Recently A&E Magazine asked me a few questions about the sublimation of promotional products. Here are these answers to the questions; What are some “out of the box” substrates to sublimate? How can all-over sublimation be applied to promotional products? What are the biggest challenges to sublimating hard substrates?
What are some “out of the box” substrates to sublimate?
This is a fun question as there is probably so many of the items we interact with on a daily basis that are sublimated. Things we don’t even realize until we really look closely. Things like Halloween costumes, fashion items like burn out blouses, and then more sports jersey than you probably realize too. Traditional items that have been sublimated for a long time, like cycling jersey and soccer jersey, and now more and more you are finding volleyball and football jersey being sublimated as well. Plus you will also find sublimation in part of many items you never realize like gun stock inlays, gas pump advertising, tables, and other architectural design pieces. This list keeps going an includes memorial products, like cremation urns, coffin inlays, and large slate memorial headstones. How about sunglasses, fishing lures (both as promotional products and technical lures), apple watch bands and toilet seats. Lastly, my favorite out of the box items I have seen sublimated are medical braces and we are even starting to see people sublimate onto prosthetic.
How can all-over sublimation be applied to promotional products?
When I think of all over sublimation shirts and promotional products, I think of standing out from the crowd. Behind only writing instruments, shirts are the most popular promotional product item, so offering an all over printed shirt will make you stand out from all of those less colorful and boring screen printed shirts. With promotional products, the key is the cost per impression and a well designed all over shirt will be worn over and over again, compared to a regular t-shirt that blends in with the rest and cracks and fades over time. You have to design it so it is subtle and not super loud like many all over designs, so you can get the masses to wear it on a regular basis. You also need to design in the “smiles” so those slight blemishes around the collar and under the arms don’t stand out as much. But, you mix in that unique look with a high-quality moisture wicking garment and it will become that personals favorite shirt. Then they wear it all the time and the brand is getting a ton of exposure or value for the cost per impression.
What are the biggest challenges to sublimating hard substrates?
The biggest challenge to me is dialing in your transfer process on all the different types of items from metal, to ceramic, to wood and beyond. Plus everything has a different thickness and transfer heat differently so making sure you have the right time and temperature is crucial. People like to use the distributors recommended settings but they are giving you an average of what works, but your ink set, transfer paper being used, heat press type and the environment will determine your exact specification for the perfect transfer. Some of the hard surface substrates can be quite expensive, so you have to test quickly and log all of the details so you can repeat that ever time. You also need to deal with the moisture in the ink, the transfer paper, and the air. When you are doing soft goods, the moisture gets wicked away but not with hard substrates like metal. The moisture gets trapped at the edges, start to boil and leave a funky looking edge. Pre-pressing you substrate can help, but making sure you are using a blow out sheet of paper, not PTFE sheet, but paper both above and below the transfer and substrate will help the most. Lastly, you need to determine what items you need to heat through the transfer sheet or through the back of the substrate. Things you can press through the back of the substrate like aluminum work better that way. It gives you more even heat and better colors. Other hard surfaces that dissipate heat, like wood, need to go the other way. Items like ceramics need to be tested as I have done several items both ways and have had different results.