the backing sheet which means that the red dye will migrate to the vinyl if the vinyl is not dye resistant.  (Note that if there are no dyes on the backing sheet after pressing the vinyl, it does not mean that dye migration will not occur.)

Luckily I used a white Blockout vinyl, so there will be no issues with dye migration!  We recommend using blockout vinyl whenever you are dealing with 100% polyester clothing just to be on the safe side.  It simply takes out the risk of dye migration.

BlockOut Jersey BlockOut Closeup BlockOut Closeup 2