Having custom shirts and other memorabilia is an excellent branding strategy, one of the few old-fashioned branding strategies that still works in the Digital millennium, in fact. Custom printing is one of those things that you see all over the place, but I bet you’ve never seen how it’s done. You would think it would be some sort of extremely complicated process, requiring a massive facility. Well, sublimation printing is actually pretty simple process, and unless you’re manufacturing these on a scale of hundreds or thousands of items per day, you actually can achieve this in a garage.
Considering how effective branded cups, glasses, coasters and shirts are, as a small start up, you probably covet this sort of advertising. But, you’re betting it’s prohibitively expensive, right? Well, the smaller your order, the more expensive it’s actually going to be, but no, it’s actually pretty affordable.
Today, I’d like to take a little time to explain how this process works, and give you a little advice on choosing the right custom printing agency for your needs. I’m also going to break a rule I usually wouldn’t, and cite a specific company that you should absolutely avoid using given their unscrupulous practices.
How does sublimation printing work?
Sublimation printing is actually a fairly straightforward process. It begins with a typical graphic design done on a computer in a standard format, with standard software. Where the process begins to change is with the printer used to bring this image into the physical world. Actually, there exists cartridges for a series of standard printers that provide the right type of ink, but you’re better off using a printer that specializes in sublimation ink.
Sublimation ink is a special type of ink which, through heat, can be made to adhere to certain surfaces such as porcelain and other ceramics. Certain plastics, glass, cloth materials and other synthetics are also susceptible to the sublimation process. Certain types of rubbers are also used for making things like refrigerator magnets and stickers or decals.
Special paper is also used.
Upon printing the desired logo, graphic or what have you, it is overlaid facedown on the cup, glass, or whatever item you’re applying it to. Obviously, this means that the graphic is usually printed it mirrored.
A special machine will then grasp the cup, glass or whatever, applying pressure and tremendous heat for a period of time. This will activate the ink and the special paper, causing the item to absorb the ink. Obviously, this is another reason why you can only do this to certain materials which can withstand these high temperatures. After a specific amount of time, depending on the composition of the target item and the sublimation inks and papers used, the item will be ready. It will come out tremendously hot, meaning that many professionals will cool them in cold water shortly after taking them out of the machine. Do not submerge them in ice water, things like to explode when subjected to extreme temperature shifts like that.
Choosing Your Custom Printing Agency Wisely
Now we come to choosing someone who does sublimation printing for your needs. You understand how it works, and you can see how it’s not really that expensive, given it’s not that complicated for someone who knows what they’re doing. If you’re doing this on a very small scale, for a company with less than five people, you can probably just borrow equipment for this.
However, if you’re doing custom printing or any sort of sublimation printing on a larger scale, you want to leave it to an agency that does this professionally. You’ll want to choose an agency that specializes in a diverse number of items, and can work with a large number of formats. We highly recommend that you avoid one of the more famous online companies for this, Café Press. While their merchandise is of superb quality, they have very poor business practices, often not refunding people for jobs that they cannot do, and flagging people for using random logos off the Internet for personal items. While this probably won’t be an issue when you deal with your corporate branding, it’s a bad omen for their overall business practices should something go awry.
There are literally millions of these businesses online, and you shouldn’t be afraid of smaller businesses that do this through sites like Etsy, as many of them to provide superb service!