Jim Nicol: The man with the magic touch
The Magic Touch has been supplying dye sublimation image and transfer papers, heat presses, laser printers, plotter/cutters, materials and equipment for over 25 years. The company’s white toner laser printing transfer process opens up new and exciting opportunities for full colour, high quality image transfer printing onto a limitless range of application products where the possibilities are endless and the minimum order is one.
The Magic Touch not only produce and supply the products enabling entry into this market, but also support the applications with training, marketing and a commitment to research and development for the future.
What is dye sublimation/heat transfer printing?
Dye sublimation printing is a quick and inexpensive method of producing personalised bespoke items where the minimum order is one. You take an image and print it out onto special transfer paper, then using a heat press, you press the image onto the surface of your item. If you are using the conventional dye sublimation process, the inks will sublimate from the transfer paper to an item with a polymer coating (such as a mug) or to the polyester fibres of a fabric. After a short period, the transfer paper is peeled away, leaving behind a permanent high quality colour image.
We supply every type of transfer printing method including conventional dye sublimation with sublimation inks. Then we have a laser transfer system that works using an LED printer with a white toner capability, and we also have a product called Magi Cut, which is a range of vinyls and flexibles that can be cut on a cutter and weeded prior to transfer. The latter process is particularly suited to sportswear where player numbers can be added to sports jerseys and so forth. So we've been very fortunate that for 26 years we've been able to develop and bring ever more affordable systems to market.
However, the most important part of the process is the selling bit - how our customers market and promote themselves and the products they are producing. We believe that The Magic Touch process - those three transfer printing technologies - enable customers to market themselves far more effectively than any other process because when you give somebody a sample of notebook, or a t-shirt, or anything with their logo or their website on it, they will not throw it away. They'll keep it, and as long as you're telling people a very simple message that there is no artwork cost, no setup cost, and that the minimum order is one - it just works, and it also becomes a relatively easy sell.
What advice would you give a small printing company with no experience of dye sublimation and heat transfer printing?
The first thing we need to really understand is if this is going be a business or a hobby. Because if it's a hobby, we will point you in the direction of the right equipment equipment for your budget, and as a hobby your investment would typically be under £500 for a straightforward standard dye sublimation set up.
However, for around £2,000 you would have the ability to produce all three of the transfer printing technologies mentioned above. You would be able to produce short run high quality items very easily and very effectively. The difference is if you want to go into a production situation. If so we will then introduce you to things like white toner printing, and we will show you bigger presses and bigger equipment, and it just means that you can do more, but a whole lot faster.
What help and support do you provide to your customers?
We continue to remind people that the number one thing about using digital technology is the ability to make one. That's the only thing that makes this all stack up, because with traditional print in the past, you could never do short run, and you could never do it quickly. So we teach our customers how to use the systems and how to make the product, but we focus very strongly on teaching them how to market their products, and this is a big bonus for the customer, and that’s the direction we are taking.
We also host a CRM course every month for existing clients. Our CRM of choice is GoldMine - which is just a piece of single user software - and we try and show people the worth of tracking their customers online. We show them how to work out their customers buying patterns, which is very useful. For example, if you want to send a sample of a product you are promoting such as a notebook to every law firm within a five mile radius of your business, we show them how to go about it. This information is crucial to enable people to gain the confidence in selling the process, as is the mindset to produce samples of products that they can send out to the people they wish to target. Pick and target a product sample that will appeal to someone. If they're a golfer - send them an umbrella, if it's a corporate company - send them a notebook. The same with workwear and all of the other promotional products, they are all very profitable, and when you tell your customer there's no artwork set-up costs and that the minimum order is one, they don't actually believe you. But the minute you show them a sample and say, what do you think of this. They now believe you. And that's what this business is all about.
Giving people samples, for example a t-shirt with their logo on is cheaper for you to produce than it is to buy a cappuccino in a high street coffee shop, and nobody ever thinks twice about going to have a nice coffee. So we say send them something that touches them, and that anything you send to somebody with their logo, or website, or anything to do with them or their business, will not get thrown away. That's the most important part to remember when setting up any kind of transfer printing business, but it’s often the most overlooked.
Be prepared to produce lots of samples that you can send out to prospective customers. It’s a bit like using a sprat to catch a mackerel, but it really does work.
What types of transfer materials are required to produce heat transfer prints, and do I need any specific inks?
It’s important not to confuse toner transfer systems with ink because ink is sublimation, and sublimation is a great process, but the drawback of sublimation is that everything you print onto has to be white, and it has to be polyester coated, or if it is a fabric, it must contain at least 80% polyester content.
