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What You Need to Start a Sublimation Printing Business

Sublimation is a great home-based business. Plenty of money to be made with not a great capital outlay. Bring your creativity to the fore.

T-shirts are something you can easily sublimate at home.

T-shirts are something you can easily sublimate at home.

What Is Sublimination?

Sublimation is the process of transferring your computer images onto basically anything you like. Examples include:

  • Clothing
  • Mousepads
  • Coasters
  • Ceramic mugs
  • Baseball caps
  • Cardboard jigsaw puzzles
  • Vinyl or leather belts

The only limitation is that the product you are printing onto must be light-colored, and white is best of all. There is no such thing as a white dye in sublimation, so if you're to print onto dark fabric, you simply won't see a result.

The process of sublimation starts with choosing a high-resolution image (2MB plus is best). The image is then printed out on a printer using special sublimation inks. Epson is a leader here in sublimation printers. We'll go into this further down the article.

The image is printed on special sublimation paper. Then that paper and whatever the product you're printing on are put under a heat press, and the dyes on the special sublimation paper turn into a gas through the intense heat. Generally, within a minute, your image has been perfectly printed onto your chosen surface.

Equipment Needed

  • Computer
  • Photo editing software (like Photoshop or Gimp)
  • Printer
  • Sublimation ink
  • Heat press machine
  • Sublimation paper
  • Wooden chopping board
  • Three-foot steel ruler
  • Tape
  • Kitchen baking paper

Editing Software

First, you're going to need a computer. Experts on sublimation will use Photoshop to edit their images. I don't have Photoshop and wouldn't know how to use it if I did have it. If you have it and can use it, that's definitely a bonus.

Instead, I use Gimp. Gimp has been around for a long time and is free to download as open-source software. It will be limited compared to Photoshop, but I use Gimp for easy tasks like stripping away a background if I need to.

If you don't have Photoshop and want to get something important edited, go to Fiverr. It will cost you more than five dollars now, but not much more. You can choose a freelancer there to do the job for you, and it will likely cost something like $15–20.

Printers and Ink

Then you're going to have to buy a printer. I recommend the Epson Ecotank ET-4700 (around $375). I actually have an ET3700, which is great, but if I were starting again, I'd just go up a level—more speed and slightly better quality with the printer jets.

You're going to have to buy a pack of sublimation ink for the printer. You can't use the ink that Epson supplies with the printer. That is not sublimation ink and won't work with the printer. Use the sublimation ink straight away.

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Heat Press Machine

Then you're going to have to buy a heat press machine. Don't worry both the printer and press are small enough to be in a reasonably small workroom and light enough to be able to carry them around if you need to.

My heat press is about 18" by 15" and weighs about 10 lbs. The Epson printer is about the same dimensions.

I have the Angoo heat press, which costs $229.00. I've had no problems at all with it, and it comes with all accessories to sublimate everything, including baseball caps. Whatever heat press you choose, the number one consideration is that the top has to swivel out of the way. Many cheaper ones don't, and you'll find without the swiveling action, it will be very frustrating. Also, the Angoo comes complete with tools for T-shirts, caps, mugs, and plates.

Sublimation Paper

One of the final things you require is sublimation paper. I have both A3 and A4, but I use A4 a lot more, and if I run short, it's easy enough to cut the A3 in half. I've paid for what I thought would be better quality paper but also use much cheaper sublimation paper from China, and quite honestly, there's not a lot in it. You'll pay about $20 for 120 sheets of A4.

Other things you'll need are a good wooden chopping board, a three-foot steel ruler, decent tape to hold your product in the product in place while you're pressing it, and baking paper. I buy 36-yard rolls of baking paper at a time—nothing special here, just ordinary kitchen baking paper.

The Sublimation Process

  1. First, choose your images. Or, if you're clever enough, make your own. It should be at least 1.5MB. If the resolution is too low, it will be printed on your product as fuzzy around the edges. There are a lot of image libraries out there to take a look through. Shutterstock and Adobe images are just two of several. All say they're free, but they're not. They can be around $45.00 a month, but what you can do is sign up for a month's free trial, and you can normally download 10 free images then, if you're a little unsure as to whether you'll be using them again soon, you can cancel your account.
  2. So, let's say you've loaded your printer up with its sublimation ink, and you're ready. Your sublimation paper should have a watermark on one side, showing you that you don't print on the watermark side when loading paper into your printer.
  3. Next, adjust your Epson printer settings: I go to ColorSync Profile first, and then on the drop-down menu, choose Epson Standard RGB.
  4. Then I just choose plain paper and quality print. And then—this is important—choose Mirror Image. If you don't, when printed on your product, it will be the wrong way. This is vital if there's any text there, as that will be back to front unless you choose Mirror Image.
  5. Okay, press print. When it's printed, you might be a little disappointed to see that, unlike an inkjet printer, the colors are quite dull. Don't worry about this; they come to life again under the heat press.

Note: I work on a Mac, but Windows likely gives you the same printing options.

Sublimated Mouse Pad


How to Use the Heat Press

Okay, now that you've got your paper printed, it's time to move over to the heat press. You've got to heat the press up to 380° F. This will likely take about five minutes. Any less than this temperature, and your image will come out dull.

I like to do mousepads, but if I were printing onto T-shirts, mugs, or ceramics, I only close the press for one minute exactly. Any more time, and you can burn the material. Don't worry; it's not a fire hazard at that time, but I'd think if you left it for ten minutes and went off to make a coffee, you could have a problem.

I'll take my mouse pad as an example.

Heat Press Process:

  1. First, heat your press up.
  2. Put a sheet of baking paper at the bottom of the heat press, and then lay your mouse pad on it. Then put your printed image on top of the mouse pad. Very carefully line this up. At this stage, a lot of people put non-inflammable tape on the image to keep it in place.
  3. Then put another layer of baking paper over the top. Now close your lid. Pressure on the lid is adjustable usually by a large screw that you turn with your hand. I have reasonable pressure on mine. Hard to put into words, but not too soft and not too hard.
  4. Okay, now time it for one minute, and lift your lid. They'll be a little smoke, but it's not dangerous and has more to do with the gas from the sublimation ink. It will be hot, of course, so handle with tweezers or something like it or just wait for a few minutes for it to cool down. But you should be staring at a product like a mouse pad that has your image perfectly printed onto it. The printed image on the paper can only be used once so that can be thrown.

Anyway, there you have it, and you can start a nice little business for way under $1000. Businesses are always looking for corporate giveaways. So mouse pads can be a good start—with their logo on, or mugs, coasters, etc. Once you start, you'll see many other opportunities.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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