Heat Transfer, Sign Materials…or Both??

If you have a vinyl cutter, odds are you’re using at least one of Heat Transfer or Sign Materials in your business. If you’re not using both, you’re missing potential profit opportunities! It took us at Imprintables Warehouse a while to realize that. For years, we sold only the Heat Transfer materials, and did quite well at it. Our Spectra Eco-Film is one of the most popular Heat Applied Materials on the market.

Imprintables Warehouse added Duracal 530 to our line up around 2011.  We knew that our customers already had the equipment needed to use the material, we just had to make it available to them!  If you have a vinyl cutter and a heat press and have been working with Heat Transfer materials, you really need to try this material.  I’ve told many customers over the years to include a decal or two with their heat transfer jobs.  The perfect time for this is with a corporate logo or a team sport.  After you cut and apply your logos to your polos or jerseys, put in a roll of sign vinyl and cut the logo again.  When your customer comes in to pick up their order, hand them them decal you’ve created for them as a complimentary gift.  Odds are, you’ll see an order in the near future!!  Your cost is only the few minutes it took you to load the material in and prepare the sample.  Material cost is pennies.

Add on sales are a big business.  Introducing a new product to your existing customers will bring in some extra cash to you and your business!

 

What to Know Before you Buy a Vinyl Cutter

In my almost 13 years in this industry, I’ve encountered many people that are looking to start a t-shirt or vinyl cutting business.  Our industry is very friendly to anyone looking to start a business because of our very low startup costs.  Below is a list of what anyone that is considering adding a vinyl cutter to their existing business, or is looking to start a business should know before they buy.

1.  Know the difference between a Vector and a Raster image – A vinyl cutter works exclusively with Vector artwork.  A vinyl cutter essentially draws on your vinyl, only with a cutting blade and not a pen or pencil.  A vinyl cutter will follow the contours and intricacies of a graphic.  This is different from a standard printer that will move from left to right and spray ink onto a material.  Vector and Raster can be described as different languages.  A vinyl cutter only speaks Vector.  I found a very basic and easy to understand explanation of this here – The difference of vector and raster images.

If you don’t have vector graphics, don’t give up!!  Most graphics can be converted in Cadworx Live (free if you purchase your cutter from Imprintables Warehouse), a graphic software like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw, or outsourced to a company like Artvark Express.

Start adding a certain keyword to your search terms.  It’s the theme of the post so far – Vector.  If you’re looking for a basketball graphic, instead of searching for “Basketball Clipart”, try searching for “Vector Basketball Clipart”.  You’ll see a big difference in your search results!!

2.  Know what you are paying for, or not paying for.  There are entry level cutters and professional grade cutters.  An entry level cutter will be the least expensive and provide you with minimal risk.  If things don’t work out, you can always try to resell it on eBay or Craig’s List and not lose too much money.  They won’t be as easy to use or set up initially, but they will certainly get the job done.  Professional grade cutters are made to last.  They are an investment that will continue to pay dividends well into the future.  Most will have premium features that will enable to you cut faster, quieter and more accurately.  I tell many of my customers that don’t have the budget for the professional grade cutters to start with the entry level, and then upgrade down the road if needed.  View our Buying Guide for an idea of the features available on each machine.

3.  Work with someone that will work with you.  If you’re going to buy a vinyl cutter, make sure you purchase from a vendor that is knowledgeable about the machine and will take the time to answer the questions you  have.  If you go after the cheapest price, you’ll get the cheapest service.  If a vinyl cutter is a new venture for you, you will need someone to lean on if you have a question on how to do a certain graphic, or what material to use on a fabric or surface.

4.  Buy a cutter that will effectively cut the materials you’re looking to work with.  If you’re looking to cut Rhinestone Templates, it will be best to purchase a cutter with sufficient force and an overcut function.  If you’re cutting very long runs, you’ll want to choose a cutter that has accurate tracking.  Going back to Number 3, the vendor you are looking to purchase from should be able to help you choose the machine that will cut what you need to cut.

5.  Consider your current set up.  Not all cutters will work with Mac computers.  If you are using a Mac, make sure you choose a cutter that has a compatible software and cutting driver.  You’ll also want to consider space requirements.  All 24″ or smaller cutters can be set up on a table.  A cutter stand is available if space is an issue and is recommended for longer cutting accuracy.  Some cutters are bundled with the stand, while they are an add-on item for other options.

