The Beginner's Guide to Sublimation Printing

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Sublimation printing is a great way to create transfer T-shirts or hats, print personalised mugs, or print out good quality family photos. Using a sublimation printer, where ink heats up and turns into a gas, anyone is now able to print images onto a range of materials. When considering using a sublimation printer, it pays to have an understanding of what sublimation printing is, how it works, the different applications it is usable on, the different inks available, and various printer speeds.


An Explanation of Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing is the process of using extreme heat to transfer dye onto various materials. The dye goes through a process of sublimation, meaning it turns from a solid state into gas without turning into a liquid. It is a very neat way of printing as it does not use any liquid ink.


How Sublimation Printing Works

The most common process of sublimation printing layers one colour at a time. Using tiny but powerful heating elements, the colour layers stored on polyester ribbons heat up and transfer different amounts of colour, depending on how hot the element gets. This heat transforms the dye into gas, which then diffuses onto the chosen material. Once one colour is complete, the printer then moves on to process the next colour.


Sublimation Printing Uses

Sublimation printing is useful for printing on various materials like fabric, ceramic, plastic, card, or paper. With the availability of less expensive sublimation printers this type of printing is becoming more popular at home. Many choose to print their digital photos at home on a sublimation printer, and dye sublimation is a great way to create unique patterned textiles, such as transfer T-shirts. Another reason for dye sublimation is to transfer images, photos, or patterns on ceramic, like mugs or puzzles.


Sublimation Printing Inks

Two types of sublimation printing inks are available. The first, and most commonly used, is aqueous dye ink. Both desktop and large format printers use this type of ink. It is also becoming more popular with textile printing using digital inkjet printers. The second, and less common type of ink, is solvent dye sublimation ink. Wide format printers use solvent dye ink.


Sublimation Printer Speed

Sublimation printers range in the speed at which they print. With the need to heat up the element heads and then cool them down, printer speed varies from 45 to 90 seconds for a 6x4 inch photo on a home-use sublimation printer, while a professional printer prints the same sized photo in around 6 to 7 seconds. Despite how long it takes to print with sublimation ink, the finished product is dry as soon as it comes out of the printer.

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