Crafting, Crafts & DIY

What Is A Sublimation Printer & How Does It Work?

If you’ve ever thought of transferring a graphic design to a t-shirt or other fabric material, you’ll need a sublimation printer.

Sublimation printers are used by creatives, and they’re a particularly popular tool in the graphic design industry. But what exactly are sublimation printers, and how do they work?

As experts with over 7 years in sublimation printing ourselves, we’re here to help.

If you want to learn the ins and outs of sublimation printing, including what these printers do, how they work, and how to use them, keep reading to bring your creative dreams to life.

What Is A Sublimation Printer? 

This popular printing method transfers graphic prints from sublimation paper to fabric or other materials using a combination of pressure and heat. Some readers have asked Sublimation Vs. Screen printing – what is best? check out this article for more information. .

Sublimation printing began in 1957 and is sometimes known as dye-diffusion. Although sublimation printing began in 1957, the first sublimation printer was invented in the 1970s in Pasadena, CA. We have a buyers guide for the best sublimation printer for beginners, if you are looking to get into the craft. .

Professional and consumer sublimation printers are usually used to create clothing items, ID cards, mugs, and photographic prints.

We’ve found that these professional-grade machines produce the best results for clothing prints over home printers, as well prints great vinyl stickers..

Sublimation printing has made waves through the textile industry and has helped shape past and present trends in the industry.

How Do Sublimation Printers Work? 

The first stage of sublimation printing is infusion. The image you want to print is infused onto printing paper to prepare it for sublimation.

Then, heat is used to transfer the image from the paper to your desired object.

The inks used turn to gas when mixed with the heat, which enables them to stick permanently to your fabric.

With sublimation printing, the final effect is often permanent and much harder to scratch away or fade.

With sublimation printing, the ink is embedded much further into the fabric than with regular printing, where the design simply lays on top of the fabric. We have had the question can you use sublimation ink for an inkjet printer, check out our article here for that answer..

The permanence of sublimation printing makes it a preferred method for graphic designers and creators.

The sublimation process means the ink can transform from a solid to a gas (skipping the liquid process), and the heat and pressure finalize the result and make it less susceptible to wear and tear.

When we’ve printed items ourselves, we’ve found that with the right care, the prints can last for years – even when washed frequently!

For print orders with lots of intricate detail, sublimation is a preferred method. Designs can be printed from seam to seam and often come out with exceptional detail.

What Do You Need To Print? 

What Do You Need To Print? 

In our experience, to make sublimation printing possible, you’ll need a few tools at your disposal, including:

  • A sublimation printer – Sublimation printers are made for both home and factory use. Since demand has increased, the price of home sublimation printers has fallen, making them popular for home use.
  • Sublimation paper – Sublimation or transfer paper can be used to create any spectrum of color and transfer your print from machine to paper. We also have an article on best iron on transfer paper, that is similar..
  • Computer and RIP Software – Although some printers include the necessary software, you may need to purchase it separately. This software provides the necessary software for printing your design.
  • A cutting mechanism – You’ll also need a cutting device, such as a knife to create fabric items. You may also need to source a sewing machine for hemming your material together.
  • A heat press – Lastly, you’ll need a heat press. The heat press will remove the design from the paper onto the material. There are many types of heat presses available, and each one is suited to small items, soft materials, hard materials, and so on.

Calendar Heat Press

These are the best choice for larger and softer materials such as fabric signs, banners, or clothes.

Small Heat Press

If you’re sublimating miniature items, invest in a small heat press. These take up minimal storage space and can press different items.

Flatbed Heat Press

A flatbread heat press can be used for harder materials. However, it would also be suitable to print on different apparel.

3D Vacuum Heat Press

If you’re working with smaller objects that have complex shapes or edges, use a 3D vacuum heat press.

These are designed to sublimate rough edges and objects that aren’t flat, so you can sublimate on a wider variety of products.

Sublimation Printing: The Pros And Cons 

Sublimation is one of the most popular methods in the industry. We’ve tried and tested several sublimation printers to compile the list of pros and cons below.

The Pros

  • Design Freedom: One of the biggest benefits of sublimation printing is freedom. Sublimation printing is versatile and robust, meaning you can print something complex, intricate, and full of color or go for a simple silhouette or landscape print.
  • Longevity: Sublimation printing is made to last. Because of the sublimation process, designs are less likely to crack or fade, even when they’ve been washed numerous times. If you’re a business, this will help build trust and earn you a better reputation.
  • Unlimited Range of Colors: If you use four-color ink (or CMKY), you’ll have access to an unlimited range of colors.
  • Easy and Fast: Sublimation printing is notoriously fast, which is great for business. You can print and send orders on the same day. When we say fast, we mean it – it often takes just 30 to 60 seconds to transfer the design to your material!

The Cons

  • Fabric Must be Mostly Polyester: Unfortunately, your chosen fabric must be at least two-thirds polyester to print; however, 100% polyester is preferred.
  • White or Light Print Area: Dark or black surfaces can’t be sublimated, so your item must be white or light-colored to be printed on.
  • Printing Size Can Be Limited: Like most printing methods, the size of your printing is often limited by the size of the lower press plate and the original resolution of the image.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can A Regular Printer Print Sublimation?

You can’t perform sublimation in a regular printer without sublimation ink. Most at-home printers can’t be changed, and even if they can, they wouldn’t produce the best results.

Do I Need A Computer For Sublimation?

To print sublimation, you’ll need a computer and the right software, and most printers will come with their own built-in sublimation printing programs.

How Do I Start Sublimation Printing At Home?

You’ll need to invest in a sublimation printer, printing paper, computer software, a heat press, and a cutting mechanism. However, this can be expensive, and it’s often better to use a professional sublimation printer instead. If you are looking for the best printer for art prints, read on here.

The Bottom Line

Sublimation printing has transformed the textile industry.

What was once a complex service reserved exclusively for factories has fast become a more accessible printing method that can be used from the comfort of your home.

If you want to create versatile, long-lasting prints, sublimation may be the best choice for you!

This content may contain affiliate links. We earn a commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase. We may earn money, free services or complementary products from the companies mentioned in this post. All opinions are ours alone…

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Michelle Jacobs

Michelle Jacobs

Michelle is a young mom and crafts fanatic. In her free time she loves to write about her latest creations, and how other moms can entertain their children with some colored paper and a pair of scissors!