Starting a Dye-Sublimation Business - Is it the right time for you?
Starting a business is scary as hell. It’s kind of like looking at a huge mountain you have to climb. You don’t know what type of perils might be waiting for you along the way, you don’t know how long it will take, and you don’t know what will happen to you along the way. But just like hiking a mountain, starting a business starts with a single step, and along the way you’ll grow into a better, more experienced person. Whether you’re just starting out with dye-sublimation, or if you’re a veteran to the industry, a dye-sublimation business can be a great venture filled with lots of success.
Much like beginning your hike up the mountain, you’ll want to make sure that you are properly prepared to start a business. Is it the right time for you? Do you have your finances in order? Are you ready to put in the work it takes to run a successful business? Before you launch your first dye-sublimation business, you’ll definitely want to give this guide a read to make sure that you are ready for the mountain climb.
So let’s get started with our hike, and make sure you’re ready to start a dye-sublimation business.
What is a dye-sublimation business?
If you’re already familiar with dye-sublimation, or if you’ve been following along with some of our other content, then feel free to skip this section. If not, let’s do a quick review of what dye-sublimation is, and what a dye-sublimation business could look like.
Dye-sublimation is a technique to transfer ink onto garments and other materials. It works by using heat and pressure to transfer a water-based ink onto the polymers within the garment. Because of this, dye-sublimation will only work with specific types of materials. We have a great guide here on some of the materials you can use for dye-sublimation.
So basically, dye-sublimation is a method to transfer ink onto something else, like a t-shirt or a sweatshirt! It’s a great technique for transferring artwork, designs, or other types of colorful decorations onto garments. Dye-sublimation businesses can make high-quality, vibrant, high-fidelity transfers onto all sorts of garments.
Is it different from screen printing or DTG?
Well yes, but actually no. Dye-sublimation has a lot of similarities to screen-printing and direct-to-garment printing. But there are also a lot of differences. All three are methods of transferring designs onto garments, but they all differ in both the types of materials they can work with, the types of designs they can transfer, and the associated cost.
Screen Printing vs Dye-sublimation
Screen printing works by transferring ink onto garments through a screen with a design cut out. The ink can only transfer through the cut out design.
Screen printing can work on a wider range of materials that sublimation printing can, namely because of the differences in the ink. But screen printing is pretty limited in the number of colors and complexity of the designs it can transfer. Different businesses are limited in different ways, but in general you will be limited to around 5 colors, with relatively simple designs.
It may sound like screen printing isn’t the best method for transferring inks, but screen printing can produce and transfer inks extremely quickly, and can be used to make hundreds or thousands of shirts very quickly. Screen printing is great when you’re working with huge orders!
DTG vs Dye-sublimation
Direct to garment printing, or DTG printing, isn’t limited in the same way screen printing is. But it can still work on a wider range of materials when compared with dye-sublimation printing.
DTG printing uses expensive and high quality printers to print ink directly onto a garment or fabric. It works very similarly to your ink-jet printer, but rather than printing onto paper, you are printing directly onto garments and clothes (like t-shirts, or sweatshirts).
You won’t be limited by the number of colors or the complexity of your design, in fact DTG printing can print extremely complicated designs with a huge range of colors. You will, however, be limited by cost. Because you are working with a speciality printer, you can only print out one t-shirt with one design at a time. It can also be costly to work in big batches. Because of this, DTG is perfect for one-offs or for prototypes!
What can you do with a dye-sublimation business?
We’ve gone over DTG printing and screen printing. But would a dye-sublimation business look like?
Since dye-sublimation uses heat and pressure to transfer ink onto garments, it works perfectly for small to medium size batches. It won’t be as cost effective as screen printing when you’re working with large batches, but it won’t be as expensive as DTG printing. You can work with complicated designs and colors, but may be limited in your material choices.
A typical dye-sublimation business
You’ve probably worn clothes or bought clothes made by a dye-sublimation business, without ever realizing!
Most dye-sublimation businesses work with relatively small batches, sometimes even custom artwork. A dye-sublimation business will typically specialize in some specific niche, whether that be pet related, business related, or specific to a type of clothing.
A lot of Etsy and Amazon shops use dye-sublimation to make their custom clothes and speciality items! Ever seen those t-shirts with a stylized portrait of your dog or cat? Yep! Those are made with dye-sublimation. Hell, even some popular t-shirt brands sold at places like Target and Wal-mart are made with dye-sublimation.
I’m in! How do I get started with dye-sublimation though?
Great! You’re in! But now what? How do you get started with dye-sublimation? What’s step one?
You have two options
There are two major options for starting your business. You can either handle the manufacturing yourself, or you can work with a print on demand company.
Print on demand companies specialize in making custom garments using a variety of methods, including dye-sublimation. You send them your design, and they handle the manufacturing and shipping for you. You can read more about print on demand services here.
So should you use a print on demand service, or should you handle manufacturing and shipping yourself? Well the choice is yours! If you use a print on demand service, you’ll have to sacrifice some of your profits and margins. But you won’t have to worry about manufacturing, shipping, or equipment! It can be a great way to dip your feet in, without having to dive in head first. If you decide to handle it yourself, you’ll end up with more money, but you may have more commitments and responsibilities. It’s more of a trial by fire method of starting your own business.
Getting the equipment
If you end up choosing a print on demand service, then I’d recommend taking a break from this article, and checking out our article on print on demand services. Once you’ve read that, come back on over here, and finish this article up!
So let’s say you’ve chosen the trial by fire method. What equipment do you need?
For starters, you’ll need a printer that can handle dye-sublimation ink. You can either buy a dye-sublimation printer, or can you install a conversion kit to turn a regular inkjet printer into a dye-sublimation printer. The choice is yours, but if you want my honest recommendation: go with the conversion kit.
