What is Sublimation Printing? A Complete Beginners’ Guide

Many individuals are looking for ways to make their personalized items in order to keep up with the newest trends. The internet revolution has made it viable for everyone to sell online with little or no initial expense. The sublimation printing method is an excellent opportunity to establish a hobby or a business that allows you to tap into your hidden creativity and commercial abilities. But what is sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing is a chemical method that uses heat and pressure to transfer ink. Heat converts the sublimation ink to a gas, and the pressure transfers the ink from the paper to the material you’re sublimating.

This sublimation for beginners‘ guide offers everything you need to know to get started on your sublimation journey. We’ve got you covered, from blank materials to ideas for your first project! We are in love with sublimation crafts, and we hope you will be too. So, what are you waiting for? Learn a bit more about sublimation below and get started right away. Before getting your hands on sublimation printing, here’s everything you need to know about the sublimation printing process.

Table of Content

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

The printing method employs a specifically built inkjet printer to deposit sublimation colors onto a medium. Sublimation printing includes printing an image on a sublimation paper and then transferring it to another material (usually polyester or a polyester mix). After that, the ink is heated until it dissolves into the fabric or anything you are sublimating on, with the help of a professional heat press machine.

The best quality sublimation printing does not harm the cloth or fade the color. Furthermore, the prints are relatively light and do not have a harsh feel. Since dye sublimation employs heat-sensitive inks, the designs on the sublimation printing t-shirts remain brilliant even after multiple washing items.

This type of printing is used by businesses and home designers to create designs on garments, as well as billboards, house decorations, company exhibitions, and personal things like tablecloths, coffee mugs, keychains, etc.

What is Sublimation Printing Process?

The sublimation printing process is a flexible digital printing process that boosts the creativity and manufacturing productivity of textile designers. This printing technique is very easy to practice and involves two main steps.

  • STEP 1: After you’ve settled on your design, the first step of the sublimation process is to print the design on special paper using a sublimation printer.
  • STEP 2: The design is then transferred to the material you want to sublimate on with the help of a heat press. The inks turn into gas when heated, fusing with the cloth to create a permanent print.

You can perform this simple process at home if you have a dye-sublimation printer and a heat press.

How Does the Process Work:

The heat opens the pores of the fabric, allowing the ink to penetrate the fabric and solidify again when pressure is applied. As the ink becomes the part of the fabric or substrate, instead of simply laying on top like a regular print, the effects are durable and less likely to fade. The process is similar to a tattoo; however, it is applied to your selected product rather than your skin.

A full-color, permanent design will not crack, rip, or wash away from the object. The method enables the ink to change from solid to a gas without becoming a liquid, similar to how dry ice works. Heat starts the conversion, which is then regulated by pressure.

This quick and effective digital printing process is becoming more popular for smaller batch orders and designs that rely on details. Because technique lets you create a pattern that may practically spread from seam to seam, sublimation printing is often known as “all overprinting.”

What is a Sublimation Printer?

what is a sublimation printer

A sublimation printer is much like an inkjet printer, which uses specialized inks and paper, made explicitly for sublimation printing. You can also convert some inkjet printers to sublimation printers.

A sublimation printer enables you to edit and personalize the image you are producing. It allows you to be creative and make your designs come to life in a way that isn’t attainable by utilizing other technologies such as photomicrography. The quality of the designs produced by sublimation printers tends to be better than other printing procedures.

Best Fabric for Sublimation Printing

If you are thinking of starting your own printing business and using sublimation printing or utilizing the approach at home, knowing what materials you may employ in such a scenario is vital. These are the following:

  • Polyester
  • Polycotton textile
  • PVC
  • Polyester-made fabric
  • Polymer
  • Polymer-coated metal
  • Ceramic
  • Polyester-coated aluminum
  • Polymer-coated plastic

Any product or garment having a polyester covering or polyester basis is suitable for sublimation printing. Due to heat and pressure, the dye on the medium sublimates and transforms into a gas, subsequently absorbed by polyester materials to reflect the pattern.

