Ever looked at a plain ol’ mug and thought, “Man, this could really use a cat in a spacesuit!”? Yeah, me too. Welcome to the wild world of sublimation, where your weirdest, wackiest designs can come to life—and turn it into money!
This is my ultimate guide on kickstarting your own sublimation business. Think of this as your one-stop-shop to go from “What the heck is sublimation?” to “Holy cow, I’m actually making money off this!”
What’s in it for you? We’re talking:
- Picking the perfect niche and scoping out the competition (yeah, they’re quaking)
- The A-to-Z on must-have tools (nope, a hair straightener won’t cut it)
- Creating the products (from making designs to applying them)
- Writing content that even your grandma would click on
- And the golden ticket: Getting your products in front of customers
So, you ready to jump into how to start a sublimation business?
Let’s do it!
Who Am I And Why Should You Listen to Me About Starting A Sublimation Business?
You should listen to me because I’ve been in the print game since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. No joke, my mom and I started with DIY crafts, and then she leveled up to custom prints. Naturally, I hopped on that train faster than you can say “sublimation”!
Did I make mistakes when I was learning the game? You betcha, a whole boatload of ’em. But I cracked the code on what works, so you don’t have to trip over the same hurdles.
Fast forward to today, and what started as a hobby is now my bread and butter. Even better? I’ve shifted gears into teaching. I love teaching folks, just like you, how to turn their creative sparks into full-blown fireworks of a business.
Trust me, I’m here to spill all the tea—you’ll know everything you need to dive into this world.
And what about Sublimation? Is it still a good way to go?
Absolutely! The sublimation world is on fire right now. Just look at the trends; custom stuff is the new black.
In fact, the global custom printing market is expected to grow at 10.2% a year. This rapid growth shows the rising demand for personalized and custom-printed products.
And let’s be real, who wouldn’t want to make bank while doing something they love?
Sublimation is one of the best types of printing out there and it’s perfect for growing a business. Print-on-demand businesses are making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year with custom products. Why not join them and have fun along the way?
So, if I were you, I’d devour this guide like it’s the last piece of chocolate cake at a party. Seriously, there’s no better time to dive in. Let’s get to work.
How to Start A Sublimation Printing Business In 5 Steps
Here’s my quick overview of the 5 steps to start a sublimation business. Read this before you go diving into the rest of the article.
- 1. Picking the perfect niche: Find the area of custom products that screams you. You need to find a niche like fitness, cooking, pets, or whatever it is that you love. You don’t want to be selling everything to everyone.
- 2. Must-have tools: All the tools you’ll need to get started on this journey. You’ll need a sublimation printer, sublimation ink, a heat press, and some sublimation blanks and sublimation paper to get started. I also recommend design software so you don’t have to buy designs.
- 3. Creating The Products: Everything from creating the designs to printing them and putting them on your products. I’ll take you through each step of the process.
- 4. Creating Awesome Listings: The listings matter more than you might think. These will be the first impression of your products on customers. I’ll take you through creating product images, catchy titles, and great informative and engaging descriptions.
- 5. Getting your products in front of customers: Once you have some products made and listed, you’ll need customers. They don’t just start coming to your cool designs, unfortunately. I’ll take you through a few of my favorite ways to market your products.
Now, let’s jump into my complete beginner’s guide to a sublimation printing business.
1. Picking the perfect sublimation niche
This is probably the most important step in starting your printing business.
You must find a sub-niche within your niche to focus on first. If not, you’ll have no chance of competing.
Here is an example of a good niched-down print store.
EmperorApparel is an Etsy shop that sells custom-printed apparel focused on Japanese cars (JDM). This is all they sell. They’re not trying to sell to every car enthusiast. They focus on one very specific area.
So, why are they doing this?
Because you can’t just start making products for everyone. Because no one will notice you.
If you try to sell everything at the start, you’ll be going up against major brands. That’s like starting a small shop right next to Target. Not many people are even going to notice you’re there.
There’s no way you’ll be able to compete with 174,771 results for this one term.
Niching down into a narrower space allows you to create a real brand for your audience and stand out from the clouded market.
You need to find your own little corner and build up some rep there. THEN, expand from there.
Sub-niches are basically the most precise part of a category of products.
How to Validate Your Overall Category
The ideal custom product sub-niche lies at the intersection of you and the market.
Long story short, you want something that:
- You: Who are you? What are your passions? What would you buy?
- Market Demand: Is there demand? Can you compete?
- Profit Potential: What are people willing to pay?
Once you find your sub-niche at the center of all that, you can explore the market this way…
Write down 5 shirt ideas in that space, and take a look at the market. Let’s see how you can do that now.
How to Validate Your Sub-Niche Idea
It’s best to do some research on your niche just to make sure it’s not overly competitive.
If your sub-niche is full of giant brands, it’s going to be a hard fight.
