What is Sublimation Printing?

Firstly, what is sublimation printing? Sublimation printing is a popular method of printing which aims at transferring a design from sublimation paper onto a piece of fabric or material by using pressure and heat (between 350 – 400 degrees). Changing the solid particles of the ink into a gaseous state, it is an easy and cost-effective way of adding personalization to products that is used by both companies and people at home.

The high-quality end product of sublimation printing has resulted in its popularity increased over the past few years. However, like all forms of printing, it is essential that you know how to create the designs (by watching tutorials or reading guides like this one) before you try it for yourself. If you are wondering how does sublimation printing work, read the explanation below to help better understand what the process entails.

If the process is done incorrectly, it can create designs that have white creases on them or ghosting patterns. This can cause you to lose both time and money. You should always test out a few designs before doing it in bulk, to get more familiar with the machines and how the designs will work on the fabric. Try with a simple design to start with, rather than a design that covers all of the fabric. Once you have gotten used to it, you can start experimenting with more detailed creations.

The Process

So how does sublimation printing work? After you have chosen your design, you should use a sublimation printer to print it out onto the special paper. The design is then printed onto the fabric, by either using a heat press or (if you are doing it at home) by applying pressure and putting it into the oven.

You will have to use a transfer paper (usually sublimation paper) so that the design transfers onto the fabric. Bringing the ink and the fabric together, the ink is embedded and therefore will remain more vibrant for longer (in comparison to other printing processes). The heat in the press or the oven opens the fabric’s pores up, whilst the pressure that’s put onto the fabric cools the ink down – turning it into a solid form. The press can then be released and the paper gently taken off of the shirt or mug (or whatever object that you have used).

A simple process once mastered, it can be inexpensively be recreated at home with the help of a compact sublimation printer and a heat press. If you’ve ever wanted to create designs that stand out from the crowd, this is an efficient and creative way of doing so.

What are the best dye sublimation printers?

Whether you are looking to buy your first sublimation printer or looking to add another one to your collection, it is a good idea to research online before you buy. With a variety of options on the market in a range of prices, you should compare the different printers and look at their reviews. To help make your decision a little easier when choosing the best dye sublimation printer for your needs, here is a top five list that will narrow it down:

Sawgrass Virtuoso SG400

A clear favorite by many both within the industry and enthusiasts working with them within their home, this entry level sublimation printer has a function which allows you to alter the quality or speed of the printing, has a 1200 DPI (dots per inch) feature which allows for high-quality and detailed printing, is environmentally-friendly and allows for an easy transfer onto both merchandise and polyester clothing. Using sublimation paper, it can be used to create unique merchandise.

How much does it cost? The price of the SAWGRASS VIRTUOSO depends on where you buy it from, but generally, the price ranges from $500-$600. It can print on sublimation paper up to 8 ½” by 14”, making it a good choice for many. If you want to upgrade to a SAWGRASS SG800 (you might be starting a printing business or are looking for a great quality printer within the workplace), this will set you back around $1500 and can print onto fabrics up to 13” by 19”.

Perhaps the best dye sublimation printer out there, it is popular for the high-quality images that it produces and its fast speed (as mentioned above), it is a good investment that has positive reviews across the internet.

Mitsubishi CP-D70DW

One of the biggest sublimation printers out there (weighing approximately 26 pounds), the Mitsubishi CP-D70DW isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing printer available on the market. It is, however, one of the most functional and is known for how reliable it is. It is popular for those working in the commercial field, who want to use it for events (e.g. photobooths). One downfall to consider with this sublimation printer however, is that it does not have any memory card slots or physical controls. This means that you have to have the printer connected to your computer at all times. This might make it less appealing for those wanting a sublimation printer that has wireless connectivity.

This is an important consideration, but due to the quality of images it produces and the impressive speed at which it delivers them (8.4 seconds for 6” by 4” prints), is one that many people will compromise on. It can also print out A4 designs in 77 seconds and 6” by 9” prints in approximately 33. It is not built for design, it is built for functionality.

EPSON Stylus C88+

A medium-sized model, this makes it ideal for at home sublimation printing. It features a 140 sheet capacity, can print up to 19 pages per minute, is scratch and water resistant (unlike a number of other printers), has an automated printing function and it utilizes a heat transfer technology that can work alongside a variety of ink types. Many people opt for this sublimation printer due to the functions, the high-quality images that it produces and, of course, the fact that it comes from a trusted brand.

Using an individual tank system, it means that you can remove the specific ink that needs replacing, whilst using the rest. A more cost-effective and easier process than having to replace the entire ink cartridge each time, it means that you can print more designs in a shorter amount of time. One of the cheapest models on the market, it frequently inhabits ‘best dye sublimation printer’ lists.

