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Corel Concepts

A few years back, when I decided to start my own business, I had few choices for setting up my office and workshop. The less expensive option, an option that has proved to be a workable solution, was to utilize a small bedroom on the second floor of our old Victorian house. By small I mean that the space, with its dimensions at 8.5 by 12.5 feet, is probably smaller than a closet in some modern homes. Figure A represents my situation in my workshop with equipment and furniture.

Corel Concepts

Big Products, Small Press

By Shon Roti, Sublimation Consultant, Graphic Designer

(Originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of Insights.)

A few years back, when I decided to start my own business, I had few choices for setting up my office and workshop. The less expensive option, an option that has proved to be a workable solution, was to utilize a small bedroom on the second floor of our old Victorian house. By small I mean that the space, with its dimensions at 8.5 by 12.5 feet, is probably smaller than a closet in some modern homes. Figure A represents my situation in my workshop with equipment and furniture.

These dimensions would influence my purchasing decisions for equipment—a compact mug press, a mini laser and a small vinyl cutter. No regrets here. I have managed to produce most of the products I sell using the equipment I have chosen for the space. I do have some buyer’s remorse, however, with regards to my heat press. I opted for a clamshell style instead of a swing-away press to save space.


Figure A

A swing-away press, although not much bigger than my current press in its resting position, requires ample room for the “swing-away” opening action. See Figures B and C for a profile image of a clamshell press and an overhead view of a swing-away press for comparison. A swing-away press would have required almost double the space of a clamshell with its vertical opening action. Not that I haven’t been able to make this press produce just about everything my clients’ hearts desire. It’s just not ideal for all applications, especially apparel. For this reason, I generally do not openly offer sublimated garments to my clients.


Figure B


Figure C

Best presses for apparel

Why are swing-away presses preferred over clamshells for apparel? For most flat, hard substrates, either will work just fine. But garments are a whole other animal, requiring a more tailored touch for heat and pressure. A typical clamshell’s pressure evens out once it has completely closed to a horizontal position where the heat press element at the top and the bed of the press at the bottom are parallel to each other. If the clamshell lid is anything but completely flat when snapped closed, there will be more pressure at the rear, near the hinge. So, any object thicker than a quarter of an inch may have contact issues, leaving areas of the substrate with less ink transferring onto areas with less pressure (at the front of the press). That issue, combined with a garment’s need for a very light pressure to begin with, creates real challenges for a perfect image transfer.

Note: light pressure is required for sublimating garments to avoid press marks where the edge of the paper can create a permanent melted crease.

My clients, however, are not concerned with my equipment handicaps. Nor should they be. They just ask for things, and I try my best to accommodate.

So, of course there will be times when I must overcome these challenges and make do with the equipment I have in my studio workshop. This was the case when a friend asked for a small run of five t-shirts for her son’s “wolf pack”, a close group of friends that have imagined a club with its own motto: “Long live the wolf pack.” Sublimation is the perfect process for a small run of multi-colored t-shirts.

Solving the clamshell challenge


Figure D

After creating a custom design for the wolf pack tee (Figure D), I still had the heat press challenge—making my clamshell a more efficient machine for apparel.


Figure E

The solution to creating even pressure for apparel in a clamshell press is to create a temporary bed angled to match the angle of the heat press lid when it is set at a very light pressure setting. Figure E shows the angled gap between the bed and the top of the heat press with the pressure adjusted to its lightest setting. The bed and top are no longer parallel. The top is angled from the bottom platen by about 4%.


Figure F

To fill this angle requires items you can find within your home or workshop—cardboard and paper towels. Figure F shows the items that were used. I cut one large piece of cardboard (without any folds) to match the size of my bottom platen. Fold some smaller cardboard pieces in half to create spring-like structures to help fill the widest portion of the gap at the front of the press and add back pressure. Paper towels were added to soften the temporary “platen,” layered in such a way as to build a thicker padding towards the front of the platen that also helps to create the angle needed. Lastly, place a clean, non-stick sheet over all the layers of cardboard and paper towels. See Figure G for a diagram with the layered components. This portion of the process took less than 15 minutes.


Figure G


Figure H

As a final measure, I made sure to print the image on a large sheet of paper, allowing me to tear all four sides of the paper easily away from the artwork (Figure H) to create a soft edge to minimize the potential for a melted line on the shirts. A technique utilizing a foam pad under the shirt could also be employed here instead of the edge-tearing method.

All that was left for this project was to align the shirts onto the press with my temporary platen underneath, adjust my time and temp to about 385 degrees Fahrenheit at 40 seconds, and press with light pressure.


Figure I

Note: Test your press settings on a scrap piece made from the same material first. This may flush out any issues you have and prevent ruining a pristine t-shirt.

Figure I shows one of the t-shirts in its natural habitat–on an excited 11-year old Wolf Pack member!

Shon Roti is the owner of 9th Street Designs, a sublimation & graphic design consulting & promotional products business. A graphic designer, Shon has spent more than two decades working as a production artist and instructor in the awards and promotional products industry. In 2014, ARA named him Speaker of the Year. You can find him at www.9thsd.com or contact him at shon@sublimationconsultant.com.

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