image of a sublimation printer

What You Need to Start a Sublimation Printing Business

Sublimation printing is a popular business for many good reasons, but it can be a challenge to figure out how to get started.

What should you buy? Are you forgetting something? Can you learn it?  These questions, along with many others, are what stop people from taking that leap and getting started.

-Keep reading and you will find the answers to these questions and many more, here is (almost) everything you need to know about starting a sublimation printing business.

What is sublimation printing?

Before getting too deep into what you need to get started, it’s important to understand sublimation printing. One short way to describe this process is printing a design on a special transfer paper, then using heat to transfer the design onto something else. Something else might be a t-shirt, a mug, a mouse pad, or tons of other goods people want personalized.

To get a little more specific, we can describe sublimation in the following steps:

  1. Determine what art and finished good you want to create (e.g. put a company logo on a t-shirt.)
  2. Send the art to a dye sublimation printer, like the Sawgrass SG1000.
  3. Put sublimation paper into the printer and print out the design.
  4. Take your printed design and your blank item (the print and t-shirt mentioned above as an example) and bring them to a heat press machine.
  5. Be sure your heat press is set to the right time and temperature to transfer the design.
  6. Place the print on top of the blank good and heat press it for the selected time and temp (this is usually something like 400 degrees F for 1 minute.)
  7. Remove the item from the heat press, remove the paper transfer.
  8. Now your item is decorated, and the printed sublimation transfer is spent.

The first thing you need to start a sublimation printing business

Make sure you have a reliable vendor for your business. You will have to decide to purchase equipment and supplies so it’s important to know who your partner(s) will be. 

The truth is that you will have questions, you will run into struggles, and you will need help. The vendors you choose to deal with are the ones that will help you.

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself or the sublimation printer dealer:

The above list will really help you decide who should be your trusted partner. Everyone has purchased something where you cannot get any help once you made the purchase. This might be fine for when you buy a phone case or a webcam, but when you are getting into the sublimation printing business, you will want a trusted partner.

Next you will need a dye sublimation printer

Picking out a printer isn’t that complicated, there are a few models that stand out. You should absolutely invest in a purpose-built sublimation printer with a great reputation

So, the first piece of advice is to not try to convert a printer you purchased at an office supply store to a dye-sublimation printer. Trying to build your own sublimation printer is going to give you a bunch of headaches and wasted time.

Reasons to NOT convert a regular printer to a dye-sublimation printer:

Since you will be purchasing a purpose-built dye-sublimation printer from a reputable vendor, here is a list of things to consider when choosing which printer to buy.

Now you must choose a Heat Press Machine (or machines)

As you read above, heat is a necessary step in sublimation printing, so you will need a heat press. A heat press machine can apply pressure and temperature to specific locations on blank goods. Heat press machines are known for decorating t-shirts, mugs, mousepads, hats, can coolers, tote bags, scarves, towels, and much more.

There are a few heat press machines you will want to consider for sublimation printing.

Swing Away or Clamshell Heat Press – These are designed for flat goods. They range from about 12-20 inches in the “heatable” area. In other words, the place on the heat press where you can apply heat and pressure to something. This heat press is good for:

Mug Heat Press – These heat press items that are in a cylinder shape. This way you get even heat and temperature all around the item you are customizing. These are generally found in just a couple of sizes. This heat press is good for:

Hat / Cap heat press – This heat press is a curved shape to wrap around headwear. Usually, they decorate about a 6-inch area of space, but there are options for larger and smaller decorating. This heat press is good for:

When it comes to choosing a heat press machine, it’s important to make the right choice. Many people make the mistake of just picking the cheapest or the most popular, and that might not be the right heat press machine for your sublimation printing business.

Here are some things you should ask yourself or your vendor about heat press machines.

Choosing a good heat press machine isn’t hard, but there are SO MANY options. Four reputable brands of heat presses include Hotronix, Geo Knight, Hix and Galaxy. Speak with an expert on heat press machines to help choose the right one for your business.

Get the basics for supplies next

This is simple, but often overlooked. Be sure that you buy some extra ink, paper and other supplies you will need to run your business. Once you start printing and making money, you will start running out of supplies. The most frustrating thing is having a customer who wants to give you money, but you don’t have ink or paper to be able to make the goods.

Here is a list of things you should get right as you purchase your sublimation printer:

These things are so crucial, yet often overlooked. What will end up happening is you run out of one of the above during a production run, and you end up air mailing ink, wasting tons of money.

The worst case is you are printing on a Friday night for a Saturday delivery and run out of ink! If you stock up on the above items right away, you won’t run into that predicament.  

The good news is if you are financing your equipment, you can often get some extras included in that financing.

Its time to think of accessories you will need for your sublimation business

There are so many little things you will want to consider when you are getting set up for sublimation printing. Forgetting some of these things aren’t going to make you fail, but it will add to your stress. If you become stressed, eventually you will give up. The best remedy for keeping stress low and success high is being prepared. Here are some things you should be sure to have for your sublimation business.

Stock up on Some Blanks

There are two things to consider when it comes to blanks, items that are specific to the customer and items that are universal. The rule of thumb is to keep a modest stock of items that are customer-specific and keep a bigger stock of universal items.

Customer Specific Items – These would be mostly in the apparel section, and specifically unique colors. You are mostly going to print on white when it comes to sublimation, so having some short sleeve white t-shirts in stock isn’t a bad idea. However, watch out for over-stocking on light pink long sleeve hoodies in every size. Items that aren’t popular can be ordered on-demand. If you carry too many items that are specific to a customers desired size and color, you could end up with stale inventory.

Universal items – If it’s one-size and one-color fits all, it’s not a bad idea to keep these items in stock. Some examples of these are mugs, can coolers, and mouse pads. You can keep a case of each of these in your stock, ready to be sold on demand, or upsold on an existing order you are producing.

There is a healthy balance of not having all your money tied up in blanks, and having items on hand ready to sell. A simple thought on this could be, “Will I sell these in 2-3 months?” If you don’t think you will, it’s best to consider not stocking that much.

For the most part, you can order blanks online and get them in a couple of days. If you have some items to sell in stock, and others just a couple of days away, you will be all set to succeed in your sublimation business.

The final wrap up of what you need to start a sublimation printing business

A quick wrap up and checklist of everything you will need to start your sublimation printing business is right here. Be sure to take into consideration the long-term value of what you will be investing in. Watch out for getting trapped into saving money, but also don’t get in over your head. You won’t need to mortgage a home to be able start using a dye sublimation printer. Make smart and educated choices and be sure to work with a company that will help you get started on the right foot.

List of items you need to start a sublimation business: