Why is my sublimation not transferring

Why is my sublimation not transferring? Our guide to quality prints

Why is my sublimation not transferring? There is nothing worse than setting up your sublimation printer and printing onto a substrate to find the result lacking vibrancy. sublimation printing at its core is a science, so there is no need to worry, you may just need a small tweak to ensure your sublimation print is as bright as can be,

Whether it’s the sublimation ink not transferring onto the paper or the process isn’t transferring onto your shirt or tumbler, we have a few solutions to try and get your designs singing once more.

Key Takeaways

Your sublimation is not transferring because your Heat press settings are not on point. Ensure your heat press displays the right temperature using an infrared gun. Recalibrate the correct heat press temperature and time to infuse the ink into the substrate you’re using.

Try to use a 100% polyester garment or poly-coated materials as blanks. Maybe You’re using the wrong ink and paper for sublimation. You must use high-quality premium paper like Asub 125 GSM for sublimation to work.

Before we get into how you can get perfect prints, let’s understand how sublimation works. Once you know the science behind sublimation, you’ll never go wrong with the process.

How does sublimation work?

So, what is sublimation? As you know, sublimation printing is used to transfer various designs permanently onto a blank. What makes sublimation different from other methods of printing is the durability of designs.

Unlike other methods, the sublimation process ensures that the ink goes into the material of the used blank. But what makes this possible? The magic is in the word ‘sublimation’

If heat is applied to an ice cube, it turns liquid first and then becomes gas through evaporation. But when a solid substance directly becomes gaseous without passing through the liquid state – this process is called sublimation. So, scientifically sublimation is a process of a solid substance directly becoming gaseous. 

Why is my sublimation not transferring?

Sublimation not transferred on the coaster

Sublimation not transferring or poorly transferring are common issues. Often it is just the heat press settings, however, sometimes is could be a printer, substrate, paper, or ink issue. Here’s what might be wrong.

1. Your printer needs maintenance or refilling (clogged print head)

One of the most common issues with printers is a clogged print head nozzle. But that’s why it’s also easy to fix. You’ll find an option for “Print Head Nozzle Check” under the maintenance tab of your printer settings.

Step 1
  • Once you click this option, your printer will print out four colored lines or grids.
  • If these lines are coming out smoothly then your print head nozzle isn’t clogged. But if you find that there are blank spots or uneven lines then you need to clean your print head nozzle.
Step 2
The lines should be smooth

Don’t worry, this process is automated.

In the maintenance tab, you’ll also find the option, “Print Head Cleaning.” Click on this option and let the automated cleaning process take over. Once that is done, run the Print Head Nozzle Check again.

See if the printed lines/grids are smooth this time. Repeat the process until you get clear prints.

2. Sublimation not transferring? You might be using the wrong blank

You already know how different materials react differently with sublimation ink. Some materials cannot withstand heat transfer which is necessary for sublimation. This is why even after poly-coating, certain materials might not work.

Stick on 100% polyester or at least more than 50% polyester garments and strictly use poly-coated canvas and ceramics that are heat resistant.

3. Your sublimation ink and printer might be Incompatible 

Sublimation ink is different from the normal ink we use for printing. This is why you need the best sublimation ink. Sawgrass Printers and Epson Eco-Tank are examples of compatible purpose-built and convertible printers respectively.

Also, if you’ve once used normal ink in your printers, it’ll not be possible to use sublimation ink in them. Get a purpose-built printer or convert a new Epson Eco Tank into a sublimation printer.

4. What brand of sublimation paper you are using?

There are two major criteria you need to check before you sublimate anything onto a paper—

  • How well the paper absorbs the ink
  • How well the paper releases the ink onto the surface.

Since sublimation paper has to withstand high heat and neatly transfer the ink, a high-quality premium paper is necessary.

If your paper is too thin or not heat transfer proof then it may get damaged during sublimation.  Leaking or ink bleeding is a common issue when using low-quality sublimation papers. Also, the sublimation ink gas tends to spread in all directions.

We have a detailed post on the best sublimation paper, you may wanna check it out.

If the paper used is not sublimation friendly then it may absorb some of the ink instead of transferring it perfectly onto the blank.

We recommend you use A-SUB 125g paper. Because it’s fracture-proof and has a transfer rate of more than 98%.

5. Are you using the right printer Settings?

You’ll find multiple options in your printer preferences. You can save these preferences to create different printing presets for garments, ceramics, etc. The first options you’ll see on top will be document size and orientation. Depending on your blank and the size of your design, make sure that you adjust these two for perfect prints. 

Print settings on Mac

If your prints are coming out as dull, then select the Presentation Paper Matte option from the paper type drop-down menu.

Print settings on windows

Also, keep the quality high and turn off fast-speed print. In the More Options tab, you’ll find color correction options and an option to select “mirror image.”

  • Make sure you’ve checked the mirror image and unchecked rotate and bidirectional printing options.
  • Later you can do some color correction (explained in the upcoming section) and you’ll get the best prints.

6. Not using the right colors?

Colors play a huge role in making sublimation visible. If the blank color isn’t going well with the design colors then no matter what you do, your prints will remain mediocre at best. Here’s how to fix it.

