What is a sublimation printer?

A sublimation printer is actually a standard inkjet printer that has been modified to be used as a sublimation printer.
A desktop sized sublimation printer (commonly A4-A3) is often a standard Epson or Ricoh inkjet printer that has been fitted with either refillable ink cartridges, or continuous ink system (CISS) to allow it to be used with dye sublimation inks.
A Sawgrass sublimation printer is currently the only ‘OEM’ desktop sublimation printer.
Although, a Sawgrass printer is actually based on a Ricoh printer and simply fitted with different badges.
However Sawgrass desktop sublimation printers are very expensive to initially purchase.
Furthermore they’re expensive to run due to the cost of the ink.
A converted Epson or Ricoh printer is much more reasonable as an initial investment, and running costs are far cheaper as the dye sublimation ink is purchased in bottles rather than pre-filled ink cartridges.

Can any printer be used for dye sublimation printing?

Inkjet printers that use a thermal printing head cannot be used for sublimation printing.
As a result inkjet printers manufactured by Canon, Hewlett Packard (HP), Lexmark or Dell are not suitable.
Printers that use a Micro Piezo printing head can be used for sublimation printing.
Commonly these are Epson or Ricoh inkjet printers.
Brother printers also use Micro Piezo printing heads so in theory can be used, but are not a common choice within the market.
This is however something we are looking into.

Do I need to use sublimation ink in my sublimation printer?

Although a sublimation printer is essentially a standard desktop inkjet printer, sublimation inks are required in order for it to be used for sublimation heat transfer printing.

What is sublimation ink?

Sublimation, or dye sublimation ink, is a specialist water based ink that can be used for producing printed images.
These are then transferred onto products using a heat press process.
When heated, sublimation inks undergo a chemical reaction changing the dye from a solid to a gas without reverting to a liquid.
It transfers from the paper onto the final product.
This chemical change is known as ‘sublimation’.

Are all sublimation inks the same?

No, as with everything in life; you get what you pay for.
It is always advised to research into the printer and / or sublimation ink you are planning to use.
Here at Ink Experts we supply Inktec Sublinova Smart dye sublimation inks, these are very well regarded in the sublimation printing market.
They offer excellent quality results, deep, dense black and rich, vivid colours.

What is sublimation paper?

Sublimation paper is a specialist inkjet paper media that is used with a sublimation printer and sublimation ink.
Sublimation paper is effectively a carrier for the ink.
Designs are printed onto the paper.
The paper holds the design as it is heat pressed on to the final product.
Sublimation paper has a specialist coating that allows the ink sit closely on the surface with minimal bleeding.
This results in a clean crisp image.

Are all sublimation papers the same?

There are a number of sublimation paper brands on the market, and it is always good to try various models to see what works best for you.
Different papers can work better than others depending on the item you are heat pressing on to.
Here at Ink Experts we supply two types of dye sublimation paper.
Subli-Style; which is our standard sublimation paper.
This works best on hard surface substrates such as ceramic, metal, wood and glass.
Subli-Style is a light weight paper it offers a good ink release and is instantly dry once printed.
It is excellent for printing sublimation mugs.

 

We also supply Subli-Fabric; this is a high release sublimation paper
It works best on soft surface substrates such as sublimation t-shirts, polyester canvas, linen, silk and PU leather.
Having a high release coating means the paper allows over 90% of the sublimation ink to be transferred from the paper to the product surface.
A a result it leaves a brighter and more vibrant final transfer print.
This makes it ideal for sublimation fabrics as much of the transferred ink can be soaked into the fabric fibres.

Do I need a heat press for sublimation printing?

It is strongly recommended that a heat press machine be used for sublimation printing.
A digital heat press will give good, consistent temperature and apply an even amount of heat across all areas of the product within the heating element area.

What heat press will I need for sublimation printing?

This will mainly depend on the type of products you want to produce.
A flat bed heat press (swing arm or clam shell type) come in various sizes allowing for variety of different sized items to be produced.
It is used for flat items and is therefore suitable for a wide range of products such as t-shirts, cushion covers, aprons, bags, cosmetic pouches, aluminium sheets, and so on.
If you plan to print mugs you will need a mug heat press.
Again mug heat presses are available in many different forms.
Different heating elements allow for different size or style mugs to be produced in the machine.
10/11oz is the standard sublimation mug size.
Heating elements are available for 6oz, latte mugs as well as larger elements used for 15oz mugs, water bottles and beer steins.
Mug heat presses also come as single, dual or even 5-in-1 allowing for higher production volume.

What is a sublimation ICC profile?

An ICC profile is a file that has been created to help colour match your sublimation printer setup.
In simple terms a sublimation ICC profile ensures the transfer print on your item looks as close as possible to the image on your computer screen.
Sublimation ICC profiles are made to match a specific setup – the printer, the sublimation ink, and the sublimation paper.
At Ink Experts we make sublimation profiles for each sublimation printer package we sell
Moreover we include these free with each package purchased.

Why do prints from my sublimation printer look different to the image on screen?

It is perfectly normal for a print from a sublimation printer to look different to the image on your computer screen.
This is because sublimation inks change colour during the sublimation heat pressing process.
As sublimation ink reacts when it is heated the ink will physically change colour.
The end result becomes brighter and more vibrant than the image printed on the sublimation paper.
It is always advisable to heat press the image on to a product to see the final result.

What products can I produce with a sublimation printer?

There are hundreds of sublimation blank items on the market that can be printed on to using a sublimation printer.
Providing you have a suitable heat press the world really is your oyster, and your only limit is your imagination.
The most popular uses for a sublimation printer are to produce personalised items for marketing and promotional items such as mugs, t-shirts, mouse mats, cushion covers, plates, metal sheets, linen pouches, cosmetic bags, linen shopping bags and so on.
The sublimation blanks available allow for almost any product to be personalised or printed on to using the sublimation printing process.

What are the limitations of sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing is a very versatile printing method, but it also has a few limitations that are always worth noting or considering when deciding if it is the method for you.
Below are the main limitations of the sublimation print process-
Blank items must be sublimation ready: items that are sublimation ready are coated with a special polymer coating. This coating is what the sublimation ink adheres to and becomes part of the coating / product. Any products sold as being sublimation ready or sublimation compatible will be pre-coated and ready to use.
Fabrics must be man-made: any fabrics used with sublimation printing must be man-made and contain polyester.
The polyester content allows the sublimation ink to adhere to the fabric and creates a permanent bond.
However, sublimation ink will not bond with natural fabrics such as cotton.
Sublimation printers cannot print white: just like a standard inkjet printer a sublimation printer cannot print white. A sublimation printer does not use white ink, and any white areas of a design are left un-printed i.e. no ink, just paper.