What is Sublimation Printing? What Do I Need To Start It?

Do you want to print your designs with high-quality on fabric, cups, or other items? If so, you should learn about sublimation printing! This type of printing can produce high-quality results and is perfect for DIY projects and for business purposes as well. 

But what is sublimation printing? How can you do this? What sublimation equipment do you need, and where can you find supplies? These questions must be ringing a bell in your mind, right? Don’t worry, because you’ve come to the right place. 

In this guide, you’ll get all the details. 

What Is Sublimation Printing?

What’s sublimation printing, and how does it work? These two are the most common questions asked by various people. 

Sublimation printing is a type of printing in which we use heat to transfer the sublimation ink or dye on an object (t-shirt, canvas, mug, etc.) which means the sublimation print becomes part of the object. 

Process of Sublimation Printing

Let’s understand the concept with an example. Suppose you want to sublimate a design on a t-shirt; in this case, first, you’ll print the image or design on paper with the help of a sublimation printer.

Then you’ll use a heat press machine to sublimate the design on the t-shirt. 

The heat generated by the heat press turns the sublimation dye (the ink of paper that you’ve printed with a sublimation printer) into gas. This gas will merge with the material of the t-shirt, and you’ll get amazing designs.

Pros & Cons of Sublimation Printing

Pros:

  • The biggest benefit of sublimation printing is that it’s durable; no matter how often you wash, the designs won’t fade away for at least 10 years.
  • The quality of sublimation prints is incredible compared to others because prints become a part of the object. 
  • Sublimation printing allows you to print on various things like mugs, clocks, plates, and even wood.  The only thing you need is poly coating on the material. 
  • The prints look fantastic; you’ll never notice a blurred image or dull color. 

Cons:

  • The disadvantage of sublimation printing is you need polyester material. Without it, you can’t sublimate anything.  
  • For sublimation printing, the object must be in white or light color because sublimation prints don’t look good on dark surface colors like black and dark blue. 
  • Aside from a sublimation printer, you also need sublimation ink or dye that mostly comes at a high price. The issue is that without these dyes, it’s impossible to sublimate images. 

What Materials Can Be Sublimated?

What are easy things to sublimate, and can you sublimate on any material? It’s time to answer these questions and clear your concept more. 

You can’t sublimate to any material or object you like. The best material suitable for sublimation is 100% polyester, polyester coated substrate, or mixed fabric that at least has a certain percentage of polyester, like 50% or more. 

The reason is there are two main purposes of heat press when sublimating. The first is it turns the dyes into gas. The second thing is that the heat of the heat press helps open up the fabric of polyester, and the dyes blend with the material. That’s why polyester is important because no other material like cotton reacts to heat like this and opens up. 

In short, all materials made of synthetic (polyester) or polyester coating can be used for sublimation. 

Difficult & Easy Things to Sublimate

Easy Things to Sublimate  Difficult Things to Sublimate 
T-shirts Natural fiber (cotton).
Ceramic mugs, plates, or anything that have a polyester coating on it.  Wood 
100% Polyester Fabric or Mix polyester fabric. Steel or Metal.

Sublimating some materials or objects, you’ll face difficulties because they’re not made of synthetic material like wood. In this case, you have to apply polymer coating on steel, wood, etc. then you can sublimate them.

What Things Do I Need to Start Sublimation Printing?

Now you know what sublimation printing is? How does it work? What materials are suitable for sublimation printing? So it’s time to know the sublimation material list. 

1. Sublimation Printer

The first and most important thing that you need is a sublimation printer. It comes around $500 to $600, the price can be high or low, it depends on the quality, but for $600 you can easily find a good printer. 

When selecting a printer, make sure it is one of the best sublimation printer for beginners means it should be easy to use like sawgrass printers, Epson sublimation printers, etc. otherwise, you’ll face many difficulties. Besides it, you should also consider the workload, how much you’ll work with the printer, and how many prints you would likely print in one day. 

Finding the answer to these questions is important because every printer has a different capacity PPM (page per minute) speed. It indicates how many pages your printer will print in a minute. If you’re buying a sublimation printer for personal projects and have no intention to use it for business, then even 12 PPM is good for you. 

2. Sublimation Ink

All sublimation printers need special dyes. You can’t use third-party ink of any other brand as it can damage the sublimation printer, and the quality won’t be good. 

Pro Tip: When selecting a sublimation printer, always check the cost of ink. If they are expensive, find another printer.

