If you are looking at buying a new printer and wondering whether you should get a laser or inkjet printer for your sublimation prints, then you are right here.
Many hobbyists want to print their designs onto t-shirts, other clothing, and other materials, but can you use any printer for sublimation?
We find out what printers are suitable for sublimation printing, and how you can convert your home printer to a sublimation printer.
What’s Sublimation Printing?
Before we get into the suitable printers, let’s take a look at the details of sublimation printing and what the process involves.
Sublimation printing is often confused with heat transfer. However, there are some clear differences between the two.
Sublimation is a scientific term that is used when a substance changes its state from solid to gas, without going through a liquid state.
In sublimation printing, ink is printed onto a special sheet, and with this sheet, you transfer the ink directly onto your t-shirt or another surface.
Then you need to apply heat which causes the dye to sublime into the fibers of the fabric, creating a permanent image.
This technique is often used to create custom apparel such as T-shirts, sweaters, hoodies, etc.
Benefits Of Sublimation Printing
There are many benefits associated with using sublimation printing. Here are the advantages of sublimation printing that we like most.
The best thing about sublimation printing is that it creates high-quality images with vibrant colors on your products.
Although you do need a steady hand for the ink transfer, the designs often look crisp and individual.
Compared to heat transfer, sublimation printing does not require the transfer sheet to stay on your t-shirt. Once you have transferred the ink, you simply remove the transfer sheet and that’s it.
One of the biggest benefits of sublimation printing is the durability of the final product.
Because the ink is baked into the fabric, it stays in place after being applied. You don’t have to worry about the design being smeared.
You can wash your clothes several times and they will still look great.
Compared to screen printing where you have to apply the colors of your design individually, sublimation printing is much easier.
With sublimation printing, all you have to do is print your design, transfer it, and apply heat.
No Need For Specialized Equipment
This is the main purpose of this post. Another great benefit of sublimation printing over other t-shirt printing methods is that you don’t need any specialized equipment.
All you need is an ordinary home printer and a few sheets of specially designed paper.
Disadvantages Of Sublimation Printing
Of course, there are also some disadvantages to sublimation printing. Let’s take a quick look at them now.
Sublimation printing requires the use of a special kind of sublimation paper. This can be costly if you are looking to print a larger number.
In addition, ink cartridges for your printer are typically also expensive, and they do not produce as many prints as some other techniques.
If you are planning to make a lot of prints, then it may be easier to go with screen printing.
Not Suitable For All Materials
Another disadvantage of sublimation printing compared to other printing methods is that it is not suitable for all materials.
Sublimation printing is ideal for polyester mix fabrics. Some people also use it for glass and coffee mugs. However, you will need to treat any smooth surfaces before applying the ink.
What Type Of Printer Can You Use For Sublimation Printing?
There is a wide range of printers that can be used for sublimation printing when you know what you are looking for
Whether a printer is suitable for sublimation printing depends on the printing technique and the print head.
There are typically two types of printers: printers that use heat technology, and printers that use pressure technology.
You cannot use heat technology printers with a thermal print head for sublimation printing. However, printers using pressure technology with a so-called Piezo print head work very well.
Pressure Print Technology
Printers that use the pressure print technology have a Piezo print head. This printhead has a very fine film on top.
This film is connected to a small electrode which creates an electric charge. In turn, this will cause the print head to vibrate.
Then, the film will be able to bend. This move creates pressure which pushes the ink from within the print nozzle onto the print surface.
This flexible system makes the print result much more accurate, and it also prints much faster.
In addition, you can use pressure printers with a Piezo print head with a vast range of inks, including solvent inks, oil-based inks as well as gel-based inks, and water-based inks.
This type of printing technology is used in most printers from Roland, Epson, and Sawgrass.
It’s important to note here that you will need special sublimation ink with these printers.
And there are some other printers with this type of printing technology but they do not offer sublimation ink.
Heat Print Technology
During the printing process, the thermal print head inside the printer uses high temperatures to boil the ink.
This creates an air bubble filled with ink which moves through the print nozzle. As the ink passes through the nozzle, it is transferred to the sublimation paper and the ink cools very quickly.
Printers that use a thermal print technology typically use water-based dye which works best for the heating process.
You will find that the majority of HP printers and Canon printers use this kind of technology for printing.
Can You Use An HP Printer For Sublimation Printing?
The majority of HP printers use the thermal printing method. This means that you cannot use them for sublimation printing.
Is A Brother Printer Good For Sublimation Printing?
Yes, theoretically you could convert your Brother printer for sublimation printing as most Brother printers use the pressure printing technique.
Saying this, there is no sublimation ink specifically for Brother printers available.
This means that you cannot use a Brother printer for sublimation print jobs because you would not be able to set up the correct ink profile.
This means that your printer would not be able to produce a crisp and bright image of your design.
This makes Brother printers impossible to convert to sublimators for smaller businesses.
However, as a hobbyist, you may still find the print quality acceptable but be warned, for most people blurry images and color distortion is not a very satisfying experience, especially when you are a beginner.
Can You Use Canon Printers For Sublimation Printing?