Remember, depending on if you’re on a marketplace or have your own site the competition is different. Either way, your goal is to get your products as high up in the rankings as possible.
Take your topics and plug them into the search bar (marketplace or Google) and see what pops up.
Let’s stick with the car example:
Again, this is the same search I showed earlier. I searched “Car Shirt” and there are 174,771 products!
You’d be competing against all of those results. All those other shops.
Now let’s take a look at JDM cars
Now if we take a look at narrowing it down to “JDM car shirt” things get better.
All I did was narrow my search down to a more specific type of car. Now the search results are only bringing in 5,510 results.
I know that’s still a lot of competition, but it’s so much better than the more broad term.
Let’s take a look even deeper into this topic. This is likely the lowest you need to go to see if there is space for you.
Not too bad. while there are still 1,141 results, which is a lot more digestible.
This is however where your own experience comes in. I can’t tell you how many results are too many. You’ll need to use your judgment to determine if the market is at capacity or if there is room for you.
In general, stick to niches where you see mostly other small print shops. Avoid huge businesses as they tend to flood entire markets.
My Personal Journey into a Sub-Niche
Let me give you a real-life example from my own playbook. I decided to focus on “JDM cars” within the broader “Car Community” niche. Why? Because I’m a sucker for cars, especially JDM, and I noticed there was a gap in the market for high-quality prints related to JDM.
How I Validated the Demand
I did exactly what I explained above. Even with similar searches.
I don’t remember the exact numbers but I know for sure they were lower than they are now. Don’t let that discourage you though. While there might be higher competition, most of it is really poor quality.
Who Were the Competitors?
Most of the competition was small shops like mine, with a few big names sprinkled in. But here’s the kicker: their designs were, let’s just say, less than inspiring. I knew I could do better.
How I Differentiated Myself
I decided to offer not just shirts but a whole range of automotive-themed stuff, from key tags to stickers (man do we love our stickers) with iconic or funny statements.
So there you have it, a step-by-step breakdown of how I found and validated my own sub-niche. It’s not rocket science, but it does take some digging and a bit of gut instinct. Your turn now, go find that goldmine of a sub-niche!
Sublimation Niche Examples
The number of topics is practically endless:
- Pet Lovers: Cute sayings and pet illustrations.
- Fitness Junkies: Motivational quotes and gym memes.
- Travel Enthusiasts: Famous landmarks and travel quotes.
- Foodies: Food puns and popular dish illustrations.
- Gaming Community: In-game quotes and character art.
- Eco Warriors: Eco-friendly messages and earthy designs.
- Bookworms: Iconic book quotes and character sketches.
Most of these niches are pretty straightforward: Some kind of passion, made into a design and put on some kind of apparel or product.
And remember, these are just broad topics, you need to find the smaller categories within these and find your spot.
2. What Do You Need For Sublimation
Now that you’ve got your business idea in mind, we can move on to what you’ll actually need. And unfortunately, this sublimation equipment is gonna hurt your wallet a little.
I’ll be giving you a rundown of what each tool does, what to look for when buying one, and my personal top picks. And yes, the sublimation variant of all these things is actually needed(with an exception I’ll get into).
All of the tools I am recommending I either use regularly or have used in the past.
Yep, who knew you’d need a printer to start a printing business?
Well, technically you don’t. It’s less traditional but you can actually buy sublimation transfers on sites like Heat Transfer Source. And while it is an option I don’t suggest it. Making your own is much better for originality and cost.
Anyway, back to the printers.
I know I said I’d tell you what they do. Besides the obvious that sublimation printers print. More specifically they use sublimation ink and an inkjet system to print onto sublimation paper. I know, a mouthful of sublimation.
So, what should you look for when buying these printers?
- Print Size
- Print Quality
- Print Speed
A good printer will cost you but as far as good specs to look for it really depends on where you are in the business and how serious you are. Plus, if you’re printing larger items you’ll need to buy a large format printer.
So, what are my favorite sublimation printers? I’ll break them down into 3 categories:
- Standard format
- Wide format
- Budget option
Standard Format Printers
Standard format printers are for you if you’re printing on pretty much anything besides big shirts (over XL) or doormats. They print in the same size as a standard printer, 8.5 x 11.
My personal favorite in this category is the Epson SureColor F170. This printer comes in under $500 and ticks all the boxes. I think it’s great for anyone just starting out as it’s super simple to use and doesn’t break the bank.
If you aren’t a fan of the Epson, I recommend checking out the Sawgrass Virtuoso SG-500.
Large Format Printers
Now, if you’re gonna print some big stuff this is for you. These printers get huge, and so do the prices.
So unless you have the budget or absolutely need one of these large format printers I don’t suggest buying one in the beginning.
But, if you do, my favorites are:
The Sawgrass Virtuoso SG1000 is my personal favorite for large format. It’ll print up to 11 x 17, which is more than enough for most people. Coming in at around $1500 isn’t bad either.