3. Heat Press 

The second thing you need for sublimation printing is a heat press. Without it, there’s no way you can sublimate the design on an object because, with the printer, you can only print images on paper. After that, you need a heat press for the further process. 

Again, the heat press price also varies, mostly depending on what you’re buying. The more features you want, the more you’ll have to pay. There are heat press machines that are more than $500, and some come under $300. 

The differences between cheap and expensive heat press machines are their features and capabilities. Therefore, instead of focusing on your price, check whether the heat press machine caters to your sublimation printing needs or not, then decide to buy it. 

Note: If you’re more into sublimating personalized items like cups and bottles, you should look for a mug press. The heat press suits those who want to sublimate on flat things like t-shirts, canvas, etc. 

4. Computer & Software 

The next important thing is a computer (you may have a computer or laptop in your home, so in that case, you can skip this heading). But if you don’t have one, you also have to invest in the computer whose price depends on its specification. It can be around $300 or even up to $1000. Other than that, software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Coreldraw are also needed to create designs and images to print. 

5. Additional Expenses

Now, the additional expenses come, which include butcher paper, heat-resistant tape, and laminating film (in case you’re sublimating on non-polyester material). These items are not too expensive; they are available for under $30 in all stores. 

How Much Does It Cost to Start Sublimation Printing?

Before we go further and wrap up our guide, it’s important to know the price of starting sublimation printing. 

To start the sublimation printing, you need at least $800 to $1000 only for the machines (computer cost not included). A sublimation printer can cost you around $500 to $600, the heat press machine is about $300, and the additional cost of butcher paper, ink, etc., is up to $100. If you don’t have a computer or laptop in your home, the total cost will be around $1300 to $1400.

Apart from these things, you also need materials like t-shirts, mugs, and various objects for sublimation. The chances are you may not sublimate like a professional in the beginning, so the first time you also have to prepare for the loss. You may have to purchase multiple t-shirts and mugs to sublimate one design in the finest quality until you become a pro. 

6 Common Sublimation Printing Problems Solved 

Sublimation printing is not an easy peasy task; it’s tough. People who’re learning it or have mastered the skill can understand my point very well because they know the issues. But be happy because you’ll get the solution to all common sublimation printing problems here. 

Ghosting 

One of the common issues of sublimation printing is ghosting. It’s basically a bad (blurred or shadowy) copy of your design. This means the design will be printed two times on the surface with shadowy or blurry effects, which certainly won’t look good. 

Solution: It 99% of the time happens when your design moves in the heat press. That’s why you should always use heat-resistant tape to attach the design to the surface. In this way, your design won’t move when it comes under a heat press, and you will not face the ghosting issue.  

Faded Print

Another main issue is faded print. It can happen for two reasons: to find a solution, you need to understand both. 

  • Sometimes to save money, some individuals use low-quality sublimation paper and ink. As a result, they face this issue. 

  • Another thing that’s crucial in sublimation printing is the temperature setting. And mostly due to lack of knowledge, beginners do sublimation printing at the wrong temperature, which is why the prints faded. 

Solution: Always use high-quality ink and paper for the best results and sublimation at the right temperature as per the substrate material. 

Banding 

If you see designs with lines that have no ink, that’s banding. It’s a common issue that many individuals face. Sometimes the reason behind this issue could be using a printer with the wrong settings. 

Hence, make sure the settings are correct and if you don’t have much idea about it, then go to the last heading. We’ve discussed the setting issue in detail below. And if the setting solution doesn’t work, then be ready because it’s not a small issue. The chances are your printhead is clogged. 

Solution: Our suggestion is to clean the printhead. In some scenarios, this process can be done automatically with the software, while in some printers, you have to do it manually. 

Sublimation Color Problems

Two main color problems that many sublimation printing beginners or intermediate-level individuals face is whether the color of the print will be dark or light. 

Solution: if the prints are light, then check the ink; it’s an important part of printing. Cheap quality sublimation ink can cause the issue of light color. Apart from that, make sure that the sublimation paper quality is good and that you’re printing at the right temperature. 

Let’s come to the dark color problem. It happens for various reasons, one of which is that you may be over-pressing the heat or mug press. And in some cases, beginner sublimation on the darker colors that’s why they don’t get the desired result. Remember, sublimation printing works best when the surface is white or light-colored. 

Blurry Print

Do your prints look blurred? Yes, then it might be because of using the wrong temperature setting and pressing the heat press for a shorter time. Another possible reason could be printing a low-resolution image. 

