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How do sublimation printers work?

Sublimation Printer

Sublimation printing is a printing process for transferring motifs to a variety of materials, for example T-shirts or ceramic mugs, using a carrier material. For this purpose, special sublimation printers and sublimation inks are used.

How does the sublimation printing process work

The term sublimation refers to the physical process in which solids pass directly into the gas phase without having been liquid in between. This process plays an important role in the transfer of the desired motif. A transfer foil or paper is first printed mirror-inverted, placed on the desired material and briefly heated up to 230 ° C (30 to 60 seconds) with the aid of a thermal transfer press. At this temperature the dyes sublimate and can easily penetrate and adhere to fibres in their gaseous state. Since the inks are in the fabric after successful transfer and are not just glued on, no residues can be felt – the motif is smooth and has a long durability.

Sublimationsdrucker mit Tintenpatronen und bedruckbaren Materialien

Which printers are suitable as sublimation printers?

Printers suitable for sublimation printing usually work with water-insoluble disperse dyes (i.e. viscous dyes). These are often also called sublimation printers or “subli” printers. Due to the consistency and temperature sensitivity of the ink, special sublimation printers are required. Regular inkjet printers can only be used with special water-based inks. However, changing between normal and special inks is not recommended due to contamination of the print heads and tubes with residues.

Which materials can be printed with sublimation?

The ideal carrier material is polyester, i.e. fabric made of plastic fibres. For optimum printing with sublimation printers, the polyester content should be at least 80%. If other materials such as cotton shirts, ceramic mugs or metal plates are used, they must be coated with polyester – as the paint cannot penetrate sufficiently into these materials, the motif would be short-lived and natural materials such as cotton could burn at high temperatures. Polyester, on the other hand, begins to melt at high temperatures, opening pores in the fabric into which the dye gas enters.  The ideal background colour is white or light. Dyed polyester textiles can only be printed in black.

What applications are there for sublimation printers?

There are almost no limits to the application as long as the material is made of polyester or has been coated with it. T-shirts and workwear can be printed with club logos or company names; lanyards, pillows and towels can be personalised as gifts or for guests; as well as signs, mugs, mobile phone sleeves or even a snowboard.

Advantages of sublimation printers

Thanks to sublimation printing, each motif can be printed simply, flexibly and relatively inexpensively and transferred to various materials, including complex photographic motifs, for example. No post-treatment or waiting time is necessary after transmission, the motif is immediately finished.
The fact that the paint is completely in the fabric of the carrier material and is not only applied results in a multitude of advantages: On the one hand, no applied paint can be felt, nor can they simply be rubbed off or brittle. Nevertheless, the colours are intense and hardly fade, so they can easily be washed or rinsed without losing their brilliance. They are particularly resistant to UV radiation and harmful environmental influences and are therefore also suitable for outdoor use, for example the printing of flags. Furthermore, the colour does not close the textile, properties such as breathability are retained – ideal for sportswear such as club jerseys.
In addition, this process is particularly environmentally friendly, as no binding agents or solvents are required.

Disadvantages of sublimation technology

Sublimation printing requires special printers (sublimation printers) and sublimation ink, thus higher costs than many other processes, and the printers also work slowly. Materials other than polyester can only be used to a limited extent if they can be coated, which is not always possible. White colour cannot be printed either, so a white background is necessary if the motif is to contain white or light colours. In addition, a slight shrinkage of 1 – 4 % must be taken into account for sublimation in designs.


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