Sublimating Fabric Products Correctly

Sublimation Quick Stop

Kevin Lumberg is a Sublimation Sales Specialist and TJ Kvilhaug is a Large Format Sublimation Account Manager at Johnson Plastics Plus. Visit Johnson Plastics Plus on the web at www.johnsonplasticsplus.com. For further information, Kevin can be reached at 800-869-7800 ext. 5737 or by email at klumberg@jpplus.com. TJ can be reached at 800-869-7836 or by email at tkvilhaug@jpplus.com.

Sublimation is a perfect decorating solution for performance polyester apparel and microfiber towels, as well as mousepads and neoprene koozies. Mousepads and neoprene koozies have a fabric covering, which just happens to be polyester. When you sublimate these materials, the image is more vibrant and durable than any other decoration process available, which makes the finished sublimated products far superior than others on the market.

But to have a quality product, you have to sublimate them correctly to get the best possible results. In this article, we will cover the proper techniques to get these outstanding results each and every time, and explain why it is important to do it the correct way.

WHY DO PEOPLE HAVE TROUBLE WITH FABRICS?

Polyester material has a really good memory. What we mean is that when you press the polyester material, it stays in that shape, and that is effected by heat. That is why permanent press clothing was made with polyester.

Polyester garments these days are certainly nothing like the old permanent press garments of old, due to their breathability and moisture-wicking properties, but they do retain their permanent pressing abilities.

If you heat press the garment and press a crease into it, it will retain that crease. That is why you can get paper marks and press marks that remain in the garments if you do not press them correctly.

TOOLS THAT WILL HELP

Heat presses have a top-heated platen, and a bottom platen that most often has a rubber base. If you don’t use any special pads, in order to get consistent pressure to keep the sublimation transfer paper against the fabric when the sublimation dyes turn to a gas and go into the fabric fibers, you have to use more pressure than is needed to compress the rubber on the bottom platen. This gives you the press marks and the paper marks on the fabric.

If you press a sublimation garment with a piece of sublimation paper in the middle of the press, you will imprint the piece of paper into the fabric, leaving a mark. Therefore, you must use a tool to prevent this. That tool is Vapor Foam. By using a piece of Vapor Foam under the fabric that is bigger than the image area, but smaller than the piece of transfer paper, the paper cannot be pressed into the fabric, and you will get no press marks.

Another issue that can happen with fabric items is ghosting. Ghosting is when you place your sublimation transfer onto the fabric item and close it in the press to facilitate the sublimation process. When you open the press, the paper can shift on top of the fabric item. When it shifts, the sublimation dyes may still be gassing out from the paper, and you can get a secondary image off center of the first image.

So how do you make sure the paper doesn’t move? Heat tape doesn’t work very well on fabric, but don’t worry, there is a really great tool to help you out. That tool is Spray Tack, or Repositionable Spray Adhesive. We have had great luck with Elmer’s Multi-Purpose Spray Adhesive. To use the spray adhesive, you print out your sublimation transfers, and then very lightly mist the printed side of the transfer with the spray adhesive.

Then, when you place the sublimation transfer onto the fabric item, it will tack into place and not move when you open the press. The sublimation dyes will go through the adhesive into the fabric and not hurt your image at all. Further, the adhesive will stay on your paper and not stay on the fabric.

Spray adhesive is not recommended for hard substrates, but in a pinch it can work okay. Spray adhesive works awesome with mouse pads. You can use the spray tack to tack the mouse pads to the paper and lay in a stack. This way you can prep a bunch of mouse pads ahead of pressing them.

One other thing you need to do with fabric items before pressing them is to use a lint roller to remove dust. You need to do this to remove any polyester lint that may have settled onto the fabric. You cannot see this dust, and if you press the fabric without doing it, the small dust particles will outgas, causing little colored dust-shaped specks on your fabric that cannot be removed. Use an adhesive lint roller over the area of the fabric that will be pressed.

One of the hot new fabric products are socks. Vapor Apparel makes a line of sublimation socks, and they also have jigs available to make sublimating them a snap. There are two styles of jigs to either press the socks one side and the other, or front and back. The jigs keep the socks stretched out and flat for flawless pressing.

TYPES OF PRESSES

The type and design of the heat press you use can help in pressing your fabric items. First and foremost, a swing-away press allows you to adjust the press so that it does not close all the way. This is important when using the Vapor Foam for apparel. You only want to compress the foam about a third of the way. To do this, you adjust the press so that it only closes on the Vapor Foam a third of the way, and pretty much the weight of the top platen will close the press. Some clamshell presses will not allow you to do that.

Secondly, we prefer a press that allows you to dress it. Dressing the press means that you can put the garment around the bottom platen so that only one side is heated and the other side hangs below the bottom platen and is not heated.

TYPES OF APPAREL

All polyester fabrics can be sublimated. However, not all polyester fabrics can be sublimated with quality results. Why is that? Remember earlier we told you that polyester has a great memory? Because of this, it is important how the manufacturing of the fabric occurs and the temperatures involved. Chris Bernat at Vapor Apparel told us that they treat their fabrics at specific temperatures in the manufacturing process to prevent any impact from heat-press usage.

Other apparel may sublimate, but since it may not have been heat treated, it may be close to impossible to sublimate them without marks or a glossy sheen. Chris said they use an aggressive filtration process to prevent third-party contamination, and they wrap their shirts in plastic, in increments of six, to further protect from debris, and that they always use the same raw material supply chain to prevent any downstream adjustments from having an impact on their products.

Most items for sublimation are heat pressed at 400 degrees. With fabric items, it is important to lower that temperature a bit. Heat presses have heat elements that turn off and on to retain the set temperature. Due to this, the temperature can move up and down a bit. When this happens, the temperature can come too close to the melting point of the polyester, so you should lower your temperature a bit when sublimating fabrics.

We generally start at 390 degrees, but you may have to lower it a bit, depending on the actual operating temperature of your press. You will know it is too high, if when you finish, your fabric has a gloss or sheen where it touched the heat platen of the press.

THE TECHNIQUES AND TOOLS ARE THERE FOR SUCCESS

Don’t be scared to give fabric items a go. If you follow the tips and techniques we described in this article and use the tools that are available, you can easily sublimate amazing quality products. Sublimated fabric items are hot sellers, and the profits are there for you.