The Basics of Sublimation

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  Getting Started Guide · Basics of Sublimation · Troubleshooting Help · Pressing Instructions · Templates · Color Correction Software/Profiles

Basics of Sublimation

Sublimation printing is an amazing way to create bright, professional looking products -- from mugs, to business card holders, license plates, jewelry, coasters and more!

The science behind sublimation printing is simple -- when heated to a high temperature, the sublimation ink turns into a gas, allowing it to enter into the open pores of the polyester-coated item. Once removed from the ink, the pores of the item cool and close up, trapping the ink (and image) inside the surface of the item. The sublimated image will be smooth to the touch and is a permanent application. Sublimation works specificially with light-colored polymer-coated substrates, or 100% white polyester garments.
What Do I Need?
Sublimation Compatible Printer      You must have a dedicated sublimation printer that is compatible with the available cartridges. Currently these include Ricoh & Epson small-format printers, and a wide variety of large-format printers.
Sublimation Ink      Ink comes under two different names -- Artainium or SubliJet. SubliJet inks can be used with select Epson printers and Ricoh printers, whereas the Artainium inks are only available for select (older) Epson printers. Ricoh printers have only replacement sublimation cartridges available, whereas most Epson printers also have a bulk system and replacement bag option as well as cartridges.

     The ink is almost completely the same, the biggest differences between them being how you must adjust for color when printing. When using the Artainium inks, you must use an ICC profile within a design program such as Photoshop or CorelDraw to correct for color. However, when using SubliJet inks, there is a more user-friendly, automatic printer driver known as the PowerDriver that is installed and used to correct for color instead.
Sublimation Paper      Sublimation paper is necessary for the ink to transfer onto the substrates; it is designed to release as much as the printed image as possible from the sheet. We offer an all-purpose sublimation paper (Image Right), paper created specifically for use with Ricoh printers (Image Right R) and rolls of wide-format sublimation paper (TexPrint XP for hard surfaces and TexPrint Tacky for garments and fabrics).
Heat Press or Wraps      Since sublimation requires such a high level of temperature and pressure, you must use either a heat press to press the item, or a silicone wrap within a conventional oven to press the item. A commercial heat press will be the most efficient way of sublimating most of our items, but some items with a unique shape such as the pet bowls and shot glasses must be sublimated using a wrap in a conventional oven.
Color-Correction Software      Since sublimation ink is not the same as the intended inkjet ink for the printers it is often ran through, some form of correction for the color differences is needed. Artainium users must install and use an ICC color profile that is used with a design program that is able to manage color settings, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or CorelDraw.

     SubliJet inks can be used with a software called the PowerDriver that is very easy to install and use. The PowerDriver acts the same as a printer driver, and can be used to print from any program as usual. Unfortunately the PowerDriver software is not Mac compatible, but there are ICC profiles available for Mac computers to use with the above design programs.
Sublimation Blank      Sublimation blanks are items that are specifically coated to receive the inks. You can also transfer onto 100% white polyester fabric or fabric-topped items. You cannot sublimate onto cotton or dark fabrics -- colored garments can be sublimated onto, but bear in mind that since the ink is slightly transparent, your transfer/image will take on the shade of the shirt color below it, and may result in a poor result. There are sprays on the market designed for home users to coat their own items to be sublimated upon, but in our testings we have not found the results to be consistent in coverage or durability.
The Process From Beginning To End

     The entire start-to-finish process of creating a sublimated item starts with the design work and printing of the image. If your customer does not supply a ready image for printing, then you may use a design program such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or CorelDraw to create, resize, and fit your image within the provided item templates. From that point you print your image, while ensuring that you are using the ICC profile/PowerDriver color correction software provided, onto sublimation paper designed to release the ink. Align your transfer with the item's sublimatable area, using thermal tape to keep the transfer from moving. Sublimate according to that particular item's instructions -- if you are not sure what the time, temperature, or pressure settings are, check out the individual product page for more instruction. Some items may require the use of a sublimation heating pad or foam to create an even transfer across the item, or may even need to be pressed using a silicone wrap in a conventional oven. Once the item is done being pressed, quickly remove the sublimation paper and set in front of a fan to cool (ceramic drinkware can be submersed in water for a quick cool-down).

What Printer Should I Choose?

     When doing small-format sublimation, you should have one printer dedicated to printing sublimation; it is highly recommended that you do not switch the inks often, as this can ruin the quality of your prints and waste a great deal of ink. Sublimation can be used with certain small-format Epson or Ricoh printers, both of which Coastal carries. Epson printers were among the first sublimation printers and have a much wider variety of sizes and price levels to choose from. Because they are designed to be a photo printer, they produce a very excellent quality print. Ricoh printers on the other hand generally have much easier, mostly automated maintenance system and print faster than the Epsons are capable of. They also have larger cartridges, which allow you to print further on a cartridge with a lower cost per printed page, and produce very high quality images for transfer.

What Heat Press Is Needed For Sublimation?

     Only a heat press will be able to provide the amount of heat and pressure needed to transfer a sublimation image. We supply heat presses in a wide variety of brands, types, sizes to fit every budget, so it's easy to find exactly what you're looking for! When deciding upon a heat press, it's important to consider what size items you will want to producing in order to determine the size of a press that you will need. Heat presses are available in a range of sizes from 9" x 12" up to 20" x 25", and are available in clamshell, draw, or swinger styles.

     The choice between styles has a lot to do with personal preference. While the top platen of a swinger press literally swings away to allow for a heat free work area, you will need a bit of extra space to accommodate the swinging top platen. Clamshell presses have top heat platens that do not move and are positioned directly above where you are working, but they also come in a larger variety of sizes and prices. Some clamshell and swinger presses also offer the draw feature, which allows you to actually pull the bottom platen out and situation your garment or substrate for pressing.

     A good rule of thumb is to base your heat press choice on the substrates you are planning to use. If you plan to work with mostly shirts and thin substrates, a clamshell will be more than enough machine to meet your needs. However, if you want to press larger, thicker items, such as tiles, plaques or coasters, a swinger press will provide more space for your sublimation blank to fit into.

     For a more in-depth look at choosing the perfect heat press, read this blog - "Choosing the Right Heat Press"!

What Kind of Ink Is Needed For Sublimation?

     Sublimation ink comes in two varieties – Artainium and SubliJet. Sublijet inks can be used with Epson or Ricoh printers, whereas Artainium ink can only be used with Epson printers.

     The main difference between the two inks is the way they process the color when printing. Artainium ink requires an ICC profile, which is a color correction profile. Sublijet inks require a power driver. The power driver is already written to create the correct color profile in your system and does not need a specific design program to be used, making it much easier for beginners. The ICC profile will need to be installed and set up before use and MUST be used with a design program that allows you to manage the colors, such as Illustrator, Photoshop or CorelDraw.

     For Epson printers, these brands of ink come in two different set-ups: cartridges and bulk ink systems. Cartridges are easy to install and maintain, whereas the bulk ink system allows you to use much more ink before needing to replace the bulk bags. Bulk systems are meant for heavy sublimation users and cartridges are more popular with light to medium users. Regardless of the type of ink set up you are using, it is important to note that sublimation ink is different than inkjet ink and should be used on a daily basis. If not, the ink may clog and require printer head cleanings or head flushes.