The downsides of this printer, however, is that it doesn’t have wireless printing and can’t print on mugs or surfaces. It also might become slower if you are trying to print a huge amount of designs at one time. These are three things to consider when looking into this printer. However, the fact that it can’t print on mugs won’t come as a surprise by many, as you will often have to purchase a mug press separately.

EPSON Wireless Inkjet All-In-One WF-2630

This sublimation printer is usually considered one of the best dye sublimation printers for transferring designs onto mugs and t-shirts. An efficient printer, it has a printing resolution that can be easily adjusted, produces high-quality and sharp images, offers fast printing, ECO features (that requires 70% less power) and is more affordable than other options on this list. Suitable for both personal and business purposes, it also features remote wireless connectivity – a bonus which others don’t have.

It is high print resolution has a color depth of 48-bit, a maximum resolution of 5760 x 1440 and a 9600 dpi – impressive statistics for a printer that’s more budget-friendly. One thing to consider with this sublimation printer is that it only takes Epson cartridges. Although these are generally quite affordable, it means that you can’t use non-branded cartridges that are often cheaper.

EPSON Workforce WF-7710

A multifunctional sublimation printer, the EPSON Workforce WF-7710 allows you to work with a variety of printing fabric materials, has a 4.3-inch touchscreen control panel that you can use to adjust the quality/resolution of the images quickly and it requires less power than other sublimation printers available on the market.
Boasting an impressive 250-sheet tray, it is perfect for those wanting to print a large number of prints at one time. It also has the ability to print borderless prints, has wireless connectivity and can work on surfaces up to 11” by 17”.

One thing to consider with this printer, however, is that its printing speed is considered quite slow – especially when you are printing a large number of designs at a time. This should be expected with higher quality images but can be a downside for those wanting to use it for commercial purposes. If you do want to print them quicker, perhaps one of the other EPSON models is more appropriate for your needs.

Printers Sawgrass Virtuoso SG400 Mitsubishi CP-D70DW EPSON Stylus C88+ EPSON Wireless Inkjet All-In-One WF-2630 EPSON Workforce WF-7710
Max Resolution 1200 dpi 300 dpi 5760 x 1440 dpi 9600 dpi 4800 x 2400 dpi
Printing Speed 600 x 600 dpi – 15 sec

600 x 600 dpi – 26 sec

1200 x 600 dpi – 48 sec

8.4 sec for 6” by 4” prints

33 sec for 6” by 9” prints

77 sec for A4 designs

19 pages per min 9 ppm (black) and 4.7 ISO ppm (color)

8.7 ppm (black)

10 ppm – (color)

Wireless Connectivity No No No Yes Yes
Memory Card Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Weight App. 32 lbs App. 27 lbs App. 10 lbs App. 12.8 lbs App. 41 lbs
Price $500-$600 $600 – $650 $110 -$150 $210 -$230 $230 – $250
Special Features 250-sheet tray Little to no color blurring Individual tank system Only takes Epson cartridges 250-sheet tray

Prints borderless prints

Dye sublimation supplies

There are a few things that you need in order to start printing designs onto your merchandise through the use of sublimation printing. The first, of course, will clearly be a printer that allows for sublimation printing and can take sublimation ink cartridges.

Secondly, you will need to invest in a heat press in order to print the designs onto the fabric. If you want to print the design onto a ceramic mug, you can purchase a mug clamp and press. It is important to think about the material that you want to use for your sublimation printing as not all materials are suitable. You will also need transfer paper (either sublimation or copy paper) and can also invest in RIP software that will help with color correction.

Sublimation printing fabric

If you are thinking of creating your own printing business and want to utilize sublimation printing or you want to start using the process at home, it is important to know what materials you can use. These are the following:

– Polycotton textile
– Polymer
– Polyester
– Ceramic
– PVC
– Polyester-coated aluminum
– Polymer-coated metal
– Polyester-made fabric
– Polymer- coated plastic

The best materials to use for sublimation printing out of the list above is polyester or ceramic. For fabric, you can use a variety of designs and logos, unlike traditional printing that could sometimes only produce one logo per garment.

There are, however, a few designs that don’t lend well to sublimation printing. An example of this is designs that have block colors with designs that need to be placed all over the garment. This is partly because of a chance of ‘ghosting’ and color mismatch (disadvantages of sublimation printing that are explored in more detail below), as well as causing white streaking.

Are there any materials that won’t work with sublimation? 100% cotton materials or other natural materials are not suitable for this method of printing. This is because they don’t have the pores that are required in order for the ink to be absorbed into it. If you are working with these types of materials, perhaps digital printing is more suitable.

