CL Matte Panels

Sublimation: Photography and Fine Art

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

For many years now, we have been using photos to add value to the products we sublimate. Now, however, we really have reached a level of printing quality and breadth of products that make this technology a dominant force in the photography, fine art and décor markets. From floating aluminum panels, to hanging wall murals and beyond, this market can be attacked like never before. We will take some time to discuss the opportunities, business partnerships, new and exciting products, and the equipment necessary to make the magic happen.

The photo market has been exploding in recent years, thanks in part to the desire for professional photographers to offer something to their clients other than a paper print. At the same time, digital SLR cameras have decreased in price, allowing talented amateurs the opportunity to take some incredible images. The combination has created a lucrative customer group to be targeted. Add to that group sketch artists and traditional canvas painters whose work can all be reproduced, and the numbers begin to really stack up.

With each of the groups mentioned above, strategic partnerships can be formed. Fulfillment opportunities abound. The photographer or artist will simply submit a digital file to be printed. Just print and press the items and send them back to the artist for them to sell. Work with the photographer or artist to create some product samples and a sales sheet that will showcase the products available.

Looking at the economics of this model, the photographer is selling items at full MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price), but you the decorator are likely selling the items to the photographer at 50% off. As there will be little to no design time to produce these products, and all the sales are being promoted by the photographer or artist, sacrificing some margin for the bigger revenue picture makes sense. Thus, this truly becomes a partnership.

The most fun part of working with the groups mentioned above is seeing so many cool products imaged and creating a piece of art. The ChromaLuxe line of photo panels offers a significant number of exciting items that can help highlight the talents of the artist.

Aluminum: These photo print panels offer a cool modern look while actually providing a more vibrant image, as it is not obscured by glass. These are available in several sizes and two different styles with a white and even a brushed aluminum finished called Clear. Both of these have the potential to really liven up and add a cool factor to any piece of art. There are also a variety of wall mounts available for hanging purposes. In addition, a great new line of murals are now offered, with either a square or a wavy tile, available in two different sizes.

MDF: As a good companion piece to the aluminum items, there are a variety of 5/8”-thick panels made from a medium density fiber board (MDF). These panels offer a classy traditional look of framed art, just minus the frame. They are all set with a keyhole-based hanging system in the back for easy mounting to a wall. There is a chamfer edge and black painted sides and back to complete an elegant look.

Hardboard: Most of the hardboard products are designed for a table or shelf presentation. With hinged panels, arch top and easel-back items, these can be a portrait photographer’s dream add on. They are a great companion to the traditional prints, but offer a new attractive presentation of the photos.

There are also great ways to combine some of the ChromaLuxe panels to make larger pieces of wall art. A program called ChromaLuxe Connections is available that will give suggestions for different combinations of panels that can either have the same image spread across them, or multiple images with the same theme. The Connections program is a good way to get an artist or even an interior designer thinking about a more unique presentation. Plus, the best news is that there are now more items that can be grouped into a sale!

Now that we know what we can make and who we can target to buy these innovative and cool products, the logical question to ask is what kind of a system solution is necessary to meet the size and quality demands of the artist or photographer.

Equipment: As we now have really two customers whom we need to satisfy, the end user and the artist, it is important that we can meet the quality demands that are going to be asked. This will require that our printer can meet some of the increased size demands and color output requirements. Larger heat presses are often necessary for some of the bigger panels as well.

The printers that we will most commonly work with are going to be found within the professional line from Epson. The 4000, 7000, and 9000 series of printers (17”, 24” and 44” respectively) are the most appropriate here. These are eight-color printers that will offer the size and gradient capability that is required to compete in the fine art or photography world. They offer, on top of the standard CMYK color model, some light colors (light cyan, light magenta, light black, and a light, light black). Being able to get those fine details and halftones will become essential, and these printers are able to perform those demanding tasks.

Along with having an appropriate printer, the right heat press makes a difference. While the hardboard products and some of the smaller items can be done on fairly traditional desktop heat presses, larger products demand a larger press. True wide-format presses start at a 30” x 40” platen size and go up to 4’ x 8’ and beyond. Not only do these presses offer the ability to get large pieces in them, they are great for pressing multiple items at once.

The gang pressing technique can significantly help with production time, and custom jigs can be created to assist in orientation. These presses do require a bit more of a financial investment. That said, at the price points that fine art typically sells at, a committed decorator should be able to recoup that investment fairly quickly.

Software: While programs like Corel and Photoshop can give us a significant amount of flexibility when it comes to editing, they are not as much a color workflow system. To get to the level of offering a high-definition image, a new component often needs to be added to the mix. These programs are called RIPs.

A RIP program will allow for a very detailed formulation for color management. Some even have the ability of allowing color profiling (fine tuning the color output based upon the substrate being printed on) that can improve output beyond what is available from ink manufacturers or distributors. Additionally, these programs will allow for a reduction in ink usage, and increased print-processing speeds, which equate to lower production costs!

This combination of the printer, press and software will make a powerful tool. The doors of opportunity should now be open, and great possibilities can be achieved!

In conclusion, after years of working well in the awards, sign and decorated-apparel markets, this technology has finally hit a point that we can meet the incredibly demanding needs of the photography and fine-art markets. While leveraging some creative business relationships, this technological advancement now allows us to reach true lab quality, which in turn offers the potential for greater sales and profits in a fun and creative world.