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What Is Sublimation Printing? How To Get Started Today

What is sublimation printing?

 

In a nutshell, sublimation is a type of heat transfer that is often applied to t-shirts and garments, but which can also be applied to many other substrates

 

It’s one of the best ways to create t shirt designs with multiple colors. It is quite different from using a product like heat transfer vinyl, because you are able to print more intricate, detailed, and colorful images.

 

Sublimation Printing

 

sublimation printing guide
The dye sublimation process starts by printing a design (with sublimation ink) onto transfer paper. This design is then applied to the substrate using a heat press machine.

 

The term ‘sublimation’ refers to the chemical process that occurs when something turns from a solid state into a gas, without first becoming a liquid. A common example is dry ice, which changes from a solid to a gas at temperatures of −109.3 °F.

 

Therefore, in dye sublimation, the ‘solid’ inks on the transfer paper are converted to gas and transferred to your substrate. This happens when heat and pressure is applied over time (with a heat press).

 

Here is an intro to sublimation printing from Conde.

 

 

What Can You Sublimate?

 

Sublimation inks can only bond to synthetic fibers and coatings. For clothing, this means polyester, while other blanks for sublimation are polymer coated products. Dark colored substrates are also no good for sublimation inks.

 

Cotton t shirts cannot be used for sublimation, and fabrics really need to be at least 80% polyester (some nylons are also suitable) for a vibrant transfer.

 

There is a new product called Siser EasySubli which does allow you to print on cotton and dark fabrics. However, this is only because you are printing sublimation ink onto an HTV, and then pressing the HTV to your garment.

 

Here is an idea of what you can print on with sublimation transfers:

 

what is sublimation

 Ceramic Photo Tiles

sublimation printing

Tags & Necklaces

what is dye sublimation

License Plates

 

blank message board for sublimation

Wall Boards

conde sublimation

iPhone Cases

what is sublimation printing

Mouse Pads

 

sublimation transfers

Travel Mugs

what is sublimation? is it a heating or cooling process?

Blank Mugs

why would you recommend a dye sublimation printer

Coasters

 

What Do You Need For Sublimation Printing?

 

There are four basic items you need to get started:

  1. A sublimation printer
  2. Sublimation ink
  3. Transfer paper
  4. A heat press

 

Let’s consider each of these in turn.

 

1. Sublimation Printer

 

what is sublimation printing for t shirts

 

There are options when it comes to choosing a Sublimation Printer:

  • convert an inkjet printer into a sublimation printer
  • get a printer designed for sublimation

 

If you watched the video above, you will have heard that you cannot use printers which heat the ink up to get it onto the paper. Only printers that “vibrate” the ink out of the cartridge and onto the transfer paper are able to be used.

 

As a general rule, you cannot use HP, Canon, and many other printers for sublimation printing. Epson and Ricoh printers are suitable, and are the best printers for starting out in dye sublimation.

 

We have a post on the best printers for sublimation, but here are 4 of the most popular models for starting out.

 

Epson C88+

  • Basic entry level machine for sublimation
  • Best used with a CISS
  • Cheapest entry into sublimation
View Latest Price

Epson Workforce WF-7710

  • Best used with a continuous ink supply system
  • Well rated printer for sublimation
  • Creates clean vibrant transfers
View Latest Price

The Sawgrass Virtuoso SG400

  • Specifically designed for dye sublimation printing
  • Uses a gel ink concentrate that goes a lot further than many other options
  • Max media size: 8.5" x 14"
View Latest Price

The Sawgrass Virtuoso SG800

  • A larger version of the SG400
  • Can print images 13 x 19 inches
  • Max media size: 11" x 17"
View Latest Price

 

2. Sublimation Ink & CISS

 

sublimation 101

 

Most regular printers (ie. non-sublimation) will come with pigment ink cartridges, so if you’re wanting to do sublimation transfers you are going to need to pick up sublimation ink.

 

You can use sublimation ink cartridges, or you can install a CISS. A CISS (continuous ink supply system) is an external container for sublimation ink which attaches via tubes into your inkjet printer.

 

A CISS keeps you from running out of ink too quickly, means you can buy ink cheaper, and makes refills a lot easier.

 

As with the printers, you can check out our full CISS guide here, or consider these top CISS & ink solutions.

 

INKUTEN CISS For C88+

  • Designed as a CISS for Epson C88+
  • Holds approx 40x what a cartridge holds
  • Updated chip set
View Latest Price

CISS for Epson Workforce

  • For use with: WF-3620 WF-3640 WF-7110 WF-7610 WF-7620 WF-7710 WF-7720 WF-7210
  • Designed & assembled in the USA
  • Easy install
View Latest Price

Printers Jack Sublimation Ink

  • Top rated sublimation ink for Epson printers
  • Suitable for C88+ & Workforce machines
  • ICC profiles & good warranty
View Latest Price

INKXPRO Sublimation Ink For CISS

  • For C88+ & Workforce printers
  • ICC profiles available
  • For all sublimation applications
View Latest Price

Sublimation Ink For SawGrass

  • A better quality ink for SawGrass printers
  • Best support
  • Amazing sublimation transfers
View Latest Price

 

#3 Sublimation Paper

 

what is sublimation paper

In order to create your sublimation transfers, you also need sublimation paper. This paper is specially designed to be printed on with sublimation ink, and pressed to complete the transfer.

 

You can get sublimation paper for Epson and other inkjet printers, and you can get better sublimation paper (such as TexPrint) for higher quality transfers. A-Sub transfer paper is very good for any inkjet printer with sublimation ink.

 

4. Heat Press Machine

 

heat press for sublimation

 

And finally, our favorite piece of equipment, a heat press!

 

Most heat press machines are suitable for sublimation, but some are better than others.

 

Sublimation transfers need to be pressed at a temperature of 400 degrees F for 45-55 seconds. You will need to check your ink and paper manufacturer for their specifications.

 

Check out our post on the best heat press machines, or consider the top picks below. If you’re wanting to also sublimate mugs, you’ll need to get a mug heat press as well.

 

Fancierstudio Power Heat Press 15 x 15 T-Shirt Press Machine

  • 15 x 15 inch press suitable for pressing large transfers
  • Automatic time & temperature display
  • Affixed silicon rubber base
View Latest Price

The MPress 15″ x 15″ Heat Press Transfer Machine

  • Incredibly well reviewed clamshell heat press machine
  • Good for small business and home use
  • 15 x 15 heat press sold by Heat Press Nation
View Latest Price

HPN Black Series High Pressure Heat Press Machine

  • Thick items capable (up to 1/2 inch thick)
  • Scratch resistant baked-on paint
  • Complete commercial business grade
View Latest Price

Sublimation & InkJet T Shirt Press Bundle

  • Includes SawGrass SG400 Printer, HPN 15 x 15 Black Series Press, Canon PIXMA iX6820 Inkjet Printer
  • As well as all the accessories you need to get going
  • Great for starting out with t shirt sublimation
View Latest Price

Sublimation Multifunction Bundle

  • Includes SawGrass SG400 Printer, HPN Black Series 8-in-1 multifunction heat press
  • 8-in-1 press includes cap press, mug press, plate press
  • Includes Sub Inks, blanks, & transfer paper
View Latest Price

 

What Is Dye Sublimation?

 

I hope this has served to tell you a little more about what sublimation is and how you can get started.

 

Things feel very complicated when you first start learning about it, but that’s the same with anything. There is a lot of choice when it comes to printers, inks and everything else – we didn’t even mention t shirt design programs. Please leave any comments below.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

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(Please note: This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy here.)

 

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