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So you sublimation geeks out there are wondering: “Can you use a sublimation printer for regular printing”? This is a common question for individuals delving into the realm of specialized printing. The answer, in short, is that while sublimation printers excel at producing high-quality custom prints on specific materials, they are not ideally suited for everyday document printing. Read on as we guide you through the reasons why, covering technical compatibility, cost efficiency, and quality of output—providing the knowledge you need to decide if a sublimation printer is right for your regular printing needs!

Key Takeaways

  • Sublimation printers use a distinctive heat transfer process, turning dye into gas to permeate substrates for high-quality, durable prints, unlike regular printers that apply ink to surfaces.
  • Compatibility challenges with using regular inks and papers in sublimation printers exist due to the unique requirements of sublimation printing, and switching inks can cause printhead clogging and printer damage.
  • While technically possible, using a sublimation printer for both sublimation and regular printing is not recommended due to increased costs, reduced print quality, and the potential for operational issues.[1]

The Dual Life of a Sublimation Printer

Sublimation printer with paper coming out of it

Sublimation printers are designed to embed dye into a substrate for durable, high-quality prints, a stark contrast to regular printers that simply apply ink onto the surface. They achieve this through a fascinating process called dye sublimation printing, which is a digital technique specifically designed for synthetic fabrics such as polyester.

Sublimation printing differs from traditional methods, where ink or toner is applied directly to the material’s surface, by creating a more permanent image transfer.

The Core Purpose of Sublimation Printers

The primary functionality of a sublimation printer is its ability to:

  • Transfer dye onto polyester fabrics and other polyester-coated surfaces
  • Produce high-resolution images with exceptional print quality
  • Convert dyes into a gaseous state and disperse them onto the polymer-coated surface

This allows the Epson EcoTank printer to produce high-quality prints with vibrant colors and sharp details.

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Sublimation printers, like the Epson sublimation printer, are incredibly versatile, capable of transferring designs onto a wide range of materials when you use sublimation ink. This versatility, combined with their ability to capture fine details and produce high-resolution images, makes them a popular choice for many businesses.[2]

The Mechanics Behind Sublimation Printing

Flames design on paper ejecting from sublimation printer

The distinguishing factor of sublimation printing is how the printer uses heat to transfer dye from specialized sublimation ink cartridges and paper onto the substrate. The application of heat causes the ink to transition into a gas, allowing it to permeate and embed itself into the surface of the substrate. This fascinating process is known as an endothermic process, where heat and pressure are applied to the dye, causing it to transition directly from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid phase.

To ensure optimal results in sublimation printing, the temperature setting is key. Generally, a range between 375°F to 400°F, or 200 to 205 °C, is recommended. Moreover, it’s worth mentioning that sublimation printers are engineered to use dye-based inks specifically for the sublimation process, not traditional inkjet ink.

The Compatibility Challenge

Investigating how well sublimation printers work with regular printing uncovers a few obstacles. The key sticking points revolve around the differences in ink and paper requirements. Sublimation printing demands specific inks, which contain aqueous sublimation ink dyes suitable for both desktop and large format printers. Moreover, it requires the use of specially formulated papers for optimal results.

Ink Differences that Matter

Blue ink being poured over paper on top of a printer

The constituents of sublimation ink are quite different from those of regular printer ink. Sublimation ink is specifically formulated to undergo a phase change from liquid to solid upon heating, a crucial characteristic for achieving vivid color transfers onto diverse substrates. Conversely, regular ink remains in a liquid state and is more suitable for printing on paper.

The compatibility of printers is heavily reliant on the specific ink formulations they are engineered to work with, including the use of appropriate ink tanks. Using incorrect inks can lead to avoidable wear and damage to the printer’s components. Dye sublimation ink demonstrates distinct behavior when interacting with different substrates. It is designed for transferring designs onto sublimation paper and is typically used with substrates such as ChromaLuxe, which often feature thick polyester coatings.

On the other hand, regular inkjet ink exhibits varying reactions based on the substrate it is applied to and may impact print resolution.

