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Why Hard-Surface Dye Sublimation Is Heating Up

(April/May 2017) posted on Thu May 18, 2017

High-definition dye sublimation on rigid substrates offers fresh options for printing gifts, interior décor, and more.

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By Eileen Fritsch

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-the-date 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.

Photo courtesty of DuraPlaq.

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.”


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