Solution: Always do sublimation printing at the right temperature and ensure to print a high-quality image. The low-quality image will look blurry after sublimation printing. 

Wrong Strategy (Settings & Incompatibility) 

There are many other minor problems; the main reasons are using the wrong strategy, settings, and equipment. 

Solution: The only solution to these issues is to do everything correctly, like using compatible blanks that are made of 100% polyester. Check the setting, turn off fast printing mode (if it’s enabled), mirror the image, and do sublimation at the right temperature. 

5 Best Business Ideas for Sublimation Printing

You’ve learned sublimation printing; you know everything about it; now what next? Many people get stuck at this stage. But not now; here are the top 5 business ideas for sublimation printing. You can follow these ideas and start your business easily. 

Before we start recommending business, it’s better to understand one thing. The ideas we’ll share below are for all; you can start on a smaller scale or bigger level; it’s up to your budget. So don’t be demotivated by thinking it’s impossible because you don’t have a big investment. 

Personalized Items 

Everyone loves personalized items, particularly Gen Z. you can start with an online store where you can sell printed mugs, keychains, pillows, water bottles, tumblers, and so on. 

The notable advantage of this business idea is it can be started with a low investment. For example, instead of focusing on all items, you can pick any one or two things, like mugs or tumblers, and start a business with low investment. 

T-Shirt Business

T-shirt designing it’s one of the most popular and competitive sublimation business niches. You can start a store in a specific niche, like “Anime T-shirts,” “Kids t-shirts,” and so on. Since you’ll focus on a targeted audience, your competition won’t be too high, and you can attract an audience easily. 

Phone Case Designing

Smartphones are the need of the world; even 10 year old children own mobile phones. And that’s an opportunity because the demand for phone cases is also increasing along with smartphones. You can start a business designing phone cases. Fortunately, this business doesn’t need a huge investment. 

Home Design Items

We all know the importance of interior design. Almost every person spends thousands of dollars on the interior design of their home. Yes, it’s a competitive niche, but you can narrow down the niche. Instead of selling everything, it would be better to start with wallpaper design, art headboards, etc.  

Pet Items

Pet owners love purchasing items for their precious pets. So it’s a profitable business idea to sell pet items like pet t-shirts, tags, custom dog or cat bowls, and so forth. Just pick a domain like a dog or a cat after proper research and start your business. 

What Should You Do Before Starting a Sublimation Printing Business? 

You can’t start any business tomorrow; it’s necessary to follow proper guidelines, which we’ll share below before starting any business.

  1. Research: Do proper research about the business, whether it’s profitable or not, who are your target audience and, how you’ll do marketing, etc. 

  2. Consider budget: always consider your budget before starting a sublimation business. Take a pen and write down everything, for example, the investment you have, things you need to purchase, etc. 

  3. Find your competitors: It’s one of the most crucial points that many forget. Apart from market research, you should find your competitors and do in-depth research about their business. You need a proper plan to outrank them. 

  4. Sublimation business name: Never choose your business name without research. Remember you’re starting a brand, and your audience will remember you through the name. So it must be unique, relatable to your business, and easy to learn. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What’s the difference between sublimation vs. heat transfer? 

The difference between sublimation and heat transfer printing methods is huge. In sublimation printing, the image or design becomes part of the material (both merge together). While in a heat press, we add a coat on the object, meaning the design doesn’t merge with the material. 

How much time does it take to learn sublimation printing? 

The time you’ll take to learn sublimation printing depends on you but three to four weeks are a must to learn the basics. The more time you’ll spend learning and practicing the basics, particularly the temperature and time settings, the faster you’ll become an expert. Temperature setting is the core of sublimation printing. We sublimate on different materials with a heat press, and for all items, it’s important to set the right temperature and time. Otherwise, the sublimation print won’t look good, and you must discard the object or material. 

Can you sublimate on steel and cotton? 

In general, no, you can’t sublimate on steel and cotton because they aren’t made of polyester. But the situation will be the opposite if you apply a poly coating on both materials. After this, you can easily sublimate it to steel and cotton. 

Final Words

So that’s it for sublimation printing. We hope you have got the answer to what is sublimation printing, and how it works. It’s undoubtedly one of the best ways of printing images on items like t-shirts, mugs, canvas, glasses, and bottles, as they are also durable. 

The only issue is that sublimation can’t work on non-polyester material, but you can use laminating film or poly coating on items and sublimate the designs easily.