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Big-League Production

Opportunities will come along that will challenge your business, your equipment, your staff, and your patience.

Big-League Production

Get Large Orders Done on Time and on Budget

By Shon Roti, JDS Industries, Inc., Sublimation Specialist

(Originally published in the September 2015 issue of Recognition Review.)

Opportunities will come along that will challenge your business, your equipment, your staff, and your patience.

One of the most recognized stadiums in sports, Yankee Stadium was home to the New York Yankees from April 23, 1923, to September 21, 2008. Soon after the stadium closed, memorabilia started showing up for sale everywhere. About a year later, JDS Industries’ fabrication department was asked to produce a large order of authenticity plates for Yankee Stadium seats for one of our retailer customers. Hundreds of sublimated plates were needed in short order. We did not have a perfect plan, but “necessity is the mother of invention,” we kept telling ourselves.

We kept our Epson 4880 running through the night, customer service agents were drafted to help round corners and punch holes in plates, and, by sheer sweat and grace, we produced the order on time with beautiful results.

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It was a team effort, and we worked hard, but we were successful because we found that we needed to work smarter, too. We found bottlenecks in the process and ordered a second printer and heat press to streamline the process for the next big order.

These types of orders can get you excited about being in the customization business, but they can be scary, too. Finding efficiencies in every step of the process—software through production—will help to make sure the work is accomplished on time and under budget. A few considerations need to be addressed to make this happen.

Smart Questions

If up to this point you have only done small production runs, a large-scale production will present new challenges. There are a few questions you may need to ask yourself before you quote or start the job:

  • How many units can I fit onto a transfer?
  • How many units can I fit into the heat press at one time?
  • How much ink will be required to complete the job?
  • How long will it take to print and sublimate a press full of units?
  • Do I need to bring additional labor to manage some of the production?
  • How much room am I going to need when I’m in the middle of producing hundreds of items?

Once you’ve noodled these logistics, in theory, you should be able to estimate time and labor costs. These estimates help you submit an accurate quote for your customer.

Smart Production

One way to increase production is to use a jig. You will find that many sublimation products you are familiar with have jigs associated with them. Device cases, badges, and coasters are a few of the items that you will find that can be used with jigs. The advantage to using a jig is that you can easily layout multiple products in a way that matches the design template in your graphic design software. In this case, the jig (shown in use in FIGURE A and FIGURE B) and template file (FIGURE C) are for a Unisub® iPhone® Switchcase™.

One challenge with using jigs is a lack of visibility when you are aligning the transfer. Aligning the transfer requires looking through the back side of the transfer paper to the product underneath. Misaligning the transfer means spoiling your product and having to redo your work. That makes jigs a double-edged sword. Yes, you can save time by sublimating many pieces at once, but you also can ruin many pieces at once if you are not careful. My advice is to start slowly with a small number of units in the jig—one in each corner, for instance. This allows you to practice using the jig with less risk. Fill up the jig completely once you are comfortable working with it.

The alternative to using a jig is to align the products on the transfers by eye and by hand (FIGURE D). The benefit to this method is the added certainty that the product is centered correctly onto the transfer, but it is more time consuming. That extra time may not be a problem on a smaller order, but multiply the extra seconds on a giant order, and you’re losing time and money on a grander scale. One technique you can employ if you are aligning these by hand is to use the “aluminum sandwich.” If the product needs to be in the press with the transfer on top of the product, you need a handy way to flip the transfer over after placing and taping them to the transfer (FIGURE E). Use two pieces of aluminum (sized to fit the transfer) on the bottom and top of the product and transfer to create your aluminum sandwich. Transport these to the press (FIGURE F), flip the sandwich over, and lay the sandwich in the press. Next, carefully slide the aluminum sheet from the bottom (FIGURE G) and remove the top aluminum sheet (FIGURE H).

For device cases and other small products, you can be a minimalist with tape. In FIGURE I, I used one strip of tape along the bottom of the device cases so I could easily flip them immediately off the transfer when they finished sublimating. This technique eliminated the need to tear the transfer off and helps prevent ghosting (getting a double image on the product).

Another way to increase production is to incorporate large equipment into the process—large-format printers, large-format presses (FIGURE J), and conveyer dryers (for mugs). You can acquire the right equipment to match the production level you need. For example, FIGURE K illustrates mugs being sublimated in a convection oven. This would be a midsized step up from a single mug press (FIGURE L) but smaller in scale than a conveyor dryer. You can increase mug production from 50 to 60 per day with a mug press to 150 per day in a convection oven, or produce thousands per day with a conveyor dryer (FIGURE M), depending on the brand/model.

Large-format equipment requires a larger monetary investment, larger physical space, and more knowledge about how to operate the equipment. A plan for getting a return on the investment is also highly recommended. Just having the equipment does not equal getting the business.

Smart Software

Creating a large number of identical sublimated products requires strategizing production, but when each design has to be personalized, you’ll need to be smart about how you use your software, as well.

Using the Print Merge feature in CorelDRAW is a huge time-saver when your design is staying the same but each product has to display a different name. (Flip back to Figure C to see a sample of this.) If you try to do this by hand—copying, pasting, and reformatting text or, worse, retyping everything—you are increasing the risk of error and consuming a lot of your valuable time. In a nutshell, Print Merge allows you to automatically pull the data from the customer’s Excel file into a design template. Not only does it place the names and titles into the correct spot, but also it automatically changes the text to the correct typeface/font and size and fills the page with as many units as it can fit onto the document size you are using. Nice, huh?

The steps to do this are a bit wordy for this article, so watch this YouTube tutorial instead: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNxHqSSbrsw.

In Summary

Big orders can cause a lot of stress for a retail business, but the rewards should be worth it. Opportunities will come along that will challenge your business, your equipment, your staff, and your patience. Just remember that there are resources and advice available from your distributor partner to help you through the process. And remember that there’s a reason clichés are repeated so often. Necessity really can be the mother of invention.


Shon Roti is a sublimation specialist at JDS Industries, Inc. He has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Sioux Falls with an emphasis in graphic design. He can be contacted at shonr@jdsindustries.com. JDS Industries is a leading supplier in the recognition and sublimation markets. For more information on JDS Industries, visit www.jdsindustries.com.

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