6.  The software bundled with the machine will vary greatly.  Most will have plugins for Corel Draw and/or Illustrator.  Some software will outperform others with design capabilities, easy to access features and vinyl cutting specific functionality that isn’t available even on the more expensive, standalone graphic design software.  Cadworx Live will also be a great assist.  Cadworx has a lot of vector based clipart, templates and more.  There is also a very quick and easy Team Name and Number generator called Easy Teams.  Cadworx helps bridge the software gap between the entry level machines and the professional.

7.  Have a business plan!  I’m sure there’s a reason that you decided to consider a vinyl cutter.  Whatever that reason is, create a plan around it!  If you’re looking to create you own custom t’s for online retail, consider getting your website in order.  If you’re making this investment to get involved in the popular school or sports markets, contact your local organizations to see if you have a chance at the business.  You don’t want to take any orders until you have your cutter in place and have a general idea of what to do with it.  There is no faster way to lose a customer and potential business than to overpromise and under deliver!

 

These 7 points will help you be more prepared to start your vinyl cutting venture.  If you have any other ideas, or any questions, please feel free to comment below or email me at adam@imprintables.com.

 

(Another) Heat Press Innovation

Which is your favorite?  The Swing Away or a Draw heat press?  Both have their advantages to you, the consumer.  Would you like the draw action so you can view your work area from any angle?  Or do you prefer the swing away option to completely move the heat?  Odds are, you’ve had jobs where both features would come in handy.  Now what about a fully threadable lower platen?  How many different settings do you have for your various heat transfers?  Wouldn’t it be simple to cycle through them?

If you’re in the business, what is your “dream machine”?  Hotronix has created a press that should be the closest thing.  Introducing the Hotronix Fusion!  The Fusion should offer you everything on your wish list.  Fully threadable platen, check.  Easily to change lower platen, check.  Auto on/off, check.  Touch screen, digital display, check!

Do yourself a favor.  Check out the video and see what this press has to offer your business!!

Revised Material Calculator

A while back i posted my Material Calculator and it has been the most popular post on my blog.  Many customers have used the calculator to help them determine both the yardage needed and the cost per design for their Heat Transfer Material, namely our Spectra Eco-Film (check out the Color Chart).

Since i first posted the Material Calculator about a year and a half ago, there have been a few changes to the product offering.  Some highlights are the addition of some more “fashionable” materials like our Spectra Alloy, Spectra Glitz, Spectra Gloss and a few others.  We’ve also lowered the price on our popular Spectra Patterns.

Here’s an example of what you can do using the Material Calculator:

A customer comes to you and needs 24 6×8 designs printed on the front of their shirts.  Using the material calculator, you can quickly find out you’ll need only two yards to complete the job and each design will cost you $0.69 using the Spectra Eco-Film.  You’ll also see what the cost would be for other material options if you chose to offer a glitter, glow in the dark or other type of design option.

The updated version of the calculator can be found in the Box on the left hand side.  It is named Material Calculator v.2.1.  If you have any questions at all on how to use the spreadsheet, please email me!

Creating a Distressed look with a Vinyl Cutter

How much do you incorporate fashion into your vinyl cutter business?  I covered in an earlier post some materials that can add some flair to your apparel.  Another way to make your good more fashionable is to use the latest decorating trends.  I’ve identified the Distressed look as a trend that has been around for a little while but is still very popular.

It may seem like the distressed look would be difficult but it’s really not when you use the right tools.  I sourced two fonts that will make creating the artwork the easy part for a change!  The best to use are Destroy and Gesso.  I’ve selected these two because of the ease of weeding.  There are plenty of distressed fonts available but not all will allow you to weed rather quickly.

Of the two, Gesso is the easier to weed.  Most of the lines and detail will be weeded out on the initial pull.

Destroy has a bit more detail.  Don’t get me wrong, it will take a little more time to weed this design!  However, in my opinion, the end result is the best.

The weeding process for the Gesso font took about a minute longer than it normally would.  This should be factored into your pricing.  Destroy took about 5 minutes longer.  The good news is you don’t have to get all the detail!  It’s distressed so if you leave a few spots behind that should have been weeded it actually adds to the look!

