Incorporate Dye Sublimation to Print Coffee Mugs, Dry Erase Boards, and More

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What is Sublimation?

Dye sublimation is a printing process that uses heat to transfer a printed design to substrates such as coffee mugs, fabrics, picture frames, plaques, and other items. Getting started in the sublimation business is fairly inexpensive (less than $2G), and if you already have an existing home-based business, incorporating sublimation products is easy. Sublimation inks adhere to the substrate when heated, and the dyes are absorbed into polyester and acrylic materials where they form permanent images. Sublimation dyes work on light-colored objects best, which limits what they can be printed on.

How to Sell Sublimation to Clients

To sell your new sublimation items to clients, bring it up as they place their order. I have found that clients will often order a dozen coffee cups if told they’re available. All you have to do to fill their order is obtain their digital artwork, print it using your new sublimation printer, and use the mug press to adhere it. Not only is the order now larger, but another person can spread the news about the diversity of your business! (Later you can expand from a mug press to a t-shirt press, golf ball press, or a number of other items.)

Getting Into Sublimation

To get into sublimation, you’ll need a printer that can accept sublimation inks, the inks themselves, a press that will hold the type of material that you want to print, and the materials you want to print on. You’ll also need to purchase specialty paper that can accept and transfer the ink from the printer to the item being printed.

Tips for Printing Sublimation Designs

Before you print your design using a sublimation printer, you’ll need to flip the image horizontally. That’s because you’ll put the image “face down” onto the substrate, and if it isn’t flipped, it’ll be backward. You’ll also want to crop the image so that it will fit on the substrate. For instance, the area on a coffee mug only lends itself to a 3 by 4 inch print, while a license plate holder will need to have its design printed around the edge of a rectangle that is the plate’s exact size. Plates and clocks will need artwork created in a circle, although the paper and its image can be cut accordingly after printing.

Here are some tips for creating artwork for sublimation:

  • For rectangular prints, such as those used on coffee mugs, clipboards, mouse pads, and plaques, use your image-editor’s cropping tool to crop around the image and/or use something like an Image>Image Size command to reduce or enlarge the image appropriately.
  • Use a command like Image>Canvas Size to add extra room around the image. This can be used to make cropping easier or to add a border or edge.
  • To create an odd-shaped print, such as a polygon, circle, or hand-drawn shape, use a “lasso” or selection tool to draw around the object that you want to crop. You can then copy and paste the selection to a new file.
  • Because the image is printed from a printer, feel free to add artistic touches (in Photoshop try using distortion filters, sketch filters, and brush stroke filters).
  • Use the program’s image adjustments command to improve the image before printing.

Additional Resources

Note: This article is excerpted from Photoshop 7.0 for Screen Printers, by Joli Ballew. A new edition, Photoshop CS for Screen Printers, is available at Use code ps0365 for a 35% discount on this and all other Wordware books.