How To Print Polyester Tote Bags

Sublimation bags such as tote bags, drag string bags and reusable shopping bags are very popular especially with the need to reduce the number of single use bags.
The sublimation printing method offers a very professional finish with a relatively small investment.

Blank sublimation bags are available in white variety of fabric finishes, designs and colours.

Typically sublimation bags are white or pale / natural coloured to allow the best colour reproduction. They should be made from a polyester based material and come in a range of fabric styles. Our example is produced using a natural canvas coloured cover.

What will you need?

A sublimation converted inkjet printer
Sublimation paper – we used our Fabric HR paper
Heat resistant tape
Flat bed heat press (swing away or clam shell)
Sublimation ready t-shirt

Teflon Pillow
Teflon Protection Sheet

1) Design Process

You will need to create the artwork for your design on your computer.
Ideally use a good piece of photo editing software.
Popular software choices are Adobe Photoshop, Coral Draw, Serif Affinity 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 other software offer as standard.

Depending on the size of your blank bag you may benefit from using an A3 size printer.
A3 printers offer greater design coverage across a larger bag. The bag we used is 36x39cm and an A4 size image works quite well for this. But sublimation bags  are available in larger sizes so larger print area can be required.

2) Preparing your tote bag

Your cushion cover should be dry and clean.
Inspect it before pressing as you may find loose threads or stitching from manufacturing process.

Use a lint roller to remove any excess thread or to remove unwanted bobbling on the material.

Place the cushion cover on to the rubber base of your heat press and adjust it to ensure it is as flat as possible.
It is advised to pre-press the cushion cover by closing the heat press for 5-10 seconds.
This essentially irons the cover to flatten it and remove any creasing.

3) Preparing your printed design

There are different thoughts and opinions on the best way to prepare the paper transfer print.

Ink Experts advise our customers to trim or cut every edge of the paper before pressing.

This because it is common for the edges of the paper to get caught by the printing head during printing.

As a result ink can remain on the papers edges which in turn will transfer onto your cushion cover.

Cutting the edges off the paper ensures a clean print.

We advise to pad the inside of the cover with a Teflon pillow this prevent fading to the middle of the bag where the pressure can be decreased due to the thickness of the edges / seams.

Use heat tape to secure the paper transfer in position on the bag.

4) Pressing your tote bag

For our example we have used one of our own canvas effect polyester linen tote bag. We recommend these are pressed at:

Temperature: 200c
Time: 70 seconds
Pressure: Medium
Teflon pillow: Yes
Teflon protection sheet: Yes

Not all sublimation bags use the same heat press temperature and time.
Ink Experts advise customers to contact the supplier of your cushion cover blank to confirm their recommended heat press settings.

The temperature and time varies due to the GSM or weight of the fabric and the material type (100% polyester or a blended polycotton material)

Step by Step Method

  • Turn on your heat press.
  • Set the temperature and time.
  • Allow it to come up to temperature.
  • While the heat press is heating up you can prepare your bag.
  • Remove the rubber base from your heat press and lay the bag on to it.
  • Adjust the fabric to remove as many creases as possible.
  • Once at temperature carefully place the rubber mat and t-shirt on to the heat press base.
  • Pre-press the bag blank for 5-10 seconds.
  • Apply your paper transfer design and secure in place using heat resistant tape (its advised to tape each corner).
  • If possible use a Teflon pillow to pad the bag and prevent fading during the pressing process.
  • Close your press and heat press for the desired time.
  • When the timer expires open the press and carefully remove the paper transfer in one smooth motion.
  • Remove the tote bag from your heat press and allow to cool.

Tips and tricks

Trimming the edges of the paper as mentioned above will ensure the paper is clean.

Where possible the edges can be carefully torn.

Doing this leaves a softer edge of the paper which reduces indented outline of the paper when heat pressing the bag.

Reduce the risk of scorching your fabric by using a Teflon sheet.
The Teflon sheet can be laid over the paper transfer and bag when heat pressing.

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