Lobby mural

Dye-Sub Options: Sublimation Solutions for Sign Shops

Sign makers have so many varied choices for creating products their customers are looking for—from vinyl cutting and laser engraving to traditional printing, sand blasting and more. Each technology offers distinct benefits and challenges, while delivering a specific look and feel to reflect the message being conveyed.

Within this realm, sublimation has become a powerful contender, offering sign makers full-color digital capabilities, high-definition graphic output, economical start-up and production, and the ability to diversify their product offerings to deliver increased value to customers. Here is a look at some of the ways sublimated signage can help your business grow.

How it Works

Sublimation is an extremely easy method for creating signs, requiring only a computer, printer, heat press and three simple steps: create, print and press.

  • Create—Work with your customer to develop a design using graphics software.
  • Print—Send designs to a printer made for sublimation printing. Sublimation inks are made up of dye solids held in a carrier fluid. Specialized printers enable these highly viscous inks to run through print heads effectively and create high-definition images.
  • Press—Affix your print onto a sign substrate and place in a heat press. The heat and pressure enable the dye solids on the paper to permanently imprint within the polyester-coated surface of the substrate.

Because the prints become part of the sign itself, sublimated signs can stand up to regular cleaning, touching and other environmental conditions, and designs will resist cracking or peeling from the sign. This offers a distinct advantage over other methods of sign making, as you get color, clarity and durability in one streamlined method of production.

Substrate options vary from small, hard signs that can be produced with a desktop sublimation system to large swaths of polyester-based fabric for banners, flags and soft sign displays. Fiberglass-reinforced plastic, hardboard and aluminum are popular options for hard signs. They can be ordered in standard dimensions or cut into custom shapes and sizes, float or flush mounted to walls, imprinted on two sides and hung from ceilings, tiled together to create murals and displays, attached to cash registers or sit with easel backs on counters and more.

There are a number of soft substrates that can be used for signage, as more diverse fabric options develop for sublimation applications. Polyester, Lycra, spandex, Dacron, poplin and other poly-based fabrics are easily imprinted with sublimation dyes and offer unique properties for specific sign applications. For example, Lycra and spandex can be stretched over metal or plastic frames for lightweight displays, which is popular among trade show exhibitors and other mobile applications.

Interior Signage

Every organization—from cafes and offices to schools, hospitals, government agencies, nonprofits and beyond—has a need for interior signage, making it an ideal market for sublimation. Whether it’s small directional signs to route people to the right location, a tabletop with menu options, large wall or hanging panels with important information or banners welcoming visitors, the applications for sublimated signage for interior spaces are endless. Look for opportunities to provide these items to existing customers, and analyze the signage needs of prospects to create sales pitches based on their specific needs.   

One unique selling point with sublimated signage for interior use is the ability to reinforce and extend the brand experience. Because these signs are printed digitally, you can use the logos, colors, fonts, and images that your customers have chosen to define their brand to create signs that bring those assets to the customer at every turn.

P.O.P. Signage

Any business or event that wants to drive sales will benefit from sublimated point-of-purchase signage. P.O.P. signage really is anything that is placed within a business that helps drive a customer toward a sale. These are not the utilitarian signs that direct them where to pay or which area of the store certain products are located. These signs need to grab attention, delight the eyes, create affinity and entice the viewer into action.

Sublimation is the ideal imprinting technology for this application because of the detail, color and graphic capabilities it offers. As stated before, you can play with brand images and colors to ensure maximum recognition among customers. But sublimation’s extreme color, definition and clarity enables you to make signs that demand attention. In fact, sublimation offers the highest resolution print capabilities currently possible—up to 1440 dpi with a 25” system.

New specialty ink sets greatly expand these capabilities. If you have spectacular photography to work with, pro photo inks help bring out the fine detail and extend the longevity of the prints. Fluorescent inks add excitement and visibility that pops, making full- and spot-color fluorescent designs incredibly striking. When color matching is critical, expanded gamut options will help you hit those spot colors that define your customers’ brands and keep them connected to their target audiences.

Leaning on the superior visual output of sublimation is a great sales strategy, and then back that up with some samples that will wow your customers. The impact will virtually make the sale for you.

Soft Signage

Sublimation applications for soft signage tend to run toward larger substrates, as fabric makes the most visual impact when there is a lot of surface area shown. Banners, flags and stretched fabric displays all offer different advantages for a variety of different types of customers. Colleges, malls, convention centers, museums, government buildings, corporate headquarters, fitness centers, restaurants and more can all use pop-up fabric signs, wall hangings and flags, pole or rally banners to draw attention to lots of things.

Soft signage is especially popular for trade shows and exhibits for several reasons. First, it is economical to produce and transport. Second, creative possibilities enable companies to build exciting displays that generate attention and differentiate themselves from the competition. Finally, customization is fast and easy, thanks to sublimation’s digital capabilities.  

A strong selling point for sublimated soft signage is the ability to add photographic elements, as well as generate bright, on-brand colors.

Final Thoughts

Sublimation enables sign makers to offer something truly special to customers. What’s more, all of the applications discussed in this article can be achieved with a simple system that consists of a computer, a sublimation printer and a heat press.

You likely already have a computer, and perhaps a heat press. When considering a printer, think about the kinds of signs you would like to make with sublimation. Desktop systems can produce images up to 13” x 19”; mid-level systems between 25” and 44” wide; and wide-format systems are for images wider than 44”. The rule of thumb is to choose the smallest system for the largest sign you will offer.

Given all this, adding sublimation to your shop could be a simple way to diversify your offerings and generate new revenue streams—not to mention stand out from your competitors. It just may be the easiest and most profitable move you make all year!