My second is the Epson SureColor F570 is the large print king. It has a 24-inch wide print and just about every feature that exists. So what’s the downside? Well, it’ll cost you around $2500!
Alternatively, if you’re trying to keep costs low and still need a large format printer you can go with the Epson EcoTank ET-15000. Printing up to 13 x 19 it’ll satisfy your large printing needs at just $700 (such a steal). The only downside is that it’s not originally for sublimation so you’ll need to convert it (more on that next).
Best Budget Printers
Now this is probably where most of you skipped to. I probably would’ve too.
To get a truly budget sublimation printer you’ll need to convert a regular inkjet printer. The cheapest Epson EcoTank printer to convert is the Epson EcoTank ET-2800. Coming in around $200 this thing is a steal. Plus, the print quality is shockingly good for the price.
To convert it you’ll just buy one new (yes it has to be new) and add in sublimation ink instead of regular ink. It is important to note that converting a standard printer to sublimation will void any warranty and you’ll lose access to customer support.
So, what would I choose?
If I were starting a new sublimation printing business I’d definitely go with the Epson SureColor F170. I use one of these all the time and I can say it’s a dream, especially for that price.
It’s easy to use, you can use a wide variety of ink, and on top of that it prints so frickin’ fast!
More stuff to buy? What!? Don’t worry the worst is behind us.
So, what’s so special about sublimation ink? It’s a special type of ink that changes to gas when heated allowing it to transfer to your sublimation blank. And again, it is not the same as inkjet ink. Always double-check that you have sublimation before you add it to your printer.
When buying sublimation inks this is what I suggest looking for:
- Color vibrancy
- Drying time
- Fade resistance
- Shelf life
For the Epson printers, they’ll likely come with their own branded ink. However, you might want to switch to a better ink in the future. Unfortunately, the Sawgrass printers the aftermarket ink is very limited.
My Top Picks
I’m a big fan of the Hiipoo Ink because it dries super quickly and never leaves any smudges. Coming in at $25 for 4 bottles or $40 for a 6-bottle set it’s a steal for anyone who wants a good all-round ink. This is my personal go-to because I hate waiting for my shirts to dry.
Another great pick is the Printers Jack Ink. This ink is great for super vibrant affordable ink. Coming in at under $40 for a set of 6 you’re getting some bang for your buck.
Note that it’s important to check printer and heat press compatibility before you go buying new ink. There are quite a lot of limitations with different brands.
Alright, let’s talk heat, baby! No, not the Miami basketball team, but the thing that’s gonna make your designs pop.
These will be what heats your sublimation ink into gas and makes it go into the material of the blank. It’s literally as close to magic as you can get in this process and it’s pretty cool when you see it the first time.
So, What should you look for in heat presses?
- Ease of use
You want something that’ll give you the same results every time, without making you pull your hair out.
My Top Picks
First up, for the starting out, I like the Cricut EasyPress. This bad boy is as user-friendly as it gets. Priced around $200, it’s a solid investment for beginners. Plus, it comes in a few sizes, with the largest being 10×12 inches.
Now, if you’re planning to make mugs and tumblers you’ll need something a little different. They both have their own type of press and can add to your costs a lot.
So, if you’re dead set on selling mugs and tumblers when starting out I suggest using a convection oven. It’s like a Swiss Army knife of heat sources for non-flat objects. I will say it’s a little harder to use because you’ll need to wrap the cup in something to hold the print to the blank.
Personally, I’ve been using the Heat Press Nation Swing Away Heat Press recently. When you’ve done as many prints as I have you’ll grow fond of not having to stick your hand under a hot plate.
This is what you’ll be putting your designs on. Your t-shirts, mugs, or even wacky stuff like doormats.
I don’t think I need to explain what these are but I can tell you what makes good blank products.
Unfortunately, you can’t just slap a design on anything and call it a day. You need something with a poly-coating or enough polyester in it (70-100% for best results). So that Random Walmart mug or cheap 100% cotton tee? Not gonna cut it. Use the wrong stuff, and you’ll get a design that’s either faded or just straight-up MIA.
Here is a list of some of my favorite sublimation blank suppliers I buy from:
Next up, sublimation paper. You might think paper’s just paper, but oh boy, you’d be wrong. This paper is what allows the special inks to transfer onto your blanks.
So, when buying paper I look at these things:
- Color payoff
My Top Sublimation Paper Picks
Now, if you’re wondering what paper I’m using on a regular, it’s A-SUB Sublimation Paper all the way. Why? First off, they’ve got a killer range. Sizes start from 4×9.5 inches at $9 for 100 sheets, going up to 13×19 inches for $43 for 110 sheets. So whether you’re printing small mugs or XXXL tees, they’ve got you covered (for a great price too).
