sublimation printer

How do sublimation printers work?

Sublimation printing is a printing process for transferring designs using a carrier material onto a variety of polyesterbased materials, for example onto polyester T-shirts or polyester coated ceramic mugs. Special sublimation printers and sublimation inks are used for this purpose.

How the sublimation printing process works / How does the sublimation printing process work

The term sublimation describes a physical process in which solids pass directly into the gas phase without becoming liquid in between. This process plays an important role in the transfer of the desired motif. A transfer foil or transfer paper is first printed mirror-inverted, then placed on the desired material and heated up to 230 °C for 30 to 60 seconds by means of a thermal transfer press. At this temperature, the dyes sublimate and can easily penetrate and adhere to the fibers in their gaseous state. Since the colors are in the fabric after successful transfer and not just glued on, you won’t feel any residue – the motif is smooth and of long durability.

sublimation printer
Sublimation printer with ink cartridges and printable materials

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.

Sublimation blanks

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 referred to as sublimation printers or, more colloquially, subli printers. You need these special devices because of the consistency and temperature sensitivity of the ink. Regular inkjet printers can only be used with water-based special inks. Switching between regular and special ink is, however, not recommended because the print heads and hoses can become contaminated by ink residues.

What materials can be printed with sublimation?

The ideal substrate is polyester, i.e. fabric made of synthetic fibers. For optimum printing with sublimation printers, the polyester content should be at least 80 percent. If you use other products such as cotton shirts, ceramic cups or metal plates, you must coat them with polyester. As the ink cannot penetrate these materials sufficiently, the motif would only last a short time. In addition, natural materials such as cotton can burn at high temperatures. Polyester, on the other hand, begins to melt when exposed to heat and opens pores in the fabric into which the dye gas penetrates. The ideal background color is white or light. Dyed polyester textiles can only be printed with black.

What are the possible areas of application for sublimation printers?

There are almost no limits to the application as long as the material is made of or coated with polyester. T-shirts and workwear, for example, can be printed with a club logo or the company name; lanyards, pillows and towels can be customized as gifts or for guests; also signs, mugs, cell phone covers or even snowboards can be personalized.

Printed items as advertising material

On the one hand, sublimation printing is an excellent way to embellish T-shirts with a desired motif for private purposes. On the other hand, printed textiles are also suitable as an extremely effective advertising medium. T-shirts offer a large area for company logos and sponsors, which provides high visibility. After all, an imprinted garment catches the eye much faster than a key fob or a ballpoint pen. At the same time, textiles can reach many people because, unlike billboards, people are mobile and come into contact with many people. If you also reach for high-quality fabrics, the T-shirt will be worn frequently and offers the recipient real added value.

Advantages of sublimation printers

With sublimation printing, any motif can easily, flexibly, and relatively cheaply be printed and transferred onto various materials, including complex photo motifs, for example. Sublimation printing is also characterized by its high precision, which enables the printing of detailed designs. In doing so, you can do without after-treatments or long waiting times after the transfer: The motif is ready immediately.

The fact that the ink is completely contained in the fabric of the substrate and not just applied to it, results in a number of advantages: For one thing, you don’t feel any of the applied color, which can simply be rubbed off or become brittle. Nevertheless, the colors are intense and hardly fade. So, you can easily wash or rinse them without losing the color brilliance. They are also resistant to UV radiation and harmful environmental influences. This makes sublimation printing also suitable for outdoor use – for example, for printing on flags. Furthermore, the ink does not seal the textile: features such as breathability are retained – ideal for sportswear and club jerseys. Sublimation printing is also a particularly environmentally friendly process, as no binding agents or solvents are required.

Disadvantages of the sublimation technology

For sublimation printing you need special printers and sublimation inks. As a result, the initial costs are higher compared to some other methods. In addition, the printers work slowly.

Materials other than polyester can only be used to a limited extent. They must be able to be coated, which is not always the case. Also, white color cannot be printed. If the motif is supposed to contain white or light colors, you need a white background. In addition, you must take into account a slight shrinkage of 1 to 4 percent in designs with sublimation.


