Ever wondered how those vibrant and eye-catching designs magically appear on shirts, mugs, and other items? Well, they are designed using sublimation printers. So, what is a sublimation printer and what is it used for?
A sublimation printer is a type of printer that prints high-quality images on transfer paper using sublimation ink. After that, the ink gets transferred from the transfer sheet to a substrate, such as fabric, ceramic, or metal, etc.
Let’s discuss in detail how a sublimation printer works and some of its benefits.
Here are test-based reviews of the best sublimation printers in 2023.
- What Is a Sublimation Printer?
- Types of Sublimation Printers
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Sublimation Printers
- Sublimation Printer Uses
- How Do You Use a Sublimation Printer?
- What Printers Can Be Used For Sublimation?
- Wrapping Up
What Is a Sublimation Printer?
Sublimation printers are designed to print high quality designs on sublimation transfer papers using sublimation ink when heat and pressure are applied.
These printers have special printheads that can print with specially formulated sublimation dyes that contain solid dyes.
To print, the transfer paper is loaded into the printer, and the design is sent from a computer or other device.
The printer then applies heat and pressure to the transfer paper, causing the solid dye in the ink to sublimate into a gas. This gas infuses the material’s surface, creating a vibrant, durable, and high-resolution print.
If I explain in a sentence – sublimation printers are equipped with the power to transform digital designs into works of art.
Types of Sublimation Printers
There are several types of sublimation machines available, each catering to different printing needs and requirements. Here are three main types of sublimation printers:
1. Inkjet Sublimation Printers
These printers use inkjet technology to print images onto sublimation transfer paper. The transfer paper is then pressed onto a substrate, such as fabric, ceramic, or metal, using heat and pressure. The ink melts and diffuses into the substrate, creating a permanent print.
Inkjet sublimation printers are mostly compact and affordable printers. They are commonly used by individuals, small businesses, and hobbyists. These printers are typically lightweight, portable, and easy to set up.
Best of all, inkjet sublimation printers offer a cost-effective solution for producing sublimated prints on a smaller scale.
What I don’t like about these compact machines is that they usually have a limited print width, typically ranging from 8 to 13 inches, making them suitable for projects like personalized gifts, small apparel items, and promotional products.
2. Dye-Sublimation Printers
These printers use dye-sublimation technology to print images directly onto a substrate. The dye-sublimation ink is heated, turning into a gas that diffuses into the substrate. This creates a permanent and fade-resistant print.
These printers are mostly larger and capable of handling wider printing media, typically ranging from 24 inches to 64 inches in width. They are commonly used in industries like textile printing, print shops, signage, and graphics production.
3. Direct-to-Garment (DTG) Sublimation Printers
These printers are a type of dye-sublimation printer that is specifically designed to print on fabric. They use a print head that moves across the fabric, depositing ink in a raster pattern.
The ink is then treated using heat and pressure to print permanent designs on t-shirts, hoodies, caps, and other garments.
Each type of sublimation printer has its own advantages and disadvantages. Inkjet sublimation printers are the most affordable option, but they can produce lower-quality prints than dye-sublimation or DTG printers.
Dye-sublimation printers can produce higher-quality prints, but they are more expensive than inkjet sublimation printers.
DTG printers are the most expensive option, but they can produce the highest-quality prints and are ideal for printing on fabric.
Here are my favorite sublimation printers of each type:
Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500: This inkjet sublimation printer is a good option for beginners and small businesses. It is especially designed for sublimation printing, is easy to use and produces good-quality prints.
Epson SureColor F570: This dye-sublimation printer is a good option for businesses and professionals. It produces high-quality prints and is fast and reliable.
Brother GTX Pro: This DTG sublimation printer is a good option for businesses and professionals who need to print on fabric, especially on t-shirts. It is accurate and reliable, and produces super-quality prints.
Also, read the difference between a sublimation printer and a regular printer.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Sublimation Printers
As with any “technological” item, there are advantages and disadvantages of sublimation printers too:
Pros of Sublimation Printers
- Sublimation printing produces long-lasting, vibrant, high-resolution, and fade-resistant prints with excellent color reproduction.
- Sublimation printers are good for printing on a wide range of materials, including fabrics like polyester, ceramics, metal, and more. This versatility allows for diverse applications, such as custom apparel, promotional items, personalized gifts, and home decor.
- Sublimation prints have exceptional durability. The ink becomes a part of the material, rather than sitting on the surface, resulting in prints that can withstand repeated washings, exposure to sunlight, and general wear and tear.
- Unlike some other printing methods, sublimation printing does not leave any texture or residue on the printed material.
