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Sublimation FAQ

Why Sublimation?

With the Dye Sublimation Transfer Process, you can print high quality digital images on a huge variety of items made of any material that is treated or polymer coated or garments made of polyester. The imprinting is accomplished using a printer, special transfer inks, paper and a heat press.

What is Sublimation (Dye Sublimation Transfer)?

Dye Sublimation Transfer is a process where you take an image that has been created digitally (either by scanning, downloaded from a digital camera or created on your computer). The image can then be printed with a printer using special sublimation transfer inks onto transfer paper. When heated to high temperatures, sublimation ink turns into a gas. Pores of the polymer coated item open up and allow the gas to enter. Then, once removed from the heat, the pores of the polymer substrate close up, trapping the ink inside. The entire image will be smooth to the touch. This is a transfer process in which the image becomes a part of the actual item. Sublimation needs special ink, paper and specific substrates with polymer coating to work.

What do I need to start?

  • Sublimation Ink Compatible Printer - recommended Ricoh sublimation printers.
  • Sublimation Paper - recommended TexPrint sublimation paper.
  • Sublimation Ink available in cartridges, bulk bags and bottles. Recommended Sawgrass SubliJet-R Inks.
  • Heat resistant tape if you are doing mugs, tiles, or caps, to keep your image from moving during the transfer process.
  • Sublimatable Items - products that are compatible with sublimation. note: not all mugs, tiles, t-shirts, and other imprintable items, are sublimation compatible
  • Heat press for bonding the image to the item. If you are doing mugs or caps, you need a mug or cap press, or attachments that can be bought for compatible presses.
  • An ICC Profile compatible program, such as Photoshop, or CorelDraw. (Currently, the ICC Profiles cannot be managed in any other programs.)
  • ICC Color Correction Profile to ensure that your colors come out perfect.

What type of printer do I need?

Because of the type of ink that is used you are limited to the type of printer you can use to print. For best results we strongly suggest the sublimation printers made by Ricoh. The 2 models we carry are Ricoh SG 3110DN and Ricoh SG 7100DN which you can view here.

What kind of inks do I need?

The ink used in the Sublimation Transfer process is a special mixture of water and heat reactive dyes. For professional results we recommend Sawgrass Technologies® SubliJet-R Inks which you can view here.

What type of Heat Transfer Press do I need?

A heat press is the machine that presses a transfer onto an imprintable substrate. Using high temperatures and specified pressures for a certain amount of time, the transfer is permanently embedded into the product. Heat presses are available with various sized platens, with clamshell or swing away heating elements, and with manual or automatic release features. Some heat presses are created for specific uses, such as the cap or mug presses. The maximum print size of your printer should match the platen size of your press.

Heat presses are recommended for professional and satisfying results simply because standard laminating devices and home hand irons can not get near the temperatures required for a reliable transfer. Sublimation transfers require anywhere from 375° to 425° F and demand serious force in pressing often from 40-80 psi. These temperatures and pressures are not possible with other heated device.

View our full line of heat presses.

What sublimation can and can't do

  • Imprint cotton shirts. As mentioned before, sublimation needs polyester in order to complete the process of transfer. Sublimation will turn out best with only 100% polyester shirts. Cotton shirts should be completed with heat transfer paper.
  • Imprint 65/35 and 50/50 shirts with bright colors. Since a percentage of the shirt is still cotton, the sublimation ink does not have enough polyester to create a vivid transfer. The image will end up with dull colors, especially after washing. Again, using heat transfers for cotton shirts is really the best option.
  • Imprint colored shirts. Any colored background drastically alters the imprint colors. Since sublimation will become part of the shirt, any color already on the garment will overwhelm the transferred image.
  • Imprint non-polymer-coated items. Remember that sublimation is printing into the coating, not the item.
  • Imprint gold/silver metal used by award companies. This is another instance where the background color of the substrate will interfere with the image.