Alternatives: transfer foils vs. sublimation printing

As an alternative to sublimation printing, printing with white toner or white toner printers can be used. With toner transfer, you transfer the motifs to a transfer foil (A-foil) and then join it to a so-called B-paper on a transfer press. The B-paper contains a heat-activated adhesive that combines with the print on the A-foil. After separating the A-foil and B-paper, the design can be transferred to any textile. Unlike sublimation, the choice of material doesn’t matter here. A wide variety of textiles can be printed, such as cotton, polyester, mixed fabrics, felt, or other materials like silk, wood, or cardboard. Thanks to white toner, it is also possible to print on dark and colored substrates.

Another way to give T-shirts your own motif is to use transfer foils. For this you only need a standard inkjet or laser printer. The motif is first printed on the foil and can then be transferred to the T-shirt with an iron. This is a particularly easy and inexpensive method, but it does have its drawbacks. With sublimation printing, you get much sharper results and high color fidelity. Also, the durability is not on the same level, because the print can tear, peel or fade.

What is needed for sublimation printing?

Although large printing machines are used for industrial sublimation printing, you can also do the process yourself on a smaller scale. All you need to make your own short-run printed products are the following components and materials:

Realize your ideas with a sublimation printer

Modern designs in the advertising or creative sector can be applied to a wide variety of substrates. In addition to paper, cardboard and many other materials, it is increasingly clothing or bags that serve as the perfect basis for your individual motifs. Modern designs in the advertising or creative sector can be applied to a wide variety of substrates. In addition to paper, cardboard and many other materials, it is increasingly clothing or bags that serve as the perfect basis for your individual motif. In our selection, we have the suitable printers and the necessary printer accessories to equip hobby artists, tradesmen and even agencies. This way, you can implement all your plans cleanly, professionally and quickly.

For printing on clothing and more, sublimation printers are needed, which achieve excellent results on polyester fiber materials known today mainly under the abbreviation PES. Here you can find out more about the possibilities and how the printing process works.

How does printing with a sublimation printer work?

What does it mean to sublimate something? In a chemical context, sublimation means a rapid transformation of a gaseous substance into the solid state or vice versa. In conventional printing with an inkjet printer, in addition to the cartridges, cost-intensive sublimation paper is also used. This is different with our products for producing motifs for sublimation. Here you can do without special paper and work with conventional copy paper instead.

In addition, you need a transfer press to perform the evaporation process at up to 230 °C. In this way, polyester fiber fabrics of classic T-shirts, pants or sweaters, but also microfibers and other materials, accept the color and lock it in firmly.

What do I have to consider and what are the advantages of sublimation printing?

Using the right material plays a major role in the success of the printing result: We recommend polyester fabrics (PES) or textiles with at least 80 percent polyester content. Also important is the color of the material to be printed on. Desired motifs, logos and images can be implemented much better on light-colored bases. These limitations, however, have produced a huge range of sublimation-friendly blanks over time. They range from cell phone cases and key chains to mugs and medals. Your choices are enormous!

But that’s not all: sublimation printing also has the advantage of being cheap and fast. This means that quite large quantities can be produced in a short time. Promotional objects, small gifts and much more can be produced either for stock or especially for a trade fair or your store. With a sublimation printer, very delicate images and photos are also transferred sharply and cleanly in an excellent manner.

Sublimation printers, toner & Co. from Ghost

At Ghost we offer you Sublime Toner which you can use in certain laser printers. Sublime toner does not require transfer paper but can be printed directly onto plain copy paper and then transferred. This way you save the cost of sublimation paper for every print.

We offer you the necessary toners for laser printers for your printing projects. The color selection corresponds to the common cartridges and toners in black, magenta, yellow and cyan, which allow you to use the entire range of colors and transfer them to the respective object.

It should be noted that color deviations may occur with the Sublime toner, since color management using an ICC profile is not used.

In addition, we also offer White toner, which you can use to print your designs on colored, black or even transparent materials. Are you looking for something really special? Then take a look at our Neon toners, which make your prints glow brightly in the dark.

If you want to get started right away, it’s best to take advantage of our affordable printer bundles. They include everything you need to put your creative ideas into practice. In addition to the suitable printers from top brands, you’ll also receive a Sublime toner set with all the corresponding colors and instructions

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