Paper Preferences in Printing

The sublimation printing process involves the use of a specialized paper known as sublimation paper. This paper has a special coating that securely holds the ink and transforms it into gas upon exposure to heat, making it vital for the sublimation process.

Sublimation paper is recommended to have a thickness of 100 GSM or higher to enhance ink absorption. It should also exhibit excellent ink absorption properties to enhance the vibrancy and vividness of the printed images. However, using regular copy paper for sublimation printing can lead to subpar print quality, inadequate ink absorption, and potential harm to the printer.

Conversion Considerations

Switching a printer between sublimation and regular printing is a significant undertaking. It involves several important considerations, including the feasibility of switching inks and the necessity for proper cleaning and maintenance.

The Feasibility of Switching Inks

While it may be technically feasible to change ink cartridges and continue printing to remove the old ink from the printhead, there are inherent risks involved. For instance, it’s not recommended to alternate between regular ink and sublimation ink in the same printer due to the potential for cross-contamination. Furthermore, switching between different inks or mixing two brands can lead to issues such as print-head clogging, especially when using refillable ink cartridges.

The performance of a printer can be affected by switching inks. This can result in clogged printheads, damage to cartridge slots, and compromised print quality if the wrong type of ink cartridge or a mix of different inks is used. It is crucial to adhere to the correct procedures when transitioning from one ink to another in order to prevent these issues.

Transitioning from sublimation ink to regular ink in a printer involves draining or removing the existing ink and preparing the printer for the new ink.

Cleaning and Maintenance Requirements

A person cleaning a printer

When converting a printer to sublimation, adhering to standard cleaning practices is crucial. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Conduct print head/nozzle cleaning.
  2. Use lint-free cloths to wipe the exterior and interior surfaces of the printer.
  3. Utilize isopropyl alcohol for cleaning.
  4. Clean the printer at least once a week to prevent clogging and maintain smooth ink flow.

Specialized printhead cleaning fluids, a diluted clear version of Simple Green mixed with Windex, and isopropyl alcohol are the recommended cleaning solutions for a sublimation printer. These solutions are gentle on the printer and effective in maintaining cleanliness.

Furthermore, there are specific maintenance procedures to follow when transitioning between sublimation and regular printing. It is crucial to consistently clean the nozzle-heads to avoid clogging, and it’s also important to inspect and clean the feed rollers. Additionally, it is advised to use the printer regularly and to turn it on at least once every two weeks to execute automatic print head cleaning and prevent clogging.[3]

Practicality and Performance

Even though sublimation printers may appear versatile, considerations about practicality and performance are crucial. As we delve into the cost implications of ink usage and the quality of output on regular documents, you’ll see why sublimation printers might not be the best fit for regular printing tasks.

Cost Implications of Ink Usage

colored ink bottles in a row

The cost of sublimation ink is generally higher than that of regular ink, averaging around $0.12 to $0.29 per milliliter. Consequently, the higher cost of sublimation ink makes regular printing with it less practical.

The cost of ink significantly influences the total operational expenses of a printer by directly impacting maintenance costs and ink consumption during the printing process, thus affecting the overall cost of ownership.

Quality of Output on Regular Documents

Sublimation ink has the potential to reduce color vibrancy in regular document printing, as vibrant colors are typically achieved when the ink is sublimated onto the surface of a substrate under high heat. Color bleeding in documents printed with sublimation ink can be attributed to dye migration, often associated with the heat applied during the curing phase of the sublimation process.

The typical challenges when printing regular documents with sublimation ink include:

  • Subpar print quality
  • Clogged printheads
  • Uneven color distribution
  • Complications in troubleshooting

Therefore, using sublimation ink for regular printing can significantly compromise the quality of the output.

Dedicated Devices vs. Multipurpose Machines

image of a white printer

While evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of using a sublimation printer for regular printing tasks, we must also contemplate the benefits of having dedicated devices versus multipurpose machines for sublimation and regular printing.

The Case for Specialized Equipment

Specialized sublimation printers offer the following benefits:

  • Simplify the sublimation process
  • Deliver superior quality prints
  • Enhance printing performance and results
  • Equipped with specialized ink cartridges filled with sublimation inks, ensuring optimal performance and print quality.

