How to Print Sublimation Images – The Complete Process

Are you curious to learn what is the right way to sublimate images hassle-free? Do you want to know how it works and what steps you need to follow for sublimating beautiful, vibrant images onto a substrate?

The following blog post answers all these queries and will simplify your sublimation process.

A successful, satisfying sublimation project primarily depends on a few factors –

  • Choosing a sublimation printer,
  • High-quality sublimation paper
  • Optimum printer settings
  • Pressing on 100% polyester material.

After getting so many queries regarding the right process and types of equipment for sublimation prints, I have shared a complete guideline on the same.

Before that, let’s dive in and understand some critical aspects of it. 

Sublimation Printing – An Overview

It is a process of transferring designs onto various substrates, such as shirts, mugs, ceramics, metals, and virtually anything which has more than 60% polyester material preferably.

This digital printing technology first imprints a design onto a special type of transfer paper using sublimation inks. Then, heat and pressure transfer the design from the paper onto the sublimation blanks permanently.

The Ink thickens and sticks to the material when exposed to extreme temperatures. The temperatures are usually based on the material. However, typically, it ranges between 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit

Sublimation print is commonly used for customizing and personalizing products such as T-shirts, mugs, mousepads, and tumblers. The textile industry has been using sublimation printing for so long because it allows the imprinting of full-color designs onto polyester fabrics with good color vibrancy sharpness.

The benefit of sublimation crafts is getting a permanent high-quality, vibrant color print on the material which is resistant to washing, fading, crumbling, and peeling

Additionally, it is ideal for producing small quantities or custom products, making it a cost-effective and flexible option.

Required Supplies for Sublimation Projects

The three most critical components required for sublimation are –  a specific sublimation printer, an industrial-grade heat press, and special Ink compatible with the printer. 

Also read: How to make sublimation brighter and more vivid (troubleshooting)

Installing a sublimation printer with sublimation ink required a few other supplies to carry out the process.

  • Sublimation Paper – (I personally use A-Sub 125g paper 13×19 size)
  • Unwaxed White Butcher Paper – 18 Inch x 175 Feet 
  • Sublimation Mat
  • Heat Resistant Gloves
  • Heat Resistant Tape
  • Practice Fabric: Any 100% polyester fabric 
  • Sublimation blank (Remember that sublimation requires polyester to work, so you must ensure the right blank type.)
  • Lint Roller
  • Foam roll
  • Sublimation Printer
  • Heat Press

What Printer is Best for Sublimation Crafts?

When it comes to sublimation projects, you will need a printer that is specifically designed for this purpose. Here are the two major ways to go with this:

  1. Epson EcoTank (converted to sublimation): This unit is a popular choice for sublimation printing due to its affordable price, can be easily converted to sublimation, and user-friendly interface. 

Almost all the eco tank models are supported but we will be talking about these two most popular model numbers:

  • Epson Ecotank – 4760
  • Epson Ecotank – 15000

Let’s have a quick comparison of these two Epson models:

SpecificationsEpson Eco- 4760Epson Eco – 15000
Paper Size8.5 x 14 inch Print up to 13 x 19 inch paper.
Printer cost$300$600
Resolution 4800 x 1200 DPI4800 x 1200 DPI
Speed15 pages per minute in black and white and 8 ppm in color.17 pages per minute in black and white and 9 pages per minute in color.
Bonus pointIt comes with a 250 sheets paper tray. 270 sheets paper tray capacity
  1. Sawgrass: This Printer is specifically designed for sublimation printing and produces high-quality, vibrant prints on various materials, including fabrics, ceramics, and metals.

It has two models:

  • Sawgrass SG-500
  • Sawgrass SG-1000

Let’s have a quick comparison of these two Sawgrass models.

SpecificationsSawgrass 500Sawgrass 1000
Paper Size8.5 x 1413 x 19
Model cost$500$1500
SoftwareComes with creative studio softwareComes with creative studio software
Resolution4800 x 1200 DPI4880 x 1200 DPI
Product TypeBest suited for small products such as key chains, tumblers, etc.Best suited for 2XL or 3XL t-shirts
Wifi compatibilityAvailableAvailable

When choosing a printer for sublimation transfers, it’s essential to consider factors such as print quality, durability, and cost-effectiveness. It’s also important to ensure the Printer is compatible with sublimation inks and can handle the types of materials you want to print on.

We have been doing sublimation printing for several years. We use Sawgrass SG-500 most of the time because of its ease of use and technical support.

