There are certain things that you need in order to start up your own dye sublimation printing service.
Question: What equipment and supplies will I need to start doing dye sublimation printing?
First, decide what market you’re going to enter. Will it be mouse pads? Check out the competition. What is the Asian market selling mouse pads for, landed, in your market. They’ll be your primary competition for the larger orders. If you’re focusing on the smaller market orders with higher margins, research your local competition. What are they getting for the product?
If Printing on Mugs
If you’re going to focus on coffee mugs, find out how much the Asian market, particularly China, is selling mugs for per gross or however they sell them. If it’s ridiculously low, you may want to research the local market, and if you don’t mind calling on a lot of customers, you can develop the local market that doesn’t want to purchase a container load of mugs, but maybe a few dozen or a few hundred, and that may be a market you can compete in.
Finding that Dye Sublimation Printer
Next, you’ll need a good dye sublimation printer. The printer you purchase will depend on your target market. If you are printing mouse pads, you’ll purchase a smaller unit. If you’re printing seamless tradeshow displays, you’ll be needing a wide or grand format printer.
Of course, you’ll also need a heat press that suits the variety of printing that you’re going to be focusing on. These come in sizes from quite small for coffee mugs to very large for grand format fabric banner printing or dye sublimation printing on fabric for rolls of fabric to be used for clothing or the like.
The Brand of Dye Inks
You’ll want to choose a good brand of CMYO (Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Overprint) dye inks also. Most of the time, with new equipment, you’ll be told which ink you have to use to keep from voiding the warranty, so during the warranty period, you’re pretty much stuck using their inks. Once the warranty period is over, you can purchase bulk ink/dye systems that will save you, on the average, about 75% on your ink/dye expenditures.
The Dye Sublimation Paper
You’re also going to need “dye sublimation paper,” called this because it is the paper used for dye sublimation printing and subsequently the transfer using the heat press to the substrate. This is a specially treated paper that the CMYO dye is printed to. This paper is “married” to whatever substrate you’re placing the image on and under heat and pressure, the dye turns to a gas and is sublimated to the polymeric-treated or polymer-based substrate.
The Fabric Substrate
Finally, you will need to purchase your substrate from a reputable wholesale distributor or manufacturer. It is important to purchase high quality materials for your dye sublimation printing customers as what you sell to them is what they’ll remember you by. If you’re purchasing grand format polyester fabric for dye sublimation printing of flags, banners, or other fabric displays, it will be a good idea to purchase the smallest roll of material you can find to test the material.
You may also find that some wholesalers or manufactures will be willing to send you a few yards of material to “play” with, especially if you pay the shipping. If you’re purchasing offshore, it is a good idea to learn as much about how your substrate is manufactured as possible, such as certifications, materials, and processes involved in the manufacture of, say, ceramic mugs. Also note that the cheapest price is not always the best price. I often advocate that you get 25 quotes for a given item, then take the 3rd or 4th lowest bid, not the lowest.
There are occasions where the low bidder will also be the best product, but not always. You may also find that the lowest bid may have given you pricing for something you hadn’t requested, and it can either be an unqualified bid, or it could be a discovery of a new product that is superior and cheaper than what you had originally gone out for a quote on.
The Difficult Part
Now that you’ve got everything you need, you’re now getting to the most difficult part – finding customers! It is key to understand that finding good customers is never as easy as you’ll imagine it will be. You’ll need to have something that the competition lacks.
Maybe you want to be available 7 days a week (not me!) or offer free shipping (if you’ll be a company that ships a lot like ours does). Maybe you can offer a discount to new clients. Who knows, but if you can get potential clients to engage in a conversation with you, you will have a better chance in getting their business than just sending out a mailer (although those can work if done well also).
Dye Sublimation is commonly known for printing large format polyester displays and fabric banners: learn more here.