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If you are curious about “what is a sublimation printer?”, a sublimation printer is a specialized tool that transforms your designs into long-lasting prints on various materials using heat and pressure. This comprehensive guide covers how it works, its advantages, the types of sublimation printers available, and practical tips for getting started with this printing technology. Look no further as we begin our journey into the stunning world of sublimation!

Key Takeaways

  • Sublimation printers use heat and pressure for transferring designs onto materials, with sublimation ink becoming part of the fabric, thus creating high-quality, permanent prints.
  • Various types of sublimation printers cater to different levels of need, from beginner models like the Epson EcoTank ET-2400 to professional ones like the Sawgrass Virtuoso SG1000, with print quality dependent on the printer, inks, and transfer paper quality.
  • Sublimation printing is compatible with polyester and certain synthetic materials but cannot be used on natural fibers like cotton; the process is environmentally friendly and produces durable, vibrant prints suitable for a wide range of applications.[1]

Understanding Sublimation Printers

Image of a sublimation printer with a floral background

Sublimation printers are the powerhouses of the sublimation printing industry. Unlike traditional printing methods, these specialized machines use heat and pressure to transfer designs onto materials, resulting in high-quality, durable prints that are ideal for a wide range of applications.

You might wonder how a sublimation printer differs from an inkjet printer. Well, while both can handle text and graphic printing, dye sublimation printers are designed for high-quality graphic applications, and their unique heat and pressure transfer process allows sublimation ink to integrate with the fabric, creating prints that are permanent and of superior quality.[2]

Components of a Sublimation Printer

A few critical components are found upon examining the internals of a sublimation printer. These include the printer itself, a heat press, and a computer equipped with design software. The interplay of these components is vital to the sublimation printing process. We have a detailed guide on choosing the best heat press for sublimation.

The heart of the process, sublimation ink, exists in various forms. Some commonly used varieties include dye-sublimation inks and pigment sublimation inks from popular brands like Cosmos Ink, Hiipoo Sublimation Ink, and Printers Jack Ink.

Transfer paper also plays an indispensable role in the process. Acting as the bridge between the printer and the fabric, the transfer paper is what allows the sublimation ink to seamlessly integrate with the fabric and make the sublimation printing work effectively. The quality of these components––the printer, the inks, and the transfer paper––contributing to the overall print quality, is a key factor in achieving sharp, colorful, and durable prints.

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Types of Sublimation Printers

Anyone considering getting into sublimation printing must familiarize themselves with the various types of sublimation printers available. These printers range from entry-level models to high-end professional machines, catering to different needs and budgets.

For beginners, entry level models such as the Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500 or the Epson EcoTank ET-2400 are great starting points. These printers are typically smaller in size, with lower print capabilities, and limited color management features, making them perfect for those just dipping their toes into the world of sublimation prints. We perform a deep dive into the Sawgrass SG500 in a separate article.

On the other end of the spectrum, high-end professional models like the Sawgrass Virtuoso SG1000 are tailored for superior color accuracy and quality. Packed with advanced features like built-in color management, high resolution, and additional features like built-in cutters or roll-fed media options, these printers are equipped to handle the demands of a more rigorous production environment.

Advantages of Sublimation Printing

Vibrant sublimation prints

A defining characteristic of sublimation printing is its capacity to generate vibrant colors and intricate designs. This is achieved by producing high-resolution prints that penetrate the substrate with ink, resulting in vivid colors and finer design detail that do not degrade over time.

Sublimation printing also offers long-lasting durability. Because the sublimation ink integrates with the fabric rather than being superficially applied, the resulting prints are highly resistant to fading and wear, even after repeated washing and prolonged use.

Additionally, the dye sublimation printing process:

  • Utilizes a closed-loop dyeing process, significantly reducing waste compared to other printing methods
  • Is a friend to the environment
  • The simplicity and efficiency of the process further contribute to its environmentally friendly nature.

Substrates Compatible with Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing on polyester fabric

Sublimation printing boasts compatibility with a diverse array of substrates. While the process is most effective on polyester fabrics, it can also be applied to a range of other substrates such as rigid objects and materials like glass, ceramic, and metal with appropriate coating. Understanding how sublimation printing works is essential for achieving optimal results on various materials.

