Sublimation metal is commonly used to produce signage, name tags, trophy inserts and decorations.
It is usually made from aluminium sheets, however copper and other metals can also be used.
Aluminium is available in a range of finishes.
These include bright white, brushed silver, mirror silver, as well as copper, brass, satin silver and gold.

Sublimation metal is generally sold in sheet form, but can also be purchased as pre-cut shapes from specialist sublimation metal suppliers.
Most specialist suppliers also offer additional finishes such as rounded corners, holes for screw fixings, self adhesive backing and so on.

Depending on the supplier sublimation metal is generally 0.5, 0.7 or 1.1mm thick.
It is very lightweight, but durable and resistant.
As with all other sublimation ready items sublimation metal has a polymer clear coating applied to its surface.
This coating is what the sublimation ink will bond to during the heat press process creating a permanent bond that is waterproof, UV and scratch resistant.

Printing sublimation metal is a very simple process and offers amazing results.
Furthermore it is an incredibly cheap process.

What will you need?

A sublimation converted inkjet printer
Sublimation paper
Heat resistant tape
Flat bed heat press (swing away or clam shell)
Sublimation metal sheets
Scissors

The process-

Design:

You will need to create the artwork for you mug design on your computer.
Ideally use a good piece of photo editing software.
Popular software choices are Adobe Photoshop, Coral Draw, Serif Afinity or Gimp Design.
Basic software such as MS Word, Publisher or similar can be used, but they offer limited design freedom.
They also lack some of the functions that other softwares offer as standard.

Preparing the sublimation metal:

Sublimation metal sheets are supplied with a protective coating applied to the printable side.
This is usually clear or blue in colour.
Ensure all of this protective coating is removed by peeling it slowly off the metal sheet.
Place the sheet with the printing side face up on a flat working area.

Preparing your printed design:

Ensure your design is sized correctly to suit the sublimation metal sheet you will be heat pressing on to.
If there is a solid colour background allow a 2mm bleed around all edges to ensure complete coverage.

Pressing your sublimation metal:

Sublimation metal is sold in various thicknesses (0.5, 0.7 and 1.1mm are common).
The thickness will alter the heat press settings so always check with your supplier for their recommended heat press settings.

Example of varying heat press settings are;

180C for 50 seconds (0.5mm brushed silver metal)

200C for 70 seconds (1.1mm white Chromalux metal)

  • Turn on your heat press.
  • Set the temperature and time.
  • Allow it to come up to temperature.
  • Whilst the heat press is heating up you can prepare your metal ready to press.
  • Trim 1cm from the edge of the printed paper transfer design with scissors.
  • Place the paper transfer print on your work area with the print face up.
  • Take you sublimation metal sheet, flip it over so the printable side is facing down and place on to the paper transfer print.
  • Secure the paper transfer print to the metal using heat resistant tape.
  • When your heat press is at temperature take the metal with paper transfer and place on to the base of the heat press.
  • IMPORTANT: ensure the metal is on top of the paper (the element on your press should touch the metal, not the paper).
  • Close the heat press and press for the desired time.
  • When the timer expires open your press and carefully remove the metal.
  • Allow to cool for 60 seconds before removing the paper transfer.

TOP TIPS:

Ensure the metal is on top of the paper when heat pressing.
Metal, glass and slate are the only products pressed in this way, so it is easy to make the mistake of placing the paper on top of the metal.
By heating through the metal a more even heat is applied to the material.
As a result a more even transfer is achieved.

The pressure of your heat press is key to success with sublimation metal.
Therefore be prepared to experiment to find what works best for you.
Personally we find that a low to medium pressure works well and helps to reduce mottling in the print area.
This is caused by the fibres in sublimation paper being pressed into the soft coating on the metal.