Although the Epson Eco tank printers are not made for sublimation transfers, you can convert them into a sublimation printer cost-effectively by putting sublimation ink into them.

Moreover, in Epson printers Hippo sublimation ink will cost you three times less expensive compared to Sawgrass printer ink.

What Ink is Best for Sublimation?

For sublimation, you need a separate type of Ink that should be compatible with your printer and the fabric you use to print the image. As per my experience, I recommend the following links:

  • Hiipoo EcoFill
  • Printers Jack Sublimation Ink
  • Cosmos Ink
Ecotank – 15000 with cosmos inks

If you have an Eco tank printer, I recommend you choose the cosmos ink (Epson – 4 color ink refills) or Hiipoo EcoFill Sublimation Ink for all products. It delivers excellent results. I suggest standard sawgrass subliJet UHD ink for the sawgrass printer.

Sublimation Heat Press and Size

When choosing a heat press, you must consider its size, style, and quality to ensure producing multiple or large items in one go and meet overall demands.

Sublimation heat press comes in various sizes and types depending on specific needs. The most recommended heat press size is 16’’ x 24’’. Heat presses fall into four different specifications: flat, clam, mug, and vacuum.

Heat Press Chart (Time and Temperature)

Flat-bed is an ideal option for making high-volume and large-size products. It is mainly recommended for textiles and photographic panels.

Clam-shell machine is ideal for flat products like ceramics, metals, plastics, etc. This is because it provides consistent pressure across the entire surface of sublimation blanks.

Mug heat press is recommended for sublimating mugs. The mug is placed inside a rounded heating press which provides consistent pressure and temperature across the surface.

Vacuum heat press is a versatile unit that is ideal for 3D products such as plates, mugs, and phone covers.

Step by Step Method to Print Sublimation Images:

In order to print a sublimation image, you have to first make the image ready in a design software like Photoshop, CorelDraw, or Canva. Then you will need a sublimation printer, and sublimation paper to print the design onto the paper. After that, the image will be transferred onto the substrate using a heat press.

Let’s discuss all the steps in detail in the next segment.

Creating the Image

The first and foremost step is to create the image. If your image quality is low, then it’s obvious the sublimation image quality will be poor too. Therefore, you must create high-quality images to achieve desired results from sublimation.

The following practices should follow during this stage:

1.1 Choose Sublimation Design Software

The first step in sublimation printing is to create a digital design using specialized software, which is then printed onto transfer paper using a sublimation printer. There are some paid software and also a few free tools but with limited features. Below are the few paid and free software you can choose from for your sublimation process.

1.1.1 Paid Design Software

You’ll need paid software to create images without limitations, from website graphics to t-shirt prints and other materials. The paid ones have them all! In addition, it will help you attain vibrant colors for your product.

  1. Adobe Illustrator
  2. Sawgrass
  3. Adobe Photoshop
  4. CorelDraw
  5. Affinity
  6. Cricut DesignSpace
  7. Sketch
1.1.2 Free Design Software

Here are examples of popular free design software with limited features:

  1. Canva
  2. Cricut design shape
  3. Photoshop

All of the above-mentioned software is explicitly designed to create and edit graphic images. However, all these software comes with different specifications and features. In addition, the most popular choices are Adobe Photoshop and CorelDRAW. 

1.2 Choosing the Right Format and Size 

After choosing software to design a file for sublimation printing, the next step is to consider the format and size of the image. Typically, PNG or TIFF is the best format for sublimation. That is because these formats ensure the image remains sharp and clear during printing. 

When choosing the size, ensuring that the image fits the desired area or product is vital. Selecting an image that is at least 300 DPI is suggested to ensure that the image prints out clearly. Recommended transfer paper size should be 8.5″ x 11″ and 8.5″ “14” “make sure” the size of the paper should not exceed these dimensions.

1.3 Enhancing the Quality of the Image 

The next step is to review the image’s quality before printing. You can do this with the help of a photo editing tool (discussed above). It will allow you to adjust the brightness, contrast, and saturation levels. In addition, you can ensure that the colors and details of the image are visible. Further, any unnecessary items that may appear should be removed.

2. Printing the Image

After preparing and aligning the graphics on the system, the next step is to print the image on the transfer paper. Here are the steps to follow:

2.1 Setting up the Sublimation Printer and Loading the Paper

Before setting up the Printer, ensure you have made the format size settings on the computer using the software. Secondly, you must ensure the print resolution does not exceed 300 dpi. Higher resolution quality may be lost when Ink turns into a gas state during the sublimation process. 