Sublimation heat presses

There are a range of heat presses available on the market, from budget-friendly to heat presses that are more appropriate for commercial purposes. The size of the heat press you purchase will, of course, depends on what you are using it for. If you are looking for one that you can use for a range of functions, the Super Deal Pro 5 might be your best bet. If you want one simply for t-shirt designs, the Promo Heat Swing-Away Sublimation Heat Transfer Press might be just the ticket.

As with sublimation printers, it is important to read reviews online before you purchase it. If you are doing it at home, you probably don’t need one with all the bells and whistles that it is more expensive counterpart offers. Therefore, by investing in one that offers multifunctions as well as being lightweight is perhaps your best option. The sublimation heat press will, as mentioned, be the most expensive equipment that you invest in. But, without it, you won’t be able to correctly print the design onto your products – you require the pressure and heat that a heat press produces.

Sublimation printing facts and hacks

Firstly, what are some interesting facts about sublimation printing?

It is an eco-friendly printing method

As the world’s population are making more of an effort to make their practices green, sublimation printing is becoming more and more popular. It is environmentally friendly as it produces low levels of waste (unlike other traditional printing techniques) and does not require any water, only solid ink. It also generally requires less electricity and printers such as the EPSON Wireless Inkjet All-in-One WF-2630 has ECO functions that cause less damage to your surroundings.

The process originated in France

Dye sublimation printing dates back to the 1950s in France and was created by Noel De Plasse – a French researcher. Now a popular printing method worldwide, it has continued to develop throughout the years as the technology that it requires has advanced.

It was transformed in the US

Although the process originated in France, it made its way over to the US. In the 1970s, the first printer that used sublimation ink was created by the Jet Propulsion Lab in CA by a team led by Wes Hoekstra.

What hacks can be used to create clothing and ceramics through sublimation?

You can use copy paper or matte paper instead of sublimation paper

Using the same process as you would with sublimation paper, copy paper and matte paper produces very similar results, without the expense that sublimation has. If you are creating a mug, you can use the copy paper with the design, applying pressure with mug clamps. As mentioned above, you can then heat the mug to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven.

Try to coat the substrate with polyester coating

This will create a sharper and more vibrant print during the heating process. As mentioned in the materials section above, in order for the ink to be absorbed properly into the material, it must either be a blend of synthetic materials or polyester. If you want to use ceramic, you can get a sublimation blank that’s already coated.

Use heat-resistant tape for hard substrates (such as a mug)

When you use heat-resistant tape, ensure that you don’t tape it across the design as it could cause damage to it. Wrap the paper around and fastened it at the edge, away from the image.

How to prevent washed-out designs

If you do not allow the press enough time to apply pressure or the heating is not adequate on the press, your design will not take to the material correctly. You might also have to increase the amount of pressure that the press is putting onto the fabric (or if you are creating a mug, for example, you will have to ensure that the paper is tightly wrapped around it).

Print the image bigger than the object (roughly 6mm larger)

This allows for a margin of error that can easily be fixed if it occurs. If you print it smaller, then the print won’t fit nicely onto the fabric or the mug, allowing for a lot of white space. Similarly, any errors that occur will be more noticeable.

Pros and Cons of sublimation printing

So what are the pros and cons that come with sublimation printing? To help you to decide whether it is the right printing method for you, here is a quick list:

The pros

It gives you the option to personalize and customize

A large plus point of sublimation printing is the fact that it allows you to personalize what you are printing. You can modify the size and quality of the image that you are printing and fix any errors that occur digitally on the printer itself. This freedom allows you to get creative and make your ideas truly come to life in a way that isn’t possible through other methods.

It can be done quickly

This makes it incredibly convenient for anyone wanting to bring a design to fruition in a strict deadline. As it uses technology, it can be done a lot quicker than other methods that would require more human power. However, as a heat press needs to be accurate, the process will have to be monitored to ensure that the designs are being produced at the same level of quality each time.

It creates high-quality designs

The quality of the designs produced through sublimation printing tends to be a lot better than other forms of printing. The vibrancy is generally impressive, as is the DPI – depending on the printer you have purchased.

It creates designs that will last

The print that is produced by sublimation will not fade or peel, unlike other designs that are printed. This is because the ink is absorbed, rather than remaining as a layer on top of the fabric. This means that you can wash the item of clothing as many times as you want without having to worry.

The cons

Unfortunately, like any form of printing, sublimation has a few disadvantages that are worth considering before investing in a machine. These are:
It is only suitable for polyester or polyester blend materials
As mentioned at the start of this guide, sublimation printing will only worth with light, polyester materials. It is also suggested that you use a light color so that the design is clear and more vibrant.

