Are you looking for more ways to make extra money in your sublimation business? If you are interested in providing supplies to other crafters or business owners, consider selling printed sublimation transfers.
Selling sublimation transfers online is a profitable way to offer designs to crafters who may not own a sublimation printer. Permission or an extended license to sell the printed designs is needed before listing the transfers in an Etsy shop or other venue, and finished prints will need to be shipped in rigid mailers, to protect them from damage.
In this post, we'll walk you through the process of listing transfers for sale on Etsy, from finding designs, to optimizing your product description, to saving money and time when shipping the finished products.
This post may contain affiliate links for products we recommend (this means that if you make a purchase through one of our links, we will earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you). Full disclosure policy.
What are Sublimation Transfers?
Sublimation transfers are printed designs that are meant to be pressed onto sublimation blanks. The transfers have been printed with sublimation ink, onto sublimation paper. They can also be called sublimation heat transfers.
When transfers are sold on Etsy, they are printed out and mailed to the customer. Transfers are not a digital design that the customer downloads.
(If you're interested in selling digital sublimation designs on Etsy, we have a post on that, too!)
Why Would Someone Buy Printed Sublimation Transfers?
Often, crafters have some of the supplies they need for sublimation printing, but not everything. Maybe they have a heat press, but they aren't ready to invest in a sublimation printer yet. Or maybe they have a standard-size printer, and they're looking for a larger design printed on one sheet of paper.
If you have a wide-format printer like the Epson EcoTank ET-15000, this means that you could sell sublimation transfers to customers needing larger prints, for things like T-shirts, tote bags, or garden flags.
What Equipment Should You Have to Sell Sublimation Transfers?
The main equipment you'll want to have for selling sublimation transfers is a sublimation printer – in fact, selling prints is a great way to have the printer pay for itself.
You can start with either a standard-size or wide-format printer, but remember that customers may be looking for larger designs that they can't print themselves, so consider investing in a large format sublimation printer. The Epson EcoTank series of inkjet printers has some affordable options that can easily be converted for sublimation.
There isn't really any other equipment needed, only your ink, paper, and shipping supplies. A paper cutter will also come in handy, especially if you are printing multiple transfers per page, and want to separate them easily with a nice, clean cut.
If you are already producing sublimation prints with high-quality sublimation ink and paper, and your prints turn out well with consistent colors and no “pizza wheel” marks, this business idea is something you can get started with right away!
(If you were only using your sublimation printer occasionally, then this extra use will also be a good thing – printing regularly will help prevent clogging of the inkjet heads.)
Adding Pre-Printed Sublimation Transfers to Your Etsy Shop
Already have an Etsy shop? Consider adding the category: Sublimation Transfers. Just make it clear that these are NOT instant downloads or printables. Sellers of transfers often list them as “READY TO PRESS Sublimation Transfers” or “Sublimation Heat Transfers”.
It's important to be clear that these aren't digital downloads, so that customers aren't confused or disappointed when they place an order.
If transfers don't fit in with your other listings, printed sublimation transfers can also be great for a second shop or “sister shop”.
Etsy allows you to have multiple shops, as long as you use a separate email address for each one, when setting them up. And of course, if you're new to Etsy, you can always open a new shop.
If you are new to Etsy, we talk more about setting up a new shop and creating your first listing in our post on selling designs on Etsy. You can use this link to receive 40 free listings to help you get started!
For a separate or new shop dedicated to sublimation transfers, you can list countless designs, and create categories to help you customers find designs they will like: Christmas, Halloween, fall, teachers, etc.
Another advantage? You can print the transfers as they are ordered – no need to build up inventory!
Already have prints available from your in-person sublimation business? Offer bundles in your Etsy shop – a grab bag or mix of sizes and themes. This is a great way to downsize your inventory or stash!
You could decide to specialize in certain types of transfers – for mugs, tumblers, earrings, or clothing.
You could also branch out into other sublimation printing supplies, like selling sublimation blanks: shirts, tumblers, blankets, etc. You could even create a one-stop shop for crafters who are looking for supplies, but don't want to buy in bulk.
There is room on Etsy for many types of sublimation supply shops. Spend some time researching popular listings, to gather ideas for your shop's focus.
Choosing Designs To Sell
To start making printed sublimation transfers, the first thing you will need to do is choose the printed designs you will offer. These could be your own original artwork, and if you have permission or licensing that allows you to sell another designer’s work, you can list those, as well.