With toner we can print onto a transfer and lay this down onto just about any fabric, in any colour. Plus there are all the non textile items which are equally as important, because when you're transfer printing onto metals, or wood, or leather and so forth, the range of the papers is really based on what the capabilities of the machine will allow us to do.
All of our papers run very successfully through toner based printers and copiers, and we currently have nine different papers for toner systems, each doing different things that enable you to anything from printing t-shirts to printing on skin - because we now have a tattoo paper that simply acts as a decal. So we have all these different papers, all doing different things, but they all function through the same printer.
Do you need prior knowledge of handling images to be able to work with dye sublimation heat transfer printing?
Absolutely, but it's now far easier than it's ever been. Some 95% of the heat transfer business now is about getting a logo or artwork, which invariably will come from the client. It's then simply a case of opening that file, positioning the artwork and printing out a transfer. Nice and simple. If you then want to start creating logos, well that's when it all becomes a bit more complex and you are effectively becoming a designer, and that's a whole different story.
If someone comes to us and has absolutely no clue about handling graphics, we won't sell to them. It will just become a challenge for everybody and they will eventually get frustrated and we just don't need that. So I normally would say to somebody with no experience, get some basic tuition first. Find somebody who can teach you the basics and we can move forward from there.
Why can’t you print using dye sublimation onto a black t-shirt?
With dye sublimation, anything that is coated white looks fantastic when it’s finished. The only problem with it is that the minute somebody wants to put an image onto an item made of cotton, it doesn't work. The same if somebody wants to add a print onto anything that isn't white. It just won't work. Many many people have spent many many millions of dollars trying to solve this problem, but the laws of physics apply, and it’s never going to happen. So we say to people have dye sublimation and have The Magic Touch transfer system alongside it, because then you have the best of both worlds. To be fair, the cost now for a dye sublimation entry level printer is about £350 pounds. So it's not like some sort of lifestyle investment here. This is, to a certain degree, disposable technology. The advantage of having both means you can do everything and anything that your customer requires.
So give us an idea of the type of work that people are able to produce?
Almost everything and anything can be personalised with a minimum order of one. The most popular items include: t-shirts, tea towels, coffee mugs, photo slates, sports kit, towels and bags, phone and tablet cases, coasters, table mats, serving mats, printed glasses and bottles, umbrellas, baby sleep suits and bibs… the list goes on and on.
Have you noticed any trends in developing in the transfer printing process?
The trend continues with workwear which is a massive market. It just gets bigger and bigger every year. We know this because of our relationship with all the major t-shirt wholesalers in the UK and throughout Europe. They're all seeing double digit growth year on year, and it's mainly coming from people producing workwear. What's good about this market is t-shirts and polo shirts, no matter how well made they might be, are not going to last forever. So there is a repeat process involved here. Plus, workwear today is not just about producing t-shirts, sweatshirts or overalls. There are also jackets, trousers, hi-vis tabards and so forth.
For example, the courier company DPD is now issuing its drivers with summer shorts. Who would have thought that shorts would suddenly became a part of workwear? However, these will all need to be branded with the company name and logo etc. So that's growing tremendously.
The giftware and promotions market continues to grow. Why? Because of the digital factor. If somebody only wants 10 mugs, they can have 10, and so they don't need to buy 100. Nobody wants large amounts of anything anymore. So the growth is going to be a natural growth on the basis of the demand for short runs. Business-to-business products and promotional products, workwear etc. just continues to grow and it will do for many years to come.
Another trend is with decal papers. We have a lot of people who are now adding decals to drinking glasses, or vases, or to odd shaped ceramics and it works really well. We just say when you're dealing with glass in particular. Don't put in a dishwasher. But the decoration process works fantastically well. Plus the colour matching of the decals is so much better than any kind of screen print decals that people traditionally have used.
Finally, you exhibited at Sign & Digital UK in 2017. How was it and what can we expect to see from The Magic Touch in 2018?
Our goal at Sign & Digital UK is to focus on the importance for Sign makers to really look after their existing customers and to be able to offer them a wider range of products and applications that they can re sell to their customers. I strongly believe that anyone involved in the sign industry needs to attend Sign & Digital UK to ensure they consider all the great opportunities that this technology now offers, with most of it now very affordable.
For us, the 2017 show once again delivered in terms of quality of visitors and enquiries, and we really had a very successful show, but for 2018 we have some exciting new products to launch that are specifically designed for the sign industry including a new printable coated aluminium with a minimum five year outdoor UV guarantee. We will also have some new textile solutions for use with the HP latex technology within the ever-growing ‘Print & Cut’ market, so be sure to watch this space!
The Magic Touch are exhibiting at Sign & Digital UK 2018 - to find out more about showcasing your products and services to a unique audience of over 5,300 fully-audited unique visitors at the show, download the sales brochure.
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