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Sublimation Basics And Ideas

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What Is Sublimation?

To put it simply, sublimation is the process of transferring dyes onto fabrics and materials. An image is created digitally and printed on a special chemically treated paper using sublimation ink. This digital print is then placed on the transfer material. Once heat and pressure are applied, the image will transfer onto the polymers in the transfer materials.

It is not as complicated as it sounds. It is just a process that transfers images to a special type of material. It is considered a permanent transfer. No matter how many times you wash or clean it, the image will always be there.

For this process, all you need is a printer, some ink, and some designs. It is far less costly than lots of other processes.

And the quality of the final processes is far superior to any other process in the same range. . With sublimation printing, you are more than capable of printing high quality, high fidelity images directly onto your desired material!

Sublimation is a lot faster than other methods of transferring images. The process is perfect for anyone who wishes to create a small home business. Sublimation is perfect for someone looking to handle small to medium-sized orders without racking up a large bill to run their business.

Sublimation is an attractive opportunity because it can be easy and fairly cheap to set up. The only equipment that is needed includes a printer, sublimation ink, sublimation paper, and a good heat press.

Why Is Sublimation Better Than Using Heat Transfer Vinyl?

  1. Sublimation printing produces a consistent tone on everything it touches. Each dot of sublimation ink can feature a different color. The design produces a high-resolution look that features a distinct appearance you will appreciate.
  2. You don’t have to wait for the fabric to dry when the project is complete. The sublimation process ensures the ink won’t enter a liquid form. You can remove the shirt from the press and fold it up right away without worrying about smearing.
  3. The dye will in addition to moving directly into the fabric, it goes far enough to where it will not break apart or fade. It will not be harmed by water either, meaning it stays comfortable in all conditions to move into the fabric and become part of the product, ensuring it will not fade.
  4. The heating system does not require extensive energy, nor does it require any outside ink or water. You only require the press material you will use when producing your image to make this part work.
  5. You can produce more detailed images through a sublimation printer than if you used a heat press.
  6. The design you produce through sublimation is durable.
  7. A sublimation printer can manage multiple colors and even highly-layered designs. It works better than a heat press that might require multiple applications to produce something.

Matching Mug And Christmas


Sublimation Tools And Supplies-What You Need

So there are a few things that you are going to need to do this type of image transfer. While these products are an expense, they generally will be a one time buy.

To get started, you will need:

Sublimation Ready Printer

  • You can either use a printer designed and manufactured for sublimation, or you can convert an already existing inkjet printer to support sublimation. Once you convert a printer to sublimation, it cannot be used as a regular printer. Only inkjet printers can be used for sublimation.

Sublimation Ink

  • This is a special ink only used for sublimation. It can be used in a dedicated sublimation printer or to convert an inkjet printer to a sublimation printer

Sublimation Paper

  • Sublimation paper is applicable to sublimation transfer, on which one can print images with mirror reversal through inkjet printing, flat printing, screen printing, and gravure printing. Then transfer the image onto media by heating and pressure, which makes ink on the paper become a gaseous state and combine with the media.

Heat Press

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  • This is what you’ll use to transfer the design. Make sure to get a heat press that has the minimum size requirements for your designs and transfers.

Design Software

  • There are many choices when it comes to design software. There is free software as well as subscription software.

Heat Resistant Tape

Heat resistant tape is used to secure your design to your blank ( the blank is the product that you are designing on ) That way the design will not shift when being applied.

Butcher Paper

Butcher paper protects your blank from the heat press or paten. This will protect bleed through. You can buy it by a roll or by a sheet. Rolls are less expensive, but the sheets are easier to handle. Make sure that the paper is unwaxed and uncoated butcher paper.

Lint Roller

Before you press just about any sublimation project, it’s best to run a lint roller over the entire surface of your blank. Dust, lint, and other small particles can cause spots and other issues with your transfer. A lint roller is an easy way to prevent that!

Polyester Fabric For Testing

Having a yard or two of 100% polyester fabric makes testing your prints before sublimation them a lot easier. That way you will be able to fix any problems before sublimating them to a blank.

Optional Supplies

  • Autocut Tape Dispenser-Helps cut the heat resistant tape easier
  • Rubbing Alcohol-Cotton Balls-Easier to clean things like mugs
  • Heat Resistant Adhesive Spray-Used in place of heat resistant tape to hold the design onto the project. You just spray a little to your transfer and press it onto the project. The adhesive doesn’t leave any sort of residue on the blank and it doesn’t affect the transfer.
  • Heat Resistant Gloves-These gloves make it easier to remove your pieces from a heat press so that you do not burn your hands.
  • Heat Resistant Mat-A surface that will allow you to cool products on
  • Pressing Pillow- Use a pressing pillow on soft blanks and garments with zippers, buttons, seams, and pockets to help get an even press. You place the pillow inside the shirt or other blank to basically raise up the pressing surface above the troublesome parts of the garment for an even press.
  • Heat Conductive Rubber Pad-Some blanks like ceramic tiles and mugs require you to use a heat conductive pad so that you can press the design to the curved surface of your project.

