What is Sublimation Printing?

sublimation printing for beginners

Sublimation is a scientific process in which a solid changes to a gas, without changing to a liquid.

With sublimation printing, the dried ink on the paper can be transferred to other materials using heat to form the chemical reaction.

If you are looking into starting sublimation printing and want to avoid common mistakes, then there is a pretty hefty shopping list along with some important things that you should know before you commit to purchasing. You can find Amazon affiliate links to the products that we use.
*Please be aware that anything 'specific' is specific to sublimation, and not the linked brand. You could use the underlined terms to search online for different brands, for whatever reason.

What do I need to get started Sublimation Printing?

Please read to the end before you commit to any purchases on your new venture. As with all crafts, there are plenty of variables and dependencies.

  • Firstly, you will need a dedicated printer for sublimation. This is because you can't mix and match the different inks with your standard inkjet printer. The sublimation printer model that we use is the A4 Epson Eco Tank 2850.
    *This printer comes supplied with ink, and when you are going through Epson's set-up process, you will be advised to install the ink. Do not do this because the  ink used for sublimation has different properties to standard inkjet paper ink. You will need to get some sublimation ink.

  • Sublimation paper also has different properties to standard copier paper, so you will also require some of that.

  • To get consistent end results, you will need to apply consistent pressure at a consistent temperature, for a consistent time. These factors will depend on the sublimation blank that it is being applied to. To achieve consistency, we would advise using a heat press. The size of the heat press would depend on the size of the projects that you want to make. You can purchase presses with changeable plates, that allow you to sublimate on rounded objects such as mugs or caps.

    For smaller items, you may be able to temporarily substitute with an iron (not advised if you are looking into printing commercially).

  • If you want to avoid accidental blurs or misalignment, you will need to have some heat transfer tape to secure the paper in place to the sublimation blank. This will stop the friction from the press plates causing misalignment between the paper and the blank.

  • Greaseproof paper / Butcher paper - you might already have some in your kitchen.

  • What materials can I sublimate on?

    You can sublimate on polymer materials. Polymers are defined by their molecular structure. As a rule of thumb, if the full name of the material starts with "Poly" - you will be able to sublimate on it. Here are some examples;

    Polyester - (Fabric. You won't achieve good results using cotton)

    Polyvinyl Chloride - (Vinyl)

    Polyurethane - (Faux leather)

    Polyethylene - (Glitter card, laminating paper)

    If you want to sublimate on other materials, you can look into purchasing a polymer coating such as Subli Glaze.

    What Printer Settings should I use for Sublimation?

    epson et 2850 for sublimation settings

    Once you have the required tools, you will probably keen to get started on your first sublimation project. but first you might want to check out your sublimation printer's printing preferences.

    Almost all of the time, you will want your sublimation print to be "mirrored." This means that when it is printed on paper, it will look backwards, but once transferred to the blank it will be facing the correct way. This is especially important when printing a design with text, because the end result will be read right-to-left, and as an example, your d will present as a b. Your printed sheet should be mirrored.

    • Changing "Mirror" to "On" as the default setting for the sublimation printer, is likely to save you a lot of wasted time and materials going forwards

    • Naming your printer will help to save time in the future, especially if there is more than one printer connected to your device or network.

    • Adjusting the quality to the highest possible setting (check under "More settings", making sure that the Paper Type is set to plain paper will increase the quality of your sublimation prints.
      *The quality setting has a direct impact on the speed at which your printer works. Upping the quality will also increase the time that it takes to print. It is worth it if you want professional results.

    A few more things to know...

    • Sublimation paper is one-sided. The packaging should tell you which side to put face up in the printer. If you lose track of this, the printable side is usually more white, and the non-printable side is grainy.

    • Creating your design ~1cm or so bigger than it needs to be, should make it easier when aligning the sublimation print with the material. Doing this also leaves room for the heat transfer tape to be applied.

    • Your sublimation print will appear dull. This is normal. If you are in doubt, you could test a print on some scrap material before putting it to your product.  

    • Avoid putting heat transfer tape over the any of the printed design, it will act as a barrier and leave visible lines that have not printed. Apply the tape from the back of the material that you are printing on.

    • When you're sublimating , the order from the bottom should be product (face up) > taped sublimation print (face down) > greaseproof paper > heat source.

    • Printers can't print white. Sublimation blanks are white. Be careful not to scorch your item.

    • Polymers are generally plastic. Heat melts plastic. Be sure to set timers and don't leave anything unattended.

    Remember to have fun and don't be afraid to experiment. If you have any questions you can leave a comment below, or check out our recently-created craft community on Facebook - Unofficial Cricut and Crafting Support and Designs.

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