Dye Sublimation And The Sign Business Part II
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Dye Sublimation And The Sign Business Part II

The actual production process of laser printer sublimation and competitive advantages it gives shops over their competitors.

By Jack Franklin & John Pratt

Narrow format dye sublimation may not be of interest to large, "traditional" sign shops. Many others, however, find the five-figure income potential of this low-cost diversification, exciting. There are three major types of "desktop" sublimation transfers: single color laser, full color inkjet and full color laser. Adding to the excitement, is the fact that you don't have to be a "rocket scientist" to learn how to do any type of sublimation.

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  • Of the three types of sublimation, single color laser printer sublimation is by far the easiest to learn. Adding to the very short learning curve needed is the fact that most sign shops already have skills with some type of graphics program and certainly know how to do layouts.

    We will "produce" an imaginary order to demonstrate the process. This order is for 24- 2"x 10" gold aluminum door signs. Each sign has a 1" logo, with a .75" individual name in bold New Times Roman. All print is in black and there will be one small hole in the center end of each plate, for mounting with screws.

    Since you probably already know how to scan and import logos and create text, the discussion will deal with just the sublimation end of the order.

    At your computer, you decide, for maximum efficiency, to print the plates "4-up" on a single sheet, so you select "Landscape" mode, and center an 8.15"x 10.15" hairline box on the page.

    You then center a logo and name every 2" within the 8.15 vertical space of the box (you started .075" down, from the top of the box). Depending upon the program you use, you create 5 more duplicate pages and change the names as you type the rest of the list in.

    You're done. Just before entering the print command you "flip" or "mirror" the image. The command goes to an ordinary desktop laser printer, loaded with a sublimation cartridge and ordinary copier paper. In about a minute, the 6 pages (transfers) are printed.

    Grabbing the 6 pages of transfers, you walk over and flip on your heat press, which has been set to 350. You then go over to your tabletop metal cutter, grab two sheets of 12"x 24" metal, and cut 6 - 8"x 10" plates.

    When the press is up to temperature you start by centering one 8x 10 plate, facedown, inside the 8.15 x 10.15 box. You fold the edge of the paper over the plate (to lock it in), pick the whole thing up, put it in your heat press and pull the head down.

    While that plate is transferring, you get the next one ready. 30 seconds later, the buzzer goes off, you lift the head of the press, put that plate to one side to cool and put the next one on the press.

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    In about 3 minutes you are finished transferring all plates. After they cool off, you peel the paper and the protective plastic mask that come on the plate, off (sublimation transferring is done through the mask).

    Taking the 6- 8 x 10 plates over to your plate cutter, you cut each plate into 4 equal 2x 10 signs and then you punch two holes in each plate. Total production time from printing until the last hole is punched, is about 20 minutes.

    To sound more impressive, we really wish we could have put some complicated "bells & whistles" in this example story but, like we said, "this ain't rocket science."

    The example story was actually an enthused e-mail we read from a new sublimator and experienced vinyl sign shop owner. Among the details of his first job was the fact that that he had sold the signs for $8 apiece and his total material cost was $7.50 for the entire project, that left $184.50 to cover labor and equipment for a 20 minute job. His last comment was, "They absolutely love them. But not as much as I do!"

    Having any kind of imagination at all, and keeping the overall process picture in your mind, also makes the competitive edge of the sublimation process very understandable.

    Diversifying into a related field, that your competitor is not doing, that doesn't cost much. That is simple to learn, easy to do and profitable. It is about as good an edge as a businessperson can ask for.

    The next article will examine the basics of full- color desktop inkjet sublimation and some of the diversification opportunities that process offers sign shops.

    Jack Franklin and John Pratt of Alpha Supply Company contributed this article. Alpha is an international distributor of laser printer sublimation cartridges and a national distributor of HIX heat presses. Take a guided "A to Z" tour of their "Sublimation For Sign Shops" web site at: http://www.forsignshops.com. While visiting the site, be sure and request a free subscription to their sublimation business newsletter, "Toner Times."

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