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A Fresh Look at the Dye-Sublimation Opportunity

A Fresh Look at the Dye-Sublimation Opportunity
Back in 2019, we pointed out the opportunity presented by adding dye-sublimation printing to the mix as a diversification strategy. A great deal has happened since then, not the least of which is the continuing impact of the pandemic. But one thing that has not changed is the opportunity this technology offers.

In December 2019, before any of us were aware of what was to come, I wrote an article suggesting that heat-transfer dye-sublimation was the next profit opportunity for commercial and display graphics printers.

While it may have generated some interest, it likely got lost in the shuffle as the pandemic took center stage. It seemed worthwhile to revisit this topic now that we are (hopefully) moving to endemic stage, or at least learning to live with the virus.

What Is Dye Sublimation

As a brief refresher, heat-transfer dye-sublimation is a process whereby an image is printed onto special transfer paper and subsequently transferred onto an object through the application of heat and pressure. It is not particularly complicated, and getting started with the process doesn’t take a huge investment or a lot of space.

What is New?

What’s New?
Since we last wrote about this, we have seen improved transfer papers and inks as well as a wider selection of blanks designed to be used for this purpose, as well as a range of new materials/substrates.

I am always amazed when I visit Condé Systems, a company founded by David Gross, to see all of the new items he offers as blanks. As a leading evangelist for the process, Gross is also writing a series of books that outline the opportunity and provide guidance on getting started. It is available in digital or printed form, and if you happen to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can read the first one for free. He has also written a volume dedicated to dye sublimation on ChromaLuxe—more about that later.

In a recent interview, Gross highlighted what he sees as key opportunities, some of which will, I am sure, surprise you. Like name badges. Who knew? He says, “It might sound mundane, but truly it is the most wonderful product in the world. They are high-value items that can carry good margins and it is one of the products you only have to sell once and reorders are practically automatic. Customers for this application include just about everyone—a business, a club or organization or group, a church. We have a YouTube video that explains the benefits of offering this application.”

Drinkware is also popular, including everything from standard ceramic mugs to metal camp mugs, travel mugs and the ever-popular water bottles. And with sublimation, he points out, you can personalize each one at no extra cost. The other benefit of sublimation here is you can make one mug or 20 or 100…you don’t have to deal with large minimum order quantities that are associated with conventional drinkware decoration.

Commercial and home décor is a growing area as well. This includes office and interior signage, kitchen décor, and a wide range of towels, blankets, pillow shams, and more. Pet items are also popular. I have four dogs and loved that I could personalize metal dog dishes for them, and I am sure they would appreciate it.

He even offers a couple of clocks that can be decorated with dye sublimation. This, however, only scratches the surface of what is available from Condé Systems and other providers.

Getting Started

An initial investment to get started with this process includes a dye-sublimation printer and a flatbed heat press, as well as a mug press for decorating drinkware. A standard size flatbed heat press such as the George Knight DK20S swing-away press shown below is a good place to start. For larger items, Gross recommends outsourcing these in the beginning, rather than an initial investment in a large heat press.

Then, of course, you need the substrates—heat transfer paper and blanks. Another option is using SubliShrink sleeves. Using these, you can affix the heat transfer paper to an object like a mug and place it in a SubliShrink sleeve. Heat is applied using a convection oven. Depending on the size of your convection oven, you can sublimate four mugs or more at a time, remove them from the oven, take off the SubliShrink, cool them, and they are ready to ship.

As you think about the types of products you might want to produce, as always it is a good idea to talk to customers to see what they are most interested in. You can partner with another company, like or other trade manufacturers, to produce samples of some of the more unique items so you can show your customers some of the opportunities they may not have considered.

High-Margin Substrates

High-Margin Substrates
Many of these things might seem like commodity items, but the fact that you can produce them in smaller quantities and even personalize them adds value. But if you really want to boost dye-sub margins, consider offering products on ChromaLuxe. Gross explains, “ChromaLuxe is a metal substrate that is available with a number of different specialized coatings. The coatings are extra thick so when the dyes heat up, they diffuse into the coating, and are actually suspended inside the coating. When light hits the metal, a stunning color depth is perceived by the eye that has a mesmerizing effect.”

One interesting application he highlighted was ChromaLuxe textured products that you can write on with chalk, like a blackboard. Let your imagination run wild here for just a moment! Restaurants and events are great opportunities here. I noticed on a recent visit to California that many of the restaurants have abandoned or discourage printed menus in light of the pandemic. Rather, they have a sign on the table with a QR code so you can download the menu to your phone. That has a lot of advantages, including the ability to update the menu at will! But having an attractive sign at the entrance that can be easily and cost-effectively updated is another great way to draw customers in.

ChromaLuxe is also ideal for showcasing artwork, or for office and home décor and wall art. You really need to experience the material if you have not already to understand the beauty of it. ChromaLuxe can also be used for outdoor signage that requires improved inks to ensure extended outdoor life. Gross stated, “We can expect to see an announcement from Kentucky-based Universal Woods soon about sublimation ink and outdoor products that are matched to extend outdoor life.”

There is much to be said for investing in dye sublimation as a diversification strategy. If you are not ready to do so, find a trade partner who can produce items for you either for use by your own business, or to develop sufficient customer volume to better justify and refine the investment. As always, if you choose to go down this path, we’d love to hear your stories and are happy to help!

About the Author

Published: January 10, 2022

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries. Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us. Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at

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