Time for what is becoming an annual post. This blog is about selling online so I think it’d be best to talk about what’s trending nowadays. The big one that I’m seeing is the move towards sublimation printing. Although it’s been around for a long time, I’m seeing many hobbyists and small businesses gravitate towards it. People who embraced vinyl cutting with the Cricut and Silhouette are now adding sublimation to their store offerings.
What is sublimation printing? It’s a process of applying designs to products. It starts with a sublimation printer that utilize specialized inks. The design is printed on transfer paper and applied with a heat press. The heat produces a chemical process that adheres the design to the product.
That’s it in a nutshell! I know my explanation is very simplistic. I’m sure if you Google you’ll find a more detailed explanation of how it all works. 2019 (and 2018 when I started) seems to be a big year for it.
I’ve always wanted to try it. I had first heard of sublimation when I started designing for Zazzle. It always sounded like this complex (and expensive process). But as I’m about to explain, it is more affordable nowadays. The standard printer that is used for small business and custom apparel decorators is the Sawgrass. I believe it’s produced by Ricoh. They have two basic models the SG400 and the SG800. The big difference between the two is size. The SG400 prints up to 8.5 x 14 inches. The SG800 prints up to 13×19 inches.
The other big difference is price. The SG 400 goes for around $600 while the SG 800 sells for around $1500. Then you also have to buy a heat press and blanks. So depending on what you buy, you’re looking at spending at a minimum of a thousand dollars to start up.
Enter the Epson. I don’t know how it started, but people have figured out a way to convert Epson printers into sublimation machines. And it makes the start-up costs more affordable. You can buy one for less than a couple hundred dollars at the office supply store. Instead of standard printer inks, you use sublimation inks. Ink Owl sells a set for $50.
So if you add up the costs for setting up the Epson – we’re talking around $250. Maybe $300 tops.
Much cheaper than buying a Sawgrass right?
There one big con to this approach. The first being no support. Epson printers are not made for sublimation and they offer no technical support if you have problems.
But that didn’t stop me. I figured for a few hundred dollars it was worth a try.
My start began in a Facebook group about sublimation. At the time it was co-moderated by Angelo Bonaparte. I credit him with helping me get started. The group was great for any question you have about the Epsons, especially if you were new and getting started. He even had detailed Youtube videos on setting up the printer and how to print on products.
I bought a package from Angelo that had the complete set up – Epson printer, Angelo’s line of Cosmos Inks and printer paper. I then purchased a small heat press and blanks separately. He no longer sell the printers, however it but it’s just as easy to march over to Office Depot and get your own.
There is a trial and error process as you’re learning sublimation. Count on wasting many blanks as you make mistakes. But the more you practice with it, the better you will get.
It’s been a year now since I dove into sublimation and I like it better than dropshipping (or blindshipping as some companies call it).
Sublimation gives me better profit margins and more control over the quality of the product. I make sure it’s up to snuff before I mail it out.
The second most important reason – you can offer products that other ecommerce stores aren’t offering. If you look at what other Shopify stores offer, it’s usually t-shirts, hoodies, mugs and tote bags. Maybe a few other things like pillow covers and leggings.
But imagine what it would be like to offer something that no one else is offering?
Like take this flip flop luggage tag for instance. You will not see this in many stores.
Dropshippers like Printful don’t offer these. They may not be high in demand, but they definitely do sell.
What about these? Have you seen custom keys sold in any ecommerce stores?
Are you catching on to what I’m saying? You can offer items that most aren’t offering. And if you look at a website such as Conde, you will see that they have thousands of sublimation products you can offer in your own stores. It will give you a definite advantage over the competition.
With subbing you can also provide faster turnaround, as fast as same day shipping if you want. There’s more flexibility in getting your products out in the mail.
I also have the freedom to customize the packaging. I get to add a personal touch that helps me stand out. I can package the product in gift wrap if I wanted, write a handwritten thank you and use mailers with my own branding on them.
So as you can probably guess I’m a fan of sublimation. And if you try the Epson approach it’s more affordable. I do recommend a reliable heat press. Don’t skimp and get a cheap one. You definitely get what you pay for with those.
Decent heat presses can be ordered from places like Pro World and Heat Press Nation. DO NOT buy a cheap one from Amazon. Especially those all-in-one packages that will allow you to make mugs and hats.
As for sublimation blanks, the popular sites are Conde, Coastal Business and JP Plus. There are also buy/sell groups on Facebook and I have purchased garden flags from one of them. Sometimes you can get a better deal through the groups. But do your shopping so you know what things cost.
Lastly, join a Facebook group. There are plenty out there including Angelo’s Sublimation Cove. The supportive ones will help you in getting started and as problems arise. Then as you gain experience you can pay it forward and help the newbies 🙂
It is now easier than ever to buy your own equipment and start selling.