Table of Contents
- 1 What is a sublimation printer?
- 2 Why do you need a sublimation printer?
- 3 What is sublimation printing used for?
- 4 How does sublimation printing work?
- 5 What are the cons of sublimation printing?
- 6 What is dye sublimation printing?
- 7 What is direct sublimation print?
- 8 Which materials can be printed with sublimation?
- 9 What printers can be used for sublimation?
- 10 Can you convert a used printer to sublimation?
If you are looking for a way to create unique custom prints for fabrics, ceramics, and a variety of other materials, you might want to consider sublimation printing. It has many advantages over standard printing processes and even lets you do small custom runs at a lower cost. Here are some of the most important things to know about sublimation printing.
What is a sublimation printer?
Sublimation printers are the primary equipment used in sublimation printing, which is the process of imprinting images and graphics to a piece of fabric or other material. Sublimation printers may be dedicated machines or an inkjet printer repurposed for use in sublimation printing. A dye sublimation printer utilizes a heat press to transfer dye or ink from special paper. After printing, the ink becomes permanently incorporated into the fabric.
Why do you need a sublimation printer?
Sublimation printers allow for extremely high-quality images on fabric and a wide variety of other materials. The resulting images are bright and vivid and will not fade when washed.
The sublimation printing process allows you to make custom designs quickly and easily. Unlike traditional printing processes, you could make small runs at a relatively low cost and get even better quality results.
Sublimation printing does require some familiarity with the process and the machine. It’s a good idea to start with smaller, simple designs and do a few test runs. If you get good results and gain more confidence, you could move on to more complicated designs.
What is sublimation printing used for?
There are several applications for sublimation printing. In fact, you could pretty much utilize sublimation for many of the applications that would typically require standard printing processes. Here are some ideas on what sublimation printing can be used for:
Small, high-quality runs. Sublimation printing makes it possible to do small runs of impeccable quality. You won’t need to use separate screens as you would with screen printing, and you could accomplish impressive results with a reasonably modest setup. The overall cost will be significantly lower than screen printing as well.
Reduced need for minimum orders. With traditional printing, printers typically have to set a minimum requirement to keep costs manageable. The reduced set up results in fewer restrictions with sublimation printing, making it more feasible to accommodate relatively small orders and reorders.
Easier customization. Traditional printing requires dedicated transfers for each design, making it less feasible to perform extensive customization. With sublimation printing, on the other hand, it is easier to customize prints as needed.
More unobtrusive prints. Sublimation printing allows for more natural-feeling transfers, with the image virtually indistinguishable from the garment. The printed area doesn’t feel heavy or thick, and the fabric feels pretty much unchanged by the process.
More durable prints. Despite feeling more natural, sublimation prints are remarkably hardy and durable. They won’t crack or peel, and in most cases, they will last as long as the fabric they are printed on.
How does sublimation printing work?
Sublimation printing requires the use of heat to bond the ink to the fabric. Heating the ink transforms it into gas, allowing it to combine with the material easily. As the ink cools, it returns to solid form and bonds permanently to the fibers. This results in a durable and permanent image that won’t crack or peel even when washed repeatedly.
What are the cons of sublimation printing?
Sublimation printing is by no means a perfect process. Although it is arguably a more efficient and more effective process than traditional printing, there are a few drawbacks.
Most of the cons of sublimation printing have to do with the materials used in the process. Sublimation printing requires the use of fabric that contains polyester. You could use either a polyester blend or 100% polyester fabric.
You could certainly use sublimation printing on cotton and other natural materials. However, the transfer won’t last nearly as long as prints applied to polyester. That being said, you could use fabric with a lower polyester content, which results in a ‘distressed’ look that could be desirable in its own right.
White creasing is another potential issue with sublimation printing. This refers to some sections of the printed area remaining white after the transfer process. White creasing usually results from the unintentional folding of the fabric or moisture on the transfer paper. This is generally avoidable by ensuring that the material is perfectly flat and that the sublimation transfer paper is dry before applying the ink.
