What is Sublimation Printing – Everything You Need to Know
Sublimation printing is a method used to transfer images onto substrates such as mugs, shirts, and phone cases. Unlike traditional printing methods, sublimation printing uses a specialized ink that turns into gas when heated, which bonds with the substrate’s surface to create a permanent image.
This process is popular among businesses and individuals who want to create personalized and custom products. With sublimation, you can create high-quality, permanent, custom prints on various materials.
As per consumer demands, we craft a wide range of dye-sublimated products every day, including t-shirts, keycaps, patches, socks, jerseys, lanyards, mugs, phone cases, and even metal panels.
From our experience, if you are looking for a long-lasting solution to support your vinyl-crafting business, sublimation printing is the ideal technique to adapt.
In sublimation printing, infusible ink is one key factor that prints your design on the material. And how the printing is done, We have discussed in detail below, along with other important information.
Whether you’re a seasoned crafter or just starting out, you’re assured of learning something new about this printing process today. So, let’s dive in!
What is Sublimation Printing?
Scientifically, sublimation is the process of converting a solid form of substance to a gaseous state without ever liquefying.
In dye-sublimation printing, first, an image is printed on a special paper using a sublimation printer with special ink and then the image is heat-pressed onto a substrate. During this process, the ink is transformed into a gaseous state and then infused into the material’s surface.
The process results in high-quality, durable prints that do not fade or crack, making it ideal for printing designs on t-shirts, mugs, hats, and other personalized items.
Unlike HTV or vinyl printing, where the design is attached to the surface of a base material using adhesive, an infusible ink transfer sublimates within the material. This results in a permanent, vibrant print that won’t fade or peel.
How Does Dye Sublimation Printing Work?
Dye sublimation printing works by using a special type of ink that is designed to turn from a solid to a gas when it is exposed to heat. The inks are first printed onto a special type of transfer paper using a digital printer. The transfer paper is then placed onto the garment, and a heat press is used to transfer the ink from the paper onto the fabric.
The total accessories you need depend on the crafter’s convenience and style of work. But these following must-have things you need for sublimation printing:
- Special printer
- A-Sub Sublimation Paper
- Heat Press
- Protective Paper
- Heat Resistant Gloves
- Heat Resistant Tape
- Sublimation blank (Remember that sublimation requires polyester to work, so you need to ensure having the right type of blank.)
- Lint Roller
As mentioned, the ink used in this printing process differs from the traditional ink used in standard printers. The ink is formulated to turn into a gas when heated rather than a liquid.
Transfer paper or sublimation paper is also specially designed to work with dye-sublimation inks, allowing the ink to transfer seamlessly onto the material.
Finally, a heat press is used to apply heat and pressure to the transfer paper and material, which causes the ink to sublimate or turn into a gas and bond with the material.
What is a Sublimation Printer?
A sublimation printer is a special machine that prints the design onto a transfer sheet/sublimation paper. Then the transfer sheet is heat pressed to embed the dye onto the material, e.g, T-shirts, mugs, etc.
It differs from a regular printer as only infusible ink or sublimation ink is used in a sublimation printer. Some examples of widely used dye sublimation printers include the Epson SureColor, Sawgrass Virtuoso, Epson EcoTank printer, Sawgrass SG1000, and Epson Artisan 1430.
When it comes to sublimation printers, there are two choices you have got.
Either You can buy a dedicated sublimation printer like Sawgrass SG 500, SG-1000, Epson f-170 or you can convert any Epson Ecotank models like Epson ET 15000, Epson ET 8550, Et-2800, or Et-2803 to a sublimation printer. But in this process, color management can be a challenge, As you have to install color profiles on your computer of the specific sublimation ink you are using. You can get that from the ink manufacturer.
If you want to know in detail how the conversion process works then check out this awesome video.
You must remember each type of dye sublimation printer has its features like the paper size it supports, the paper tray, wifi functionality, etc. You must choose the printer depending on your specific needs and preferences.
Heat Press Machines
There are mainly three types of heat press machines available:
- Swing-away press: These heat press machines use a swinging heat transfer mechanism to transfer dye onto the substrate (transfer paper). It is placed on the lower platen of the press, and the upper platen swings over them to apply heat and pressure for the transfer process. The best swing-away press machines are F2C pro, and Swing Design 15″ x 15″ Swing Away machine.
- Calendar Press: This type of heat transfer machine uses a large, rotating drum to transfer dye onto the substrate. The transfer paper is fed into the drum, which heats up and applies pressure to transfer the dye. A few examples of calendar press printers are- GO Xpress C-1200 and C-1700.
- Flatbed Press: These machines use a flat, stationary platen to transfer dye onto the substrate. The transfer paper is placed on the platen, and the dye is transferred to it according to your design. . Some of the popular flatbed press machines are- Vevor Heat Press 15×15.
How Dye-Sublimation Printing Works?