Some printers like the Sawgrass are dedicated to sublimation printing

Some printers like the Sawgrass are dedicated to sublimation printing

What To Look For In A Sublimation Printer

Sublimation Printers duplicate high-quality color designs to the surface of an object with a compatible coating.

After the sublimation prints the design with special sublimation ink onto special sublimation paper, you use high heat and pressure to transfer the ink permanently to something else that has a coating that can absorb the ink, such as a polyester T-shirt or a coated ceramic mug.

Some printers can be modified into sublimation printers. However, once you convert a printer into a sublimation printer, it can no longer be used for regular printing again.

No matter what price range you are in, there are a few things to consider when you are purchasing a sublimation printer


You want the highest resolution the printer can print: Printers with high resolution produce high-quality prints. Before purchasing any sublimation printer check for the highest resolution they offer.

Printing Layout (also called Print Field Size

It is generally advisable to check for the maximum printing layout offered by the sublimation printers as the layout size of the material matters.

The general rule of thumb is to buy the smallest printer that can produce the largest image you need. For example, 12″ x 18″ designs are common with finished apparel; thus, a 13″ x 19″ printer would be ideal. A 24-inch freestanding printer also could work, but it wouldn’t be ideal if you didn’t routinely print designs up to 24 inches.

It’s safe to assume a ½-inch margin will be left on all sides of the media after printing. Thus, a 13″ x 19″ sheet probably has a maximum print field of 12″ x 18″.

The printer size also should be compatible with the heat-press size. To maximize production, the heat press should be slightly larger than the true maximum image-field size, typically 1-2 inches — at a minimum — on all four sides.

Number Of Ink Colors

Inkjet printers generate hundreds of thousands of output colors by mixing a select number of base ink colors. Most printers are four-color units with base ink colors of cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK).

Other printer models are available with eight base colors. Examples of additional base colors include light cyan, light magenta, red, orange, blue, etc. Eight-color systems present options for different ink sets to be used in different applications.

For most sublimation, a four-color printer will produce vibrant graphics, stunning colors, and high-resolution photography. However, for fine art or photographic work — where subtle shades of color make a big difference — an eight-color printer may be more idea


It is generally advisable to check for the maximum printing layout offered by the sublimation printers as the layout size of the material matters

Print Out Quality

Perhaps the most important thing that you must notice before making your purchase is the quality of the printouts the sublimation printer offers.

More information On Sublimation Printers

The Difference Between Sublimation And Other Processes

There are some differences between sublimation and other processes like heat transfer vinyl and infusible ink.

Sublimation Vs Heat Transfer Vinyl

There is a distinct difference between heat transfer vinyl vs sublimation on a shirt or any other base that you apply it to.

Heat transfer vinyl sits on top of the fabric while sublimation infuses the ink into the fibers of the project.

While you can print directly on printable HTV and then use your Cricut to cut out the design, it acts the same way plain HTV does, being iron onto the substrate instead of into the substrate. Printable heat transfer vinyl is the more reasonably priced process but it often cracks or peels even when done correctly.

Sublimation Vs Infusible Ink

Branded infusible ink ( like Cricut infusible ink ) is a sublimation product, but it has limitations.

You can use either a sheet of solid/patterned infusible ink, which you need to cut with a Cricut machine or Infusible Ink markers to draw/color an image. Basically, the colors are not editable. So you are limited in their use.

Best Printers For Sublimation Projects


Epson Workforce WF-7710

Best Resolution (in dpi):“4800×2410” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“13×19” Available Connections:“Wi-Fi, NFC, Ethernet


Epson Stylus C88+

Best Resolution (in dpi):“5760×1440” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“8.5×11” Available Connections:“Access to cloud connections”


Brother MFC-J995DW

Best Resolution (in dpi):“1200×6000” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“8.5”x11.7″” Available Connections:“Mobile printing”


DNP’s new DS – R×1HS DYE Sublimation Printer

Best Resolution (in dpi):300×300 to 600×600. Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“10×15” Available Connections:“USB, Ethernet”


The HiTi P525L

Best Resolution (in dpi):“1200×800” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“6×8” Available Connections:“USB, Ethernet””


Canon Selphy CP1300

Best Resolution (in dpi):“300×300” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“4X6” Available Connections:“Wi-Fi”


Mitsubishi CP-K60DW-S

Best Resolution (in dpi):“300×300” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“6×8″” Available Connections:“Basic computer connections”


HP OfficeJet Pro 9025

Best Resolution (in dpi):“4800×1200” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“8.5×11” Available Connections:“Wi-Fi and Ethernet”


Epson Workforce WF-7210

Best Resolution (in dpi):“4800×2400” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“13×19” Available Connections:“Wi-Fi, NFC, Ethernet”


Sawgrass Sublimation Printer Bundle

Maximum Media Size: 8.5" x 14". with Starter kit of SUBLIJET UHD Inks - and 220 Sheets of SUBLIMAX Brand Sublimation Paper (Made in Japan). Creative Studio Software Included.