7. Best substrate colors for perfect prints

Since the sublimation printers don’t have any white ink, it’s better to stick to light-colored shirts. If any part of your design is white then it will carry the color of your blank.

If you use a light color blank then it won’t make much of a difference. In case your design has white color and you use a dark color blank then the white will be replaced by a dark color. This will adversely impact the contrast and overall look of your design.

Also read: how to sublimate on dark-colored shirts

8. Color correction settings for sublimation

You can do color correction in the software that you use to make your designs such as Adobe Illustrator.

Also, you need to do the color correction in your printer settings. Preferences will differ from design to design and person to person.

But a rule of thumb you can follow while doing color correction is to toggle the saturation and density a little up.

Don’t play much with contrast and saturation options in your printer settings (you can do that in your design editor.) Just doing these should help you get vibrant prints.

9. Are you using the proper heat press settings?

All heat press materials need different amounts of heat for varying amounts of time during sublimation.

For polyester shirts, the required temperature is between 250 to 270°F while for ceramics it is between 350 and 400°F. The amount of time required for sublimation is also different for both materials.

Heat Press Chart

So, it’s evident that you must get the temperature and timing right.

Another problem you may run into is the improper reading of temperature by your heat press.

To solve it you’ll need an infrared temperature gun. Measure the right temperature of your heat press using the infrared gun and then recalibrate the temperature accordingly. 

Can you sublimate everything?

The short answer is no. Because for sublimation to work the blank material must be compatible with the ink to infuse into the surface of it.

Also, the material has to withstand the heat press— capable of generating high heat like 250 to 300 degrees Celsius.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to sublimate on non-compatible blanks. All you need is a sublimation coating spray. Sublimation coating spray contains micro-thin polyester. Because of this coating, the outer surface starts acting like polyester which is the best material for sublimation.

For modern businesses or home crafting the following remain the most preferred materials to sublimate—

1. Light-Colored Polyester Shirt

Every experienced sublimation professional knows that a 100% cotton shirt is the worst choice for sublimation. Because cotton doesn’t react well with the sublimation ink and produced results are thus weak.

But synthetic fibers work amazingly since natural fibers don’t work well for sublimation. A 100% polyester shirt is your best choice for sublimation. Choosing a light-colored polyester shirt is better than a darker one. We’ll explain why in the upcoming section. We have also written a guide on how to sublimate on dark shirts.

2. Sublimation on canvas

Canvas is produced using mostly cotton and to some extent linen. Therefore you’ll face the same problem while sublimating on canvas as on a 100% cotton shirt.

Here you can use sublimation coating spray. Once you spray the coating just wait for it to dry. Don’t just coat the part where you’ll be putting your design. Since the coating material tends to change the outer texture of the canvas, it would be better to use a thin coat over the entire surface.

3. Sublimation on Ceramics 

We love customized designs on our mugs. But if you’re planning on using sublimation to make one then any mug won’t cut it. Some ceramic mugs are poly-coated right from the manufacturers.

Such ceramic items are designed specifically for sublimation. But in case you’re trying to sublimate on a ceramic tile, mug, or plate that isn’t poly-coated then you have to coat it yourself. Use sublimation spray to create a thin layer of polyester and let it dry before sublimating. 

Precaution: Heat instructions are available for items specifically designed to be used as blanks. But in case you use any mug or plate for sublimation, you must know its constituents. This is necessary to know how much heat will do the trick without harming the blank.

Tips to create perfect sublimation prints

You may steer clear of all the common mistakes while doing sublimation. But there are still many tips you can use to create great prints. These must-do things shall make your prints stand out and add more definition to your designs.

1. Print on a Flat Surface When Printing Garments

The last thing you want is to print your garments on a bumpy or uneven surface. An oval surface will make your designs too focused on a specific location.  Also, the heat press may not sublimate the design properly. A flat surface ensures that heat is even across all the parts of the garment. Uneven heat distribution can damage the garments and negatively impact design sublimation.

2. Know the Right Temperature for Your Ink and Substrate Material

You already know that sublimation takes place when heat is applied. This makes temperature and timing the most crucial elements of the sublimation process. But just like different substrate materials, different inks also need varying temperature settings. Make sure you read the instructions about heat settings for your substrate material and ink.

3. Placement is Crucial – Use a Thermal Tape

A misplaced print is a missed print. If your print is not properly placed on the blank or gets misplaced while you’re using the heat press then the results will be too bad. You may end up wasting your substrate or getting faded prints. Use thermal tape to keep the print in a fixed position before you use the heat press. Make sure the tape you’re using is heat transfer/thermal tape. If the tape melts under heat then it’ll create more problems.

4. Get Rid of Folds

Especially when you’re sublimating garments, folds are your enemies. You may do everything right but still if there are some folds left then the final result will be disappointing. The hack is to press your garments before you sublimate them. Even if you don’t see many folds on your garments, some insignificant folds can also spoil your prints. 

Final words

You are not the first or last to ask “Why is my sublimation not transferring” but as long as you follow the steps above you should be able to start producing brighter prints once more. It’s okay to make mistakes as a beginner. You may not get a hang of all the tips shared in this article on the get-go. But don’t shy away from coming back to this if you think something still isn’t working fine. With experience, you’ll learn how to create perfect prints every time. Persistence is the word.

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