Dye-sublimation printing works by using heat and pressure to embed the dye onto a variety of materials. Here’s a step-by-step explanation of the sublimation printing process:
- Image creation: First thing first, you need a graphic tool to create a digital image that you would like to print.
- Printing on transfer paper: Then, you need a sublimation printer using an infusible ink cartridge to print your design onto the transfer paper.
- Transfer of image to material: Next, you have to place the transfer paper on the material, i.e., fabric, plastic, etc. Also, place butcher paper on top of the substrate as you’re going to put it inside a heat press machine.
- Application of heat and pressure: As you place the substrate within the heat press machine, the dye turns into a gas and diffuses into the material. Pressing the substrate for 60 seconds under 230°C to 300°C temperature causes the dye to vaporize and penetrate the fibers of the material, where it cools and solidifies, becoming a part of the material.
- Cooling down: After the application of the heat press, finally, let the material cool down to embed the design permanently while making it resistant to fading, cracking, and peeling.
Advantages of Sublimation Printing
There are a handful of advantages of sublimation printing. Here is an overview-
- Vibrant and long-lasting prints: Sublimation printing offers both vibrant and long-lasting prints on various materials. The dye penetrates deeply into the material’s fibers, forming a permanent bond. A sublimated product can go up to 10+ years without fading or tearing.
- High quality and resolution: Since full-color images are printed with sublimation, the final result looks attractive with high quality and high resolution. The sublimation printers print high-quality images with fine details and sharp lines onto the transfer paper. It is then transferred to the material without any distortion. So, you get high-quality print on any printable surface.
- Wide range of applications: Another advantage of sublimation printing is its versatility. You can print onto the fabric and rigid surfaces like tumblers, ceramics, metals, plastic cards, and more. So you can craft a wide range of products, i.e., apparel, promotional products, photo prints, etc. Additionally, sublimated prints are ideal for products where the design will be exposed to sunlight, heat, and moisture frequently.
Disadvantages of Sublimation Printing
While it has many advantages, there are also some cons of sublimation printing to consider:
- Limited substrate options: Sublimation printing is best suited for polyester materials. In fact, the fabric must have 60% polyester to make the printing effective. So, this process is not suitable for printing on natural fibers like cotton and wool or non-porous materials like glass.
- High equipment cost: Dye-sublimation printers and heat presses can be expensive. Especially the commercial-grade models are priced high, which can limit accessibility for professionals or hobbyists.
- Limited color gamut: Sublimation inks cannot reproduce the same range of colors as other printing methods, such as offset or digital printing. You cannot directly print on a dark-colored surface with it.
Materials Suitable for Sublimation Printing
You can print onto a wide range of materials with dye-sublimation printing process:
- Fabrics: With sublimation, you can print polyester fabrics, such as t-shirts, flags, and banners. The prints produced are vibrant, durable, and resistant to fading, making them ideal for many applications.
- Ceramics: You can also sublimate ceramic tiles, mugs, and other ceramic products. The high temperature of the heat press causes the dye to penetrate deeply into the ceramic material, resulting in a permanent and high-quality image.
- Metals: Sublimation printing on metals is quite popular. With this process, you can print on aluminum, stainless steel, and copper. As on other surfaces, prints on metals are also vibrant and long-lasting.
- Plastic cards: Sublimation printing is often used to print onto plastic cards, such as ID cards, membership cards, and loyalty cards. Since high-quality images are required on ID cards, sublimation is in demand for it.
Is Sublimation Printing Cost-Effective?
Sublimation printing can be cost-effective for high-volume printing. Also, if you’re printing only certain types of items like flags, banners, or custom-printed fabric products, the cost will be lower.
However, it may not be as cost-effective as other printing methods for small quantities or for printing on hard surfaces like ceramic mugs or metal plates. Alongside that, its cost-effectiveness depends on several factors, i.e., the cost of ink and media, the printer’s size, and the printing process efficiency.
Sublimation printing is a versatile and cost-effective method for creating personalized and custom products. Sublimation can be performed at home with the proper materials and tools. Whether you’re a business owner or an individual looking to create unique gifts, sublimation printing is definitely worth trying out. Remember to follow the step-by-step process and experiment with different substrates and designs to create amazing products.
This process is the ideal choice for anyone who is looking for high-quality and long-lasting designs. Whether it’s for personalized apparel, gift products, photo prints, or any other application, sublimation is an advanced technology that can produce excellent results.
Can any printer do sublimation?
No, you have to either go with a dedicated sublimation printer or convert a regular inkjet printer like Epson Ecotanks.
Is dye sublimation high quality?
Yes, with dye-sublimation, you can print vibrant, high-quality images on different materials that last for years without fading.
Is dye sublimation full color?
Yes, sublimation prints full-color images on a wide range of materials like fabric, ceramic, metals, etc.
Is sublimation permanent?
In sublimation, the dye forms a permanent bond with the fabric, making the design resistant to tearing or peeling.