The process for conducting sublimation printing on polyester materials involves using a heat press to transfer the ink from the transfer paper to the fabric. It requires pressure and heat to achieve optimal results, particularly on 100% polyester fabrics.

Sublimation printing can also be conducted on other materials such as ceramics and glass. The process entails printing the desired graphic onto sublimation paper and subsequently transferring it onto a ceramic surface that has been coated with a poly-coating to facilitate the acceptance of sublimation ink.

For glass, the process involves the application of high heat to transform the printed image into a gas form, which then bonds with the glass surface, resulting in a permanent imprint.

Comparing Sublimation Printing to Other Techniques

A picture of a machine used for screen printing

Comparing sublimation printing with other techniques like screen printing highlights the distinct characteristics of each method. Sublimation printing is capable of producing highly detailed and vibrant full garment prints. It results in prints that are more durable and less prone to cracking, fading, or peeling over time when compared to screen printing or heat transfers. In contrast, screen printing is better suited for smaller designs and does not provide the same comprehensive coverage from seam to seam.

While screen printing is generally faster, sublimation printing offers superior precision and detail in the prints, which may justify the trade-off for the slower speed.[3]

However, it’s important to note that sublimation printing is most compatible with polyester-based materials, which may pose a limitation in contrast to other methods capable of printing on a broader range of substrates.

Materials and Print Quality

Material selection significantly influences the print quality in sublimation printing. Compared to other techniques, sublimation printing yields superior print quality when sublimation ink is transferred onto the fabric, leading to vivid and durable prints.

Polyester and polyester blends are the most suitable materials for sublimation printing. Additionally, synthetic materials such as nylon and spandex can also be utilized, while natural fibers like cotton are not compatible with this printing process.

However, there are constraints regarding the materials suitable for sublimation printing. Notably, sublimation is only feasible on polymers or polymer-coated materials, and it is advisable to utilize white or very light-colored bases for optimal print vibrancy.

Costs and Speed

Sublimation printing presents distinct benefits when it comes to cost and speed. While the initial expenses for a sublimation printer can range from $200 to $15,000 depending on the size and type of the printer, the operational expenses are influenced by the type of printer used and the associated ink costs.

Despite the higher initial costs, sublimation printing is considered cost-effective, especially due to its faster print speed compared to other forms of customization. The typical duration for printing a page using sublimation printing is approximately 3 minutes, considerably faster than many other printing methods.

Essential Supplies for Successful Sublimation Printing

An image of a printer, monitor, keyboard, mouse and ink bottles

Before embarking on your journey into sublimation printing, familiarize yourself with the necessary supplies. These include:

  • A sublimation printer
  • Computer & software
  • Sublimation ink & paper
  • A heat press
  • Sublimation blanks

For those new to sublimation printing, the Epson WorkForce WF-7720, Epson F170, and Epson SureColor F170 are recommended options to consider when looking for a printer.

Transfer paper is another important supply. When choosing transfer paper, it is crucial to consider the type of artwork to be printed, the ink limit or capacity of the paper, and other detailed factors.

Tips for Getting Started with Sublimation Printing

Start of a trail in a forest during the fall

Embarking on a sublimation printing journey can be both thrilling and fruitful. Here are some key tips to help you on this journey.

Firstly, consider factors such as price, print quality, environmental impact, maintenance, and after-sales service when selecting a sublimation printer. For beginners, the Epson EcoTank ET-7750 and Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500 are good places to start.

Next, it’s crucial to understand that not all materials are suitable for sublimation printing. Polyester and polyester blends are considered the most suitable materials for the job. They offer a combination of durability and flexibility that makes them ideal for a variety of applications. However, other synthetic materials such as nylon and spandex can also be utilized, while natural fibers like cotton are not compatible with this printing process.

Once you have your printer and materials sorted, ensure you have all the essential supplies to commence sublimation printing. This includes:

  • A sublimation printer
  • Computer & software
  • Sublimation ink & paper
  • A heat press
  • Sublimation blanks
  • Miscellaneous supplies such as cutting tools and protective gloves.