However, some materials, such as 100 percent cotton textiles or other natural materials, do not work with sublimation. This is because they lack the pores essential to absorb the ink. If you need to deal with these materials, digital printing is the way to go.

What Sublimation Printing Supplies Do You Need?

You need to have the following sublimation printing supplies to get your sublimation printing business off the ground!

1. Sublimation Printer

The basic necessity for sublimation printing is a printer that can handle the process and is compatible with sublimation ink cartridges. Though it should be at the top of your list of required equipment, it depends on whether you want to buy a sublimation printer or not because you can also purchase sublimation transfers. However, if you’re going to print your transfers, you’ll need a printer.

2. Sublimation Ink

Sublimation ink is one of the most important things you’ll need for the sublimation process. It’s a unique ink that, when heated, turns to gas and penetrates your sublimation blank. It is not the same as inkjet ink, so make sure you get the ink designed for sublimation printing before using it in your printer.

3. Heat Press

You’ll need a heat source, such as a Heat Press, Mug Press, or Convection Oven, to transfer the sublimation ink to your sublimation blank. To transform the sublimation ink to gas and stick to your sublimation blank, you’ll need an intense heat source (350°F or above).

4. Blanks

You’ve got your printer, heat press, or mug press, and now all you need is some blank goods to begin personalizing. It’s worth noting that you can sublimate only polyester-based items or those with a specific polyester covering.

5. Sublimation Paper

After that, you will need a sublimation paper. Sublimation paper isn’t the same as regular copy paper or printer paper. It is a sublimation-specific paper meant to have the ink stay on top of the surface and release when heated.

6. Computer

Last but not least, you’ll need a computer (PC or Mac) and designing tools to start your sublimation business. Your computer does not need to be very powerful; it only has to be capable of running the design software you intend to use.

What Can I Sublimate On?

what can I sublimate on

The product must be either sublimation coated’ or sublimation ready for the sublimation ink to transfer and form a lasting connection with the blank object. This means that the product you want to sublimate should be made of polyester or coated with a specific polymer coating.

While this list isn’t comprehensive, it’s enough to give you an idea of what people sublimate onto for presents or as a side business. Below are the following materials you can sublimate on.

1. Sublimate on Fabric

Sublimation printing on cloth allows for the best-multicolored designs with specific features that will not fade over time. You also won’t have to worry about colors being expensive, like with screenprinting. The pattern on the cloth is also completely smooth to the touch since the dye turns from a liquid to a gas. It won’t crack or peel under continuous use since there isn’t a coating of paint on the surface.

2. Sublimate on Wood

Wood is, without a doubt, the most frequently used decoration material. You might have noticed stunning wooden art pieces and decorations. Did you know that wood cannot be directly sublimated since it cannot sustain the high temperatures of the press? Well, you’ll be relieved to learn that there is an alternative.

You may safely sublimate on wood if you spray it with a polymer coating. A few coats of polymer-based paint can cover the wood, making it compatible with sublimation. You can sublimate on the wood once the polymer paint has dried.

3. Sublimate on Coffee Mug

Sublimation coffee mugs are customized mugs that can be printed and personalized. These are unique coated mugs with the surface of a ceramic tile that keeps sublimation ink and prints in place.

In this way, a sublimation coffee cup is the best option if you want to manufacture a one-of-a-kind item for your customer that will be useful and long-lasting.

4. Sublimate on Metal

Sublimation on metal is an excellent choice since it lasts a long time. It’ll last a lot longer than your typical t-shirt. The main disadvantage of sublimating on metal is that color matching can be challenging. The sublimation paper and the metal color may appear to be very different.

5. Sublimate on Canvas Material

Sublimation on canvas material is another way you can sublimate. Even though the canvas material does not contain polyester, sublimation on canvas is possible. The trick is to coat the canvas with sublimation spray! After that, you may proceed to the process of sublimation on canvas material.

6. Sublimate on Plastic

You can also sublimate plastic items by using this process. Turn on your printer and place a plastic sheet into the printer tray, rough side down. Plastic sheets for home printing feature a smooth, shiny surface and a slightly rougher, hazy side. The rough side absorbs ink and keeps it from smudging. A plastic item must be flat, but it can be trimmed to form after the printing is finished.

