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The Venerable Vector Graphic - Supreme Sublimation

With the power of vectors behind you, you can make everything from coasters to billboards. Using the powerful vector format in your arsenal will scale up your workflow to any size you want.

By Mike Daw, Product Specialist for Corel Corporation
This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, 3rd Quarter 2006 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2006 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

Production time, one of the only real variables in the industry, is actually quite top heavy. Once you have a completed image, your next steps are pretty much locked in. So the design stage is the point where you need to save time and effort. You can’t make your printer work significantly faster, and you can’t rush the press.

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  • This article addresses the use of vector graphics within the specialty graphics industry. This time we’re looking at sublimation. By and large, sublimators use raster/bitmap images in their projects. That being said, professionals who want to enhance their work, add appeal to their products and ultimately bring in more business should ensure they have a solid understanding of the benefits vectors can offer. As explained to me by a close friend in the sublimation industry, “as long as I can print it, it can be sublimated.”

    Production time, one of the only real variables in the industry, is actually quite top heavy. Once you have a completed image, your next steps are pretty much locked in. So the design stage is the point where you need to save time and effort. You can’t make your printer work significantly faster, and you can’t rush the press.

    After consulting with other experts in the industry about the power of vector graphics for sublimation, we’ve come up with a list of “I-wish-I-had-known-this-a-long-time-ago” tips.

    #1 ­ Realize that knowledge is a powerful thing
    Knowledge is the fuel that drives your sales. Knowledge about your market, customer needs, and work processes are your advantages in this industry. You may sell finished products to your customers, but what you are really delivering is a service.

    Know your design program, and know it well. Take as many classes as you can (time and money permitting) and stay in touch with industry peers. While a market economy encourages competition, it also allows for cooperation. Trade shows and journals (such as the SGIA Journal) offer additional learning avenues. Other educational opportunities come from the companies that developed your graphics software. Both Corel and Adobe offer free tutorials on their Web sites and the Internet is full of resources for enhancing your skills.

    For example, the new CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X3 includes two hours of video-based training, developed by The suite also offers a “Hints” docker. If you’ve ever selected a tool and asked yourself “okay, now what am I supposed to do,” the “Hints” docker will reveal the name and function of the active tool or object and also provide tips and tricks to getting your work done quickly. The suite also has tutorials written by creative experts who provide insight on the design process. Many of them work in the specialty graphics industry. Check out these and other resources to learn how successful professionals are creating their designs.

    #2 ­ Understand when a bitmap is NOT the solution
    One of the greatest advantages of vectors is their scalability. You can re-purpose a vector file to be used in virtually any size. Unfortunately, you won’t always receive a vector image, and sometimes the bitmap you receive will not meet your project needs.

    This means sublimators will need to be able to convert rasters to vectors. Sublimation — just like all branches of the specialty graphics industry --- requires quality graphics to get great results. Unfortunately, you may not have the good fortune of getting a quality image to work with. I call this dilemma the “matchbook cover syndrome.” Everyone has been there — think of the last time a customer walked into your shop with a tiny raster logo and wanted it blown up to be used on T-shirts or tiles.

    In these instances, you’ve got two options: You can use tracing software to transform your bitmap into a vector; or you can recreate the graphic yourself. For tips on using tracing software, you can read Converting Raster Images to Vector Images Can Be A Challenge, But It Doesn't Have To Be, or other related articles online and in print.

    If you decide to recreate the graphic, there are unique tools in CorelDRAW Graphics Suite that you might want to consider. First, check out the suite’s smart drawing tool. This simple-to-use sketching tool lets you trace the shapes quickly by freehand. Then, it does the smoothing and perfecting for you. Take some time to play with the three-point tools. Coincidentally, there are three of them; the three-point curve tool, located in the curve tool flyout; the three-point rectangle tool, which is with the standard rectangle tool; and the three-point ellipse tool, which you can find with the ellipse tool. Each of these tools allows you to draw the respective shapes on any angle and at any size, eliminating the need to draw, rotate, re-size, adjust, and then adjust again. These tools will help you to recreate virtually any graphic.

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    #3 ­ Learn to fix that photo ­ pain free
    Photo realism is the cornerstone of the sublimation industry. Your customer typically will provide you with either a photo, scanned file or, if you are really lucky, digital image. From there, you may be asked for additional elements or enhancements, such as text, frames and images. The challenge comes when the image they have provided is of poor quality. It may suffer from underexposure, overexposure, color shifting, fading or a background that needs to be removed.

    Obviously, a strong photo-editing tool is a must. You’ll also need an illustration program for layout, adding text and special effects. Good integration between your photo-editing and illustration software is critical because you will be working back and forth between them throughout the project.

    Both Adobe and Corel have integrated suites that allow you to work within both applications. CorelDRAW X3 includes the Image Adjustment Lab that lets you accomplish significant photo-editing tasks without ever having to launch a separate photo editor. Once you have imported your bitmap, you can make sophisticated adjustments to its appearance by selecting the “image adjustment lab.” This lab offers a variety of options, from a one-click auto adjust to sliders that easily control everything from temperature to mid-tones. Work your way down the list of possible corrections, use the create snapshot feature to capture your corrections and then go back and try something else! When you find a result that works best for your application, simply select the okay button.

    Once you’ve enhanced your images, changing them from the standard rectangle into a different shape, such as a star or an ellipse, and using the shape to create your text can make for a visually appealing design. If you are using Adobe Illustrator, you can achieve this with clip masks and alignment. It may be helpful to use guidelines as well. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite offers the “PowerClip” feature. This feature is great for framing bitmaps, and combined with the text options, can produce striking results.

    Whatever image editing application you choose, make sure that you find it quick and easy for your projects, skill level and workflow.

    #4 ­ Using text as part of your artwork
    Sublimation work often focuses on individual recognition and the marking of significant events. As the sublimator, you always need to consider the context in which your final product is going to be presented. Whether the project includes special dates, names or other content, text is often an important component in creating a special memento.

    Text is another area where vector illustration programs far outshine photo-editing applications. Since most text starts as a vector font, the simplest way to manipulate it is in its original format.

    For some projects, you may be looking for text that goes in a straight line. However, text that follows the flow and curve of an image can be more visually appealing, adding movement to the final result. Both Adobe Illustrator (Type on a Path) and CorelDRAW (Fit Text to Path) provide the ability to flow text around a shape or curve. These programs are extremely flexible and offer a mind-reeling variety of options. No risk of boredom here!

    #5 ­ Master your color options
    Let’s discuss the color issue. You are probably aware of how your print system is set up, working either with spot colors (Pantone, HKS Colors, TRUMATCH, etc.) or process colors (CMYK). I strongly recommend setting up your graphics software to work in the palette that you will be outputting to, or else you will have to convert from one color system (RGB, for example) to your printer’s system, creating more work for yourself.

    Your ink manufacturer provides a palette, so be sure to use it! It will create more accurate results and save you from having to do further conversions.

    As you can see, sublimation often brings a unique collection of challenges and requirements that the venerable vector graphic is well-suited to address. Whether you need a graphic that can be used at any size or the right font that really makes your project shine, the powerful vector format should play a significant role in your workflow. And the best part is that vector graphics can be reused across a variety of projects. Yesterday, you needed it on a mug, today on a commemorative plaque and tomorrow on a billboard. With the power of vectors behind you, you’ve got everything you need to do all this and more!

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