But size isn’t everything, folks. This paper works with almost every printer out there, and let me tell you, the colors are off-the-charts vibrant. In my opinion, it’s the only paper you’ll ever need.
Heads up: Always make sure your paper is compatible with your printer and heat source. A-SUB is super versatile, but it’s always good to double-check.
What weight is right for you?
Now, I know there are a lot of numbers being thrown around and it can be confusing. I’ll make it really simple. For the best results, go with 125g. This is what I use for all my projects as it always brings the highest quality prints and works great on every substrate.
Now, onto the fun part, design software. And no you don’t have to be an expert to make your own designs.
So, what do I look for in a good design software?
- Ease of use
- Compatibility with CMYK(optional as you can convert it)
- Design features.
So what’s my go-to? Canva ALL DAY!
Canva might not be the most advanced design software out there but it does a great job at what we need. Plus the lack of advanced features makes it so easy to use. And on top of all that, it’s Free. They also have a very affordable premium which adds a ton of useful features (like a CMYK converter).
I use Canva so much daily between making print designs and the blog it’s not even funny anymore.
Alternatively, if you’re a design wizard (which I’m not) you can go with something like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP. Photoshop will be a bit costly but you can definitely make some sick stuff.
I also love to implement AI into the designing process now. It can help you create base designs to start with. A tool like Midjourney does a great job at this.
How on earth is there still more stuff to get? Don’t worry, this is the last section for the tools I swear.
So, the unsung heroes of the sublimation world—the random stuff you didn’t know you needed, but totally do.
- Cricut machine: Optional, but a game-changer for black tees. Use it to cut out your printed designs and make those bleached shirts look like a million bucks.
- Heat-resistant tape: Heat tape is like the bouncer for your prints, making sure it stays put on your blank. No more awkward shifting!
- Butcher paper: Slap some butcher paper between your tee and the printed paper. It’s like a heat shield for your fabric, preventing any scorch marks from the heat press.
- Heat transfer gloves: Because let’s be real, nobody wants to turn their fingers into BBQ. These gloves are your knight in shining armor when handling hot-off-the-press items.
My Beginners Lineup: Everything to buy
This is my basic lineup for everyone getting started. I’ll include 2 setups: The budget (minimum recommended to start) and The Pro (Basically my current setup).
- Printer: Epson EcoTank ET-2800 – $200
- Ink: Hiipoo 4-bottle pack – $25
- Heat Source: Cricut EasyPress – $150
- Blanks: This depends, but I’d budget at least $100
- Paper: A-SUB 8.5″ x 11″, 125gsm, 110 Sheets – $25
- Design Software: Canva – Free
- Miscellaneous: Butcher paper – $14
This brings the total cost for my budget setup to $514. For the price, I think you’re getting into a really good business with some great tools. This is subject to change at the company’s discretion.
Pro Setup (Basically My Setup):
- Printer: Epson SureColor F170 – $500
- Ink: It comes with some but Hiipoo refills are – $60
- Heat Source: HeatPressNation Swing Away – $379
- Blanks: I’d still budget at least $100
- Paper: A-SUB 8.5″ x 11″, 125gsm, 110 Sheets – $25
- Design Software: Canva Pro + Midjourney AI – $25/month
- Miscellaneous: Cricut + Heat Tape + Heat Gloves + Butcher paper – $323
This brings the total cost for my pro setup to $1,013. The price will go up to $2,013 if you decide to start out with a wide-format printer. These prices are really high but you will be getting some of the best equipment to start.
My Two Cents on My Setup
Look, my Epson SureColor F170 is my right-hand man. It’s never let me down, and I’ve put it through the wringer. Using the Hiipoo ink with it is just a cherry on top for performance.
I would really like to upgrade to Epson’s wide format but it just costs too much. Currently rocking with the Sawgrass Virtuoso SG1000 and it is definitely nothing to slouch on for $1000 less.
My Heat Press
My HeatPressNation Swing Away is a workhorse. I’ve had zero issues with it, and it’s made my life so much easier (so many fewer burns). I have a few presses and while it’s my favorite, it definitely takes up a lot of space for the plate size.
Paper & Design Tools
A-SUB paper is my go-to for everything. I’ve tried others, but nothing compares in quality and value.
And Canva Pro plus Midjourney AI? They make me feel like some crazy pro designer who went to school. I really enjoy messing with them outside of just the print designs as well
3. Creating The Products
Phew, no more painful numbers! Now on to the fun stuff: Making your products.
I’ll be giving you a rundown on how to do each step of creating your products. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard.
To start the production process, you’ll be creating your designs. I’m going to show you how I do it with the use of AI (Midjourney) and Canva.
I’ll try to keep it short but we’ll see how that goes. To help with this, I won’t show you how to set them up. Just actually using them.
1. Come Up With An Idea
If you love your niche this shouldn’t be a problem. I can’t take you through the process but I recommend just jotting down some ideas and trying them out.
