Do you want to create t-shirts, mugs, cell phone cases, and other items with your own graphics? Although most people do these things with print-on-demand websites such as Teepublic, you can do it independently with a sublimation printer.
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What is a Sublimation Printer?
A sublimation printer is a machine that uses heat to transfer dye onto a variety of different objects. The process is called dye sublimation (dye-sub for short). It refers to the chemical process of a material going directly from solid to gas state without transitioning through a liquid phase.
Unfortunately, that is an inaccurate description of the process, as the dye actually does have a liquid state. Hence, a more accurate term is dye-diffusion, but the name “sublimation printer” stuck.
How to Use a Sublimation Printer
A common misconception is that a sublimation printer is the only tool you need to print your epic designs on fabrics, cups, and other items. That’s not the case.
There are three major steps to using a sublimation printer to create items with custom designs and images.
Create Your Design
The first step is creating a design. Canva is an excellent tool for creating designs, but other graphic software such as GIMP, KRITA, or photoshop will also work.
Keep in mind that if you want to have words on your design, you will have to flip them so that they face the right direction when transferred to the final object.
Print Your Design
Step two is where the sublimation paper comes into play. You need to use the correct sublimation ink and transfer paper to print your design. Only a printer rated for sublimation will work correctly with these inks and papers.
Transfer Your Design
The final step is the transfer. To do this, you need to place your freshly printed design onto the object you are creating. It’s best to tape the paper in place with a heat-resistant tape to prevent slipping.
Next, use a heat press to transfer the image from the paper to your object. The process is similar to a fake tattoo, which uses water to transfer the image to your skin. When you are finished pressing the design, peel the paper off, and you will see your brilliant design come to life!
What is the Difference Between a Sublimation Printer and A Regular Printer?
Although some standard printers are compatible with sublimation ink, most aren’t. Most regular printers are inkjet printers, which transfer droplets of liquid ink onto a piece of paper.
Sublimation is a different process that uses heat to transfer sublimation ink onto paper specifically designed for the higher intensity heat required.
Which Printers Can Sublimate?
Although some regular printers are compatible with sublimation ink, it’s best to get a printer designed for sublimation printing.
High-end inkjet printers like the Epson Artisan 1430 Inkjet are compatible with sublimation paper, but it’s best to check your printers’ specifications before trying.
If your printer isn’t sublimation paper compatible, it’s best to buy a new printer specifically designed for the process.
Best Sublimation Printers for Beginners
If you want to try sublimating graphics on your own, check out these great sublimation printers for beginners:
Epson SureColor F170
The Epson SureColor F170 is an excellent sublimation printer for a reasonable price. It’s made for use with sublimation ink and takes high-capacity bottles that help you save time and money on ink replacements.
The printer also includes a feed tray that holds up to 150 sheets of sublimation paper, but it’s still small enough to fit in most workspaces. It’s ideal for those who want to try sublimation printing out.
If you have a little more money to spend and want to get everything you will ever need in a sublimation printer, check out the Sawgrass SG500, complete with a starter bundle.
Not only do you get a great sublimation printer, but you also receive ink, paper, heat transfer tape, and gift cards to the So Fontsy Design Shop to help get your creative juices flowing!
If you’re designing your graphics with another program, these add-ons might not be worthwhile, but they are absolutely ideal for people who need help getting started!
Epson EcoTank 2720
The Epson EcoTank 2720 is a wireless sublimation printer that works with bottles rather than cartridges for an eco-friendlier printing machine.
An ink set is included with purchase and can last up to 2 years or print approximately 4500 pages. A great thing about this printer is that the wireless interface allows it to work with tablets and smartphones.
The Epson EcoTank 2720 can also scan and make copies.
Epson EcoTank ET-15000
The Epson EcoTank ET-15000 is similar to the 2720, using eco-friendly bottles and wireless capabilities. However, if you’re printing a lot or using larger designs, you should go with the 15000.
This machine can make prints up to 13” x 19” through the special rear feed tray and uses larger ink bottles for high-capacity printing. Each set of ink can print up to 6000 pages!
The ET-15000 also has a high-capacity front loader that can handle up to 250 sheets, a 2.7-inch color touchscreen, and is voice-activated.
Not a Photo Printer
Many posts that discuss the best sublimation printers will add things like the Canon Selphy CP1300 or the Kodak Dock Instant Photo Printer.
These machines are great, but they are not sublimation printers. They are photo printers. They will print amazing photographs that look like they were developed at the store right from the comfort of your home, but they are not designed for dye sublimation printing.
Not an Inkjet Printer
Many of the lists will also include inkjet printers. Although some inkjets can be converted for use with sublimation paper, that’s not their primary function. If you want to do the sublimation process correctly, you should get a printer that’s designed for it.
Where to Get a Sublimation Paper
The most accessible place to get sublimation paper is on Amazon. You can also get it at most craft stores like Michaels or Joann’s.
You can also get a sublimation printer from your printer’s manufacturer, which is ideal as you know it will work well with the printer.
How Do I Get Sublimation Inks?
When ordering replaced sublimation ink, it’s important to note which printer you are using. The easiest thing to do is order the ink from the printer manufacturer to ensure that you get the correct replacement ink.
Many stores sell sublimation ink by itself in various sizes, which is helpful if you are trying to convert an inkjet printer to a sublimation printer (though it’s not recommended to do this!)
What Type of Heating Press Do I Need?
The final thing you need to make your creations come to life is a heating press. Many varieties of heating presses will do the job, but my recommendation for beginners is the F2C 12×15 Heat Press Machine Pro 6 in 1.
The 6 in 1 has a swinging arm and includes add-ons for specific items, like a mug press and a cap press. These add ons make it easy for you to make the most commonly sublimated items.
This heat press machine is also Teflon coated to prevent any scorching, and a thickened silicone pad underneath to protect your projects.
What Can I Print on With a Sublimation Printer?
The items you can print on are known as sublimation blanks and come in various shapes, sizes, and materials. You can buy blanks on Amazon or at most craft stores.
Many people want to print on items they already have without buying blanks. Most objects that are made with polyester will work with sublimation. If you are set on using a particular favored item or garment, you should practice first on similar material to ensure that you won’t ruin the thing you cherish.
Sublimation Printers and Cricut
Many people use their sublimation printers in conjunction with their Cricut machines to make epic apparel designs. It’s important to note that a Cricut is not capable of printing. It makes cuts and designs in various fabrics, but you can’t print those designs onto objects.
Are You Ready to Start Making Customs Designs?
If you’re ready to start making epic, custom designs on your own, grab your sublimation printer and heat press today!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.