Making Money with Dye Sublimation

Versatility can lead to higher margins...with the right strategy.

Continued from Getting Started with Dye Sublimation Printing.

Sublimation printing creates a number of opportunities to make good money. First, there is the range of products it opens up for decorating. Notes Bernat, “There’s nothing like having a customer look at six different objects printed with exactly the same image and having him ask, ‘How do you do that?’”

This versatility also accommodates high-demand items that may be difficult to print with other processes, adding further margin potential. “Take cell-phone cases, for example,” says Montgomery. “The sublimation printer is going to spend between $2.50 and $3.50 creating one and typically it will sell for up to $30. That’s a huge margin compared to creating anything with a pad printer or even screen printing.” Montgomery also cites all-over printing and other special effects on apparel as highly profitable applications.

But in order to realize those high margins, printers may need to adopt a different mindset on pricing, especially if they are accustomed to producing longer runs. Job costs are often a fraction of the final selling price; full-color prints require no more effort than single-color jobs; volume orders bring no cost efficiencies that fall to the bottom line. “If you were the low-price screen printer, that strategy won’t make you money with sublimation,” says Montgomery. “You shouldn’t be competing on price; it’s about selling the value you’re creating with the process.”

Says Bernat, “You have to remind yourself that you are in the mass-customization business, and you need to leverage the fact that it’s harder, less cost-efficient, or impossible to do with other processes – things like full-color variable names and numbers. And you have to sell the benefits, not just the product. It’s not just a sublimation shirt; it’s a shirt with the birthday child’s photo on it that they can have for the party tomorrow and that they’ll still have when the kid turns 21.”

Finally, consider the unique advantages of dye sublimation in developing your business and marketing strategies. Northup cites a screen printer who boosted his primary business while promoting his sublimation capabilities by including custom-sublimated items like Koozies and lanyards with his screen-printed orders. Gross points out that the portability of desktop sublimation printers opens the door into on-demand, personalized printing on-site at events. Like the process itself, the business opportunities with dye sublimation are almost limitless.

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