EcoTank Sublimation Printer

Best Resolution (in dpi):“5760×1440” Largest Size For Printing (in inches):“8.5×11” Available Connections:“Basic computer connections”


Sawgrass Dedicated Sublimation Printer Bumdle

Converting A Printer To A Sublimation Printer

You have to decide if you are going to buy a printer that is already made for sublimation or a regular inkjet printer that you would have to convert to sublimation. Converting an inkjet printer has become so simple with the introduction of the newer Epson EcoTanks. Those printers have refillable ink tanks so all you have to do is fill them with the sublimation ink of your choice. Converting an EcoTank is the simplest at this time and the hard part is just deciding which sublimation ink to go with. They are also affordable and start at $200 up to $1000.

Sublimation inks don’t come in printer cartridges for most home office printers. So when you hear someone say they have to convert a printer for sublimation, that means they are converting the ink over to sublimation ink instead of regular printer ink.

Steps To Converting A Printer To A Sublimation Printer

Remember, once you do this process, you cannot convert it back to a regular printer.

  1. Get an ink tank printer.
  2. Swap out the regular printer ink with sublimation ink
  3. Load your printer with sublimation paper
  4. Connect your printer to your computer
  5. Print away!

More Sublimation Printer Ideas

Sublimation inks come in a good variety of colors

Sublimation inks come in a good variety of colors

Sublimation Ink

Sublimation inks are water-based inks used in the dye-sublimation heat press machines or printers to transfer patterns, designs, colors, and pictures on various items. It can print designs on phone covers, wood, metal, plates, mugs, bags, etc., using heat press transfer

Sublimation ink is water-soluble that is made from raw and natural materials like plants, or some synthetic materials. The colorant, mixed with the water, gives the ink colors.

Compared to most other dye-based inks, you will find this one lasts longer. The ink is able to produce vivid, bright, saturated, brilliant photo-quality colors. Prints with this ink easily outstand cracking, peeling, and washing away by water.

Advantages Of Sublimation Inks

  • Provides bright and more vibrant colors
  • A small amount of light is diffused
  • Economical option
  • Offers a variety of colors
  • Waterproof; thus, last for longer
  • The designs on garments don’t crack, fade away, peel off, and wash off

Tips For Changing The Sublimation Inks

To prevent as much ink from getting on your hands as possible, you will want to grab the empty ink carrier from its sides before pulling it out of the printer. Whatever you do, do not touch the colors on the container as those contain the ink that you are trying to avoid getting on you. By grasping the container from the sides, you avoid coming in contact with any chemicals or ink.

If you happen to drop the container and you can’t pick it up from the sides, pick it up by pinching the corner with one hand before using your other hand to grasp the sides. You might not be able to avoid getting ink on your hands or on the floor, especially if the container is flipped upside down, but by pinching the corner of the container, you are preventing as much ink as possible from getting on you.

Doing an alignment check on your printer after replacing the ink is vital in continuing to ensure the highest quality prints from your dye-sublimation printer. In order to run the alignment check, follow the directions on your computer for doing an alignment check. If you follow the directions carefully and correctly, then the printer will do the rest. Print a couple of images that won’t use up too much ink in order to check your alignment.

More Sublimation Ink Tips

  • Always use brand name inks to ensure consistency from batch to batch and insist on an ICC profile for accurate/vibrant colors. Don’t use expired inks.


Sublimation Paper

Sublimation paper is a special type of paper that’s specifically made for sublimation. It has a special coating on the outside that allows it to complete its role in the sublimation process better than regular paper would. Sublimation paper is meant to withstand high temperatures and release the ink during the transfer process biggest difference between sublimation paper and regular printer paper is that sublimation ink is more likely to bleed on and through printer paper, than it will with sublimation paper. So, if you want to ensure your design doesn’t bleed and lose quality, and that your ink doesn’t seep all the way through the paper, use sublimation paper instead of regular printer paper and you’ll get far better results. The part to is that sublimation paper isn’t expensive.

