What Is Sublimation Printing?
While the name may make the process appear complicated and technical, it is actually quite simple to grasp. Sublimation is the process by which a solid material transforms into a gas without first becoming liquid. This means that during the dye sublimation printing process, the artwork is transferred to an object in a gas state using a high temperature heat press. It differs from traditional printing methods in that the liquid step is skipped. There are no drying inks on the printed object.
The image is first infused onto the source printing paper, leaving little mess and making the dye sublimation printing process quick and easy. The image is then transferred from the sublimation paper to an object using heat.
This type of printing is used by businesses and home designers to create graphics on clothing, signage, home decorations, company exhibits, and personal items such as coasters, coffee mugs, and keyrings.
What Products Can You Print by Sublimation Printer?
Rigid Substrates – Polymer-treated non-fabric objects such as glass, plastic, fiberglass, and aluminum. These are non-bendable products, such as fabrics.
Rigid Blank Products – Many of these materials, such as custom mouse pads, cell phone cases, and drinkware, are available in bulk at wholesale prices. They are also known as “blanks,” which are products that do not include any designs or printing so that personalization can be added.
Signage – Ideal for “click to print” e-commerce companies. Print retractable banners and other trade show displays on vinyl with ease. When you see signs hanging in front of stores or buildings, it’s likely that sublimation was used.
Polyester fabrics are one of the most commonly dyed sublimated items. They are classified into two kinds:
Knit: Polyester products that hang and flow naturally, such as apparel, flags, banners, and custom printed table covers.
Woven: Longer-lasting items such as custom totes, fabric backdrops, and custom tents.
Home Decor – Businesses that sell to interior designers frequently use the dye-sub process. Ceramic floor tiles are a popular choice for bathroom, kitchen, and restaurant decor.
Photograph Printing – Arguably the most effective method for producing high-quality photographic images on canvas, magnets, and apparel.
What Do You Need for Sublimation Printing?
1. Sublimation Printer
The first and most important item is a sublimation printer. This technology is designed for both home and industrial use. These sublimation machines would have been prohibitively expensive just a few years ago. Because of the increased demand for printed goods, the prices of these printers have dropped significantly. Mimaki, Mutoh, and Sublistar are popular sublimation printer brands.
2. Sublimation Paper
Any spectrum color can be created and transferred onto printing paper suitable for the machine using the sublimation printer. This paper is known as sublimation paper or transfer paper. Printing a personal work of art, a customized logo, a family photo, or any design desired for use onto the paper is similar to printing on office paper.
3. RIP & Computer Software
Some sublimation printers include software for configuring what will be printed. These computer programs are known as RIP software (Raster Image Processor). This feature is not included in all printers, but it can be purchased separately. It should be emphasized that the software must be compatible with the printer being used.
4. Cutting Mechanism
A cutting device, whether a knife or a rotary blade, is also recommended for sublimation. This is required when making unique fabric items. Some cutting products include multiple options in one system to meet all needs. Hemming the material would also necessitate the use of a sewing machine. This is especially important when making SEG (or Silicone Edge Graphic) frames.
5. Heat Press Machine Type
A heat press is also required for printing because it is the next step in the sublimation process after printing. Sublimation transfers, like printers, are available in a variety of sizes, models, and prices to meet a wide range of requirements. The heat press’s function is to transfer the design from the sublimation paper to the desired material, such as coffee mugs, t-shirts, and tablecloths. As a result, the item will have a more vivid image that is resistant to fading, making it more durable in the long run.
Calendar Heat Press
A calendar heat press is ideal for sublimation printing on larger, softer materials, such as fabric signs. This press is larger and can print on clothing as well as banners.
Heat Press for Small Spaces
A small heat press would be recommended if sublimating on small items, such as creating a design on handheld kitchenware. This press takes up little space and can be used to press a variety of items.
What Are the Pros of Sublimation Printing?
Images will not crack or wear after several uses if this method is used, and the visuals will last as long as needed.
This is especially important when dealing with items that will be used frequently over time. This type of printing will benefit everyday items such as mouse pads, kitchenware, and custom all over print shirts. This is especially true for clothing and bedding, which can be washed frequently without fear of distorting their appearance.
As previously stated, dye sublimation can be used on much more than just fabrics, which is the limitation of heat transfer printing. If you want to get really creative with what you want to print on, such as making puzzles or personalized keychains, dye sublimation printing is the way to go. It leaves a plethora of printing opportunities, which are useful for crafting and business presentations where customization is a major bonus.
What Are the Cons of Sublimation Printing?
The main disadvantage of this type of sublimation printing is its high cost. While dye sublimation printers are designed for both home and professional use, they can range in price from $300 for a small home model to $600 for a higher-end model.
Larger printers used for mass production can cost up to $10,000. Keep in mind that the prices are significantly lower than they were a few years ago, but keep in mind that this is only for the printer.
A heat press and printing paper are also required, which can significantly increase the cost. Heat presses can range in price from $150 to $500, and the sublimation paper used in the printer can be worth more than $100 depending on how much you need.
In addition to the machines, printing paper must be purchased with caution. It should be noted that the cost of this equipment is well worth it in the long run when it comes to print quality.
Another significant disadvantage, as previously stated, is that this type of printing can only be done on polyester fabrics. For the best results, they must be made of 100% polyester. If you want to print on non-fabric items, they must be poly-coated for the process to be most efficient.