Similar to HP printers, Canon clearly states that you cannot use any of their printers for sublimation printing.
We have been approached by several people saying that this brand is also producing the Canon Selphy Printer.
However, although this is a great printer and Canon had previously included “Sublimation” in the printer’s name, it isn’t suitable for sublimation printing.
Is It Cheaper To Convert A Printer For Sublimation Printing?
Yes, it is much cheaper to convert your printer into one that can handle sublimation printing than buying a sublimation-ready printer.
If you already own a printer, then you can simply buy sublimation ink and print directly from the ink tanks.
The cartridges are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of a new printer.
Saying this, we found that although converting is a great budget option for sublimation printing (especially when you are a beginner), it is worth considering a dedicated sublimation printer after some time.
However, as a small business or for starting a new hobby, converting your printer for sublimation is the most cost-effective option.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty on converting your printer, let’s talk about some sublimation printers which don’t need to be converted.
Epson and Sawgrass have several sublimation printers in their range. They typically set you back a few hundred dollars but they also print a fairly good size of up to 8 x 14 inches.
Although a few hundred pounds may not sound extortionate, you will also need to consider the cost of the sublimation ink as well as the transfer paper and your t-shirts (or other products).
For example, Sawgrass sublimation ink can set you back a little under $100, for each color cartridge!
If you are looking at using all four CMYK colors in your design, then this is a large amount of money just for the ink alone.
Saying this, the Epson sublimation printers, such as the Epson F170, is a much more cost-effective option.
This printer for beginners is also already set up for sublimation, and the sublimation ink is much cheaper.
Despite their typically higher price, sublimation printer models are very popular and they may be hard to get for a while.
One of the greatest benefits of the Epson printer as well as the Sawgrass model is that they do come with technical support and a manufacturer warranty.
This means that if something is going wrong, then you can just contact your vendor or the manufacturer directly to sort it out. They may even send you a replacement printer.
The obvious advantage of sublimation-ready printers is that you do not need to do anything with them. Get them out of the box and you can start printing straight away.
Another big benefit of printers made for sublimation printing is that they come with support and a warranty, so if there are any problems, you know where to turn to, and you can be sure it gets fixed quickly.
However, as you will see further down, these printers are not cheap. As a small shop or a print enthusiast, you may not want to fork out this amount of money when you are just starting.
Printers That Can Be Converted For Sublimation Printing
The easiest printers for sublimation conversion are from the Epson EcoTank series. We are great fans of Epson, mainly due to the reasons mentioned above.
Epson is one of the biggest printing brands that have printers with a pressure printhead system which is required for the sublimation conversion.
In addition, Epson printers are also easily available at most retailers and they are much cheaper than the sublimation-ready printers.
These are all very good reasons for converting your Epson printer yourself.
One thing to bear in mind if you want to convert your printer is that a standard printer does not come with technical support for sublimation, so if there are any issues, you need to sort them out yourself.
However, there are plenty of great forums that discuss any problems with converted Epson printers for sublimation printing.
Additionally, the use of sublimation inks in a standard Epson printer will also void your manufacturer warranty.
How To Convert Your Epson Printer To A Sublimation Printer
It’s surprisingly easy to convert your Epson machine from a standard printer to a sublimation printer.
Buy Your Epson Printer
First off, you need an Epson printer with a Piezo print head. We would recommend the Epson EcoTank series which is usually available from different retailers and Amazon.
Buy Your Sublimation Ink
Next up, you need to buy some sublimation ink from a third-party ink retailer. You will need sublimation ink because the normal ink sold by Epson will not be suitable for sublimation printing.
Some solid online vendors sell good-quality sublimation ink for Epson printers.
Install Sublimation Ink
To install the sublimation ink in your Epson EcoTank, you simply fill in the little color compartments with each color of your sublimation ink.
There should be enough ink for one fill, but you can check this very easily by looking at the ink level on the tank exterior.
Once installed, you are set up for sublimation printing.
Some people also convert the Epson WorkForce printer series. However, this does require additional steps.
To convert the Epson WorkForce printer to a sublimation printer, you will need to buy a cartridge and the sublimation ink together from a vendor.
Then you will need to fill up the new cartridge with the sublimation ink, and install the new cartridge in your printer.
We found this not only difficult as you have to fill up the cartridges with a syringe, which can be fiddly but there have also been several issues with the recognition of the cartridge.
Each ink cartridge contains a chip that is read by the printer. With third-party cartridges, the printer may not recognize this chip.
This is the reason why converting an Epson WorkForce to sublimation printing isn’t very popular.
Download The Sublimation Ink ICC Profile
The next step is to download the ICC profile for your new sublimation ink. This is needed to get the best results when using the sublimation ink.
The ICC (International Color Consortium) profile is the color data used for your printer. This data makes sure that the color on your screen matches the printed color.
Although the match is as close as possible, you are likely never going to achieve a full-color match between the screen and the printer, as many other factors are playing into the different colors, such as screen brightness.
There are some great options for converting your printer to sublimation printers, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.
You will just have to do your homework and check out our above types of printers that are suitable for sublimation printing.
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