How To Determine The Quality Of A Sublimation Paper

In order to get the best images, there are a few things to consider when you are buying sublimation paper:

  • It needs to be dry; moisture can cause bleeding in colors.
  • The paper must have a higher ability to hold on to the ink. The heavier paper absorbs more moisture. It also does not curl or crumble up once softens.
  • Different applications of the sublimation paper may require different weights of papers. For instance: in the case of printing calendars, it is preferable to use low-weight paper.
  • The type of paper should also depend on the rate of printing. For productions with fast printing, lightweight papers are preferable. However, for a slow or individual page, one must use thicker or a heavy weighing paper.
  • A design may have heavy and light ink areas, so always choose the sublimation paper that can carry both of them quickly and does not shift on pressing. The best choice is selecting the paper with 110 gsm or higher capacity
  • The transfer ratio needs to be 90 percent or higher to ensure a smooth transfer.
  • Vibrancy is necessary for paper, make sure it has a high vibrancy to make the colors pop.
  • Thickness, your printer must be able to handle the thickness to ensure proper printing.

How Humidity Affects Your Sublimation Paper

Low humidity: In the humidity under 45%, it’s better to choose 80gsm. When in low humidity, the paper shrinks, and the print side is hunched up. During the process, the paper absorbs ink, which leads to the “hunch-up”. 100g and 120g paper are harder than 80g, so the “hunch-up” damages the print-head. 80gsm is softer, it could relieve the “hunch-up” and protect your print-head from damage.

High humidity: In the humidity above 70%. It’s better to choose 110-120 gsm. Since the paper is very easy to become damp with high humidity, it will become softer and stiffness is weak at the same time. If the low-weight paper is used, it will be hard to print smoothly because the stiffness and hardness go down. At this time, 110-120 gsm is the best choice.

More Sublimation Paper Tips

  • The standard paper provides image clarity and color on hard substrates such as ceramic tiles, award plaques, name badges, and coffee mugs. High-release paper is designed to release more sublimation ink in the transfer process, resulting in vibrant transfers on soft (thirsty) substrates including T-shirts, mousepads, towels, and tote bags. Also, consider pre-cut mug paper.

Rated As One Of The Top Brands

Creating Sublimation Images With Software

There are several different ways to create sublimation images.

Using Software

There are several really good software programs available. Adobe Photo Shop is probably the most popular version at about $34 per month. Abode Illustrator is another service to consider. For individuals especially, this is the more reasonable of the two. Gimp is an entirely free-to-use software that enables you to create and edit in Windows, macOS, and Linus. Inkscape is considered the more user-friendly and is a free open source platform. There are quite a few more options, so take time to compare and decide which one is right for you.

Tips For Using The Right Software

  • While looking for a sublimation designing software, always check for interfaces that can be customized and are flexible and easy to use.
  • There is much free software available that will help you create awesome designs. And also there are paid ones, but before purchasing the paid ones, make sure to compare the features and choose the cost-effective one.
  • Always look at the tools and features available and then go with the software.
  • Lastly, look for the type of editing that the software offers, whether it is a graphic editor or a vector one, and choose as per your need.

Adobe Photo Shop

Adobe Photoshop sublimation design software will teach you how to use the features of this software. The good thing about Adobe Photoshop is that it comes with a tutorial that shows you step by step how to use the various features. This kind of software is very similar to the Adobe Photoshop lightroom suite. Lightroom is a huge collection of photo editing tools.

$33.99 per month.


In order to edit video or photographs, you must convert the clip to a format that can be stored on your computer hard drive. You do this by clicking on the convert button and then choosing the destination of the converted file. If you have already connected your computer to the computer that houses GIMP, you may just need to click on the convert button again.

No cost

Corel Draw

It can create some really amazing digital illustrations. The best of these are life-size images that can blow you away. Second, it can do things other programs can't like convert PSD files into a PDF. Third, it can do things other programs can't like overlay photographs and text onto images.

Monthly subscription of $16.50 and the full version for a lifetime is just $474.


Inkscape is a fantastic graphic design software that has a user-friendly interface and can help a lot in improving your sublimation printing design. It has many gradients and tools that can be used in separate combinations to make amazing designs.

No Cost


Sketch allows users to mirror designs and share through cloud storage. It autosaves the design works after every step to avoid losing the design in case of any technical error and is a great tool for sublimation designers.

Yearly subscription of $99.

More Software Tips And Options

Infusible Inks Vs Sublimation


Infusible Ink Pages Are Not Sublimation

Cricut sells infusible ink pages where an image can be created and infused on materials. But these sheets are not true sublimation.

Cricut Infusible ink sheets come on a clear liner. When the negative space is weeded away it exposes an adhesive that is helpful for keeping the cut design in place while pressing.

Sublimation paper is self-weeding - meaning only the printed areas will be transferred to the substrate when heat and pressure are applied. To keep it the printed sublimation sheet in place while pressing, the high-temperature tape is suggested.

In order to create a design, Cricut Infusible Ink sheets require the user to cut out and weed the design from the full sheet using a die-cutting machine such as a Silhouette machine.

