Sublimation: Image Acquisition

Kevin Lumberg sublimation specialist

Kevin Lumberg has over 18 years of experience in the sublimation industry at all levels from sublimation shop owner, to managing the Johnson Plastics Plus dye-sublimation business for over 13 years. Currently, Lumberg is responsible for business development of the Duraluxe product line in North America.

Matt Woodhouse is a Sublimation Sales Specialists at Johnson Plastics. Visit Johnson Plastics on the web at For further information, Matt can be reached at 866-869-7829 or by email at

One of the best things sublimation can do is reproduce beautiful photographs. How we get these photos into our computer, though, can make a huge difference. We will discuss the various aspects of scanners and digital cameras and what to look for when buying one. (See figure 1)

Good photos don’t necessarily need to come from a scanner or camera you own. Many websites are available that can give us great images or backgrounds. We will list a few, and determine what they can do for us. Plus, we will discuss what design specifications to share with your customers who might want to bring you designs to be sublimated.


One of the most fun technical developments over the last several years has been the digital camera. They allow us to just shoot and shoot without worrying about using up costly film or incurring processing fees. Getting the shot you really want is much easier now. But, different cameras are not all the same in regards to performance. While a full article could be written just on cameras themselves, here we will look at some basics for those looking to buy or upgrade their camera.

Megapixels: One of the more perplexing terms for people new to digital cameras, a megapixel is simply one million pixels. This term is used not only for the number of pixels in an image, but also to express the number of image sensor elements (what is actually seeing the image). For example, a camera that has an array of 2048—1536 sensor elements is commonly said to have “3.1 megapixels” (2048 — 1536 = 3,145,728).

What does any of this mean to you? A camera with a higher megapixel rate will allow you to produce a larger image/item. As the price of cameras with higher megapixel rates has dropped significantly recently, we would recommend no less than a camera with 6.0 megapixels.

Lenses: Just like eye glasses, camera lenses come in either glass or plastic varieties. Plastic lenses are far less expensive to produce. As such, you would expect to find them in fairly inexpensive cameras. While the camera might be taking good pictures out of the box, over time the lens is likely to become scratched or warped. The warped or scratched lenses make distorted or noisy images. Glass lenses are available with higher-end cameras, and are commonly found on cameras that are produced by the big name companies from the film era (Canon, Nikon, Etc.).

SLR: For people looking for an experience like using a good film camera, digital SLR’s (see Figure 3) are the way to go. SLR simply stands for Single Lens Reflex. With this type of camera, the light from the lens is directed by a hinged mirror into a viewfinder so the user sees precisely the same image as will be captured by the image sensor. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips up out of the way. Most SLR cameras can be used with a range of interchangeable lenses.

These cameras are going to have very high-end color-reproduction capabilities and high megapixel rates, plus they’ll feature higher shutter speeds than basic digital cameras. The ability to shoot several frames per second is very important to getting an extremely crisp image, especially when the subject is in motion. If sports photography is in your future, this is the way to go. With the performance increase, the price increases as well. Many good camera body and lens combinations can be found for around $1,000.


When looking for a scanner that is appropriate for use with sublimation, there are just a couple of key things to look for.

Optical Resolution: The “optical” numbers are usually something listed in the specification sheet in the owner’s manual. The optical numbers are a true representation of the resolution of the scanner. The “digital” resolution numbers on the box should just be ignored.

All the digital numbers tell you is that the software for the scanner can try to stretch pixels to make an image larger. Stretching pixels will make for a lower-resolution image. As such, the digital numbers are good for marketing a scanner, but are not to be relied upon for sublimation. The higher the optical resolution numbers are, the larger you will be able to stretch the image while maintaining print quality output.

D-Max: Most scanner companies list a value, often overlooked in the specifications, called “D-Max” or “Dynamic Range”. This number is a reflection of the scanner’s ability to pick up subtle details in color and shading. This becomes the most critical component, as it affects every image that is scanned. The “D-Max” numbers are a bit similar to the Richter scale, in that the number (from 1-4) jumps exponentially.

As such, every tenth of a point increase is 10 times greater than the one before. The very good news here is that scanners with a high D-Max value have come down in price considerably in the last couple of years. Scanners with a 3.4 D-Max can be found for as little as $250. I have even seen several 4.0 (the top of the scale) models available for around $500.


There are several avenues to acquiring stock photos for use as backgrounds, or clip art graphics.

Online: There are several good websites in which to find stock photos. Some images are free, but most do cost some money. Most of the pay sites offer to either let you download images ala carte, or you can subscribe to the site for discounts on downloads. If you are going to need to download images on a regular basis, a subscription would be wise. Here are a few websites that we recommend:, and

Stores: Office supply stores like Staples or Office Depot and others often have a bin with very inexpensive software. Among them are often various CDs filled with nature pictures and cityscapes that can make very attractive background images. Also, several companies are in the business of publishing clipart libraries. They can usually be found advertising in trade magazines or exhibiting at various trade shows for this industry.

Please do be cautious with artwork; some artwork requires a license agreement to legally reproduce it.


One of the biggest art-related challenges is working with customers who want to do a lot of the designing themselves. As we are doing some fairly special things here in vaporizing dye molecules, there are some basics that need to be followed. Educating customers as to the basis of what is necessary in the design can help save time and frustration.

First, if your customer is using a professional design program, you will need to explain that the color scheme for the design is RGB and not CMYK. While CMYK colors work well with Macs, they don’t work well with Windows. Dramatic color shifting is likely to occur with CMYK colors, so have your customer avoid this color scheme if at all possible.

Second, when we choose colors, we are not looking at our computer screen. We rely on color charts (see Figure 2) that have been printed and pressed into the substrate we are going to use. This takes all of the guesswork out of color management, and is a tool your customer is likely not to have. As such, if your customer is looking for a specific color, have them send you a hard copy of what they want you to reproduce. Now you will have a physical sample to compare and find the correct color on your color chart.

Third, we cannot successfully reproduce somebody’s logo with the image that is on their website. The images that are on most websites are usually small, and of low resolution. Print-quality artwork is 300 dpi. In sublimation, we can sometimes get away with a bit less, but the website images are likely only 72 dpi, and thus will not look good when printed.

Recreating the logo is often the best way to get the best output—having control of the entire process, including choosing the colors you know work. While having the need to recreate a logo might sound disappointing to some, there is another way to frame this. If a company has paid to have their logo recreated, are they more likely to keep coming back to buy other products to avoid having to pay art charges again? Repeat business, we believe, is always a good thing.


We will look at the ins and outs of apparel production. From increasing production speed to avoiding mistakes, we will give you a comprehensive look at what apparel can do for you.