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what is sublimation?

What is Sublimation?

Kristine Shreve is the Director of Marketing for EnMart and parent company Ensign Emblem. She developed and writes two blogs—the EnMart Threaducuate blog and the SubliStuff blog. Shreve also maintains the EnMart Twitter account and Facebook page. She can be reached via email at kristine.shreve@myenmart.com

At least a couple of times a week, someone calls EnMart wanting to know more about sublimation—what it is and how exactly it works. Since the same questions come up often, here's a quick rundown of what sublimation is and what it’s not.

First,  the technical stuff. The definition of sublimation is as follows:

sublimation (sŭb'lə-mā'shən)  

The process of changing from a solid to a gas without passing through an intermediate liquid phase. (Definition courtesy dictionary.com)

Dye sublimation is the process by which heat is applied to inks turning them into a gas and bonding the ink with the polyester fibers of fabric or the poly coating on hard goods.  The result of the bond is a print that won’t wear out until the imprinted item does.

Sublimation is a process that has less expensive start-up costs than most other decoration options.

Sublimation is a decoration technique that has a lower learning curve than some. To create sublimated goods, a person must know how to operate a heat press and an inkjet printer. Some graphic design background and graphic design software is also helpful, but not required. Design programs help those that aren't so artistically inclined. 

Sublimation isn’t suitable for fabrics other than polyester.  Poly blends may print well enough for some people, but the use of a poly blend garment will result in a more distressed look. For best results, print on 100 percent polyester garments or poly-coated items. It should be noted that there are coating sprays available which can be used to turn almost anything into an item suitable for sublimation, but the application of those sprays or coatings outside of a professional coating booth can be tricky.

Sublimation isn’t suitable for dark apparel. The printing disciplines that work on dark colors are those that offer an option for white. The white ink acts as an underbase before other colors are printed on top. Sublimation does not offer an option for white ink. 

Sublimation isn’t intimidating. Some people worry they’ll ruin a few blanks when they start out.  It happens to everyone, and it’s part of the learning process. Fear of the unknown keeps a lot of potential decorators from trying something new, and that’s a shame.  Sublimation does have a slight learning curve, but it’s not difficult to master.