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Friday, October 21, 2011

For Art Licensing Success, Know How Manufacturers Make Products

Ever wonder how art is applied to products or even how the products are made? Well, knowing those things are important if you wish to license your art to manufactures. When manufacturers choose art for their products they do not only look for themes that are popular with consumers but look to see if the art can be applied to their products. For instance, some manufacturing processes requires that the art be painted by hand, others use decals to apply art to products and others use a dye-sublimation printing* process. Manufacturers of ceramic ware may use a different method to place art on their products than greeting card manufacturers. And even in the greeting card industry, some manufacturers embellish their products with embossing, die cuts, metallics, glitter, jewels, etc. while others do not. Knowing how the products are produced can help artists create designs that these manufacturers are looking for and thus optimize licensing opportunities.

* To find out about this process, read Wikipedia's "Dye-sublimation printer."

Some of the questions that may be asked by manufacturers are:
• Is the art in the correct format or can it be altered to fit their products?
• Can the colors be reproduced accurately or at least look well with their manufacturing process? There are limitations in the color selection with some manufacturing processes. For instance, colors are limited if ceramic manufacturers depend on colored glazes or decals when placing designs on their products.
• Can the art style be reproduced with their manufacturing process? If the design is hand painted on the product, intricate designs would most likely not be chosen because it would take too long to reproduce them. And yes, there are some designs that are hand painted on products such as sheet metal, ceramics, glass ornaments and stained glass.

Below are links to videos showing the methods that a few manufacturers use to produce their products. Some of the videos are not made by manufacturers but the process shown is the same that they use. Note: Dye-sublimation printing is often use because of its good resolution and bright colors. It works well for products such as mouse pads, fabrics, decorative flags, t-shirts, ceramics, plastic ware, etc. Fusible decals are used to apply art to glass containers, glass jewelry, glass doorknobs, etc.

Hand Painted Products
When art is to be reproduced by hand onto products, manufacturers want certain art styles so that the person doing the work can produce good results. For instance, if the product is glass manufacturers often require that the original art be painted with watercolors so that the gradation of colors can be easily seen. Also the design should not be too intricate. Sheet metal manufacturers may require a decorative painting style if the products are hand painted or very realistic art if an airbrush is used. However, the art style wanted really depends on individual manufacturers.

Watch "Ne'Qwa Art Fragrance Lamps" video of an amazing demonstration on reverse glass painting of artist Paul Brent's butterfly art in a Ne'Qwa ornament.

Textile /Cloth Product Printing
The silk screen method of printing fabrics are used by many manufacturers but some use other methods. Read "Printing Process" for information about them. The dye sublimation method is used for short fabric runs, banners, decorative flags, t-shirts and other products. The links below show the dye sublimation process of printing on fabric and flags. Also silk screen like printing via direct to garment (DTG) digital printing is used for t-shirts. Google the internet to find links to other processes. Note: has many other interesting videos that demonstrate printing cloth products.

• Fabric: (dye sublimation process for print on demand and custom designs for fabric) - "How does Spoonflower print your fabric?"

• Dye sublimation process on Flags and Banners: "Velotex Direct Dye Sublimation Textile Printer"

• T-shirts: "DTG Epson 1390 Direct to Garment T-Shirt Printer.MP4"

Ceramic Product Printing (Tile, Plates & Mugs)
Many manufacturers of these products use a dye sublimation process to place art on them. The ceramic needs to have a polyester polymer coating on it so that it absorbs the dye when placed in the heat press. Some ceramic manufactures use decals and /or glazes to decorate their products. These products are fired in a kiln multiple times at various temperatures to achieve the effect that is desired. Decals are applied last and fired at a lower temperature than the previous firings. Below are several videos demonstrating these processes.

• Ceramic Plate (dye sublimation process): "Dye Sublimation to a Porcelain Plate Instruction"

• Ceramic Tile (dye sublimation process): "How to Sublimate a Single Tile"

• Ceramic Mug (dye sublimation process): "Sublimation Process Photo Mug"

• Noritake China (decal process): "Noritake: The Standard of Perfection Part 3" and "Noritake: The Standard of Perfection Part 4"

Melamine Product Manufacturing
Art is adhered to melamine plastic products either by the dye sublimation process or by embedding a printed image between two thin coats of melamine and curing the melamine layers. Read "What is the Process for Printing on Melamine Plates?" to learn about the embedding process. Look at the "Efay Melamine tableware" video to see how melamine dishes are manufactured.

Greeting Card and Gift Bag Printing
Offset printing presses are often used to print images on large batches of greeting cards and gift bags. Some cards and bags are embellished with cutout shapes, embossing, metallic foil, glitter and jewels. Specialized machines are used to adhere the glitter and foil to the paper, die cut shapes, and emboss the products. Below are videos showing some of these processes.

• Greeting Cards (offset press and die cut cards and envelops): "How a Greeting Card is Made"

• Adhere metallic foil: "Hot Stamping Digital-Diginove"

• Adhere metallic foil: "How to foil on laser printed images"

•Making Gift Bags: "gift bag making machine"

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER and knowing how manufacturers produce their products help artists create art that is needed. For instance, greeting card manufacturers that embellish their cards with metallics and glitter need art that have lines and outlines incorporated into the art for placement of metallic foil and areas for glitter. Knowing that a manufacturer is limited in the number of colors, as is often the case with printed fabrics, the artist can create art with a limited number of colors. And if the manufacturer produces hand painted products, an artist can submit the right kind of art and art style for licensing consideration.

Comments are welcomed. Please click on comments and write them in the comment window at the bottom of this article.


  1. Great post! I've printed w- Spoonflower and like the outcome, but it's lighter than my design. I've printed tees w- Cafepress and think they do DTG, which is quite vibrant. It's important to know which images to adjust depending on method. Look forward to watching more of the videos, was curious about melamine printing. Thanks!

  2. Great info! I have never heard of dye sublimation before until now. I thought using pantone colors would be enough.