Cons of Sublimation Printers
- Sublimation printers require special ink that is designed to be heat-activated. This ink can be more expensive than regular ink.
- Sublimation prints require a heat press to transfer the ink to the substrate. This can add to the cost of sublimation printing.
- Sublimation printers have a limited color range, which means that they cannot reproduce all of the colors that are visible to the human eye.
- Operating a sublimation printer and mastering the sublimation process may require a learning curve.
Sublimation Printer Uses
Are you curious about what is a sublimation printer used for? Well, the main use of a sublimation printer is to print high-resolution designs using special ink. The sky is the limit with what you can print with a sublimation machine, but what can you actually print with them?
Below are some examples of items that can be printed with a sublimation printer:
Custom T-Shirts: With a sublimation printer, you can print custom t-shirts with any design or image you want. The prints are permanent and won’t fade, so your shirts will always look new.
Phone Cases: Sublimation printers can also be used to print phone cases. You can print an image of your partner, a favorite graphic, or a photo of your dog on the back of your case.
Keychains: With a sublimation printer, you can also print acrylic keychains with any image or design you want. Mostly, couples custom print their photos of their best moments.
Ceramic Mugs: Sublimation printers can also be used to print ceramic mugs. You can choose any image or graphic you want and have it printed on the mug. The prints are permanent and won’t fade after washing, so your mug will always look new.
How Do You Use a Sublimation Printer?
Here is a step by step guide to use a sublimation printer:
1. Choose the image you want to print and open it in a photo editing program like Photoshop or GIMP.
2. Resize the image to fit the size of the material you are printing on.
3. Convert the image to a bitmap format by selecting Image > Mode > Bitmap.
4. Invert the colors of the image by selecting Image > Adjustments > Invert.
5. Print the image using a sublimation printer.
6. Heat the printed material with a heat press until the inks’ sublimate and the image is permanently transferred to the material.
Video Tutorial on How to Use a Sublimation Printer: Complete Guide
Here’s a detailed guide on how to do sublimation printing.
What Printers Can Be Used For Sublimation?
The sublimation process uses the inkjet method, which means you can use a printer that is able to inject sublimation ink. Different sublimation printers use different methods to apply the dye to the material. Some use heat, while others use pressure.
However, not all inkjet printers are capable of sublimation printing. In order to use a printer for sublimation, you need one that uses dye-sublimation ink. Here are a few most commonly used sublimation printers;
- Sawgrass SG500, SG1000 (especially designed for sublimation)
- Epson EcoTank Series
- Epson WorkForce Series
- Epson F570
- HP Smart-Tank Plus 651
- Brother MFC-J995DW XL
So, if you are looking to create custom prints on fabric, ceramic, or acrylic items that will last, a sublimation printer is a great option.
Note: if you are just starting out with sublimation printing, we advise picking a machine from the list of sublimation printers for beginners. These printers are easy to use, require less maintenance, and produce great results on most substrates.
Also see the best Epson printers for sublimation that are easily convertible.
With its ability to produce high-resolution images, rich colors, and impeccable detailing, sublimation printers have become an essential asset in industries such as textiles, photography, advertising, and personalized merchandise.
One of the major advantages of a sublimation printer is its versatility. It can transfer designs onto a wide range of materials, including fabrics, ceramics, metal, and glass, opening up endless possibilities for creative expression.
This versatility has made sublimation printing popular among individuals and businesses looking to personalize products, create custom apparel, or produce promotional items with their unique branding.
So, whether you are a professional seeking high-quality print or an individual looking to add a personal touch to your belongings, a sublimation printer is a valuable investment that will elevate your printing efforts to new heights.
Frequently Asked Questions: (FAQs)
What is the difference between a regular printer and a sublimation printer?
A regular printer prints with ink that is absorbed by the paper, while a sublimation printer prints with inks that convert to gas and are absorbed by the material. This makes sublimation prints permanent and they won’t fade over time.
Can I use my regular printer for sublimation?
No, not all printers can be used for sublimation. In order to print with a sublimation printer, you need an inkjet printer that uses sublimation inks.
What do sublimation printers do?
Sublimation printers are used to print detailed images on materials like fabrics, sublimation paper, and other personalized items. The prints are permanent and don’t fade over time, making them a popular choice for printing custom t-shirts, phone cases, keychains, and other personalized items.
Are sublimation printers worth it?
Yes, sublimation printers are worth the price. Sublimation printers can be expensive, but there are a few cheaper models available. If you are looking for a sublimation printer that can print detailed images on a variety of materials, a sublimation printer is worth the investment.
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