How To Print Sublimation Images – Step-by-Step Guide

In this article, we will teach you how to print sublimation images and much more. Before that let us learn the basics. 

Sublimation printing is a technique that transfers images onto various materials using heat and pressure. It employs specialized inks that transform into a gas when heated, bonding with the material. 

This method yields vivid colors and intricate designs on fabrics, metals, and plastics. Compared to screen printing, sublimation offers superior product quality works on materials like polyester shirts (light-colored only), polyester-coated sublimation blanks, and more. 

Products compliant with sublimation include umbrellas, face masks, coasters, mouse pads, keychains, baby bibs, ceramic plates, pens, backpacks, and ID lanyards, among others, such as mugs, pillowcases, pouches, bags, and caps.

Essentials for Successful Sublimation Printing

Designing for Sublimation

When venturing into how to print sublimation transfers, the first essential is a well-prepared design. To achieve vibrant and precise results, use file formats such as PNG, JPEG, SVG, PDF, PSD, EPS, and TIFF. Ensure your design sublimation pictures are of high resolution, especially for larger prints, and double-check margins and settings to optimize your image for sublimation.

Choosing the Right Software

Creating and customizing sublimation designs is made easier with suitable software. While you can use basic programs like Microsoft Word for simple printing. 

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Graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator, Affinity, CorelDraw, or even free options like Canva or Cricut’s DesignSpace offer more flexibility when trying to figure out how to print a sublimation design

Invest in paid software for an extensive toolkit, which can be indispensable for various projects, from website graphics to apparel and beyond.

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The Sublimation Printer

A crucial element of how to print sublimation images is the sublimation printer itself. Highly recommended options include the Sawgrass SG500 and SG1000. These printers, designed for beginners and professionals alike, provide an intuitive experience and compatibility with a range of substrates, from plaques to garments. Your choice of printer can significantly impact the quality of your designs, so select one that aligns with your needs and goals.

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Understanding Sublimation Ink

When you are trying to learn how to print sublimation transfers, sublimation ink is the key to achieving vivid and durable colors in your designs. It’s essential to choose sublimation ink that matches your printer model for optimal results. Unlike regular inkjet printers that use liquid ink, sublimation printers employ ink vapors to saturate the paper, making them ideal for graphic printing on materials like plastic.

Sublimation Transfer Papers

Sublimation transfer papers play a pivotal role in the printing process. Your carefully crafted design is transferred onto these unique papers using sublimation ink. Look for high-quality sublimation transfer papers with a high transfer rate.

The Heat Press Machine

A heat press machine is an indispensable tool for sublimation printing. It enables the transfer process by subjecting the material and sublimation paper to high temperatures, typically ranging from 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat press ensures that the design bonds seamlessly with the chosen substrate.

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Selecting the Right Sublimation Blank

Each sublimation blank requires specific time and temperature settings in the heat press. Generally, a temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressing time of 60 seconds work for most blanks. However, always refer to the specific instructions provided for your materials to ensure optimal results.

Additional Materials for a Smooth Sublimation Process

These items include Teflon Sheets, Thermal Tape, Silicone Rubber Pad, Transfer Gloves, Scissors or Cutter, Lint Roller, and Ruler or Measuring Tape. These supplementary materials are essential for a seamless and successful sublimation printing experience, allowing you to achieve professional results on a variety of substrates.

How to Print Sublimation Images at Home: Step-by-Step Guide 

Sublimation printing at home can be a creative and rewarding endeavor. Follow these steps to learn how to print sublimation transfers and achieve vibrant and lasting results.

Design and Preparation

Select the Correct Printer: Ensure that you have the right printer selected and that it’s powered on and connected to your network.

Printer Settings: Choose the appropriate paper size. Opt for paper type “Premium Presentation Matte” or a similar option. Uncheck high-speed or bidirectional printing settings. Consider using Print Preview to visualize the final print.

Mirror the Design

Before printing, mirror your design, especially if it contains text. This ensures that when you transfer the image onto your substrate, it will appear in the correct orientation.

Refine the Edges

Trim the excess white space surrounding your design using scissors. This step enhances the placement of the design on the material and prevents ink from spreading onto unrefined edges.

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Printing Process

Print the Design: Your sublimation printer will imprint the mirrored design onto a special high-release paper designed for sublimation.

Sublimation Transfer

  • Prepare Your Heat Press: Using a machine for heating and pressing is essential. Make sure your heat press is preheated and ready.
  • Place the Sublimation Paper: Position the sublimation paper, image side down, onto the item you intend to press. Secure it in place with heat-resistant tape to prevent shifting during the transfer process.
  • Cover with Butcher Paper: To prevent ink blowout and protect the top plate of your press and sublimation picture, cover the transfer with a sheet of butcher paper.
  • Set Temperature and Time: The specific temperature and pressing time will vary depending on the material or garment you are printing on (polyester, poly-cotton blend, canvas, ceramic, etc.). Refer to manufacturer instructions or do a test print to determine the optimal settings.
  • Press Your Item: Carefully lower the heat press onto your item, ensuring even pressure. Start the timer according to your chosen settings.

Cooling and Removal

After pressing, allow the item to cool for a brief period, making sure it’s comfortable to touch. Remove the transfer paper slowly to avoid smearing the design.

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Additional Tips and Tricks on How to Print a Sublimation Design

  • Colors may appear dull on the paper but will become vibrant once heat-pressed.
  • Conduct a test print with your regular home printer to save ink and fine-tune sizing.
  • Adjust temperature and pressing time if colors appear dull or irregular.
  • Use a silicone rubber mat for flat surfaces when sublimating.
  • Protect your workspace with heat-resistant tape and kraft paper.
  • Prevent “ghosting prints” by securing the sublimation sheet with thermal tape.
  • Pay close attention to the time and temperature settings for different materials.