I also recommend checking the market to make sure you aren’t making the same design 2000 others have.
Now if you don’t know the niche that well or can’t think of anything I recommend using AI. Tools like ChatGPT are great for this.
Here’s how I use it when I can’t think of anything:
As you can see I took a niche (gym cats) and asked ChatGPT to create ideas for it.
Now, not all of these will be home runs. However, they are a great starting point for creative ideas.
2. Create the design
Now, let’s take those design ideas and turn them into actual designs.
I’ve been using tools like Midjourney to help create starting points for my print products. I personally really like to use them in combo with ChatGPT to help make the prompts.
Here’s how I use these AI tools to create my designs.
I told ChatGPT to create a Prompt for the AI art generator. I just tell it what I am doing and what I’d like the design to be. It will make it more details and even add some additional details.
A little tip I can give is to tell it to make it like a sticker. This will make it easier to remove the background.
After plugging the prompt it gave me into Midjourney it gave me these:
From here, choose the one you like and make the background transparent.
To do that you can use Canva’s premium tool: the background remover. Alternatively, you can remove it using a free tool like Gimp (although it’s more complex)
Next, you’ll add that file to Canva, add the text you like (if you want text), and download it with a transparent background.
Here is my completed design following these exact steps (minus the transparent background) as I was writing them:
Printing The Designs
Alright, you’ve got your killer design and you’re itching to hit that “Print” button. But hold up, cowboy! There are a few things you gotta check before starting the sublimation printing process to make sure your masterpiece comes out looking like a Picasso and not a hot mess.
First, double-check your printer. If you hit “Print” and hear crickets, make sure you’ve picked the right printer and that it’s actually on and connected. Trust me, it happens to the best of us.
- Paper Size: Match this to the size of the paper you’re using. Duh, right?
- Paper Type: Go for “Premium Presentation Matte” or something similar for best-quality prints.
- High-Speed/Bidirectional: Uncheck these options. Slow and steady wins the race here.
- Print Preview: Use it. It’s like a sneak peek of your design to be sure something simple isn’t missing.
Now, let’s talk about mirroring. If your design has words or needs to be in a specific direction, you’ll want to flip it. Why? Because when you press it, it’ll flip back and look just right.
You can set this up in your software or printer settings but don’t do both. I recommend saving this to your printer profile so you can’t forget.
Pro Tip: Run a test print on your regular printer using just black ink and plain paper. You’ll catch any mistakes, like forgetting to mirror the image, and get a sense of the sizing. Do this for your first few projects and you’ll save yourself time, ink, and a headache or two.
Applying Your Design To The Product
Alright, you’ve printed your design and now it’s showtime! Pressing can feel like the final boss level in a video game, but don’t sweat it. I’ve got some tips to make sure you nail it every time.
First off, know your substrate. Whether you’re pressing on a tee, a mug, or some other cool thing, each one’s got its own set of rules.
here are the basics that usually apply across the board:
- Preheat: Always preheat your press. It’s like warming up before a workout.
- Position: Lay your design on the product, making sure it’s straight, centered, or wherever you want it to be.
- Tape it Down: Use heat-resistant tape to keep your design from pulling a Houdini on you.
- Press: Close the heat press and start the timer. No peeking!
- Cool Off: Once the timer dings, lift the press and carefully remove the paper. Let it cool for a sec before you start your victory dance.
Now, for some of my go-to tips:
- Test Runs: I always do a test press with scrap material and small designs.
- Alignment Tools: I use a T-square or laser guide to make sure everything’s lined up. It’s like having an extra set of eyes.
- Double-Check: Before you press, give everything one last look. Trust me, it’s easier to reposition now than to fix a mistake later.
- Heat-resistant gloves: Wear them, you’ll thank me when you accidentally grab your heat press instead of the shirt.
Here is a chart for the general temps and times for each substrate:
Surface Press Time Temp Pressure Tips/Comments
Ceramic Mugs 150-210 seconds 350-400°F 40 psi (medium) Time varies with press. Cool down mugs in warm water or a cooling plate after removing the transfer paper.
Stainless Steel Tumblers 60-90 seconds 365°F 40 psi (medium) Time varies. For full wraps, press, rotate 180 degrees, and press again.
Polyester Fabric 35-45 seconds 400-410°F 40 psi (medium) Pre-press for 3-5 sec to remove moisture. Use tack spray and blow-out sheet to avoid ghosting.
4. Creating Product Listings That Sell
Now that you’ve got some designs and products made it’s time to show them off. I’ll be taking you through every step of making a product listing that sells.
The way you choose to tackle your product images will vary so I’ll take you through the two main strategies.
1. Mockup Generators
This is my preference to this day. Why? It’s fast, easy, and you don’t need to be a Photoshop wizard to make it work. There are a ton of online tools out there that can help you whip up some slick mockups. I’m talking sites like Placeit, Mockup World, and even good ol’ Canva.