7. Sublimate a Puzzle

Did you know that you can use sublimation to do your own puzzle? Use it to tell a secret, such as the birth of a child or a vacation to Disney World, or take a picture present for someone important. Set your heat press to 400 degrees F, medium pressure, and press your puzzle for 60 seconds. Remove the puzzle and the paper as soon as possible. Take caution since the puzzle will be quite heated!

Benefits of Sublimation Printing

As a result of the sublimation printing process, we can achieve the following advantages. 

  • Durable Designs

Sublimation printing patterns do not peel or fade because the ink is absorbed instead of sitting on the top of the material as a layer. Hence, you may wash the items as many times as you desire to clean them.

  • Time-Effective

As a result of the technology used in sublimation printing, it is more efficient than other printing methods that take considerable time. But you still have to manage it since the heat press must be flawless so that the designs are at the same degree of excellence every time.

  • High-Quality 

Sublimation printing provides higher quality than other printing methods. The colors’ brightness and the DPI are exceptional depending on the printer you choose.

  • Personalization

Sublimation printing allows you to customize the size and quality of the design, and it also affords you the possibility to fix any defects that occur on the printer. This freedom of choice enables you to release your imagination and make your ideas come to life in a way superior to previous approaches.

Drawbacks of Sublimation Printing

Each printing method has its own advantages and disadvantages compared to other printing techniques. Besides being advantageous in many aspects, sublimation printing also involves some drawbacks. Below are some disadvantages of sublimation printing.

  • Colour Mismatch

The design you generate on your computer is displayed in RGB mode, while the printer prints it in CMYK mode. So, the hues do not entirely match the same. To correct this, you may alter the needed settings on your printer or utilize RIP software. You need to remember that in all means of printing, even if your picture is high in quality, it will not be as colorful as it seems on the computer

  • Ghosting

Ghosting may happen when the transfer paper slips during pressing and the print ends with a mild fade, or it gets fuzzy. It occurs if the necessary pressure is not applied or the ink doesn’t dry. To avoid this issue, you need to verify that the ink is dry and apply the proper pressure.

  • White Creasing

Another problem with sublimation printing is white creasing. The regions that the pattern does not reach form white wrinkles. This may happen if the transfer paper incorporates dampness or if the garment is folded in specific locations, most typically along seams and beneath the sleeves. It results in an unsellable t-shirt.

Screen Printing VS Heat Transfer VS Sublimation

screen printing vs heat transfer vs sublimation

It’s tough to pick a clear winner when comparing these three ways of garment customization head-to-head. Choosing the best one is mainly determined by your demands and how you want to utilize the equipment.

  • Sublimation is an excellent alternative to heat transfer and screen printing if you have more money to invest and want to create shirts with photo-realistic designs or plan to do small runs.
  • On the other hand, screen printing may be a better option if you like big runs or are looking to get started with garment customization on a tight budget.
  • If you want to undertake garment decoration on a budget, heat transfer paper is one of the least expensive ways to get started.

All these printing techniques have a broad array of pros and involve some cons as well. It is up to you to decide which method is suited for you.

Sublimation Printing Cost

The cost of sublimation printing entirely depends on the user’s intention: for personal use, a small affordable printer may be sufficient, but if it is for industrial use, the cost may be high. Depending on the features, it is possible to find sublimation printers for a little over $300 for a small office and up to $700 and more for high-end equipment.

You also have to consider the cost of the paper, ink, and other supplements that you may require depending on the work you plan to carry out. When it comes to sublimated printing for personal use, you should choose a company that can assist you. If you want a better idea of how much it will cost, create a list of everything you need for professional service, and compare prices to see which one best meets your budget.

Final Words:

Sublimation printing is an excellent solution for people looking to make both clothes and other materials with full color and high-quality images. As long as you are selling to individuals, there is almost no downside, which makes each creation profitable and enables you to generate as much product as you would like.

It is one of the cheapest printing techniques available since, if you already have a computer, you can invest in a sublimation printer that connects through a wireless connection. So, if you have ever thought about coming up with original ideas, then sublimation printing is a creative technique.