The conversion kits are extremely easy to install, and have plenty of YouTube videos and online guides for installing them. It’ll only take you an hour or two at the most to get everything installed and set-up.
My personal recommendation would be the Epson WF-7710. We have a great review of the WF-7710 here, we honestly think it's a great printer, especially for beginners! It produces great prints, and can work with a wide range of paper sizes. Not to mention it's not too expensive. It’s the perfect beginner printer for any dye-sublimation business!
You’ll need some software to produce your designs!
We don’t have many guides or reviews on different types of software you can use for design, but trust me, those will be coming soon! Make sure to check back with us soon if you really want our detailed guide on picking out your perfect software.
In general, I used the Adobe suite of products. They’ve recently transferred over to a subscription model, which I’m less than enthused by. But you can’t deny the quality of their products. Photoshop, Illustrator, and the rest of the Adobe suite are incredibly powerful, but easy to use products. If you can swing the monthly subscription fee, I’d definitely recommend checking out Adobe!
If you’re looking for the more affordable option, I don’t blame you. I’ve actually cancelled my Adobe subscription recently. Not because of the quality of their products (they’re great, really!) but they are just way too expensive. I’ve been transferring all of my work onto GIMP, and I can’t complain! It’s definitely weaker than Photoshop, but it’s free! I don’t know if you’ve heard, but you can’t get any cheaper than free. In fact, free is my favorite cost of most things (I wish more things could be free, like Photoshop. Hint hint Adobe).
The Heat Press is what applies the heat (duh) and pressure to transfer your inks. Most heat presses clamp your transfer paper and your garments together under heat, transferring your design.
We’ve reviewed lots of different heat presses, which you can check out here. I’d really recommend checking out the heat press that works best for the types of materials you want to do.
In my experience, I’ve found that there aren’t huge differences in the quality of heat presses. Usually the most important thing when buying a heat press is the platen size. If you are working with smaller designs, or with smaller garments, then buy a heat press with a smaller press area! If you are working with larger work, then get a larger heat press! It seems pretty obvious, but I think it must be said.
Okay, I’ve got the equipment. Now what?
Now comes the fun part! Actually starting your dye-sublimation business! Also the kind of scary part…
First, you’ll want to come up with a niche. Picking out a niche can be really difficult, and this isn’t a guide on how to pick out a niche (we will have one of those coming out in the near future). But I can give you a few good tips and tricks now.
Start with things you personally like, or things that matter to you. Have a dog or cat that you just love? Maybe you’re really into the outdoors and hiking. Or maybe you are big in the local soccer clubs and tournaments.
Come up with a list of ideas, and how you think you can market and sell to those groups of people. Once you have an idea of how you want to approach your niche, put your nose to the grindstone!
Quick example of a niche
Let’s say you want to specialize in soccer gear and equipment. Maybe it’s jerseys, or socks, or maybe it’s signage and gear of families and people who watch!
The first question you’d ask yourself is this: who are the competitors and what type of market size am I looking at? Do you have an in on this market?
Once you pick out your niche, you can get started with the selling and manufacturing!
Sweet, I think I got it. But is it the right time for me?
Okay, okay. Enough about how to start the dye-sublimation business, or any background information. Let’s get into the meat of this article. How do you know it’s the right time to start a dye-sublimation business?
Evaluating the right time to launch can be tough. There are two major factors you’ll want to consider: your personal life and your niche of choice.
Starting a business can be a huge strain on your personal life. It can take up a lot of your time, a lot of your energy, and a lot of your money. You do this in hopes of eventually leading a better life, but you don’t want to kill your current life, do you?
If you are starting out a family, or have a group of young kids, then it likely isn’t the right time for you. You need to be prepared to sacrifice time and energy for your business. Having family responsibilities, like children or spouses, can directly interfere with your business. You need to choose between the two (I’d recommend choosing the family honestly).
You also have to consider the financial costs. Being short on money, or not being able to live for a few months without a salary are important things to consider. If you can’t go months between paychecks, then you probably can’t start a business. Whether it’s bills, house payments, or your groceries, you need to make sure you are in a good financial position to weather a small storm before starting a business.
Please note that I am not recommending you dip into your life savings or pull out from your 401k. Make sure you are acting responsibly, and don’t tank the future you’ve built for yourself. Take some time, save up some money, and start at a later date.
You’ll want to keep in mind a lot more than just your personal life. Not only do you have to worry about the impact of your business on your personal life, but you also have to worry about your business itself.
Whatever niche you choose to enter, there’s likely already somebody there. There’s a lot of people in this world after all! Make sure that you aren’t entering a niche with too much competition. If a market is oversaturated, you won’t be able to make a dent without previous business experience.
You also want to make sure that your niche or market isn’t too sparse. If there isn’t a big enough market of people to sell to, you may find it hard to come up with a regular salary.
You need to pick out a market that you can sell well in, without facing too much competition. You don’t want to pick out a huge market with too many sellers, out of fear that you won’t be able to sell at all. Choosing a niche is a really tricky thing, and you want to put in the right amount of thought before just diving in.
The Goldilock Problem
Figuring out whether it’s the right time to start a business is kind of like the old Goldilocks fairytale.
You don’t want to have too many responsibilities on your time, but you also need to make sure you have the proper finances in place. You don’t want to pick a market that is too sparse to sell in, but you also don’t want that's over crowded and difficult to sell in.
You want the market that’s just right for you. You want to launch at a time that’s juuuust right for you. If you’re in the perfect place to launch your business, then by all means, do it! Else, I’d really suggest waiting for the right time for you to start.