Utilizing specialized equipment in print work can enhance long-term productivity by facilitating quicker printing speeds and reducing downtimes, thus leading to improved efficiency and optimal resource utilization. Some examples of specialized equipment used in print work include:

  • Highly specialized photographic equipment
  • Advanced printing presses
  • Specialized color management systems
  • Automated finishing equipment

These specialized equipment and methods are utilized to achieve high-quality prints.

Furthermore, 3D printing enables mass customization and personalized production. Screen printing is also an example where specialized equipment creates vibrant and long-lasting designs, making it suitable for printing on construction paper.

The Allure of a Single Printer Solution

While it may appear convenient to use a single printer for both sublimation and regular printing, this approach comes with certain drawbacks. These include:

  • Potential higher operational expenses associated with sublimation ink for regular printing
  • Typically inferior output quality compared to dedicated regular printers
  • Color dullness

On the other hand, a single inkjet printer solution, such as Epson printers, may offer a more cost-effective alternative to specialized equipment, especially for businesses with lower print demands when compared to other inkjet printers.

Here are some advantages of a single printer solution:

  • Lower initial cost compared to specialized printers
  • Simplified maintenance and management
  • Versatility to handle a variety of printing tasks
  • Potential for cost savings on supplies and consumables

However, both options require regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance and printer longevity.

A Closer Look at Printer Technology

paper ejecting from a printer with the phrase ‘Printer Technology’

Understanding the potential of a sublimation printer for regular printing requires a grasp of the various printer technologies and their operation. Let’s delve into the operational processes of inkjet and laser technologies, and how they compare with sublimation printing technology.[4]

The Verdict on Versatility

After thoroughly investigating the capabilities, compatibility, and practicalities of using a sublimation printer for regular printing tasks, the conclusion on versatility is unequivocal: it is generally not recommended due to compatibility issues, cost implications, and potential compromises in output quality.

It is advisable to use separate printers for sublimation and regular printing tasks.


In conclusion, while a sublimation printer may seem like a versatile solution for both sublimation and regular printing tasks, the reality is quite different. The specialized nature of sublimation printers, their unique requirements for ink and paper, the potential challenges of switching between inks, and the cost implications make them less than ideal for regular printing tasks. Hence, it is advisable to use dedicated devices for each purpose to ensure optimal performance and results.[5]

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use the same printer for sublimation and regular printing?

Yes, certain regular printers, like some Epson inkjet printers, can be converted to sublimation printers, allowing you to use the same printer for both regular printing and sublimation printing.

Can sublimation ink be used for everyday printing?

No, sublimation ink is not suitable for everyday printing due to color dullness, higher cost, ink absorption issues, and accounting considerations.

Can I convert my sublimation printer back to normal?

Yes, you can convert your sublimation printer back to a normal printer by following the provided instructions and using a conversion kit, without the need for extra tools.

Is it more beneficial to have dedicated devices or multipurpose machines for sublimation and regular printing?

It is more beneficial to use dedicated devices for sublimation and regular printing to ensure optimal results in terms of output quality and performance. Using multipurpose machines may compromise on these factors.


  1. Reeve, J., & Vasquez, A. (2024, January 24). The best electronic cutting machines from Cricut and Silhouette. Wirecutter: Reviews for the Real World. https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/the-best-electronic-cutting-machines-from-cricut-and-silhouette/
  2. Just picture it ; Turning digital photos into good prints – Forbes.com. (2004, September 1). https://www.forbes.com/feeds/infoimaging/2004/09/01/infoimagingbhsuper_2004_08_31_REC_0000-1760-KEYWORD.Missing.html
  3. Cleaning the print head. (n.d.). https://files.support.epson.com/htmldocs/pho22_/pho22_rf/maint_2.htm
  4. Hanrun Paper Industrial Co., Ltd. (2023, August 22). The future of printing: How can digital printing revolutionize the industry? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/future-printing-how-can-digital-revolutionize-industry-hanrunpaper/
  5. Plus, J. P. (2023, July 26). Sublimation Paper guidehttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sublimation-paper-guif-johnson-plastics/
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