The third most important thing to consider during this phase is the transfer paper. Make sure you use high-quality sublimation paper as it is used to receive the printed graphics and allow gaseous dyes to be released consistently to the fabric or material you chose for sublimation.

The three most recommended paper falls under this category are:

A sub: 13 X 19 size
Starcraft: 11 X 17 size
Text print: 8.5in X 14in

You can choose any of these transfer papers for your sublimation process. I have used A sub and starcraft papers for many years for sublimation printing.

After ensuring the availability of all the three mentioned materials and equipment (i.e., a printer with installed Ink, pre-defined resolution, and transfer paper), you are now to set up the Printer for sublimation printing. 

Make sure you load the paper correctly to ensure the printed image is in the correct position and printed accurately. 

2.2 Printing the Image

The next step is to ensure your ink and printer are compatible. Make sure that the printer settings are adjusted correctly to ensure the image comes out on the fabric as intended. 

2.2.1 Ink For Sublimation Printing:

For an Epson printer, you must go with Hippo or Comos  Sublimation Ink. You have to install the ICC color profile on your computer of these inks. You will get that from the ink manufacturer. If you are going with the sawgrass printer, you already have the subliJet UHD ink within the package.

2.3 Aligning the Image on the Sublimation blank

Once the image is printed, it must be aligned correctly on the Substrate. This is done by carefully positioning the image on the Substrate and then pressing it down with a heat press to transfer the Ink from the paper to the material. Once the image is aligned correctly, it can be heat-pressed onto the Substrate.

3. Pressing Stage

Let’s examine the pressing stage to achieve desired results.

3.1 Temperature 

While transferring the image onto the material, you must ensure the heat press is set to the correct temperature and time. The temperature used for sublimation should be between consider 385°F and 400°F. The time set should be between 15-20 seconds, depending on the material used. Below is the table showcasing a few examples of material with specific press time, temperature, and pressure.

3.3 Applying Pressure and Heat 

The transfer paper with the design is placed on top of the blank and is run through a heat press. This machine applies high pressure and heat, which turns the ink into a gas (sublimation) and allows it to penetrate the material’s surface. 

3.4 Cooling and Removing the Transfer Paper 

After it is completed, the transfer paper is removed, and the material is allowed to cool and dry completely. The ink reverts to its solid state during this process, embedding itself into the material’s fibers and creating a permanent, high-quality print.

How to Print Images on T-Shirts

Materials needed:

  • Sublimation printer (For Instance – Epson Eco tank 15000)
  • Sublimation ink ( Cosmo Ink if using Epson eco tank)
  • Heat Resistant Gloves
  • Heat Resistant Tape
  • Sublimation paper ( A sub 13 x 19 size)
  • Heat press machine
  • Lint Roller
  • Foam roll
  • T-shirt (Recommended white T-shirt -100% polyester)
  • Unwaxed white butcher paper
Here are the complete steps to print sublimation images:
  1. Make the design ready using any of the graphics software.
  2. The next step is to print the designed image onto sublimation paper. Make sure to mirror the design if you are using Epson models, Sawgrass automatically takes care of it. 
  3. Preheat your heat press machine according to the pre-defined temperature and time settings.
  4. Place your t-shirt onto the heat press machine and smooth out any wrinkles or creases. 
  5. Place the sublimation paper face down onto the t-shirt, ensuring it is positioned correctly. Secure the image using some heat resistance tape to keep it in place.
  6. Then cover it with uncoated white butcher paper to prevent any ink from transferring onto the heat press. 
  7. Close the heat press machine and apply pressure for the recommended time temperature, as mentioned in the manufacturer’s instructions. The pressure derived from the heat press will allow you to transfer the ink from the paper onto the t-shirt.
  8. Wait for 15-20 seconds to let the t-shirt cool down completely.
  9. Then carefully lift the heat press and take away the sublimation paper. Now your design is transferred onto the t-shirt.

Note: It’s important to note that sublimation works best on light-colored t-shirts made of 100% polyester or a blend of polyester and cotton. You can go up to 50% polyester. But I have gone low, up to 65%.

What’s Next?

Sublimation printing is a fun and easy process to design gorgeous, multi-colored designs on your t-shirts, mugs, mousepads, and other materials. I hope you find this quick guide on printing images helpful. 

To get started with the sublimation printing process make sure you have a complete understanding of the material type, temperature, setting time, and Printer specification. 

Ready to start designing? Do share your experience with us.

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