Canva Love: Just as simple as using their designer, you just choose a template and drag your design onto it. Plus, you can add text, filters, or whatever else to make it uniquely yours.
Here is a mockup I made in Canva in about 2 seconds:
Why Mockups Rock:
- Speed: Seriously, you can make a mockup in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee.
- Cost: Most of these tools have free options, and even the paid ones won’t break the bank.
- Quality: These aren’t some pixelated messes. We’re talking high-res images that look pro.
Now, if you’re feeling all Hollywood, you can go for an actual photoshoot. This gives you total control over the vibe and look of your images. But heads up, it can get pricey and time-consuming. You’ll need a good camera, lighting, and maybe even models.
I recommend only doing this to update an already well-selling product.
- Lighting: Good lighting is non-negotiable. It can make or break your image.
- Angles: Show off your product from multiple angles. Give ’em the 360-degree view.
- Context: Lifestyle shots are key. It helps people see how awesome your product would look in their life.
Catchy Titles and Descriptions
Alright, you’ve got killer product images, but now you need the words to match. I’m talking about titles and descriptions that make people think, “I need this in my life, like, yesterday.”
1. Catchy Titles
The title is your first impression, so make it count. You want something that grabs attention but also tells people exactly what they’re looking at.
How to Craft ‘Em:
- Be Specific: “Cool Shirt” won’t cut it. Try “Vintage 90s Band Tee” instead.
- Use Keywords: Think about what your peeps are typing into the search bar and use those words.
- Keep it Short: Don’t go too long or it will look confusing and unprofessional.
2. Killer Descriptions
This is where you get to really sell it. Paint a picture of how awesome life will be with this product.
How to Write ‘Em:
- Benefits, Not Just Features: Don’t just say it’s a “stainless steel mug.” Say it “keeps your coffee hot for hours.”
- Tell a Story: Make it relatable. “Imagine sipping your morning coffee from this mug as you watch the sunrise.”
- Clear and Concise: No one wants to read a novel. Keep it short and sweet.
AI to the Rescue: If you’re stuck or short on time, AI tools can be a lifesaver. I’ve used AI to help brainstorm titles and even flesh out descriptions. Just feed it some basic info, and it’ll spit out some pretty decent options to get you started. It’s like having a mini copywriter in your pocket.
As you can see the AI isn’t perfect or complete. But it’s a great place to start at and way better than nothing.
Test and Tweak: Run some A/B tests to see what titles and descriptions are getting the most love.
Use Bullet Points: Makes it easier to read and highlights the important stuff.
5. Getting Your Products In Front of Customers
Alright, you’ve got your killer products, eye-popping images, and snappy titles. Now what? Time to shove ’em in front of people’s faces—in a good way, of course.
Let’s dive into my favorite (and most successful) ways of getting your products the attention they deserve.
Paid Ads: The Turbo Boost Your Business Needs
My Facebook Ads Saga
I was once a skeptic, but a $50 Facebook ad campaign turned me into a believer. The traffic was insane, and my sales went through the roof.
Your Facebook Action Plan:
- Start Small but Mighty: Even $50 can make a difference.
- Get Specific: Use Audience Insights to target like a sniper.
- Check, Tweak, Repeat: Dive into Facebook Analytics to see what’s working and what’s not.
Social Media Ads: Not Just a Facebook World
Don’t sleep on Instagram, Twitter, or even Pinterest ads. I’ve dabbled in these platforms and seen some solid ROI. Instagram, especially, is a visual goldmine for showcasing my products.
Your Social Media Action Plan:
- Choose Wisely: Pick a platform that aligns with your brand.
- Visuals Matter: Make your ads pop with eye-catching images or videos.
- Engage: Use compelling captions and CTAs to get people to click.
Google Ads: The Big Kahuna
Google Ads are a different beast. They’re more expensive but can also bring in a more diverse audience. I’ve used them for specific campaigns, and while they didn’t bring the instant gratification that Facebook ads did, they paid off in the long run.
Your Google Ads Action Plan:
- Keyword Research: Know what your potential customers are searching for.
- Set a Budget: Google Ads can get pricey, so set a limit.
- Monitor and Adjust: Use Google Analytics to track performance and make necessary adjustments.
The Times, They Are A-Changin’
Here’s the deal: It’s tougher now than when I started. Ads cost more, and the competition is fierce. But the flip side? The tools have gotten way better. You can target your audience with laser precision and get insights that were unimaginable a few years ago.
Bonus Tip: A/B test absolutely everything. You might think something is working when it’s not. So test it.
Social Media: Your Brand’s Party Central
Social media is where your brand gets to be the life of the party. It’s not just about selling; it’s about building a tribe. A passionate one.