Images printed on a sublimation printer, such as a Sawgrass SG400 or SG800 sublimation printer, do not require a cutting machine. Sublimation prints are self-weeding meaning only the printed areas on the sublimation paper will transfer to the substrate. For this reason, designs do not need to be contour cut.

Because you can go right from printer to pressing with sublimation you save a lot of time over the Infusible ink sheets which don't need to be printed but do need to be cut and weeded before applying.

Cricut Infusible Ink sheets are available in a limited number of pre-printed patterns and solids. Any design can be cut out of the Infusible Ink sheets.

While the initial cost of the sublimation equipment may be higher, in the end, the cost per piece will be less expensive with sublimation than it would be with the infusible sheets. Sublimation also gives you more pattern options than infusible ink sheets.

Electronic cutting machines are another option for sublimation projects

Electronic cutting machines are another option for sublimation projects

More Options For Sublimation Images

If you are an electronic cutting machine user, then you can use the program that your machine uses to print and cut your sublimation images. Most of these programs have free images included. There are also dozens of images free and low cost available on the internet.

Cutting machines save you a lot of time and effort. Especially if you feel challenged by the software applications. The programs save you time too.

More Subliminal Image Ideas Using Cutting Machines

How To Use The Print Then Cut Feature On Your Electronic Cutting Machine

One of the easiest ways to create a sublimation image is to use the print then cut feature on your electronic cutting machine

One of the easiest ways to create a sublimation image is to use the print then cut feature on your electronic cutting machine

Free Sublimation Designs

What Materials Can You Sublimate On?

Sublimation works by binding ink to polymers within the transfer material. So anything with a sufficiently high polymer content should be able to be sublimated onto! The surfaces that you can sublimate are called blanks.

Sublimation blanks are often referred to as substrates.


You will see in the beginning, a lot of people will recommend using polyester as a base material. Polyester, is in fact, a good material, especially for beginners. But you do not have to go with 100% polyester. To begin with, 100 % polyester is not the most comfortable cloth on your skin. If you’re sticking to materials that are uncomfortable or are itchy to wear, then people are unlikely to wear them.

You’ll definitely get really high-quality transfers when you work with 100% polyester. But if you work with a blended material, perhaps 60% polyester and 40% cotton, you’ll still end up with a great transfer. And you’ll end up with a more comfortable shirt.

You are better off with 50% polyester. If you go lower than 50%, you may wind up with weak, or incomplete transfers. Most designers tend to go with 75% polyester for the best types of transfers.

Cotton Or Wool

It is absolutely impossible to transfer images on 100% cotton.

The sublimation process transfers inks onto fabrics by bonding the dye with polymers in the transfer material. Polymers are an artificial part of different fabrics and materials and are not present in natural fibers.

Because of this, fabrics like cotton and wool cannot be sublimated onto. There are no polymers for the sublimation ink to bond with.

Dark Fabrics

When you sublimate onto dark-colored garments, there isn’t any way to see your transfers! Because the garment is dark, you cannot see the transferred images.

There are options for you if you’re really set on sublimating to dark garments. Specifically, you can use a printer that can print with white ink!

Other materials to sublimate on:

  • Zipper bags
  • T-shirts
  • Pet bandannas
  • Potholders
  • Keychains
  • Garden flags
  • Onesies
  • Coasters
  • Neoprene laptop sleeves
  • Tote bags
  • Lanyard
  • Pillowcases
  • Ornaments
  • Mousepads
  • Earrings
  • Mugs
  • Teatowels
  • Neoprene Koozie
  • Sweatshirts
  • Tank tops
  • Socks
  • Bottle Koozie
  • Water bottles
  • Pet tank top
  • Puzzles
  • Fleece ear warmer
  • Baby bib
  • Lunch bag
  • Necktie
  • Burp cloth

More Substrate Tips

  • Not all substrates and coatings are created equal. Do some homework before you choose the kinds of materials you will be using. The cheaper items may not net you the results you are looking for.

Tips For Better Prints

  • Don’t change the ink during midstream.
  • If you use pigment inks in a printer that goes well with dye inks, you will end up clogging the printer. Use recommended inks only.
  • Don’t always go with high-resolution prints. Test which print quality suffice your need. Keep the resolution high when it’s about barcodes and data matrix.
  • If you leave the ink cartridge open for a long time, it will collect dust and other small particles, which will result in poor print quality. Consider covering the cartridge during downtime.
  • Continue using the cartridge until the printer says the inks are running out. Don’t replace it until it’s empty.
  • Clean the nozzles every few weeks to allow the printer to free spray out inks and avoid clogging.

Basic Sublimation Process

The process for sublimation is not all that difficult. Really there are only a few steps.