Pay attention to sublimation designs that are popular in online groups, and look for what is currently selling well on Etsy. A great tool for researching product sales on Etsy is alura.io.
Also consider what is easiest for you to print:
What sizes do you want to offer?
Do your prints sublimate well when the design contains lots of dark colors or solid black areas, or would you rather stick with lighter colors?
Is there a certain style or theme that you would like to focus on? Retro designs, or mom life? Simple text T-shirt designs, or patterned tumblers?
Do you want to offer transfers for certain types of items, like car coasters, earrings, or T-shirt transfers?
This is your shop, so after you've done some research, choose what appeals to you from items that sell well.
Licensing is the most important aspect of selling a printed sublimation transfer.
If the design is your own, then of course you have the right to use it in any way you like. (It's still a good idea to maintain records of your work!)
If you are planning to print designs created by someone else, then you'll need permission, or licensing, from the owner of the copyright or trademark (a topic that was worth its own post).
One of the easiest ways to do this is to find artists through online marketplaces.
You can find great designs on Etsy, where you buy directly from the designer. And they may even have a website or Facebook group where you can make purchases or request custom designs.
When purchasing from a designer, make sure you have clear permission to sell the printed design as a transfer. You might find this permission written into the description of a design you have bought on Etsy, or it may be a separate, commercial license that the seller offers in their shop (read the terms of this license carefully).
If that permission is not clear, err on the side of caution – you DON’T want to have your shop taken down. Either contact the designer and get permission in writing (again, keep documentation, even if this is a screenshot, that makes it clear who is providing permission), or do not use their design!
On the flip side, designers may be very clear that they do NOT allow their designs to be printed and then sold (sometimes this is because they themselves offer printed transfers). Others will permit it, but only within limits, like allowing 100 items or transfers to be printed, then requiring a new license to be purchased.
Not everyone uses the same language for licensing, but it’s important to take the time to read the seller’s terms. If something is still not clear, or if printed transfers are not mentioned, write to the seller. You can ask them for permission, and you may even be able to make an arrangement with them, like becoming an exclusive printer of their designs, where they can refer customers who request transfers!
Organizing Your Designs
Once you have licensing to print transfers, it's time to organize your design files.
We keep two copies of the design as files in a folder for Etsy listings:
The first is the file that will be printed. This should already be tested to fit your largest paper size, in whatever software you like to print with. For example, if your listing offers a printed design that is 12 inches wide, but a bit of a square shape, will it fit onto a printed page? If not, adjust the sizes available on that listing.
The second copy is the watermarked image that will be used as the Etsy listing image. Adding this watermark is important: you don't want to make the image freely available without it, or you could be violating your agreement with the artist, when customers download the digital image instead of buying a printed copy from you.
It's a good idea to store files from a particular designer together in a folder under their name, where you can also keep a copy of the license agreement.
We could go on all day about organizing design files and naming them, but we'll save that for another post!
Time to start listing transfers!
How you set up your listing will determine how easily customers can find you, and how likely they are to click on your item. Put some work into your first listing, especially the description, and it will pay off. For future listings, you can use the same description, adding new images, tags, and a title.
Add the watermarked copy of the design that you created, to be used as your Etsy listing photo.
You can add other images, like a mock up of an item printed with the sublimation design, or you can create an image that explains your size options, or one that reminds customers that this is a physical item that will be mailed. You could also add a basic visual aid on how to press the transfer.
Be creative – having multiple images is not required, but it can help, and you can even add a video – this would be a great place to show someone pressing one of your transfers onto a shirt!
Title and Tags
Your title will obviously describe what you are selling, but be specific – think of the words the average customer would use to search for this design, and work those into your title! It will make it easier for Etsy to help your customers find you.
You can us more of these keywords and phrases in your tags – and USE ALL OF YOUR AVAILABLE TAGS.
All of this information, including the words used in your product description, will help buyers find you when they are searching on Etsy.
About this Listing, Categories, Etc.
You can play with the options to find what works best for you, but here are some of the basic settings we have used:
About this Listing: Handmade, Finished Product, Made to Order
Category: Craft Supplies and Tools: Stencils, Templates, and Transfers
Craft Type: Printing and Printmaking
Colors, Dimensions, Occasion, etc.: These allow you to add more details about your item.
We've left most of these options blank on our listings, but you might have items that fit under a holiday, or match certain color themes. Experiment!
Do make sure to click “Physical Item”.
What should be included in your product description?
Everything you can think of, and more.
Seriously, the more information you give here, the better – this is where you sell your item, but it's also your chance to create a repeat customer.
