One of the great things about sublimation printing is its versatility- it can create epic designs across different mediums from fabric to wood and even ceramics. But can you sublimate stainless steel tumblers?
The simple and precise answer is, yes! Whether it is stainless steel or any other metallic material, sublimation printing is possible. However, there is a catch, either you’ve to buy sublimated blanks that already have a coating on them or you’ve to apply a clear coat of polyester (also known as sublimation coating) on it yourself before using.
How To Apply Sublimation Coating On Stainless Steel Tumblers
Note: If you already have sublimation blanks and are not interested in coating yourself, you can skip this step and move to the next one.
When it comes to polyester sublimation coatings, there are tons of great options available, both online and in the market. Some of them come in the form of powders, others in the form of liquid bottles and even aerosol sprays. Regardless of which form you purchase your sublimation coating in, it is wisest to spray it onto the stainless steel tumbler to ensure, even, uninterrupted application.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to apply a sublimation coating on stainless steel tumblers:
1) Take a damp cloth/linen and thoroughly wipe the outside of the tumbler to remove any dirt or stains. After this, allow the tumbler to go completely dry and clean.
2) Once the tumbler is dried, use a cloth or paper towel to evenly apply an adhesion promoter on it. The purpose of this chemical is to create a strong adhesive bond between the polymer coating and the steel surface of the tumbler.
3) The next step is to spray the polymer onto the tumbler. Place the polymer spray 25 cm away from the surface of the tumbler and move your hand slowly and steadily for an even, smooth finish.
4) In order to dry and fix the polymer coating in place, the tumbler has to be oven baked at an approximate temperature of 320 degrees Fahrenheit. This step takes around 20-30 minutes.
5) Once oven-baked, the tumbler is ready to be sublimated.
Luckily, since sublimation printing has become such a popular choice in the customization industry, you can now get your hands on sublimation blank stainless steel tumblers. These tumblers are already coated and do not require the above additional step of polymer coating and can be sent straight ahead for sublimation printing.
How To Sublimate a Stainless Steel Tumbler?
There isn’t much difference between how a stainless steel tumbler is sublimated and any other material (e.g. a ceramic mug) is sublimated. However, if you are a beginner, here is a short guide to help you with your first tumbler sublimation printing project:
Step 1 – Prepare The Tumbler
As mentioned in the previous section, the initial step would be to prepare the tumbler for sublimation by covering it in a polymer coating.
Step 2 – Print Design
Once done, you need to print your desired design on sublimation paper using a sublimation printer and sublimation ink. Let the sublimation paper sit for 2-3 minutes so the ink dries.
Step 3 – Transfer Print
The next step would be to transfer the print from the sublimation paper onto the stainless steel tumbler using a tumbler press.
To begin with, you must clean the tumbler using a lint-free cloth or roller and then use heat-resistant tape to stick the design onto the tumbler. If you are doing a full wrap, make sure you place them very carefully to get a seamless design.
Then cover the tumbler with a protective sheet, and place it in the tumbler press. Press twice by turning the tumbler 180 degrees. The temperature of the heat press that I use is 356 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 secs.
Note: Avoid overlapping paper on corners, otherwise sublimation ink seeps through and the seam gets very dark making that area look darker than others.
Step 4 – Remove Tumbler From Heat Press
Lastly, you must remove the tumbler from the heat press and let it cool down. This would take around 6-8 minutes. Once cooled, you can remove the sublimation paper to reveal a vibrant print on your favorite tumbler!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Besides stainless steel, can you sublimate on other kinds of metal?
Yes, sublimation printing is possible on all kinds of metal as long as they are coated with a sublimation-friendly material i.e. polyester to allow the sublimation ink to adhere to the metallic surface. Otherwise not possible.
2. Can you sublimate on powder-coated tumblers?
Yes, and that too without treating the tumbler with polymer before the sublimation printing process. This is because the dyes in the sublimation ink penetrate through the powdered coating and use as an adherence promoter.
3. Can you sublimate a stainless steel tumbler in the oven?
Yes, you can sublimate a stainless steel tumbler in the oven. Before you place the tumbler in it, it must be pre-heated at 380-400 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, the tumbler should be heated for 8-10 minutes, during which you must check on it intermittently to make sure it hasn’t cracked or the sublimation paper hasn’t been burnt.
4. How long does a sublimation print last on a stainless steel tumbler?
If done correctly, sublimation prints can last on a stainless steel tumbler for over 10 years.
5. Can you remove a sublimation print from a stainless steel tumbler?
While it’s a time-consuming and exhausting task, it is possible to remove a sublimation print from a metallic tumbler. Here are 3 common ways to do it:
1. Dipping the tumbler in vinegar, apple cider or rubbing alcohol and then rubbing the print off.
2. Using bleach to remove the print.
3. Baking the tumbler in the oven for an hour.
I’ve shared the complete process step by step. Other steps are easy to implement and anyone can do these. But the most critical part in sublimating the tumbler is to make sure you get seamless design and that comes with practice only. Now you know exactly what to do. So practice as much as you can to get the desired results!