I once posted a time-lapse video of a custom mug being made. It didn’t even go viral but it got traction. Not only did it lead to an increase in followers, but a consistent increase in sales thereafter.
Building a social media is about growing a following for your brand that loves it.
My Tips For Getting Started:
- Consistency: This is essential. I recommend using a tool like Buffer to schedule posts.
- Engage: Spend 10 minutes every day replying to comments and messages.
- Hashtag Smart: Research 5-10 popular hashtags in your niche and include them in your posts.
You don’t have to go crazy with it. Start slow, build your routine, and be transparent. If your audience loves your brand, they’ll buy more and do some marketing for you.
SEO: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
SEO is your marathon to “free” and consistent traffic to your products. There are two types of SEO: Google SEO and Marketplace SEO.
You guessed it, Google SEO is all about making Google trust you and optimizing your site to do so. This is perfect for running your own websites.
Alternatively, if you plan to be running your shop on a marketplace you won’t need to worry about Google as much. Your goal here is to research the individual marketplace to get your products at the top of their results.
I honestly skipped out on Google SEO in the beginning. Now that I’m blogging I see the true power of it. I mean it’s traffic that you work for not pay for. Plus, it’s not like random people are seeing your stuff, these people search for your products so they want them.
My Tips For Getting Started With Google SEO:
- Keyword Research: Use Google’s Keyword Planner to find relevant keywords.
- Optimize: Edit 5 product listings per week to include these keywords in the title and description.
- Backlinks: Email bloggers in your niche and offer to write a guest post. Include a link back to your site.
My Tips For Getting Started With Marketplace SEO:
- Keyword Research: Use tools like Marmalead for Etsy or MerchantWords for Amazon to find marketplace-specific keywords.
- Optimize Listings: Update your top 5 listings with these new keywords. Make sure they’re in the title, tags, and description.
- Track and Tweak: Most marketplaces offer analytics. Check these regularly to see how your optimized listings are performing. If they’re not getting views or clicks, it’s time to tweak.
So, SEO isn’t just a one-trick pony. It’s got multiple layers, and mastering them can seriously pay off. Whether it’s Google or Etsy, the right keywords can make you the star of the show.
Other Marketing Strategies: The Spice of Life
There’s a buffet of other marketing avenues, from email marketing to influencer collabs. I personally really love collabs. I mean you get to meet with influencers in your niche. You can make some good friends and amazing partnerships.
My Tips For Alternative Marketing Methods:
- Email Campaign: Use Mailchimp to set up an automated “Welcome” email series for new subscribers.
- Influencer Outreach: Find 3 micro-influencers in your niche, DM them, and offer a free product in exchange for a post.
- Collaborate: Identify a complementary brand and propose a joint giveaway on Instagram.
Key Considerations For Successfully Starting a Sublimation Business
Before you dive headfirst into this sublimation biz, let’s pump the brakes for a sec. There are a couple of things that didn’t fit into the main guide but are super important.
First, don’t underestimate customer service. I once had a customer who wasn’t happy with their custom mug. I replaced it, no questions asked, and now they’re a repeat customer.
Second, keep an eye on your inventory. There’s nothing worse than getting a rush of orders and realizing you’re out of paper or ink. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a logistical nightmare.
- Customer Service: Set up automated emails to check in with customers after they receive their products. Ask for feedback and address any issues promptly. Plus, being active on social like we talked about is a big help too.
- Inventory Check: You don’t need anything fancy. A simple Excel sheet works great to track your supplies. Set reminders to reorder before you run out. If you have the budget I recommend stocking up.
Taking Your Sublimation Printing Business To The Next Level
So, after you get everything going where do you go next? First off, consider diversifying your product range. It’s the easiest way to reach new audiences and a great way to expand the business.
Second, think about scaling. I started off with just a normal heat press, but as orders piled up, I invested in a convection oven and it was a game-changer.
Lastly, never stop learning. The sublimation world is always evolving, and you’ve got to keep up. Nothing stays the same for long and you need to be ahead of the game.
Bonus tip: Monitor absolutely everything. It helps so much to know where your money is going and coming from. If you’re spending money on ad campaigns and they aren’t working you need to know.
My Tips For Expansion:
- Product Diversification: Research trending products in your niche. Pick one new product and run a limited-time offer to gauge interest.
- Scaling Tools: If you’re consistently hitting your sales targets, consider investing in advanced equipment like a convection oven for mugs and tumblers.
- Continuous Learning: Dedicate at least an hour a week to learning new sublimation techniques or trends. YouTube tutorials (and this blog) are a great free resource.
My Favorite Print Businesses For Inspiration
Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground and I want you to see what this can be. I’m going to show you a very successful business and one that’s a little smaller, but still wildly successful.
I like to look at other shops like this for motivation that I’m doing the right thing. And both of these use the exact tips I shared in this guide.
