What is Sublimation and How Does It Impact Graphic Design?

What is sublimation design and how does it work? Sublimation is a printing technique where art is placed on a material with ink and heat. Artists create the look via computer aided design (CAD) and then use special ink and paper to get the image onto material. 

According to IBISWorld, graphic design is a $12.7 billion industry in the United States. Professionals look for ways to expand their craft and new ways to market small businesses. Sublimation printing expands the capabilities of even small-time designers.

How can you use sublimation printing? What ways does it impact graphic design and small business operations? There are many areas where it is more desirable than other methods. Here are the benefits. 

1. Save Money

You’ve likely learned about other ways to transfer designs such as via printscreens. Sublimation allows you to imprint artwork to the material via special transfer paper. This saves both time and costs. It is also a more immediate way to add a logo to material or make a sign for your business. 

You will have an initial investment in paper and making sure your printer is sublimation ready, but startup costs are in the hundreds and not the thousands. You’ll save money by being able to bring your designs to life without the help of outside parties. 

2. Update Promotions

You can use a vinyl cutting machine to make your own window and floor decals. Although you can cut vinyl by hand, a Cricut or other vinyl cutter does a more precise job and gives you the professional edge you’re looking for.

Rather than ordering cuts and waiting for them to arrive, you can cut the vinyl on demand and wind up with an instant promotional tool. Use sublimation to print full color designs on top of the vinyl. 

3. Be Unique

One of the most significant advantages of sublimation printing is the ability to create a one-off design and prep it for mass consumption. You can add your logo anywhere you’d like in a brick-and-mortar store. 

Why stop with in-store promotions? You can also make tee shirts and send them to your brand ambassadors. Print labels for water bottles and pass them out at a local art fair. There are so many uses for sublimation it is hard to list them all. 

4. Print Small Batches

The average cost of color ink for a printer is $150 or more annually, depending upon how much you use. However, you are limited to printing on paper, cardstock and similar materials. Where you save money with sublimation printing is through your ability to produce more pieces per hour without having to order in batches of 100s or 1,000s. 

If you get an idea in the middle of the night for a promotional giveaway the next day, you can use subliminal ink and finish the project in less than an hour. While the ink cartridges do cost a little more, they are still a relatively inexpensive way to get your creations into production quickly. 

5. Gain Higher Quality 

You can do a lot of projects on a trusty inkjet printer, but sublimation ink allows you to print on more items and get a sharper image. The superior quality of sublimation showcases the designer’s work more clearly.

Screen printing, for example, has a few limitations, such as the number of colors you can use and how complex your design can be. With sublimation, you can use as many colors as you want because the images are digital and printed right on the material of your choice. 

You can even add faces, photos and detailed drawings. There are far fewer limitations with your design efforts with sublimation. 

6. Lasts Longer

Have you ever created tee shirts via transfer or screen printing only to have them crack after a few wears? Sublimation is more durable and less likely to fade or crack over time. Not only do you get the higher quality image, but it stays sharp over time. 

For items you or your customers use frequently, durability is vital. If you have brand ambassadors wearing your tees, you want them to look sharp and crisp, not ragged. You can even personalize each item within your design. 

What Do You Need to Get Started with Sublimation Printing

You might wonder what equipment you need to move toward sublimation versus traditional methods. 

  • A printer ready for sublimation printing or one that can be converted
  • Special ink
  • Paper to transfer the prints
  • Heat press to use the transfer paper

You may already have much of what you need on hand. Try to work with what you have to reduce costs and purchase only what you must. 

What Are Some Materials You Can Use?

What can you put sublimation on? The sky really is the limit. The ink binds to polymers, so items must have a decent polymer count. Here are a few ideas:

  • Fabrics such as polyester 
  • Coated aluminum 
  • Coated ceramic

As a designer, you likely have many ideas for things you could create with sublimation. Be aware of the need for the ink to bind to polymer and seek out special coatings to make your ideas come to life. 

Try a Few Pieces

If you’re thinking sublimation is the right choice for your designs, you may want to find a friend or mentor who already owns the equipment and try a few pieces. See how the design space works and if you enjoy the finished result before investing in the equipment to start your own process. 

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