Sublimation Printing: List of Items Needed To Begin

A white mug sublimation printed with a test design.

Sublimation is defined as the process of a substance transforming from a solid state directly to a gas state without going through a liquid phase.

An example of sublimation is when dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) turns into a gas when it is exposed to air.

Sublimation printing is the method of using heat to print ink onto various materials. The heat turns the sublimation ink from a solid to a gas, infusing it into the substrate.

When the heat is removed, the ink transforms back to its solid state, making it adhere to the material as a long-lasting design.

How Sublimation Works

The dye used in sublimation printing is in a solid state; heat breaks the dye up and turns it into a gas, infusing it into the substrate (object or material) being printed on. 

Supplies Needed

For sublimation printing, you will need sublimation ink, a printer, and sublimation transfer paper as well as material to print on.

A heat press, design software, blowout paper, and adhesive spray are also part of the sublimation process.

Steps of the Sublimation Process

1. Create Your Design

Using design software, create your desired image. Remember to set the correct dimensions for the size print that you want to make.

If you have any words or anything directional in your image, you will need to flip or mirror them before printing. Save the design as the highest possible quality (PDF Print is a good selection).

2. Print Your Design

Use a sublimation printer or a converted Piezo printer (read more about printer types below) to print your design using sublimation ink onto special sublimation transfer paper.

3. Use the Heat Press To Apply Your Design

Next, a heat press is used on the sublimation paper to transfer the design onto your chosen substrate.

The heat turns the ink from a solid to a gas, simultaneously expanding the fibers in the material so that the ink can become embedded in the object.

When the heat is removed, the fibers close up and the ink returns to its solid state, creating a nearly permanent design on the object. 

Materials That Can Be Printed On Using Sublimation

Sublimation printing is an ideal process for printing on soft materials, such as polyester fabric, but it can also be used to print on hard objects, such as mugs, ID cards, and frisbees, or any item that has a polymer coating.

You can also use sublimation coating to turn items that wouldn’t normally be used in sublimation printing, such as cotton fabric, into more suitable sublimation printing substrates.

Sublimation Blanks

You will need to use what are known as sublimation blanks for sublimation printing. Sublimation blanks are items that are designed to absorb sublimation ink.

There are all kinds of sublimation blanks that can be purchased from craft stores or online, including fabrics, mugs, tumblers, puzzles, jewelry, picture frames, coasters, license plates, and more. 

Sublimation ink is somewhat transparent, meaning that the color of the sublimation blank will affect the final product.

Sublimation printing should be used on white or lighter colored materials for best results.

1. Printer Capable of Sublimation

Printers can use either heat technology or pressure technology.

Printers that use heat or thermal technology are not appropriate for use in sublimation printing, as their printing heads are not compatible with sublimation ink. 

The printers that use pressure technology, also known as Piezo, are designed to print quickly and at high resolution, and are the best for sublimation printing.

Piezo printers can be converted for sublimation printing, but all old ink must first be completely removed and the printer must be thoroughly cleaned prior to inserting sublimation ink. 

Recommended Sublimation Printer: Sawgrass SG500

Sawgrass SG500 Sublimation Printer
  • Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500 sublimation printer. Brand new.
  • Sublijet UHD Sublimation Inks CYMK (starter kit ink cartridges).

The Sawgrass SG500 is a cost-effective sublimation printer that comes with Sawgrass Print Manager, CreativeStudio Online Designer software, SubliJet UHD Sublimation Inks, and a two-year warranty.

The Sawgrass SG500 is energy efficient, producing high-definition designs while using less ink and power, enabling you to print more products at a lower cost. 

2. Quality Sublimation Ink

High-quality sublimation ink is designed to be waterproof and long lasting.

Once the sublimation ink has been printed onto sublimation paper, a heat press is applied to the design, which causes the ink to change its form and become a part of the substrate it is being applied to.

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3. Sublimation Paper

Sublimation transfer paper is used instead of regular paper in your sublimation printer.

Simply put the paper into the printer (make sure it’s facing the right way), make sure the printer is loaded with sublimation ink, and print your design.

Once your design has printed, you will then use heat to transfer it onto your chosen substrate.

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4. Heat Press Large Enough for Your Intended Purpose

The heat from the heat press is what will make your design come alive. The colors may look faded on the transfer paper, but the application of heat should make them brighter.

It is important to note that white or light colors will not show up on darker colored materials.

A heat press, like this 15×15 swing-away style press, is essential in the sublimation printing process and is much easier to use (especially for larger projects) than an iron or an EasyPress. 

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5. Design Software

When creating your sublimation printing design, it’s crucial to pay attention to what colors you are using and how they will print on your substrate.

To take the guesswork out of the design process (and save you from making costly mistakes), it’s a good idea to use design software. 

Choosing design software that can handle vector art and raster images equally well and gives you the option to customize your ICC color profiles (data that defines the color output of a device) can help you to get the best results from your sublimation printing projects.

Canva, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, GIMP, and Corel Draw are a few popular graphic-design software options that can be used with sublimation printing.

6. Blowout Paper

Blowout paper protects areas of your substrate from any unanticipated ink “blowouts” that may occur when the sublimation ink becomes heated.

Good blowout paper should be white, uncoated, and able to release moisture as opposed to soaking it up. 

You want to avoid using parchment paper, as it is coated and retains moisture.

Uncoated butcher paper, like this 175-foot roll, or regular copy paper can be used as blowout paper as can specialty protective paper designed specifically for use during the sublimation printing process. 

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7. Sublimation Adhesive Spray

If your sublimation print moves at all during the sublimation process, it can result in what is known as ghosting, which is when the transfer paper shifts or residual ink gets on the substrate.

To avoid ghosting, you can use heat-resistant tape or sublimation spray to keep the transfer paper in place.

Using heat-resistant tape can sometimes result in visible lines on your printed item, making adhesive spray a better option. This spray comes highly recommended.

To use sublimation adhesive spray, first shake the can vigorously, then apply a thin, even coat over the print. Make sure to allow the spray to completely dry.

Sublimation adhesive spray can leave a residue, so be sure to spray as thin and even a coat as possible.

Once the spray is dry, you can use the heat press to apply the transfer paper to the material. 

Sprayway Adhesive, 16 oz. can, 1 Count
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8. Polyester Spray

Polyester spray is a sublimation coating substance that enables you to do sublimation printing on fabrics other than polyester.

To use polyester spray, cover the part of the fabric that you wish to print entirely with an even coat, then wait for it to completely dry. Once dry, your fabric should be ready to heat press.

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Conclusion

Sublimation printing can be a little bit intimidating, and the upfront costs can seem prohibitive, especially for the hobbyist or beginner. However, there are ways of offsetting the initial costs.

As long as you have a printer that uses pressure technology (Piezo) as opposed to thermal technology, you can convert it into a sublimation printer.

You will just need to make sure to remove all regular ink from the printer and thoroughly clean it before inserting sublimation ink, and be sure to use sublimation paper to print your design on.

You can also find a wide variety of sublimation blanks and prints online for cheap prices at places like Etsy or eBay.  

Sublimation printing is an exciting and fun way to create long-lasting designs on a wide variety of materials.

Unlike Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV), sublimation printing embeds the ink into the substrate, meaning that the final product has a smooth finish and there are no raised lines or hard edges left after printing.

Sublimation printing is also less prone to fading, cracking, and peeling than designs created via the HTV process.

Last update on 2022-05-18 at 22:19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Cara

Cara

I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.