What's Needed to Start Sublimating?
A sublimation system comes in a variety of configurations depending on the decorator’s product offerings and production volume. There are five main components to a typical sublimation system.
- A COMPUTER - No matter the product or output, a computer with graphics software is necessary. Professional graphics software (either CorelDRAW Graphics Suite or Adobe Creative Suite) which have advanced color management settings and which allow for the use of custom color profiles (e.g. ICC profiles) are recommended. Wide format systems may require RIP software (an advanced print driver which can be calibrated for color and quality specifically based on your individual printer, sublimation ink set, paper and your final product).
- A SUPPORTED INKJET PRINTER - Printer models come in a variety of print widths and ink configurations depending on the products you'll be making and your anticipated production volume. Johnson Plastics Plus offers sublimation systems for all needs. Solutions in our Desktop line (8.5" to 13" print widths) include a variety of Epson and Ricoh printers with either bulk ink or closed cartridge systems. These systems are typically for businesses concentrating on decorating "ready-to-sublimate" items (e.g. no manufacturing involved) and offer fast, high quality printing for short run environments. Our Wide Format line features print widths of 24", 44", 54" and larger on printing platforms by Epson and Mutoh. These commercial grade, "open ink" systems (ink is purchased in single or multiple liter containers and used to refill open cartridges) offer the most economical output costs for the business who is (a) producing large runs of sublimated products, (b) producing oversized products requiring a larger print size or (c) building custom sublimation products through "cut-and-sew" or other manufacturing techniques.
- SUBLIMATION INKS - Johnson Plastics Plus offers a few different brands of Sawgrass Technologies' available North American region sublimation inks. These inks include: SubliJet IQ for a variety of desktop models and Ricoh-specific SubliJet-R inks, along with the PowerDriver color correction software or custom profiles for both desktop and wide format printer models; and SubliM wide format inks for wide format sublimation printers.
- A HEAT PRESS - Again, depending on the products being made and output volume, there are a variety of heat presses to choose from. Clamshell and swing-away presses with larger platens offer versatility for sublimating larger products like t-shirts or more products at once like a six-piece tile mural or multiple plastic name badges. For the wide format sublimation business that wants to produce signs that are 4’ x 8’ or larger, or for those wanting to press full-shirt images, Geo Knight has large Triton air-op heat presses as large as 54" x 103". A mug press can deliver a sublimated ceramic mug in five minutes and – depending on volume – often makes sense for a decorator offering single or short-run mug orders. In addition, mugs and other cylindrical items can be produced in a standard convection oven with the use of heat wraps.
- BLANK SUBLIMATION-READY PRODUCTS - There are literally thousands of blank substrates available to the sublimation decorator today from aluminum and brass, FRP, (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic), hardboard, wooden products, stainless steel items, ceramics mugs and tiles, and a large variety of performance apparel t-shirts.
Savvy business owners have long exploited the versatility of dye sublimation. It’s not unusual for sublimation users to make a variety of special products to satisfy an individual customer’s diverse needs. Whether it’s providing interior signage, full color plaques or promotional goods, a single vector logo delivered to a digital decorator can yield hundreds of individually customized, sublimation products. Furthermore, digital decorators from other industries like engraving and embroidery are finding that they can target entire new market segments merely by adding a sublimation system.
When you're first getting started, the sublimation process can present some unique learning curves. Should you ever have questions, we urge you to contact one of our Sublimation Professionals. Johnson Plastics Plus has numerous support options and sublimation resources, including our recently updated and redesigned website. We also offer numerous educational opportunities including trade show seminars, webinars, technical articles in trade magazines and our open house/hands-on events at various locations around the country. We look forward to answering any questions you might have about the dynamic sublimation technology and our many available solutions.