Diversify Your Services with Dye Sublimation

Which is easier, add a new customer or service an existing one? The answer is quite obvious: service an existing one. Though it takes a lot of time, energy, and effort to bring in new customers, most of us focus more on finding new clients rather than taking full advantage of the ones we have. Why is that?

Well quite honestly, in most cases, it’s a simple fact that we have maxed out on what we are offering to our current customer base, so it becomes an absolute necessity to continuously look for new customers in order to expand our business and increase our profits. But wouldn’t it be nice if every existing customer suddenly decided to spend twice as much money with you? Think of how much more efficient it would be to spend your time filling orders rather than leaving the office to search for new business.

In all likelihood there is a good chance that your current customers have plenty of needs that you simply aren’t meeting with your current decoration capabilities. For example, let’s say that you are a commercial printer and you do a lot of work for the small businesses in your area. If so, you produce flyers, business cards, posters, POP, brochures, etc.

That may seem sufficient, but what else are your customers buying from other sources? Businesses all have a need for plaques, awards, ID products, uniforms, promotional products, signage, etc. But if you only offer printing and paper products, you aren’t getting all that extra business because you don’t have the capabilities to produce it.

Time to Diversify

Even if you are satisfied with your current level of business, you must be careful that you don’t lose clients who go to other shops for the things you do not produce, and then find that they don’t need your services anymore. More and more, business clients are searching for a single source for all of their imprinting needs.

So how can you remedy this problem? Diversify into sublimation.

Sublimation is a digital printing process that allows any business to quickly and easily apply high-resolution, full color graphics to a wide variety of hard and soft goods such as plaques, awards, signs, iPhone covers, photo panels, clocks, tiles, coasters, mouse pads, mugs, poly performance apparel, and a whole lot more.

The application is unique in that it’s actually a dye process working at a molecular level, rather than a conventional printing process that deposits ink on top of the surface. The key is in the chemistry of the production process, as sublimation dye penetrates and impregnates the surface of the item being decorated, such that it yields a permanent image that won’t scratch, crack, or peel. And in the case of apparel, that means no fading either, despite repeated launderings.

Easy & Profitable

Sublimation is a relatively simple process that works like this: create – print – press.

You start by setting up a design (create) using a standard graphics program such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or CorelDraw. You then print it out onto sublimation transfer paper using sublimation dye and a standard desktop printer that supports sublimation. Finally, you apply the transfer paper to the item being decorated and place both together under a heat press.

The combination of heat and pressure causes the sublimation dye to convert into a gas, which then permeates and bonds to any polymers or polyester fibers that it comes in contact with. Total production time is typically less than two minutes. The item is removed from the heat press and the transfer paper is removed and discarded. The result is a high quality image that is permanently embedded into the surface of the product.

The key of course is that the item being decorated must be polyester or polymer-based, which might sound limiting at first, but it’s not. With literally hundreds of sublimation-ready products available in the marketplace, there are plenty of unique, high-margin products to choose from including promotional products, signage, photo products, gift items, home décor items, awards, plaques, and more. And they come in many different forms including wood, plastic, glass, acrylic, metal, and stone—all with a polymer coating that allows the sublimation to permanently bond with the product.

As well as being an easy process, sublimation is also very low in cost, both for startup and production. Depending on your desired maximum image size, a compatible desktop inkjet printer and sublimation inks run from about $600 for 8.5x14-inch to about $1,600 for 13x19-inch. High quality heat presses typically range from $1,000 to $1,500.

Imaging costs are extremely low at well under $0.01 per square inch of coverage. For example, an 8x10-inch full color image would be about $0.56. Printing time for such a graphic would run about 40 seconds, and pressing 60 seconds, for a grand total production time of about two minutes. Sublimation is quick and affordable, but not cheap by any means, as margins tend to run high for sublimated products.

For example, an iPhone cover customized with a graphic or logo (even a photo and text), or would cost $3.25 for the blank and $0.08 for the image. Add in about $2.00 for labor and overhead, and your total cost to create is $5.33. With retail prices averaging $30.00 for the finished product, that means a gross profit of $24.67 for you. Not bad for two minutes of production time!

Expand Your Service Offering

Another important aspect of sublimation is that it’s the ideal on demand, short-run process as there is no time-consuming setup like you find with methods such as screen printing. Thus it’s quick and cost-effective to run those smaller sized orders, which typically have the highest per piece margins.

With sublimation, you are suddenly in a position to offer a lot more to each and every customer. Money-making applications include:

Promotional Products: Mugs, mouse pads, clipboards, and message boards (to name a few examples) are ideal promotional products which are easy to sublimate and easy to sell.

Awards and Recognition: Plaques and trophies that were once limited to single color images and/or engraving can now be decorated with high resolution, full color images via sublimation.

Signage: Create on-demand, high impact POP, tradeshow, or interior signage, enabling your customers to effectively market time-sensitive products or price changes.

Photo Gifts and Personalized Gifts:  From personalized gift items such as magnets, license plates, clocks, and dolls to commercial photo panels, sublimation is the perfect application for delivering high quality photographic images to a wide range of markets.

Sporting Goods: Sell custom designs by allowing your customers to see a finished product (snowboards, skis, and more) before committing to more traditional print runs.

Textiles: Customize fabrics to be used in various cut-and-sew applications with dye sublimation inks for virtually indestructible images that are incredibly vibrant and detailed.

Murals: Customized ceramic, hardboard, or aluminum tiles are transforming home and office décor with unique and fully customized images for kitchens, bathrooms, foyers, museums, restaurants, and offices.

In the ever-changing marketplace, diversification is the key to profitability, especially when the economy isn’t growing. Your customers might be spending less money with you simply because they are spreading it around for different purchases of different products, but if you aren’t in a position to capitalize on it, then you may just be losing out on a daily basis.

Jimmy Lamb is manager of Education & Communications at Sawgrass Technologies. Contact him at jlamb@sawgrassink.com. Want to learn more about sublimation? Connect with Sawgrass Technologies at MyPRINTResource.com/10007856, then visit their website and check out all the online educational resources including videos, webcasts, articles, and manuals.