Here’s the end result:

Gesso

Destory

Simply adding a specific font to you design software can add a lot to you business!

Equipment and Materials used:

Heat Press Innovations

The heat press has come a long way from the days cold spots, uneven pressure and inaccurate temperature readings. There has been one company primarily responsible for making the heat press the fine tuned machine that it is today – Stahls Hotronix.

Around 20 years ago, Heat Presses weren’t nearly as accurate as they are now.  Heating elements were located on the top side of the platen and spaced as much as six inches apart.  The temperature was measured using a Bi-Metallic thermometer, also on the top of the platen.  Bi-Metallic thermometers coupled with the location of the elements caused a 10 degree variance in the set temperature of the press.  A transfer that was to be applied at 350 degrees could have actually been applied at as low as 340 degrees or as high as 360.  A variance like that can and probably will greatly affect the quality of the transfer.

Hotronix developed the first cast in heating element and RTD temperature sensor.  The cast in heating element took the element from the top of the press and placed it inside the upper platen.  Heating elements were also made much closer together, moved to less than 2″ apart.  The RTD (Resistance Temperature Device) measured the temperature not on the top side, but at the pressing surface of the heat platen.  Hotronix was also the first to add a Digital Temperature readout.  The old meat thermometer readout was very difficult to set an accurate temperature and even more difficult to read.  With heat transfers calling for a very specific temperature to be applied at, being off a few degrees coupled with the 10 degree variance caused many more heat transfers to fail and many more $ out of your profits.  Off all the innovations i have and will speak of, incorporating the digital readout was probably the most important innovation made in the heat transfer business.

Accurate temperature is just one of the important pieces to the Heat Transfer puzzle.  Another, equally important piece is Time.  The timer, if there was one, on the press of yesteryear was essentially a “wind up” kitchen timer.  When it buzzed, time was up.  As with temperature, the time the transfer is being pressed has to be accurate.  Inaccuracies can lead to a transfer that’s not very easy to peel and can affect the adhesive quality.  As with Digital Temperature, the Digital Time readout allowed a better end product.

Digital Time and Temperature was first added by Hotronix a while back.  More recently, a Digital Pressure readout has also been added.  Digital pressure eliminates the guess-work that had always been associated with manual heat presses.  Pressure is measured on a 1 – 9 scale with one being the lowest and 9 being the highest or firmest pressure.  Now, a heat transfer will be pressed at the same pressure no matter who is manning the heat press.

The upgrades I’ve discussed so far have been upgrades that have made the press a more accurate machine.  The Auto-opening developed within the last few years is an innovation that made the machine much easier to use.  The digital timer along with an electromagnetic release and shock opening cut user fatigue in half.  Now, a press operator only has to close the machine, it opens automatically, on time, by itself.

Other Hotronix innovations include:

  • Stress relieved heating element eliminates warping caused by excessive heat.  A warped element can lead to uneven pressure.
  • Upper flotational platen on clamshell machines virtually eliminates the pinching effect found on any other clamshell design.  The flotational platen also allows for even, consistent pressure.
  • Over the center pressure adjustment easily and evenly distributes pressure throughout the entire surface area.
  • Laser cut steel makes a stronger, more durable press.

If you’re looking for a company that stands behind their equipment, Hotronix is unrivaled.  Their support is top-notch, and warranties are easy to understand and hardly ever needed.  At Imprintables Warehouse, I have set up many a customer with a Heat Press manufactured by Stahls Hotronix to start out or expand their existing business.  I’m confident their business was easier to run and more profitable because of their decision to go with the “Cadillac” of Heat Presses.

AY

Trade Show Video

Hello all.  I exhibited at the NBM Printwear Show in Charlotte a couple weeks back and shot a video with the folks at NBM in our booth.  The video was limited to three minutes but you can get an idea of the products I represent at Imprintables Warehouse and also get a chance to view a bit of our Trade Show Booth if you haven’t made it out to see us at a Trade Show before. 

Here’s the link to the video:  Imprintables Warehouse Booth – Charlotte.

Also, if you’re interested in coming out to a show, the Trade Shows page on the site has been updated with the shows Imprintables Warehouse will be exhibiting at next year and the shows which I will be attending.  As free registrations are posted, I’ll add them to the site as well.  Keep checking  back!