Ghosting

Ghosting occurs when the transfer paper shift during the pressing process. The print will then have a light fade beside it (that looks like a ghost) or will be blurry. Adding time and effort to the process, this issue will happen if the right amount of pressure isn’t applied or if the ink on the paper is not dry during the process. In order to stop this from happening, you should make sure that the ink is dry and that the right level of pressure is put on the fabric when it is being pressed.

White creasing

Another issue that sublimation printing can cause is white creasing. If there are any areas that the design has not reached, it creates white creases. This can occur if there is any moisture on the transfer paper or if any areas of the garment are folded. The most common places that are affected by the white marks are under the arms and along seams. This creates a piece of clothing that’s of less quality and will result in the t-shirt becoming unsellable.

It can cause color mismatch

The design that you have created on your computer will be displayed in RGB mode, whereas the printer will print your design in CMYK mode. This means that the colors won’t be exactly the same once they are printed, as they appear on the screen. In order to improve this, you can ensure that the correct settings are adjusted on the printer or you can use RIP software. RIP software is a good way of checking if any of the color has spotted. You will have to consider, however, that with all forms of printing, even though the image will be of a good quality, it won’t exactly be the same vibrancy as that of the one that exists on the screen.

What’s the difference between sublimation printing and digital printing

The main difference between the two is that digital printing can print a design onto polyester, silk and cotton (to name a few). Alternatively, sublimation printing is only appropriate for polyester. Also, sublimation printing uses heat, unlike digital printing in order to transfer the design onto the material.

Sublimation printing is aimed at producing high-quality designs that are durable, whereas digital printing creates designs that aren’t fully absorbed by the paper that’s used, which can often lead to cracks in the color. It is also considered more expensive in comparison to sublimation printing and produces more waste due to the liquid it uses. This, however, isn’t always the case and it can create high-quality designs if the right printer is purchased.

The form of printing you choose will depend on the products that you are creating. Each are great forms of printing and there is a variety of technology available for both on the market. It is important to weigh up the pros and cons of each when deciding and thinking about what your goals are – then the type of printing that you need will become clear.

Conclusion

There is a brief guide into what sublimation printing is, a quick explanation answering the question ‘how does sublimation printing work’, what the best dye sublimation printer is for your needs, the supplies that you need to use the dye sublimation technique, what fabric you need, facts and hacks about sublimation printing and the difference between sublimation printing and digital printing.

Sublimation printing is a great choice for those wanting to create both clothing and other materials with full color and high-quality graphics. There is hardly any downtime, which results in each of the creations being profitable (if you are selling them to customers) and it allows for as much product to be created as you want.

It is one of the most economical printing processes available as, if you already have a computer, you can invest in a sublimation printer that connects via wireless connectivity, then will only have to purchase the inks and the transfer paper.

The most expensive part of the process will be purchasing the heat press, which is a consideration when you are thinking about starting sublimation printing. Generally, however, a good quality sublimation printer is affordable for many.

Adding profit into your business, the customization that comes with sublimation printing appeals to many around the world. This customization will allow you to fully fulfill a customer’s needs and allows you to produce a variety of designs to suit all tastes. A quick and easy process, it allows people to bring their creations that they have made on the screen to reality.

As mentioned in the section above, the fact that sublimation printing is so eco-friendly means that it is a process that won’t only grow in popularity with consumers, but also with printing businesses. Everyone wants to decrease the amount of waste and electricity that they are putting out into the world – especially with the condition of the Earth in the present day. By using sublimation printing, you will decrease the amount of water wastage, ink wastage and will be able to use less power.

There are, however, a few cons that come with sublimation printing that you should investigate before investing in all of the equipment (three of which are mentioned above). However, two of these issues – white creasing and ghosting, can be easily amended and are more to do with a human error rather than a problem with the printing itself.

The piece of clothing or product should have the correct amount of pressure and should be checked before the design is put onto it. Similarly, if there are any pieces of dust or excess material on the fabric before you put the design onto it, it should be removed by using a lint roller. If not, it will cause the ink to not correctly transfer over to it, causing a break in the design.

The issue with color mismatch will always be relevant to printers as the colors you see can rarely become reality. This form of printing, however, does produce higher vibrancy and quality designs than more traditional methods. The color can also be adjusted via color correcting methods and through RPI software.

Similarly, you will have to consider the fact that only polyester and polyester-blend materials can be printed on through this method. If you want to use another material such as ceramic, it will need to be coated with a special material beforehand in order for the transfer to stick.

If you don’t want the hassle of spraying it with the coating, however, as mentioned in the hack section, a sublimation blank can be purchased that is already coated.

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