What is a Sublimation Printer and How Does It Work?
Sublimation Printers: The How and Why
by Jeff Butler · Senior Strategist
Inkjet sublimation printers have made it possible for entrepreneurs to start a business that offers personalized products at a low cost, and for established companies to expand their product offerings to include personalized gifts. These printers have created new opportunities for businesses of all sizes to succeed in the market.
But what exactly is a sublimation printer? Science class taught me sublimation is moving from a solid to a gas, while skipping the liquid phase. So, does a sublimation printer do that?
Not exactly, but it's the key component for delivering sublimation ink onto sublimation paper so you can carry it to the heat press machine.
Sounds complicated right? It's really not. Let me explain.
What is a sublimation printer?
Sublimation printers are specialized inkjet printers that use dye sublimation ink to transfer designs onto a variety of surfaces. These printers can be specifically designed for sublimation, such as the Sawgrass SG500, the Sawgrass SG1000, or the Epson SureColor F570, or they can be regular desktop printers that have been converted to use sublimation ink, like the Epson EcoTank or the Epson Workforce.
The sublimation ink is stored in cartridges or tanks by color (CMYK - cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) and is fed through the print tubes to the print head, which contains thousands of tiny nozzles. These nozzles can create sublimation ink droplets as small as four nano meters, allowing for ultra-high resolution and full color spectrum printing.
Read: Top Sublimation Printing Systems for Beginners: Our Picks
What is the difference between a sublimation printer and a regular printer?
The difference between a sublimation printer and a regular printer is that a sublimation printer prints with sublimation ink instead of standard inkjet ink.
Sublimation ink is a special mixture of water and heat reactive dyes - no solvents or additional chemicals are needed in the sublimation transfer process. Sublimation ink is the 'water' of the sublimation ecosystem. In fact, sublimation ink is eco-friendly!
What is a sublimation printer used for?
A sublimation printer is used for printing the sublimation transfers you will use to create custom products for yourself and your customers. Sublimation transfers are created by printing an image onto special paper that is capable of absorbing and releasing sublimation ink when subjected to high heat and pressure. This process is typically carried out using a heat press machine.
What custom products can you make using sublimation? For starters - full color name badges, coffee mugs, metal art prints, home decor items - such as towels and pillow cases, performance apparel - the list goes on! The world of blank sublimation products is exploding right now. You have more options for high quality, in-demand, and on-trend products than ever before.
Can I turn a regular printer into a sublimation printer?
While it is possible to convert a regular printer into a sublimation printer, it is important to be aware of the potential drawbacks. One such drawback is that the printer may not come with technical support from the manufacturer if it is used for sublimation printing. Additionally, using sublimation ink with the printer could void the manufacturer's warranty, meaning that if any issues arise, you would need to find a solution on your own.
An issue that is often encountered by those who have converted their Epson WorkForce printers for sublimation is that the printer may not be able to recognize the chip in third-party cartridges after a firmware update. This can result in the printer not being able to print.
If you are considering converting a regular inkjet printer into a sublimation printer, give us a call at 1-800-826-6332. We will be happy to discuss options and provide you with solid advice based on over 3 decades of experience with sublimation printers.
What materials can be printed with sublimation?
Sublimation ink is an oil-loving molecule and that means it has a natural bond with polyester - specifically in the form of coatings and materials. A sublimation coating is a clear polyester based material that captures dye in the tightest possible pattern for superior resolution. Sublimation likes white and light-colored materials and fabrics. There is no white ink in sublimation printing.
The sublimation process combines the ink with the textile and permanently imprints the artwork or design into the substrate. The result is durable and significantly less prone to fading, as the dye penetrates the material instead of laying on top like a surface decoration technology such as heat transfer paper.
What else is needed for sublimation printing?
Heat Press Machine - A sublimation heat press is simply a heat press built using a swing-away design. The swing-away design makes it ideal for sublimation by allowing the operator full access to the pressing table with a swing of the handle.
Read: DK20S - The Best Professional Heat Press for Sublimation?
Sublimation Paper - Sublimation paper is a 'carrier' of sublimation ink - it holds the ink in place so you can carry it to the heat press and mate it with the blank substrate. It sounds simple enough, however there are different papers that are developed for different substrates - namely soft substrates and hard substrates.
Read: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sublimation Paper - Explained in 10 Minutes!
Computer with Graphics Software
Sublimation Blanks - This is the fun part! With so many exciting blank products available you're sure to find something that works into your business model. I recommend starting with some common flat substrates such as car tags, coasters, fabric swatches, and small photo panels in hardboard and aluminum to get started learning the process. From there, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
Read: The Ultimate Guide to the Top Sublimation Products You Should Be Selling
In conclusion, a sublimation printer is an essential tool for creating customized products through the sublimation process. It's important to carefully consider which sublimation printer is the best fit for your needs and to properly maintain it to ensure optimal performance.. Study the available information and determine what your goals are. Choose a printer, keep it clean, talk nice to it, and keep the ink flowing!
by Jeff Butler · Senior Strategist
Conde Systems, Inc.
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