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Sublimation Tutorial

Thank you for visiting Heat Press Nation, let’s talk about sublimation! Customizing and personalizing products such as mugs, cell phone cases, tiles, trophies and apparel has quickly become a popular and profitable industry. Sublimation is an easy and cost effective way to add product personalization as part of your business.  

If you’ve never heard of sublimation, let's define the sublimation process. The technical definition of sublimation is the change of a solid particle directly into a gaseous state. In the case of dye sublimation, the specially designed sublimation ink by Sawgrass Technologies will turn from the solid form of a digitally printed image and when applied heat and pressure for a set amount of time with a heat press, will turn into gas state, allowing the ink to penetrate the pores of the ceramic, metal, glass or polyester substrate that you are transferring onto. Once the sublimation ink has penetrated into the pores of the substrate, it will then solidify to create a permanent image onto your promotional gift or apparel product. This is different from a standard inkjet ink or laser toner, in that these standard printer ink and toner technologies do not have the ability to go into a gas state and is restricted to a solid or liquid form only. The technology of dye sublimation sounds complicated but the process itself is actually quite simple. In order to get started you’ll need the following items: a designated sublimation printer, Sawgrass sublimation ink, sublimation paper, sublimation blanks and a heat press appropriate for the sublimation blank you are working with. You can learn more about heat presses in our Heat Press 101 Tutorial.

Sublimation Printers

First, let's talk about sublimation printers. A sublimation printer is essentially a standard inkjet printer. However, rather than installing standard inkjet ink cartridges into the printer, sublimation ink cartridges are installed instead. Also, for most printers, rather than using the standard printer manufacturer's driver software when installing the printer to your computer, you would install the specially engineered Sawgrass Power driver software to your computer. This will ensure proper color management, proper printer pix-elation density and overall excellent prints. One very important thing to take note of is that once a printer is utilized for sublimation, it can no longer be used for regular inkjet printing.

Now, let's talk about the factors that you should consider when choosing the right sublimation printer solution for you.


The first factor you should consider is maintenance requirements. We recommend sublimation printers be printed at least once a week to keep the inks flowing within the printer ink path and to prevent drying of the print heads. If you experience printer head dry out, however, it is often an easy fix with a quick print head cleaning and flush cycle. Heat Press Nation recommends the Ricoh brand sublimation printer solutions for a more reliable sublimation printing experience. Ricoh brand printers are often considered more maintenance free because of their gel based ink systems, as opposed to the water based solutions of Epson based sublimation printers. Ricoh printers also utilize larger print head to accommodate the gel based inks resulting in a solution that is less susceptible to drying out.

Print Size Requirements

The next factor to consider is the print size that you will need your sublimation printer to print. Sublimation printers are available in desktop solutions to print in sizes 8.5"x11, 8.5"x14, 11"x17" and 13"x19. Large format sublimation printers print in sublimation paper roll formats and are able to print in roll widths of 24", 36", 42", 44", 64" and 104". To determine the size of sublimation print that you will need, you will want to consider the size of the sublimation blank that you will be transferring onto, the size of image you intend of transferring onto the sublimation blank, as well as the size of heat press. If you intend on sublimating onto mugs for example, a standard 8.5"x11" size is perfectly suitable for this application. Finally, look at each printer's specification to determine of the printer with the size capability you are looking for.

If your sublimation prints call for larger format prints beyond the standard 8.5"x11" and 8.5"x14" size, Heat Press Nation recommends exploring the Epson based sublimation printing solutions. Epson brand printer solutions are popular for the excellent value that they provide, especially for larger format printing. 

Printing Volume

Aside from considering maintenance requirements and size requirements of your sublimation printer solution, we encourage you to explore your print volume requirements as well. Some printer models are able to accommodate ink cartridges only while others are able to accommodate cartridges as well as bulk ink systems. Sawgrass’s bulk ink system features their Quick Connect Kit which is an external feed system that is hooked up adjacent to your printer. Inside the Quick Connect Kit are bulk bags which contain 110 ml of sublimation ink in each bag that feeds into the printer on demand. Just as with most product purchased in bulk, the cost per milliliter of ink is significantly less when compared to per milliliter cost in cartridge form. If you run a high volume sublimation business you may want to consider the bulk ink system with bulk ink bags for extended, uninterrupted printing and lower per image cost. If you’re looking for easy set up or are running a low volume or seasonal sublimation business than the cartridge system might be a better fit for you.

Sublimation Blanks

Now that we've talked about the sublimation printer and ink solutions, let's talk about the various sublimation blanks that you have available to you. At, we sell a wide variety of sublimation blanks.

Sublimation blanks are available as ceramic, metal, glass and heat resistant plastic promotional products that are specially coated in polymer coating. The reason for this is that when put under high temperatures, pores in the polymer open and allow the ink to enter when it is in its gaseous state. Examples of sublimation blanks are mugs, glassware, phone cases, plates, cutting boards, license plates, coasters, tiles and puzzles. Sublimation is also popularly used on 100% polyester fabric items. Examples of this are polyester t-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, polyester top mouse pads, bags and cases. Please visit the sublimation blanks section of our website for a full list of sublimation blanks available to you.

Sublimation Supplies

Now let’s discuss sublimation supplies. The first item you will need is sublimation paper. We carry the TexPrint brand of sublimation papers. TexPrint sublimation paper is the world's largest selling desktop paper. It is high quality paper that offers premium definition and color fidelity as well as very high color transfer efficiency. There are two lines of TexPrint that we carry: TextPrintXPHR and TextPrintR. TextPrintXPHR is compatible with water based inks such as the inks used with the Epson brand printers whereas TexPrintR is engineered specifically for gel based Ricoh printers. The excellent dimensional stability at high speeds with heavy ink loads of the TexPrintR makes it the perfect choice for sublimation use with a Ricoh printers.

The next item that you will need is either sublimation tape or a spray-on adhesive for sublimation. Sublimation tape is a specially formulated tape that will not melt or leave residue when heat is applied to it. This is especially suitable for hard substrates like ceramic, metal, and plastic sublimation products. The spray on adhesive on the other hand is more suitable for your soft substrates such as polyester fabrics. The spray on adhesive may or may not be needed. However, if you find that your fabric substrates are experiencing ghosting or blurriness caused by movement of the sublimation paper on the substrate, the spray on adhesive will help to fix that issue. For your fabric substrates, we also recommend parchment paper.  Parchment paper is used above and below your substrate to protect against staining of the heat press for sublimation requirement edge to edge printing.

There is a lot to think about when it comes to the sublimation process, and we would love to help you in making sublimation printing a sustainable and profitable part of your business. If you have any questions regarding the sublimation process or heat transferring in general, please call our experts at 1-800-215-0894. Thanks for joining us today.

Have a question? Call 800.215.0894