Describe your item and the quality of materials used. Include details about the weight of the sublimation paper used for the print.
Be very clear about how you determine your sizes – do you measure by the longest side? Is it an exact measurement, or an estimate?
Tell your customers anything you think might help them. If you were a beginner, still learning about sublimation printing, what would you want to know? What questions would you ask about how to press sublimation transfers?
Answer those questions for your customers.
What materials can they press on?
What time and temperature should they use for pressing an item?
Including pressing instructions is a great idea. We also print out these instructions to include in the package with the transfer.
Basically, you want to give so much value to your customers in a simple description, that they feel they can trust you, and they'll want to come back to shop with you again.
Your item description is a great opportunity to connect with your customers. Let them know they can contact you for help. Post a link to your website or Facebook group.
Decide what sizes you want to offer for your prints. Consider how the print will fit onto a page (a more square design may not fit the width of a page if you increase the length.) Also consider the cost of shipping.
Prices for a flat mailer will jump after the length of the package exceeds 18 inches. Your flat mailer will need an extra inch each way, to leave comfortable room for your printed page. You’ll also want to leave some space in a poly mailer bag if you go with box-in-a-bag shipping. Consider these measurements and add them to your print size.
This doesn’t mean you have to rule out 11×17 inch page – often the paper can be cut down to be closer to the size of the design.
Do some test prints and package them, including any extras or printed instructions, to get an idea of what the real weight and dimensions will be for a shipped item.
An example of sizes you could offer (using a range on the larger sizes, to allow for fitting prints to a page:
Pocket – 3.5 inch
Infant – 4.5 inch
Toddler – 6 inch
Youth – 8 inch
Adult 9.5 to 10 inch
Adult Large 11-12 in
You can change these sizes to fit the types of things crafters will want to sublimate on most often, from koozies or car coasters, to tumblers or extra-large adult T-shirts.
You'll also set the prices for these sizes, here. Research successful Etsy shops – find the range of prices on similar transfers that are selling well, and find a price point that is both attractive to customers and covers your cost of materials and time invested.
Will You Offer Custom Orders or Personalization?
By offering custom orders, you can really set your shop apart from the competition. The extent of this would depend on what you are comfortable with, but you can add an extra touch to your customer service by offering customizations, even if that is limited to adding someone's name to a design.
The difference in shipping costs for one printed transfer vs several will not be much, so consider offering your customers a discount on multiple items, and definitely sign up for the free shipping offer for orders over $35, since that will help you show up in more searches on Etsy.
Fill Up Your Shop
Once you are done with your initial listing, you don’t have to repeat all of that work. You can duplicate a listing and use the same settings for another item:
In your Shop Manager Dashboard, open the Listings page.
You should see a display of any active listings that you have.
Click on the settings wheel on the listing you want to copy (bottom right corner under the listing image) and select “Make a Copy” from the drop-down menu.
This will open an exact copy of that listing, and you can now simply change the title, tags, images, and any other specifics like variations, to match the next design. This will streamline the process and save you a lot of time.
We've worked on ways to lower the costs of shipping, and here are our tips for the cheapest options, without taking away from quality or customer service:
Use a service like PirateShip, to get discounted prices for shipping as a business. You can ship through the USPS or other carriers, but definitely check rates to compare.
Buy rigid mailers like photo mailers, in a size that will cover most of your prints. You may want to order a few to try before ordering in bulk. Some brands don't use very thick cardboard. You don't want to to have to reinforce it with more cardboard, as this adds to the weight and shipping costs.
Consider ordering a few of the larger mailers, so that you'll be prepared for orders in all sizes.
Poly bag mailers are available in cute colors, and are great for protecting items from the weather, as well as getting you shipping rates for “box-in-a-bag” items, if you're selling any other sublimation products.
You can also buy or make “DO NOT BEND” stickers or “Thank you stickers” to add an extra bit of care to the package.
In addition to the printed sublimation transfer, include any extras, a printed invoice or thank you letter, and pressing instructions (we copy the instructions from a listing and print those out).
If everything looks good, then package up the transfer and send it off!
Well, there you have it! Everything you need to get started selling printed sublimation transfers on Etsy. It may seem complicated at first, but once you have a system in place, a lot of your business tasks will become easier, and you can even save time by working on them in batches.
By following these steps, you can be sure that you are providing a high quality product that your customers will love.
Let us know about your sublimation business! We talk shop in our free Facebook group: https://facebook.com/groups/sublimationconnection – join us!