Troubleshooting Common Sublimation Printing Issues

Seeing a printer through a magnifying glass

As with any printing technique, sublimation printing presents its unique challenges. However, these can be easily addressed with a little knowledge and patience.

Pressure is a key factor in achieving clear prints. If your print appears blurry, faded, or smudged, it is recommended to increase the pressure. Conversely, if the print is excessively dark or the colors are bleeding, it is suggested to decrease the pressure.

Color mismatch in sublimation prints can be addressed by ensuring that an ICC profile is properly set up in the image software, especially when using a converted printer such as an Epson.

White creasing in sublimation printing may occur due to over inking the transfer paper or printer banding issues. To address this issue, it may be necessary to reduce the ink limits and ensure that there is no banding caused by clogged prints.

A common issue faced by many is the faded look of designs after sublimation printing. This can be attributed to the inks fading with washing and bonding with water during laundering. Adhering to best practices in washing and selecting suitable fabrics are crucial in minimizing this issue.[4]

Creative Applications of Sublimation Printing

A kitchen dining table with sublimation mugs on it

Sublimation printing extends beyond just creating visually stunning sublimation print designs; it’s also about fostering limitless creativity and exploring unique applications.

In the realm of fashion and garment design, sublimation printing enables printing on polyester or synthetic fabrics, facilitating the creation of:

  • Crisp, clean, and comprehensive designs that cover the entire garment
  • Eye-catching, unique, and high-quality garments with intricate designs
  • Vivid colors that stand out

This printing technique allows for the production of vibrant print garments that are visually striking and of high quality.

But the fun doesn’t stop at garments! Sublimation printing can also be utilized in personalizing home décor. This method results in vivid colors and expands the potential for creating highly personalized items, making it ideal for customized gifting or tailored home decoration.

Sublimation printing can also be employed in the customization of a variety of accessories such as:

  • Mugs
  • Phone cases
  • Bags
  • Backpacks

These products can showcase intricate and vivid designs, providing distinctive options for personal or commercial use.


Sublimation printer image

To sum it up, sublimation printing is a game-changer in the world of digital printing. With its ability to produce vibrant, detailed, and long-lasting prints on a variety of materials, it offers endless opportunities for creativity and uniqueness. Whether you’re a beginner looking to explore a new hobby or a professional seeking to expand your business offerings, sublimation printing provides a versatile and rewarding avenue to explore. So why wait? Dive into the world of sublimation printing and discover a whole new realm of possibilities!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a sublimation printer and a regular printer?

In conclusion, sublimation printers produce higher-quality prints compared to regular inkjet printers, as the heat press allows colors to blend beautifully during the sublimation process.

Is a Cricut a sublimation printer?

No, a Cricut is not a sublimation printer. However, you can use the Print then Cut feature in Cricut Design Space to send an image to a sublimation printer, and then use a Cricut with registration marks to cut the image out.

Can I use my regular printer for sublimation?

No, regular inkjet printers with thermal printing heads cannot be used for sublimation. Printers with Micro Piezo printing heads are suitable for sublimation printing.

What is sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing is a digital printing process that transfers dye onto materials using heat and pressure, creating durable and high-quality prints suitable for various applications.

What materials are suitable for sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing is most effective on polyester fabrics, but can also be applied to materials such as glass, ceramic, and metal with appropriate coating. It’s important to choose materials that can withstand the sublimation process.


  1. Ltd, N. Y. D. C. (2023a, February 28). What is Sublimation Printing? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-sublimation-printing-nanjing-yiqia-digital-cp-ltd/
  2. Arthur, R. (2017b, February 17). How digital printing technology is taking us closer to fully customizable clothing. Forbeshttps://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelarthur/2017/02/17/digital-printing-technology-custom-clothing-fashion/?sh=61fe4aad6aef
  3. Wikipedia contributors. (2024, January 25). Screen printing. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screen_printin
  4. Washington, R. (2023, March 30). 6 Common sublimation printing problems & how to fix themhttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/6-common-sublimation-printing-problems-how-fix-them-washington/
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