Sublimation as a process can be somewhat interpretive. There are at times many ways you can get from point A to point B and still make a product that could be salable, but just because you can do it one way does not mean that ultimately that is the best way to do it, and in the long run, you want to find your set of best practices to sustain your business. I have been in many shops and have talked to tons of sublimation professionals, and in my travels, I have found certain themes seem to be common. Below are 5 best practices of a good sublimation professional:
- Ganging Substrates – Hold your orders for as long as possible and put all the orders for each kind of substrate together. When it is time to do production, you can get things set up and going and reproduce items quickly and with fewer issues, if you are pressing the same way over and over. This also keeps you from switching the heat press setting as often as we all know who have sublimated. Getting things dialed in on the first few will eat through valuable substrates.
- Documentation – You should be absolutely over the top about documenting in detail your correct time and temperature, and other settings for each substrate and having that easily accessible for everyone in your business. You should also document those same things on each work order to determine when problems might occur and quickly fix them and get back to production as normal.
- Color Management – Each day when you begin production, you should check that all nozzles are firing and then make sure that you have color management done for each substrate you run. Colors will look different from one substrate to the next, so it is important to make this a regular part of your process to get consistent color from one item to the next. You should also go through dialing in your colors when you change paper, inks of substrate vendors regardless if they say their product is “drop-in” or not.
- Ghosting Prevention – Always tape or use tacky paper or spray tack adhesive. Even if you think you can just lay it on the transfer paper and get it off without it, you will ruin more blanks than the money you save by not using tape or tack. Make sure to use a small amount of spray tack adhesive on soft goods and one or 2 pieces of tape on hard surface items. Just enough to keep it from ghosting when removing the substrate from the heat press.
- Cost vs Value – Do not confuse cost with value, especially regarding the tools you are buying to run your business. Take a heat press, for example. Maybe the initial investment of $1,000 or more seems high, but this is the centerpiece of your professional business, and they are made to last. I can not tell you how many people I have talked to who asked why they had such a hard time getting a consistent quality product only to find out their heat press cost them $150, and they have no idea what the actual heat or pressure that their heat press gives from press to press. The same thing can go for your inks, papers, and substrates. If you get into sublimation to be the cheapest person in town, you will have a very hard time succeeding.