Published: 22 Jun 2022

How Do Sublimation Printers Work?

Sublimation printers have gained popularity over the years. The answer to "what is a sublimation machine or the sublimation printer" definition is the key to opening this door of mystery.

There are many different printers, each with its use case and unique characteristics. But perhaps one of the most interesting wide-format printer types that you might not have heard of before is the sublimation ink printer.

If you’re unfamiliar with what this type of printer does or how it works, read on! We will cover what can you do with a sublimation printer and how it works—all so that you can make an informed purchase decision when it comes time to buy a new device.

A sublimation printer printing out quality artwork.
Specialized sublimation printers can print on various materials.

What Is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing is a two-step process in which heat and pressure transfer images from an ink ribbon to another surface. In the first step, an image is burned onto film.

So, how does sublimation printing work? A roll of film then goes into an inkjet-like cartridge and produces small dots of color that correspond with specific areas on your shirt, hat, or other apparel items. These dots are then transferred (sublimated) onto your chosen apparel item using heat.

The Pros

  • Durability – The sublimation process embeds dyes into a substrate, so it’s very difficult to scratch or fade away with time.
  • No color limitations – With sublimation, you can print on any color substrate, and there are no set limits on how many colors you can use in your design.
  • Vibrant colors – Because sublimated ink is infused into a material instead of just sitting on top of it, colors are brighter and more vivid.
  • Wide variety of printing materials – You can print on nearly anything compatible with a sublimation printer.

The Cons

  • Some inks are costly because they’re designed for sublimation printing, which is a specialized process that requires a lot of trial and error to get right.
  • Sublimation printing is a slow process—it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours for an image to develop, depending on how long you want it to last and what type of material you’re using.
  • The cost of sublimation printers is high, which makes them out of reach for many small businesses (although there are some ways around that).

What Is Sublimation Ink?

Now that you know what is a sublimation machine, let us focus on the ink it needs. Do you need special ink for sublimation? The answer is yes. Sublimation ink (also known as dye) is an advanced printing ink that can be used on almost any type of fabric. Sublimation inks come in two forms: dyes and pigments. It’s used to create permanent images and is particularly useful when you want a design that will survive multiple items of washing.

Sublimation ink works very differently from traditional ink. The ink transferred using sublimation doesn’t penetrate materials like inkjet or laser printer ink. Instead, it uses heat to vaporize color pigments into tiny gas particles quickly.

A display of ink sublimation printer ink bottles.
A sublimation printer uses special ink tanks and ink formulas.

Which Materials Can Be Printed with Sublimation?

The material you can print on depends on your printer; some printers are designed to print only on specific materials. For example, a white ink sublimation printer works best for fabric. This can be replaced with a white toner printer for sublimation.

The most popular materials that can be printed with sublimation include:

  • Fabric
  • Ceramic
  • Glass
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • Leather
  • Foam
  • Canvas
  • Fiberglass

What Printers Can Be Used for Sublimation?

There are two main types of printers that can be used for sublimation. The first is a solid ink printer, which uses ink sticks rather than cartridges to deliver ink to your pages.

These work best when you want colors to match and print frequently since their pigments are bound by wax rather than pigment. This means you won’t experience bleeding between colors as much as with a dye-based inkjet printer.

The second type of printer is an inkjet, which uses standard cartridges to deliver pigment-based inks. This makes it easy to change colors, and you can print on just about any kind of material with this machine.

While these printers work best for less frequent jobs, they also produce a high-quality sublimated product. You might wonder: can you use any ink for a sublimation printer, or do you need special ink for sublimation? The answer is while you might not need special ink, you need sublimation ink.

What Can You Do with Sublimation Printer?

  • Make custom t-shirts.
  • Create photo books.
  • Make regular signs.
  • Make business cards.
  • Put photos on mugs.
  • Print digital art on canvas.

We Have the Printing Equipment & Supplies You Need!

While a sublimation ink printer works differently than standard printers, there is a lot of overlap in how they function.

The biggest advantages of using sublimation printers are that they allow you to print on various materials and give you more freedom in design.

Now that you have the answer to “how does sublimation printing work”. And you know how to use a sublimation printer. You might want to consider adding sublimation to your business portfolio.

If that is the case, contact us today. We will set you up with some of the best sublimation printers available today.