1. Create The Design-Use any photo editing program that you feel comfortable with. Keep it simple and don't get bogged down

2.Mirror The Design And Print it-Mirroring the image is important because it will be mirrored when you print it onto the shirt. If you don’t mirror it in-studio, then it will be back to front when you print it onto the shirt. This might mean that any writing is unreadable. Mirroring is very simple in most photo editing studios and should take you less than a minute to do. Once it’s mirrored, go ahead and print it on your sublimation paper, via your sublimation printer.

3.Line Up The Design-Take the sublimation paper and line it up with the apparel you’ll be printing onto. I use the “Tee Square It” set to make sure everything is in line and centered (if that’s what you want).

4. Press It On The Heat Press-Check what the recommended pressing times and temperatures are for your sublimation paper. Follow these guidelines well as you don’t want to under-heat and not get a clear print You can use a sublimation adhesive if you’re having trouble keeping the shirt steady while using the heat press. Try to keep it perfectly still while pressing and heating. For T-shirts and other fabrics, I do a medium pressure press at around 385 degrees Fahrenheit for around 35 seconds.

5. Remove The Transfer Paper-All you have to do is slowly peel off the transfer paper. Make sure not to drag it too much. Try to keep the removal as clean as possible. A little movement won’t have any effect, so don’t worry too much about this.

6. Inspect The Print-You’ll need to inspect the print up close to make sure that the image is clean and sharp.

Which Heat Press Is Right For You

How To Transfer Your Sublimation Image To Your Project

The final step to the sublimation process is to heat press the design onto your blank (the project surface. Your choice in heat presses depends on how much space you have in your craft space. You also need to decide what kinds of projects you are going to make. Another question to consider is if you are making projects for yourself or are you planning to make products to sell.

The first thing to know about heat presses for sublimation is that Heat presses need to be heated to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit for sublimation inks to transfer from the paper to the polymer fiber

There is a difference between a heat press and a heat sublimation heat press. Sublimation printing with heat transfers uses a special type of ink that actually ingrains itself into the fabric, unlike regular heat transfers, giving the images and graphics an even longer lifespan. Sublimation heat press machines have the ability to reach the temperature and pressure levels needed for sublimation.

All heat presses include programmable timers. Most automatically activate when the press is closed and a buzzer sounds when the time has expired so the operator knows to open it. Some heat presses open automatically when time has elapsed. This may cause the transfer paper to slightly shift on the substrate and result in image “ghosting,” which can ruin the item being sublimated. If using such a heat press, consider disabling the auto-open feature. If you keep it enabled, ensure the transfer is properly secured to the substrate.

Most sublimation products require a constant temperature of 400°F for one minute. A variation of just a few degrees may affect the final image’s colors and details.

Heat presses consist of upper and lower platens. The former contains heating elements, whereas the latter supports the substrate during pressing. (Note: On some presses, both upper and lower platens are heated.) Quality heat presses have reliable heating elements that deliver accurate temperature with minor fluctuations (drifting).

In addition, the heating elements ensure the upper-platen temperature is consistent across the entire surface, thereby preventing “cold spots,” which can cause uneven color in a sublimated image.

Some heat presses use lower-quality elements that are spaced farther apart in order to lower costs. The price tag — and output quality — for these units can be significantly lower. For other applications, such as heat transfers, this may be suitable, but not for sublimation.

In addition to delivering heat, the upper platen also produces pressure on the substrate. It’s critical that the platen is flat, even and constructed of quality materials so that it doesn’t “give” during the pressing process.

Inconsistent or uneven pressure will affect sublimation quality, leading to color imbalance, imperfect details and possible ghosting.

Lower-quality heat presses tend to be made with less-substantial materials to save on cost. For most other applications, pressure is not a major factor, so an uneven platen will have little, if any, effect. But it is a critical aspect of high-quality sublimation

Clam-shell units are the most common heat-press type. The upper and lower platens are connected by a hinge, and the press opens and closes in an angular fashion — thus, the name. These units are suitable for thin substrates, but may have uneven pressure on thicker items like plaques, ceramic tiles, flip flops, etc. This is because more pressure will be applied close to the hinge, and less pressure farther from it.

The result may be uneven imaging and unbalanced colors. Some clam-shell models feature a compound hinge system that makes them more suitable for thicker items.

Swing-away units’ upper platens are mounted on an arm to be moved straight up and down. That motion exerts equal pressure across the substrate’s entire surface, regardless of its thickness. In addition, when the heat press is opened, the upper platen can swing to one side, making it easier to access the lower platen for placing and aligning substrates.

Drawer heat presses also have a mounted upper platen that can be lifted and lowered, but doesn’t swing. Instead, the lower platen pulls forward, enabling easy access. This type of unit works well for thin and thick substrates.

Swing-away units’ upper platens are mounted on an arm to be moved straight up and down. That motion exerts equal pressure across the substrate’s entire surface, regardless of its thickness. In addition, when the heat press is opened, the upper platen can swing to one side, making it easier to access the lower platen for placing and aligning substrates.

