What Are Sublimation Printers? Guide for Beginners

A white sublimation printer on a jet-black background.

If you’ve ever wondered how vendors transfer crisp, colorful images onto materials as varied as t-shirts and keychains, sublimation printing is most likely the answer.

The sublimation printing process requires special sublimation ink that is transformed (or sublimated) from a solid to a gas when exposed to high temperatures.

What are sublimation printers? Sublimation printers are used to print sublimation ink onto sublimation transfer paper. The image on the transfer paper is then applied to the material being printed on (sublimation blank or substrate) by using a heat press. The process results in clear, bright, long-lasting images.

This article covers the basics of sublimation printers – how they work and what materials can be used with them as well as the best sublimation printer for beginners. 

Sublimation Printers – The Basics

In order to properly create sublimation prints, you will need a heat press, sublimation ink, sublimation transfer paper, sublimation blanks, blowout paper, and a sublimation printer. 

How Sublimation Printers Work

Sublimation printers are specially made to handle sublimation ink, which is different from regular ink in that it comes in a solid form.

Sublimation printers use Piezo (or pressure) print heads, as opposed to thermal technology.

Piezo technology relies on the piezoelectric effect, which is when a material generates electricity in response to applied pressure. 

This pressure technology enables sublimation printers to create high-resolution images, resulting in the superior graphics that sublimation printing tends to yield.

What Sublimation Printers Are Used For

Sublimation printers are used to print the designs to be transferred for the sublimation printing process.

A design is first created using software, and then it is reverse printed using a sublimation printer onto sublimation transfer paper.

The transfer paper is applied to a substrate, and a heat press is used to infuse the ink from the transfer paper into the material. 

What Materials Can Be Used With Sublimation Printers

You can use sublimation transfer paper with sublimation printers (you can find it here).

You don’t want to use sublimation ink to print images on regular paper as you would with your average office printer.

The sublimation ink needs to be printed on special sublimation paper in order to be transferred onto the substrate. 

Sublimation Paper 100 Sheets 8.5 x 11 Inches...
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Benefits of Sublimation Printers

You can print designs that can be used on a wide variety of materials, including fabrics, aluminum, wood, plastic, stone, glass, and more.

You will just need to make sure that whatever material you are transferring the design to contains polyester or has a polymer coating so that the ink has something to bond to when it is heated.

Drawbacks of Sublimation Printers

Sublimation printers are not designed to print vibrant images. Often, the images can come out on the transfer paper looking quite faded.

Once the design is exposed to heat and the colors are infused into the substrate, the image will look much brighter.

You do not want to use a sublimation printer as you would a regular printer, and you should not mix sublimation inks with other inks. 

What Is Needed for Sublimation Printing

To get started with sublimation printing, you will need design software, sublimation ink, sublimation transfer paper, sublimation blanks, a sublimation printer, blowout paper, and a heat press.

You can use design software such as Canva or Adobe Photoshop to create the image you wish to print, and then reverse print it onto the transfer paper using your sublimation printer and sublimation ink.

Use the blowout paper to protect the material and your heat press from excess ink.

Is Sublimation Printing Expensive?

The initial startup cost can be expensive, but there are ways to offset the costs, especially if you are planning on starting a sublimation printing business.

You can add the cost of the startup materials into the prices of your products, and give customers who order in bulk discounts.

These tactics can help you to make back the money you spend on getting started and help you to create customer loyalty, leading to more sales.

Can I Use a Regular Printer for Sublimation?

You can either buy a specialty sublimation printer or convert a regular printer into a sublimation printer.

If you are converting a printer, make sure that it has a Piezo print head and that it is thoroughly cleaned and any regular ink has been completely removed.

Ideally, the printer is brand new and has never been used to print anything with regular ink. 

Can You Use a Sublimation Printer on Cotton?

You can use a sublimation printer to print your image on sublimation transfer paper, and then apply the image to Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV).

You can either affix the HTV to the cotton before or after applying the image from the sublimation transfer paper to the HTV. 

You can also spray a poly coating on cotton fabric before sublimation printing.

You may need to apply desizer to the fabric before applying the coating, as sizing can keep the poly coating from soaking into the fabric.

There are also new sublimation inks being developed, such as EasySubli inks, that are made for sublimation printing on cotton.

Water-Based vs. Solvent-Based Sublimation Ink

Inks are made of solvent, pigment, resin, and additives. In solvent-based ink, the pigments are suspended in a solvent, while water is used as the solvent in water-based inks.

Water-based inks tend to be less harmful to the environment while solvent-based inks tend to cost less. 

Solvent ink is only compatible with specific types of printers and is primarily used on items that will be outdoors.

Regular sublimation inks are water based, making them an environmentally friendly option. 

Best Sublimation Printer for Beginners

If you’re just getting started with sublimation printing, it’s a good idea to use a printer that is designed specifically to handle sublimation ink. 

Sawgrass SG50

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

The Sawgrass SG500 is an energy-efficient sublimation printer that prints high-resolution images, ensuring that your designs come out looking sharp and colorful. 

It comes complete with Sawgrass Print Manager, CreativeStudio Online Designer, WiFi connectivity, inks, a two-year warranty, customer support, and a built-in automatic maintenance cycle.

Another popular printer is the Epson Ecotank 15000. 

Related Question: 

Which Is Better, Sublimation or Heat Transfer? 

It depends on what your printing needs are. If you are running a business, sublimation printing is the better option.

Sublimation printing offers brighter, more vivid, and professional-looking images than heat transfer. 

Sublimation printing results in high-resolution images with a smooth surface as the ink permeates the material instead of being printed on top of it as with heat transfer.

Heat transfer can leave a rough feel to the surface of the material. 

There are sublimation blanks of hundreds of different kinds of materials, from coffee mugs to baby bibs, dog tags, tiles, and more.

Sublimation printing can last longer than heat transfer. Heat transfer can be prone to peeling, cracking, and fading over time. 

Sublimation printing needs to be done on white or lighter covered materials and can only be done on materials that contain polyester or have a polymer coating.

Heat transfer can be done on a wide range of materials of any color.

Sublimation printing is more expensive than heat transfer. If you’re simply looking to make a few t-shirts or if you want to print on dark-colored materials, heat transfer is the better option.

Conclusion

Sublimation printers are an essential part of the sublimation printing process. You can buy a printer specifically made for sublimation, or convert a printer that uses pressure technology.

Last update on 2022-05-18 at 16:48 / 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.