If you are looking to design t-shirts as a business you may be considering a sublimation printer. Where most printers will print on to the fabric, a sublimation printer is slightly different.
- Most printers print on to the surface of the fabric. This works well and the print is sealed so that, in most cases, it doesn’t ‘bleed’ in to the fabric.
- Sublimation printers force the ink into the fabric. This means that when the fabric moves, the design moves with it and it creates a clearer image.
Sublimation printers generally cost more than other printers but if you make your t-shirts to sell, then they could give you the edge over your competitors.
There are many sublimation printers available and we’ve reviewed our 5 favorites!
HeatPressHangout’s Top 5 Recommendations
The Epson Stylus C88+ Inkjet Printer Color 5760 is an excellent printer which allows you to print on to any type of paper.
It comes with ArcSoft PhotoImpression included for editing images and photographs, which is easy to use even for those new to designing. The printer also includes its own scanning software so you can load up your own images prior to editing.
It produces vibrant colors through its DURABrite pigment ink so your t-shirts will really stand out.
It is compatible with both Windows and Apple systems and comes with a one year manufacturer’s warranty.
The Sawgrass Virtuoso SG400 sublimation printer comes as a bundle with 110 sheets of sublimation paper and a set of HD inks.
Included in the bundle is CreativeStudio design software which also has over 20,000 images ready for you to use. The software helps you to create stunning designs quickly and easily and as you get free Cloud storage, you can access these on any device no matter where you are.
Sawgrass use their own brand of sublimation inks, called SubliJet, which help you create using perfect colors every time.
The printer is compatible with both Windows and Apple systems and it comes with a 1 year manufacturer’s warranty.
Another good sublimation printer is the DNP Event Photo Printer DS-RX1HS. It doesn’t include any inks or software but it does produce perfect images every time.
The high resolution mode creates the best detail on every image, and it allows you to print on several different sizes of paper. It’s also faster than other printers too so it saves you time.
The Datacard Group SD260 Dye Sublimation/Thermal Transfer Printer gives you perfect results whether you’re working with a full color image or a black and white one.
It does include software so you can edit your image, but it is basic and while you can create images, you may find you are limited with the features you can use.
This printer has been designed for small businesses so it is quick and compact but still produces high resolution images.
It is compatible with both Windows and Apple systems and comes with a manufacturer’s warranty.
Our last choice of printer is one for those who are serious about their t-shirt making business. The Digital Textile Printer MT-TA3 prints direct to your t-shirt. The price is a lot more than other sublimation printers, but it can save time and money for any t-shirt printing business.
With this printer you don’t need to print out your design and press it on. You simply send your image to the printer and load your t-shirt in to it. The printer then prints straight on to the fabric.
It will print on to cotton and polyester, as well as other fabrics, and makes t-shirt printing quick and simple.
There is a clothing printing template included to help you get started until you are used to creating your own stunning designs.
Normal inkjet printers will work for t-shirt printing and are a good way to get started. As soon as you’re serious about your business, it is worth investing in a sublimation printer to make sure your customers get outstanding results every time.
If you want to use sublimation printing, then you will need to make sure you are equipped with all the right materials.
Before we get into what else you need, here’s a great video from Debbie Does Design on the entire process – it’s really useful.
What else do you need?
You can use sublimation printers to make any of your projects, not just t-shirts. To do this you will need the following items.
If you try to use your normal inkjet inks in your sublimation printer you won’t get the right result. Sublimation inks include special heat reactive dyes which are designed to blend in with the fabric. Normal inkjet inks do not react the same way with heat so they will simply sit on top of the fabric.
Image editing software
To create your design you will need image editing software. Some printers will come with this included, or you can purchase your own. You can use any graphics software to make your design and will not need Vector images.
There are free programs available, but some of the popular ones are CorelDraw, Illustrator and PhotoShop. You will need software which offers good features to help you create the best graphic.
Sublimation transfer paper
Just as with your ink, you will need the right transfer paper to print on to. Sublimation transfer paper will transfer the dye right in to the fabric of the garment.
It manages to do this because the dye turns to gas when heated and when it cools it returns to a solid state. If you use the wrong transfer paper, this process will not complete properly.
When you’re ready you will need your t-shirts to print on. You will need to buy t-shirts with some polyester in them as sublimation inks will not work on 100% cotton.
The print with the best result always:
- Test your image first.
- Wash and dry your t-shirts thoroughly.
- Press them to remove any creases.
If you are printing a large quantity of t-shirts it can help to have a hanging rail where you can hang them to cool while you work on the next t-shirt.
If you want to hold your transfer in the right place when you transfer it, you will need tape to hold it in place. If you use the wrong sort of tape it will just melt in to your t-shirt.
You will need tape which can withstand high temperatures. If you’re not sure, ask the firm where you purchased your sublimation heat transfers and they should be able to tell you the best tape to buy.
To complete the process you will need heat, and the most effective way of doing this is with a heat press.
You don’t need any special type of heat press to use the sublimation process as long as you can set the right temperature and the right time.
Heat presses work by applying pressure and heat to the transfer paper and t-shirt and this transfers the image. The great thing about a heat press is that it uses even pressure all over the transfer paper and all you have to do is set the controls and start it.
You will need a heat press with a flat platen, such as a swing away or top opening heat press.
- A top opening or clamshell heat press has a hinge to open and close it. This works well with t-shirts.
- With swing away heat presses the top plate will swing away from the bottom. This gives you more room to lay out your t-shirt but you will also need slightly more room to operate the heat press.
Most transfer paper and heat presses will come with guides to help you set the right temperature and timing. It’s important to get these right or your image will not transfer correctly.
Operating your heat press is very simple and after the first few attempts you’ll soon gain confidence in working with such high temperatures.
To use your heat press:
- Turn it on to warm it up.
- Set the temperature using the controls.
- Set the timer.
- Place the t-shirt on the lower platen.
- Close the lid and wait.
Most heat presses will ‘beep’ to let you know the transfer is ready and you can then remove your t-shirt and print your next one.
It’s a good idea to test one first in case you need to make slight alterations to the timing.
If you’re a beginner, you can find your perfect heat press here.
Tips for sublimation printing
- You cannot print on to 100% cotton. You must use fabrics with contain polyester.
- If you’re printing a black image, you may find it does not transfer as true black. This is due to the amount of dye a t-shirt can absorb.
- Be careful if working with colored fabrics as the sublimation dye will be absorbed and may not come out the color you want it to.