Drawer heat presses also have a mounted upper platen that can be lifted and lowered, but doesn’t swing. Instead, the lower platen pulls forward, enabling easy access. This type of unit works well for thin and thick substrates.

Most heat presses use a mechanical closing system that is manually operated. Platen pressure is controlled by adjusting a knob, which activates a jack-screw system that raises or lowers the upper platen in relation to the lower platen. This controls the spacing between both surfaces when the press is closed, which determines how much pressure is applied to the substrate’s surface. The gap should be increased or decreased, depending on the item’s thickness or thinness.

Some heat presses are available as pneumatically controlled systems. They use air pressure to close the platen and apply a specific amount of pressure to the substrate surface. At the end of the pressing process, the system automatically opens.

Pneumatic systems offer two distinct advantages over manual ones. First, the operator doesn’t have to use physical exertion to operate the system, which reduces the chances of repetitive-motion injuries. Second, precise pressure settings can be specified, which makes it quick and easy to set up different types of substrates for production. This also makes it possible to replicate pressure parameters on future jobs.

In contrast, manual pressure settings are based on feel, not precision. This leads to trial and error when it comes to setting up jobs, and also makes it difficult to replicate exact settings on future orders.

Heat Press Tips

  • Unless otherwise instructed, always use uncoated white butcher paper on the top and bottom of your sublimation sandwich (available from Uline or Sam’s Club). The paper, thrown away after each use, protects your heat platen, bottom pad, and substrate from ink and other debris. Poly-poplin fabric is recommended for ChromaLuxe metal and glass.
  • Use a lint roller to remove loose fibers and debris from T-shirts and other fabric products before pressing. This usually removes the blue lint that sometimes shows up after sublimation and also works for hard substrates.

Accessories For A Heat Press

If you are using a heat press like a clamshell or other style there are a few accessories that you should consider:

  1. Heat Gloves-To protect your hands when removing items from the heat press. Remember, items have been heated at 400 degrees. They need time to cool.
  2. Thermal Tape-Use this heat resistant tape to secure your paper on items and prevent shifting or moving which can ruin the transfer. A tape dispenser cuts down on the production process by always keeping your tape ready for use.
  3. Spray Adhesive- Another method to keep paper in place. Recommended for garments and fabrics.
  4. Teflon Sheets-Protect your lower heat platen(plates of the best press) with this waterproof Teflon that can be easily wiped off and cleaned. A Teflon sheet can also be placed on top of a transfer as extra protection.
  5. Silicone Sheets-The thinner and more temporary alternative of Teflon, these can also be used on the bottom platen as well as placed on top of the transfer, to catch any escaping ink from staining the heat press or prevent dirt from accidentally transferring on the substrate.
  6. Heat Transfer Pillows- The lifesavers when it comes to pressing certain hard surface items, garments with seams or zippers, or raising an area of a T-shirt to prevent the dreaded indentations the paper edge can leave due to the pressure. We always keep a few of these close by.
  7. Sublimation Heat Pad-A good accessory to have if you are pressing multiple ceramic or metal items. Works like magic by distributing the heat evenly throughout the whole surface area.0

Cricut Easy Press

For those doing just a few sublimation projects, the Easy Press may be an affordable option for sublimation processes. The advantage of the Easy Press is that it is portable and takes less room in your craft space. It is also affordable. It evenly distributes heat. Just like the heat-press, compared to a regular iron, the EasyPress gives equal pressure on all surfaces. It comes with a base to hold it in. This is convenient for not only storage but also when I’m using EasyPress.

There are Four sizes to the Easy Press depending on your need.

  • The Mini is perfect for extra small projects like mugs, hats, and stuffed animals
  • The 6″x7″ is perfect for small projects like onesies or pressing Perler beads.
  • The 9″x9″ is the most versatile in my opinion. You can use it for shirts, pillows, wood signs, and more!
  • The 10″x12″ is great for larger projects like XL shirts, table runners, pillows, and more!

The Cricut Mug Press

When Cricut released its new Mug Press, interest in sublimation reached a new high. You make your design in the Cricut Design Space and cut your design out.

The mug press is only for use with Infusible Ink, not vinyl of any kind. So you'll need to buy some Infusible Ink Transfer Sheets and/or Infusible Ink Pens/Markers. You will also need some mugs that are specially treated to accept the images.

Average price for this unit is $200

Of course, you can do mugs with this machine, but it will handle a lot more. Here are some other materials you can work with your mug press:

  • Mason jar tumbler
  • Clear glass beer stein
  • Sublimation can cooler
  • Pilsner tumbler
  • Wine tumbler
  • Steel tumbler
  • shot glass


Cricut Sublimation Pens And Markers

Cricut sublimation pens have special ink that fuses with the materials that you apply the ink to. The solid ink in the pen turns into gas when heated. The gas fuses with the base material and then turns into a solid.