What is dye sublimation printing?
Dye sublimation printing requires heat transfer paper for transferring images onto fabrics and other suitable materials. Specialized digital printers use a combination of heat and pressure to transform the ink into a gaseous form, which bonds with the material to create the desired image.
Dye sublimation is most effective on 100% polyester material. It is commonly used to transfer images onto a hard or soft substrate, such as t-shirts, bags, mugs, surfboards, signage, and ceramic tiles.
Dye sublimation offers several advantages over other forms of printing, including the possibility to create continuous tones. The printing method allows different colored inks with each dot, resulting in extremely high-resolution color images.
On the downside, dye sublimation is limited to fabrics up to 10 feet in width. If you need to print images on larger surfaces, you will have to divide them into sections and print them individually.
Dye sublimation is also less suitable for cotton and other natural fabrics. Furthermore, the process is quite slow and labor-intensive, making it less feasible for producing several prints quickly.
What is direct sublimation print?
Direct printing involves the use of specialized inkjet printing machines, typically large-format models. These printers have several nozzles that spray tiny drops of ink onto fabric and textiles pre-treated to make them receptive to the ink.
Pre-treating the fabric makes it easier for the ink to bond to the fibers. After the image is transferred onto the substrate, high heat is applied to bind the dye to the fabric permanently.
Direct printing is better suited for transferring images onto natural and nylon fabrics. It is commonly used for hats, t-shirts, bags, and shoes.
Unlike dye sublimation, direct printing can be used for transferring images to large surfaces. The process is relatively quick and easy, and turnaround times are much faster than dye sublimation. If you need to print detailed images and full-color photographs, direct printing is usually preferable to dye sublimation.
The main drawback to direct printing is that the images produced aren’t as clear or as sharp as those produced by dye sublimation printing. Many factors could affect the image’s clarity, including the type of ink used, the fabric’s texture, and even the temperature used during transferring.
Direct-printed images also tend to crack, peel, or fade over time. Furthermore, the process itself is quite costly due to the ink and equipment used and the necessary maintenance.
Which materials can be printed with sublimation?
We previously touched upon issues that could occur with sublimation printing due to the use of certain materials. This brings up the question: what materials can be used for sublimation? You could generally use the following materials safely for sublimation printing:
- Polycotton textile
- Polyester-coated metal or aluminum
- Polymer-coated plastic
As you can see, sublimation will work on a varied range of materials, not just cloth. In any case, you will generally get the best results with polyester and ceramic.
We also mentioned problems that may occur when using cotton fabric for sublimation. Fabric made purely of cotton or other natural materials aren’t good choices for sublimation printing. This is because these fabrics don’t have pores, which are necessary for ink absorption. If you have no choice but to use these fabrics, digital printing would be a better alternative to sublimation printing.
What printers can be used for sublimation?
Printers who opt for the sublimation method don’t have as much choice in dedicated printers as traditional shops. It would be best if you used a sublimation printer that supports the available sublimation cartridge.
Among the most widely used brands are Sawgrass Virtuoso, Epson, and Ricoh. These companies manufacture small format printers that should suffice for smaller shops that typically produce custom printed garments. There are also large format printers available for bigger jobs.
Keep in mind that sublimation inks aren’t the same as the inks used in a standard inkjet printer. They will have to be heat activated to transfer onto the fabric properly and display their colors brightly. Because of this, you will have to use special printer drivers or software provided by the ink manufacturer.
Can you convert a used printer to sublimation?
Only specific inkjet models from Epson and Ricoh are adaptable for sublimation printing, and only with specialized dye sublimation ink cartridges.
However, once you use your printer for sublimation printing, you can’t just switch it back to standard printing by changing it back to the standard ink cartridges. Because of the differences in the inks used, you will have to flush out the system thoroughly when switching between sublimation and traditional printing.