Screen Printing - April/May 2017 - 24
the variety of products capitalizing on hard-surface dye sublimation
continues to expand. previous page: top courtesy of roland DgA;
center courtesy of Charleston gallery on King Street; bottom
courtesy of Mimaki USA. Above: left courtesy of Blazing Editions;
right courtesy of Avianix.
InnovatIon + MarketIng = growth
Now that inkjet dye sublimation printers are fast, reliable, and
capable of creating incredible image quality, the engines of
innovation have shifted into high gear.
According to dye sublimation evangelist David Gross of
Conde Systems, thousands of researchers are working on
advanced inks, coatings, and sublimation-ready substrates to unleash the full potential of the technology. Just as Thomas Edison
couldn't imagine everything that's now possible with lighting and
electricity, we probably can't yet envision all of the applications
for dye sublimation, but the future looks tantalizing.
On Etsy, a search for dye sublimation brings up 84 pages
of products, including monogrammed car mats, marble
printed desk mats, motivational signs, drink coasters, metal
cuff bracelets, personalized can openers, and metal save-thedate announcements.
For screen printers, who are already accustomed to working with an almost unlimited range of substrates, the ability to
extend sublimation onto hard surfaces creates endless opportunities to develop and market their own innovative products.
As Gross points out, you can create new forms of licensed
products for current buyers of decorated apparel. Or, you
could specialize in indoor signs or custom décor. Once you
choose a substrate and innovate around it, you'll find many
different products you can create with sublimated pieces of
metal or acrylic. Conde recently introduced ColorLyte acrylic
blanks featuring a sublimation coating on the back designed
to eliminate the need to print an image in reverse or a layer of
white to make colors and image details pop.
According to Josh Hope, senior manager of industrial
printing business development and marketing at Mimaki USA,
screen printing companies have the extra advantage of being
able to apply dye sublimation coatings to whatever rigid substrate they choose. For companies already equipped with large
heat transfer presses, the ramp up to producing large-format
inkjet dye sublimation on rigid substrates can be very short.
As with any new inkjet substrate, the ultimate value of each
new opportunity for sublimation comes from two things: the
beauty, originality, and appeal of the printed design; and the
quality and effectiveness of the marketing. Products marketed
as if they could be sold in Neiman Marcus command higher
prices than those that look like they could be purchased at
your local flea market.
Screen printers who haven't yet experimented with inkjet
sublimation should get started, because the business is going
to grow even larger with the advent of mass customization
and on-demand manufacturing. "Compared to other decorating techniques, startup costs are among the lowest you'll find,
and return on investment is fast because sublimated products
often command premium prices," says Mike McEvoy, director
of marketing communications for Sawgrass Systems. "People
pay for quality, personalization, and beautiful imagery. Sublimation allows all kinds of businesses to deliver it all."
For shops unfamiliar with transfer printing, color management can still be a challenge, because the process includes
additional variables such as heat, pressure, and dwell time.
"The key is process consistency," says Hope. "Once you have
the workflow down and have minimized any variables, then
you can successfully control color."
Hope advises smaller screen printing shops to investigate
the range of products they want to produce to ensure their
dye sublimation inks are compatible: "Testing is key and most
manufacturers are willing to help in that process. Also be sure
to look forward and think about the maximum size of products