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What is sublimation printing?

What is sublimation printing – FAQs

What is sublimation printing?

Sublimation is a transfer printing method that allows a regular inkjet printer to print onto items that couldn’t normally be fed through the printer such as textiles, T-shirts, metal sheets, ceramic tiles, mugs, cell phone covers etc. The process uses special inks, special sublimation paper, and a heat press to bond the inks into the surface of the printed item.

Sublimation inks use special dyes that, when heated to an elevated temperature (350 – 400 F), will transfer to the item to be printed. Images are printed in reverse or ‘mirror image’ onto the sublimation paper. The paper has a special coating that keeps the inks at the surface to provide the most transfer of color to the item to be printed. The printed paper is then heat pressed onto the item to be printed and the transfer occurs.

What items can I print to with Sublimation printing?

Sublimation inks only work on surfaces that have a high polyester content (50% or more polyester content). There is a huge variety of items available (known as sublimation blanks) to print onto using sublimation inks – aluminum panels for photographic images and signs, mugs, glassware, mouse pads, water bottles, baseball caps, cell phone covers – the list is endless and all are available with a polyester coating to accept the inks. T-shirts need to have at least 50% polyester (the higher the polyester content the better), and sublimation is the ideal method for ‘all over printing’ where the front, back, and sleeves are completely covered with the printed design. Many of today’s popular sports wear fabrics with ‘cool wicking’ technology are 100% polyester and ideal for sublimation printing.

Are sublimation inks durable?

Yes, sublimation inks are extremely durable. The heating process used to transfer the inks from the paper to the item forces the color into the polyester so the dyes essentially become part of the polyester, meaning that they are completely water proof and very scratch resistant. 100% polyester textiles will show no color loss through numerous wash cycles. 50/50 blend textiles will show some minor color loss after the first wash but none thereafter. Light fastness used to be an issue with sublimation inks but the recent advances in dye technology mean that the latest inks, such as our Sublim8 ink ranges, have very good fade resistance and can be used for outdoor display for extended periods.

Which printer models do you recommend for sublimation printing?

Many older Epson printer models can be converted for sublimation printing (see a list of supported models in the subject below). We also support several current Epson printer models with our sublimation inks, the choice of which is dependent on what you want to print and how big an image you want to produce.

For printing images up to 13” wide, we recommend the Epson EcoTank ET-15000. This is a fast four color printer and is good for general sublimation printing such as T shirts, mugs, plaques etc. It can also produce good quality photographic images. The ET-15000 also uses bulk ink to reduce printing costs. You should only install sublimation inks on new machines that have not been loaded with the Epson original inks as it is a very hard printer to clean out once it has regular inks installed. 

For printing images wider than 13” wide, we recommend the Epson SureColor T3170X which is a 24" wide format model with bulk ink tanks as standard.  You should only install sublimation inks on new machines that have not been loaded with the Epson original inks as it is a very hard printer to clean out once it has regular inks installed. 

Which Epson printers can I convert for sublimation printing?

We support the following printer models with sublimation inks, cartridges and/or bulk refillable cartridges, and sublimation transfer paper:-

Epson Photo 1400, 2200, R2400, R2880, R3000

Epson Artisan 1430

Epson ET-15000

Epson Stylus Pro 3800, 3880, 4000, 4800, 4880, 4900, 7600, 7700, 7800, 7880, 7890, 7900, 9600, 9700, 9800, 9880, 9890, 9900, 10000, 10600.

Epson SureColor T3170x.

Epson SureColor T3000, T3270, T5000, T5270, T7000, T7270.

Epson SureColor F6070, F6200, F7070, F7170, F7200, F9200.

Does a printer need cleaning out before installing Sublim8 sublimation inks?

If a printer is brand new and has never been set up with the original inks then there is no need to clean it out before installing our Sublim8 inks. Simply install our ink cartridges or refillable bulk ink cartridges from new.

If you have a used printer that is running the original inks or other inks, then it will need cleaning out before installing our Sublim8 inks. We supply Sublim8 flush fluid in bulk bottles or filled into cleaning cartridges for this purpose. The method for cleaning varies depending on the printer model.

If you have a used desk top printer with smaller cartridges that install on the print head such as the Epson Photo 1400, 2200, R2400, R2880, and Artisan 1430, then our Sublim8 flush fluid can be used in our refillable cartridges to quickly clean out the print head.

For other models that have larger stationary cartridges that plug in to the front of the printer such as the Epson Photo R3000 and all Epson Stylus Pro and SureColor T series models, we supply cleaning cartridges filled with Sublim8 flush fluid that can be run through the printer to flush out the existing inks. Alternatively, if you are going to use one of our refillable cartridges kits and ink in bulk, then the refillable cartridges can be filled with a little flush fluid and used to clean out the printer. The refillable cartridges can then be drained of the flush, refilled with Sublim8 inks, and re-installed ready for printing.

Can Sublimation inks be used for regular color printing?

The simple answer is no. The true color of sublimation inks is only visible once they have been heated and transferred to the item to be printed. The inks before they are heated have a very dull and muddy color to them so they are not suitable for regular printing. Once a printer has been converted then it really is a dedicated sublimation printer.

What type of heat press is needed for sublimation printing?

Heat presses designed for sublimation printing come in various shapes and sizes depending on what you want to transfer the print onto. Flat presses range in price from a few hundred dollars for a small format 15” x 15” press up to many thousands for dollars for an automated wide format press. There are two main types of flat presses available – clam shell and swing away, and, generally, the more you pay for a press then the better quality and more features you get. Clam Shell presses are good for transferring onto thinner items such T shirts, textiles, metal photo panels etc. whereas the swing away type is also good for transferring to thicker items and can be adjusted to work with pieces several inches thick. A couple of things we have found useful on a press are a pull out draw base and an auto open feature. The pull out draw base means that you can place and align your item to be printed away from the heated top platen (saves a lot of scalded knuckles!) and then the draw is slid under the heated platen for the transfer process. An auto open feature is also very useful. The sublimation heat transfer process time is usually in the range of 60 – 120 seconds dependent on the item to be printed, and an auto open press will automatically open after the set transfer time, meaning you can’t inadvertently over heat an item. A medium quality 16” x 20” clam shell press with a pull out draw base and auto open platen can be obtained for around $ 600 -$ 700.

For curved or irregular shaped items then a different type of press is required, and these are normally designed for the specific item to be printed, such as mug presses, plate presses, and baseball cap presses. For instance, printing on to ceramic mugs requires a mug press and a reasonable quality model costs around $ 200. A mug press that can print onto multiple sizes of mug as well as water bottles and shot glasses comes with interchangeable heating platens and costs around $ 400.  

Do Sublimation inks require special color management?

Yes, sublimation inks produce very intense color once they have been transferred and so the color settings in the regular Epson printer driver software will not work well with sublimation inks. For example, a print made using a standard matte paper setting will be very dark and oversaturated when transferred. We supply free ICC profile files for our inks that automatically color correct the printed output so accurate color can easily be obtained. ICC profiles work with most popular image creation software such as Photoshop, Illustrator and CorelDraw and are applied during printing. We provide guides that show the process. ICC profiles are available for download for the printer/ink combinations we support at our sublimation profile page. The library of profiles we provide is constantly being added to and, if a profile for your printer and our inks is not shown on this site, then we will be happy to make one for you at no charge. This involves you making two letter size prints (we will send you the images and directions for printing) on our sublimation paper using our inks, and then the prints are sent to us. We will then send you back the ICC profile file with directions on installation and use. This offer only applies to RGB ICC profiles for use with the standard Epson driver software.   

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