INKMYPLATE: An Etsy Print Shop
INKMYPLATE is all about custom decorative license plates. They are a great example of how niching can work so well. On top of that they have a star seller rating. That means they are on top of their customer service and it shows.
I found these guys in a few different searches while I was doing example research. And guess what, they show up at the top of the results in so many searches. Plus, these aren’t all organic rankings, they are running successful ad campaigns all over Etsy.
This is a great example of how you can still be successful without being a basic t-shirt printing business.
The IKONICK name is more than a print shop, they are a real brand now. This is a perfect example of the empire you can build with a print business. Their main focus is canvas prints and they’ve expanded into apparel.
They take ahold of the ikonick stuff. They like the pop culture sports stuff.
And don’t think they got here doing nothing. Here is everything they are doing right:
- Paid Ads: They run crazy paid ads driving over 3k visitors to their site per month
- SEO: They have over 9k visitors on their site per month from organic searches. That’s free traffic!
- Social media: They have built up a crazy powerful social following using the techniques I showed here. Just a little scaled up.
This is a great resource to see just how important it is to stay niched down. They are generating crazy numbers and they are still barely even tapping out of the sports canvas prints area.
Alternatives to Sublimation Printing
So you’re vibing with the whole sublimation thing, but maybe you’re wondering what else is out there. Let’s explore some alternatives and see how they stack up against sublimation.
Screen printing is like the granddaddy of custom printing. It’s been around forever and is great for bulk orders.
How It Compares to Sublimation: Screen printing is less versatile when it comes to full-color and complex designs and they don’t tend to last as long. However, it’s killer for large orders of simpler designs.
- More Cost-effective (per shirt)
- A wider range of fabric options
- The initial setup cost is higher
- Not great for multiple product shops
- Designs don’t last as long
DTG (Direct To Garment)
DTG is the new kid on the block. It prints directly onto the fabric and is awesome for intricate designs.
How It Compares to Sublimation: DTG is excellent for high-detail prints but falls short in color vibrancy and startup costs compared to sublimation.
- High detail capability
- Good for small orders
- Less vibrant colors
- Limited fabric options
- Higher cost (DTG printers start at $10,000)
Print-on-demand is the lazy river of custom printing. You design, they print and ship. Easy peasy.
How It Compares to Sublimation: Print-on-demand takes the hassle out of production but gives you less control over the printing process and quality. It’s also a lot cheaper to expand to new products or offer a wide range of print products.
- Zero inventory
- Zero production hassle
- Wide range of products
- Less quality control
- Lower profit margins
- Limited customization options
Read more about starting a print-on-demand business here.
How to Start A Sublimation Business: What’s Next?
You’re now locked and loaded with everything you need to kick off a profitable dye sublimation printing business. The only thing left? Rolling up those sleeves and diving in.
Don’t let this guide be another tab you leave open on your browser, only to forget about. Take action. Start small if you have to. Buy that heat press, create that Etsy account, and run that first ad. Every empire starts with a single step, and your sublimation empire is no different. So, what’s your first move?
Here’s your action plan:
- Start Today: Seriously, not tomorrow, not next week. Today.
- Invest Smart: Pick one piece of equipment to invest in first. You don’t need it all at once.
- Test the Waters: Before going all-in, test different products and marketing strategies to see what sticks.
Remember, the best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now. So go ahead, take that leap, and make your sublimation dreams a reality.
How to Start A Sublimation Business: FAQ
What is Sublimation?
Sublimation is a printing process where you use heat to transfer dye onto materials like fabric, plastic, or even ceramic coffee mugs. It’s different from traditional printing because it uses a dye sublimation process that turns the ink into gas, allowing it to mix with the material for a more durable and vibrant result.
How Much Can I Make With Sublimation?
The sky’s the limit, my friend! But when you’re just starting out 3000 per month is a great goal. But in the end, it all depends on your hustle, the quality of your sublimation prints, and how well you market them.
How Much Does Each Product Cost?
The cost per product can vary based on the materials and sublimation equipment you’re using. But for the blanks themselves plus the cost of ink and paper, you’ll be running anywhere from $5-$15 per product. But this varies greatly with what you’re selling.
What Equipment Do I Need to Start?
At the bare minimum, you’ll need a heat press or mug press, sublimation ink, sublimation paper, and a printer that supports the sublimation printing process. If you’re looking to diversify, additional equipment like a convection oven for mugs and tumblers could be a good investment.
Do I Need Special Software?
Not necessarily. You can start with basic design software like Canva (my favorite design software) for your sublimation projects. However, more advanced software like Adobe Photoshop can give you greater control over your designs.
Can I Convert an Epson EcoTank Printer for Sublimation?
You totally can! Epson EcoTank printers are the most cost-effective way to get into sublimation. Plus is simple and I’ve done it myself. Just use sublimation ink instead of normal on a new printer. It does however void the warranty, so convert at your own risk.