How to Create Sublimation Marketing Images that Sell Online: Part 1 – Photo Basics

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You just made a great product, and you’re so excited about how cool it looks. Now it’s time to build a marketing image that will help you sell it online.

Let’s face it, there is a lot of competition out there for products decorated with sublimation transfers. Whether your products are listed on Etsy, Facebook Marketplace or your own online store, your images are what will draw people to stop their scrolling and take a look at what you have to offer. They are the first and often only chance you have to make a good impression.

This article is the first in our Sublimation Today series focusing on what you can do to create marketing images for your sublimated products aimed at catching attention and conveying the quality you have to offer potential customers. We start our journey with some product photography basics.

Plan a Photo Shoot

People want to see what your products look like in real life. Mockups are great, but are may not be as compelling as an actual photo of a finished product. Taking photos of your products can also give you material to work with when you do want to create mockups.

Having a high-end DSLR camera and lighting are ideal for producing beautiful professional photography. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to spend thousands of dollars to purchase a professional camera and lighting equipment.

“The Great Leveler” wood panel by Stephen Willey of Eyes On Fire

The majority of phone cameras are able to take photos good enough for your marketing needs. As long as you have one that shoots 10 megapixels or above, you should be in good shape. Just make sure your settings are saved to shoot at 300 dpi/ppi.

If they’re set to 72 dpi/ppi, that’s ok, as long as it is set to save it as a large file. Most screens render images best at 72 dpi/ppi, and the large size will allow you the most versatility for using the images in your online marketing.

We do, however, recommend investing in a light kit to enhance the brightness of the space where you shoot. High-quality, but inexpensive light kits and photo boxes can be found online, and are definitely worth the investment, which you can write off your taxes as a business expense at the end of the year.

Shoot Strategically

Keep your product in the center when you shoot, and if you’re using a camera phone, avoid taking images on an angle. Many phones distort product images with their lenses when photos are taken at an angle.

After you shoot the picture, zoom in to check that your image is in focus and not distorted. Be prepared to take more pictures than you think you’ll need. You never know which one will be the money shot.

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Learn About Lighting

Good light is essential in taking sharp, quality photography. Consistent lighting will help create a more cohesive look of your product listings.

Natural light produces the best results. However, you want to avoid direct sunlight, as it will create harsh, distracting shadows and misleading colors. Look to shoot in soft, natural, such as what you would see on a slightly cloudy day. Many product photographers claim that the best natural light comes from north-facing windows.

Tell a Visual Story

Customers that are able to touch the products are far more likely to purchase them. The closest equivalent for online shoppers is having multiple photos of your item for prospects to evaluate. This allows them to imagine seeing and touching the item in person or having it displayed in their own home.

“Crying Dryad” wallet by Alex Kujawa

Try to anticipate any questions your customer might have about the product with your photos: Is the surface of the product shiny or matte?  Smooth or rough? Small or large?

You can accomplish this by presenting different angles of your item, placing it next to a common item for scale comparison or showing the item being used or displayed.

Also, think of soft shadows as your friends.  The idea of editing out the shadows that your item is casting may seem tempting if you’re looking to produce a clean representation of your item. However, that can produce a sterile look that could turn off potential customers.

The soft shadows that your item casts are what helps the product look like a real item that customers can imagine having in their homes. Take, for example, a product that is a relatively small hanging piece of art.  In this case, the soft shadow the piece will cast on a wall is your friend – it will help ground the piece in reality and therefore help the customer imagine it on their walls.

Finally, zoom and crop your images to fit whatever specs are best recommended by the storefront you are listing it on. Keep all your images consistent size/proportion to create a cohesive experience the customers who will be looking through them.  Think of those as pages in a book.  You wouldn’t want them all be different sizes.

Dress Your Product for Success 

Collect a number of props and backgrounds that go with the general theme of your brand and use them as background decoration while shooting your products. They should help your customer imagine your product as a real, tangible item.

“Haunted Silo” wood panel by Alex Kujawa

These items should complement the products, not distract from them. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use the colors in props to help your design stand out. Pick a color within your item (one of the main colors of the design), and softly echo that color with your props or background. Little accents with similar colors around your main item will actually help it stand out and draw the eye into the main design.
  • Use depth-of-field to bring attention to your item. While your product needs to be in focus, your props and backgrounds don’t. Try placing a mug on a coffee table, and allow the room behind it to be blurry. Snap a picture of that scene and see what kind of effect it has on your product.
  • Use angles within your props and backgrounds to draw the eye in. Our minds instinctively look for and follow patterns.  Look at your props and backgrounds to see if there are any lines within them that could naturally point at your item.
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 Pick Your Hero Image Wisely

You may have multiple images to explain your product, it’s usage and features. But you need to pick one stand-out image to attract your potential customer. Think of it as the cover for a book. Your hero image should clearly define your product and connect with the customer.

In many cases, this hero image will be a thumbnail in a list of competing products. When customers look at a variety of listings of items in places such as Etsy, Storenenvy, and others, they will be scrolling through hundreds of items, all represented by small versions of your main image. They are also likely to be viewing these items on their phones, which means even smaller images.

“Rainbow Cats” mug by OlechkaDesign

When you are picking your main image, zoom all the way out or view it as a thumbnail. Ask yourself: Is it still clear to see what type of product it is? Does the image still look attractive? Is it compelling enough to cause someone to stop and click on it?

Ideal images for thumbnails should be zoomed to the product with a minimum number of props. In some cases, props may not work at all. Also, remember that different storefronts may crop your thumbnails differently, so you may need multiple versions of your images for different sites.

Now that you’ve got some ideas going for staging and taking some product photos, try to put them into action. Be sure to check out our next article in the “How to Create Sublimation Marketing Images that Sell Online” series, which will talk about creating product mockups.


Alex Wheeler

Alex Wheeler

Alex Wheeler is a graphic designer and artist. She spent five years working in the sublimation industry as the Content Development Specialist for Sawgrass. In this role, she worked on the development of CreativeStudio, a proprietary online designer application for sublimation business.
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