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Blog Home Applications Getting Started: Sublimation Tote Bags or UV Digital?
ApplicationsJune 17, 2024

Getting Started: Sublimation Tote Bags or UV Digital?

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Inkcups Palooza Drawstring Bag

Tote bags are rapidly replacing more than just disposable plastic bags for grocery shopping. Nowadays, they serve multiple purposes such as gift bags, bridal party gatherings, Easter baskets, Halloween candy bags, school swag, corporate giveaways and beyond. Opting for a tote bag instead of other bulky items promotes sustainability by encouraging consumers to utilize and reuse what they already possess at home. Not only are tote bags eco-friendly, but they also add a touch of style and can be utilized for an extended period. Resourceful consumers can repurpose these reusable bags for various functions like packing material, storage solutions, and more once they no longer serve their original purpose. 

When it comes to decorating tote bags, there are many methods available. Two of the most popular methods are sublimation and digital UV. 

What is Sublimation? 

Sublimation, also known as dye sublimation, is a process whereby a substance transitions directly from a solid state to a gas state without passing through the liquid phase. In this process, heat and pressure are applied to ink, causing it to integrate directly into the fabric. This definition highlights the fundamental principle behind sublimation. 

Sublimation serves as a design technique particularly advantageous for its ability to produce full-color graphics on polyester fabrics with minimal startup costs. The process has gained popularity, especially in decorating tote bags, due to its exceptional end results. 

Sublimating Your Tote Bag: A Step-by-Step Guide 

Looking for a full walkthrough of the sublimation process? 

Prep Your Workspace: Make sure you have a clean, flat surface to work on. Ensure good ventilation as sublimation can produce fumes. Print your artwork with a sublimation printer, mirroring the image. Gather all of the items you will need throughout the process: sublimation print, tote bags, butcher paper, tape, heat pad, etc.  

Set Up Your Heat Press: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set the appropriate temperature and pressure for your tote bags. It’s usually recommended to set the temperature between 380-400°F (193-204°C) and the pressure according to your heat press specifications. 

Protective Layers: Place a heat-resistant pad inside the tote bag to prevent the ink from transferring to the other side of the bag. Cover the whole setup with a sheet of butcher paper to absorb excess ink and protect your heat press. 

Place Transfer Paper: Put your printed sublimation paper with the mirrored design facing down onto the tote bag. Make sure it’s centered and positioned correctly. Use heat resistant tape to secure it in the correct place on the tote bag. 

Press the Design: Carefully place the tote bag with the transfer paper onto the heat press. Follow the recommended time for pressing, typically around 25-45 seconds. Be sure to apply even pressure. (It is recommended to test and adjust pressure prior.) 

Remove and Cool: Once the pressing time is up, carefully remove the tote bag from the heat press. Be careful as it will be hot. Allow the tote bag to cool down for a few moments. 

Peel Off the Transfer Paper: After the tote bag has cooled down sufficiently, peel off the transfer paper slowly and carefully. You should see the vibrant design transferred onto the fabric.  

Final Touches: Inspect the design to ensure it has transferred completely and looks as desired. If there are any imperfections, you can touch up the design or redo the process with a new tote bag. 

Repeat for Additional Bags: If you’re making multiple tote bags with the same design, repeat the process for each one. 

Finish and Cure: Some manufacturers recommend curing the design further to ensure durability. Follow any specific instructions provided with your sublimation ink or equipment. 

Advantages and Drawbacks of Sublimation for Tote Bags 

Sublimation presents a host of benefits for tote bag customization. It yields high-quality, durable results that boast vibrant colors, making it an ideal choice for achieving eye-catching designs. Moreover, its relatively low startup costs make it accessible for beginners and home-based operations, including those working out of garages. 

However, sublimation does come with its limitations, particularly regarding the materials it can effectively work with. It’s primarily suitable for light-colored polyester blend fabrics since the process relies on the ink fully integrating into the fabric fibers. Additionally, the multi-step nature of sublimation can be time-consuming, making it more efficient for short production runs rather than large-scale orders. Moreover, the process generates a significant amount of waste, including sublimation paper and butcher paper used for protection during pressing. 

Design Inspiration and Ideas 

Explore boundless possibilities in designing sublimation tote bags. Seasoned designers can craft stunning masterpieces using Illustrator, breathing life into their creations on tote bags. Beginners can kickstart their design journey with user-friendly platforms like Canva. Moreover, platforms like Etsy offer digital art for swift turnaround, while commissioning artists on sites like Fiverr brings your imagination to vibrant fruition.  

Sublimation vs Other Tote Bag Decorating Methods 

There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to choosing the best method for tote bag decoration. For instance, apparel decorators that are already screen-printing t-shirts naturally turn to screen printing for tote bags. Sublimation offers low start-up costs, with heat presses and sublimation printers available at a range of different price points. But for those looking to start a business, an e-commerce site, expand their screen printing operations, bolster their product offerings, one might explore digital printing on tote bags.  

With UV digital printing machines, like the XJET Switch, streamline the printing process, man the machine with a single operator, increase throughput, reduce waste, and offer brilliant full color high resolution prints on a wide variety of tote bag materials 

Learn more about the XJET Switch for tote bag printing today, and explore Rise of the Reusable Bags: Different Methods for Decoration for all comparable methods of decoration.  

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