What Is Sublimation Printing?

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Are you new to the world of personalisation? If you're determined to start a personalised gift business, dye sublimation printing is one of the easiest techniques to learn, with fantastic results and maximum quality.

Keep reading this post to learn everything you need to know about dye sublimation printing, and we’ll walk you through the process step by step.

  1. What is sublimation?
  2. How does sublimation work?
  3. What can I sublimate on?
  4. What do I need to start sublimating?
  5. Sublimation items
  6. Conclusions about sublimation

What is sublimation?

Dye sublimation printing is a digital printing technology that allows you to create personalised gifts in a very easy way. It consists of transferring a photo-quality image onto a surface (t-shirts, mugs, photo frames, phone cases, bags, tiles, etc.), creating a unique and exclusive personalised item.

Heat is used to transfer the printed design to the personalised surface, which is only possible using a heat press.

Mug heat press with sublimation mug

How does sublimation work?

Dye sublimation printing is a very simple task, and the results are fantastic. So, if you’re getting started with this personalisation technique, these are the steps you should follow:

  1. Choose an image from your computer: you may use graphic design software to modify it, but you can also use it directly with no editing. There is plenty of free graphic editing software available nowadays.
  2. Print the image with an inkjet printer equipped with special inks and paper for sublimation. You should be aware that your sublimation printer should only be dedicated to this technique.  We do not recommend converting a previously used printer (with conventional inks) because you will need to clean its ink tubes thoroughly first.
  3. Place the paper’s printed side in contact with the surface of the objects you want to personalise. If you are decorating a mug, place the printed side of the paper against it and attach it with heat-resistant tape to fix the paper in the right position.
  4. Place the item and the printed paper on the heat press that you will have previously set up to the right temperature, pressure and time configuration. Close the press to apply heat: this is when SUBLIMATION happens. The ink, activated by heat, goes directly from a solid to a gaseous state, blending into the surface of the object.
  5. When the time set has elapsed, carefully remove the item from the heat press. We recommend using a protective glove because the press can reach very high temperatures. Remove the paper carefully. The printed item is now gift-ready.

In the video below, we show you the personalisation process behind this technique, in this case with sublimation socks:

What can I sublimate on?

You should be aware that not all products can be sublimated. For this reason, you must consider the materials on which you can work and the colours on which the design can be printed.

  • If you’re going to work with fabrics, you will only be able to work on polyester or a support with a special polyester coating. However, sublimating cotton fabrics is an impossible task, although some alternatives will help you apply a similar technique onto cotton.
  • Sublimation will only be possible on white backgrounds. Sublimation inks are transparent and add to the colour of the background. The origin of sublimation lies in the development of photography. By analogy, you may understand why photos are printed on white photographic paper (and never on coloured paper). In the same way, if you sublimate on white fabric, you will get colours true to the original image. If you sublimate on coloured fabrics, the colours will be altered.
White sublimation t-shirt

As for the advantages and disadvantages of sublimation printing, you can read this other post we've published on the subject.

What do I need to start sublimating?

Assuming that you already own a computer at home, you will only have to invest in the following equipment:

  • An inkjet printer that you will only use for sublimation. When selecting that printer, you will need to decide if you need a small format (A4 or A3) or a medium/large format printer. Small printers are cheaper, and their size will be enough for personalising small items like mugs, photo frames, phone cases, bags, etc.
  • Special inks for sublimationSublimation ink must be of the highest quality to ensure perfect results. It's preferable to use sealed cartridges to guarantee purity in the supply channel, avoiding issues with the printheads. By installing all 4 basic colour cartridges (cyan, yellow, magenta and black), you'll be able to achieve full colour range. Sublimation ink manufacturers must provide you with the colour profile for your printer model and ink type. This colour profile will allow you to manage colours from your computer to easily achieve a colour range that matches the original. You will see that colours appear muted on paper, and that's normal. However, after transferring the design, you should get colours similar to the original image. With the colour profile, this will be an easy task to do.
  •  Sublimation paper:  it works like an ink transfer sheet. You must first print on it and then transfer the design to the item through heat applied with a heat press. The paper you will use must be high-quality sublimation paper to achieve maximum DPI resolution (dots per inch) and maximum ink transfer. There is only one type of sublimation paper regardless of the surface you want to sublimate (fabric, porcelain, wood, metal, etc.).
Mug press, mug with heat-resistant tape
  • A heat press: You must select the type of press you need according to the items you will personalise. If you wish to print on flat items (clothes, photo holders, handbags, keyrings, photo panels, etc.), you may want to get a flat heat press. When choosing your press, you must keep in mind the dimensions of its platen, which will determine the maximum surface you can sublimate. On the other hand, you can find presses specific for plate or mug sublimation. You can also purchase a combo press with several interchangeable platens for higher flexibility when personalising different items. And last but not least, it's important to mention the oven, which has gained popularity in the personalisation of phone cases. The iSmart oven allows for full sublimation on the uneven surface of the case, offering a 3D printing effect.
  • Sublimation items: They are made of polyester or are provided with a special polyester coating, making them suitable for sublimation. Nowadays, you can find a wide range of ready-to-personalise sublimation blanks.

Sublimation items

If you finally decide to go for dye sublimation printing, you can work with sublimation inks using the Epson ET-14000 (A3). Additionally, some printers are specially created to personalise products with fluorescent designs. This new feature can help you expand your product catalogue.

As for heat presses, heat is more important than pressure compared to other techniques. That’s why combo presses are a good option if you’re just starting out. With them, you’ll be able to sublimate all kinds of products thanks to their interchangeable accessories in a cost-effective way.

Epson F500 sublimation

Conclusions about sublimation

🔥 What is sublimation?

It’s a digital printing technique that allows you to personalise products on a substrate. Dye sublimation requires heat for the design to transfer correctly to the surface you want to print on.

✅ How does sublimation work?

Print your design with an inkjet printer on sublimation paper. It works like a carrier for the inks. Place the paper’s printed side against the object you are personalising and press.

🥇 What do I need to start sublimating?

- Sublimation printer
- Sublimation inks
- Sublimation paper
- Heat press, such as a combo press, for example, to work with different shapes and sizes

🤔 What can I sublimate on?

You can personalise polyester fabric, mugs, photo frames, phone cases, bags, tiles, etc.
Every object that you sublimate must have a white background, as sublimation inks are transparent and added to the substrate’s colour.

🖨 What sublimation printer do I need?

To print the design you want to sublimate, you will need a sublimation printer such as the ET-14000, modified specially for this technique.

As you can see, working with sublimation can be very simple, and the results are fantastic. Join one of the best personalisation techniques, and share your results

If you want to keep up to date with the latest news about sublimation and other personalisation techniques, subscribe to our Blog and our YouTube channel.

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  1. jarva says:

    If you have a business or you are interested in getting the services of marketing professionals, you might have come across different types of printing like screen printing, offset printing and so on. In this article, we will tackle another form of printing known as sublimation printing.

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