You eliminate the need for any special printers with these pens. So much easier to get a sublimation image with fewer steps.

The pens and markers both come in two colorways: traditional colors (red, green, purple, brown, and black) and neon brights (blue, yellow, green, orange, pink) and two sizes, .4mm pens and 1mm markers.

The only difference between the pens and markers is the nib size. The Infusible Ink Pens have a .4mm tip and write and draw in thin, clean lines. Infusible Ink Markers, on the other hand, are 1mm thick and create thicker lines. I prefer the pens for drawing and writing, and the markers are great for coloring in the designs that you draw with the pens.

The pens are designed to be transferred using laser copy paper, because of…science. You need to draw your design on the laser copy paper by hand or using your Cricut to draw, and then transfer that drawing to your blank using heat.

Like with iron-on, your image will be reversed when you go to make your project So, you will need to mirror your project.

You will need to use laser printer paper. For the brightest, most true-to-color transfer, Cricut recommends using laser copy paper vs. regular copy paper. Laser paper is designed to withstand higher heat temperatures and will give you a better transfer.

Supplies For Sublimation Pen/Marker Projects

  • Infusible ink markers or pens
  • Cricut Explore, Maker, or any other electronic cutting product
  • Light grip mat
  • Base product (any fabric material like a t-shirt or tote bag)
  • Easy Press or any heat press
  • Easy press mat
  • Lint roller (fabric) lint-free cloth (coasters)
  • Laser printer paper
  • Scissors

Sublimation Pen Process

  1. Choose your blank. Cricut has a line of products that work perfectly with the sublimation pens.
  2. Create your design. Use a file in Cricut Design Space or whatever electronic machine that you use. The other option is that you can draw by hand. Resize your image to fit on your project and under the heat press that you plan to use. Whatever design you choose, you need to change it to a drawn image. If you are using another machine, check how to change it to a drawn image. Make sure to mirror your design so that it prints correctly.
  3. Draw your design on laser paper. Use the infusible ink pens or markers to draw the design on the laser paper. Color the design interior if you want. You will color it by hand with the same markers.
  4. Use the lint roller or lint-free cloth on your project to make sure that there is no lint on the area where you plan to place your image.
  5. Transfer the image. Apply the image to your project with an Easy Press or a heat press

Infusible pen and Marker Projects

Cricut Infusible Ink Pens/Markers

Sublimation Problems

Image Fading

Image fading is usually caused by too much time and temperature, and/or pressure. We suggest double-checking the recommended settings from the company where you purchased your sublimation blanks. Every heat press is different, which is something to bear in mind. Another suggestion is to double-check the temperature of the top platen on your press to make sure it aligns with the stated temperature; for this, we recommend heat strips.

Blurry Images

If you notice blurring in your image when you pull the transfer paper off, this may be because your substrate received too much time/temperature in the heat press, and now the image has started to bleed out. If this happens, we recommend reducing your time and attempting again.

Blue Thread Or Lint

This is a common issue with finished garments being sublimated. The garment itself had lint before the press thus leaving a blue mark. Sublimation is very sensitive when pressing you must make sure the garment is clean and also that the sublimation paper has no residue or lint. When you press polyester it will pick up any residue on the heat press. If the blue spots look like tiny little fibers it’s probably lint. Lint rollers and shaking out each garment vigorously before pressing help a lot. Some people use disposable butcher/parchment paper sheets instead of Teflon sheets to avoid lint building up on the Teflon.

Brown Marks

Too much heat and shorter curing time

More Sublimation Projects

Sublimation Tips

Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your sublimation experience:

  • For best results, use a quality sublimation paper.
  • Make sure that the image is face down when applying it to the surface of your projects
  • Use onesies, shirts, and other fabric projects from your local dollar store as a beginner. Make sure that they have an adequate amount of polyester to get the best results.
  • Avoid using a high amount of pressure on the fabric
  • Remove the project from the press right away once the press is completed
  • Wash fabric projects in cold water to keep the design longer
  • Avoid ironing fabric projects. Limit it to after every other wash
  • Make sure to turn garments inside out before washing them.
  • Never use sublimation ink that is more than 1 year old
  • Clean up the nozzles to avoid clogging. It will prevent bands on the fabric.
  • To prevent ghosting or shifting of the paper on the fabric, secure it firmly.
  • Handle with care while removing the paper from the fabric.

© 2021 Linda F Correa

We would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and comments about the sublimation process

Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on July 24, 2021:

Thanks, Elaine. It is another way to create projects. Lots of people are using this process to make a business.

Elaine Byers on July 24, 2021:

Wow, I've never even heard of this - great tips thanks so much!

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