Printwear Magazine Q&A Sublimation Apparel

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Recently Printwear Magazine asked me a few questions about sublimation of apparel. Here are these answers to the questions; What can apparel sublimation do for my shop? and What are some advantages/disadvantages to all-over apparel sublimation? What are your thoughts?

What can apparel sublimation do for my shop?
First and foremost, adding sublimation checks a pretty unique box for the apparel decorator that allows them to offer other products outside of apparel and become more of a one-stop shop. Sublimation is a great add-on for existing apparel decorators. For example, if you are a screen printer, adding sublimation gives you the ability to also be able to offer “while you wait” options and that super fast turn around that is not as easily achieved with analog technology. Sublimation also allows you to offer garments that many times have a higher perceived value than the standard cotton shirt. The ink is bonding permanently to the shirt, it does not wash out or fade over time and there is no thick rubbery feel to the print, it is part of the garment. Also in your marketing, you can now offer garments that are not your standard t-shirt. You are now offering moisture wicking, athletic leisurewear. Lastly, it allows you to get creative and think outside of the box. Because sublimation has no “Hand” (the feel of the ink on the shirt) it lends itself extremely well to decorating it on the sleeves, sides, shoulders and more to create of an all-over look. The profit margin versus your cost to create the all-over look is much in favor of the apparel sublimator.

What are some advantages/disadvantages to all-over apparel sublimation?
Let’s get a few of the disadvantages out of the way as the advantages to me far outweigh. The first disadvantage for many shops that might want to get into all over sublimation can be the cost of the equipment. You are going to need a 44″ or wider printer which will cost you about $6,000 to $8,000. Then you must have a 44-inch by 64-inch heat press to be able to press most size garment all over and that will cost between $15,000 to $30,000 minimum. That is a big investment on top of a little bit of a learning curve if you don’t get help from your supplier because you went as cheap as possible. Now many people will lease the equipment which is a great way, or better yet partner with a contract wholesaler while they build their all over shirt market. The other disadvantage to all over sublimation is dealing with the “Smiles”. A smile is a small blemish or a fold in the presewn shirt that is more prevalent around the collar and under the arms of the shirt. So dark solid all over prints can be challenging and using the right shirt that lays flat is key. You can overcome those by designing those “Smiles” (because no one wants to sell a blemish) into the design with softer, lighter sections under the arms and around the collar. Your other option is to create cut and sew garments when you decorate the pieces of the shirt and then have them sewn together after the fact.

Now the advantages! The biggest advantage for me is the profit margin. If you are a traditional apparel decorator you might be used to trading nickels so to speak. That is not the case with sublimation. Because of the perceived value in an all-over print, you can be making a garment for $7 to $10 and sell it for $30 to $60 or even more. Tim Williams from the YR Store said at the ThreadX event hosted by SGIA that he can sell all over printed garments for up to $150 many times. It doesn’t take a lot of $150 shirts that cost you $10 to make to realize a nice profit for a days work. The all-over print is an extremely sought after look in a lot of markets, from fishing to bowling, to volleyball and lacrosse. High fashion, mixed martial arts, clue scene garments and many more are looking for something outside of the one to two color cotton tee. All over printing also allows you to tackle the sublimation dark garment conundrum. You start with your white fabric and make it any color you want. By having all over / wide format sublimation capabilities you also open up a whole new world of possibilities for your decorating business. Towels, blankets, signage, flags, plus you can turn out more production thank you could with a 16 x 20 or below heat press as the dwell times remain pretty much the same. And last but not least, when you get into wide-format you greatly reduce your consumable costs. If you are a small format sublimator, you are most likely paying about $70 for a 30ml ink cartridge. That is about $2.30 per ml. A typical sublimation transfer uses about 1.5ml of ink per square foot, so you have about $3.75 per square foot of ink and paper cost (assuming the paper is about $.25 per square foot for paper cost). Compared to large format sublimation, where you are paying approximately $0.15 per ml of ink, your cost for is now less than $0.50 per square foot.

Thanks to Printwear Magazine for the question.

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