What is Sublimation Printing and How Does it Work?

What is Sublimation Printing and How Does it Work?

What is Sublimation Printing and How Does it Work?

Have you ever heard of sublimation printing? It may sound like some complicated printing done in big establishments, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Sublimation printing is so popular that the cup you are using right now is most likely printed using this method. It’s also possible that the same process printed your favorite t-shirt.

Sublimation isn't complicated as the name suggests.  It’s easy to learn and understand. And it’s loved by many as it gives quality and durable prints. Here’s a short guide on sublimation printing and how it works.

What is Sublimation Printing?

First, let’s try and understand the meaning of the word sublimation. Sublimation is a chemical process that turns a solid into a gas bypassing the liquid stage. A good example is when ice cubes in the freezer are exposed to air changing into air-seen as fog without turning into water.

Sublimation printing, as explained above, follows a similar process. The heat helps transfer an image from a sublimation paper to a printing material by changing it from solid to air then to solid when it cools down. The process is permanent and irreversible, and the print work becomes part of the printed material.

How Does the Sublimation Process Work?

Just like any printing process, sublimation starts with the design stage. Coming up with a good design is crucial since the chosen image on the computer is the one that will reflect on the final print. 

The design is then printed on a heat transfer paper, also known as a sublimation paper. This paper is explicitly used for the transfer of the image when exposed to heat. A sublimation paper uses CMYO colors. Hence, the printer used must also accommodate the same. Luckily, most of the modern printers can alternate between the CYMK and CMYO colors.

After printing the image, the next process entails the heat transfer of the artwork to the final material. In this case, the material used must support sublimation printing. Polyester and polyester-coated materials are typically used in the process because they produce permanent prints. Other materials such as cotton are also an option, although the print won’t be permanent.

The heat transfer process requires a heat source. Depending on the material, there are different heat source options used. These include a heat transfer machine, flat bend machine, cups sublimation machines among others. A specific amount of heat must be used to produce a quality image, and the image must be allowed to cool off to guarantee durability.

Is Sublimation Better Than Other Printing Methods?

Sublimation printing offers a wide range of merits that gives it an edge over other printing options.

First, it guarantees durability when done on polyester and polyester-coated materials. Most printing options don’t preserve quality when exposed to stresses such as weather and constant washing. With sublimation, the print becomes part of the material, and only the wear and tear of the surface affects the quality.

Sublimation also preserves the quality of the image, as seen in the design. The issue of difference in color shades as experienced in screen printing doesn’t arise. 

Besides, sublimation cost is not affected by the number of colors in an image. Multiple colors and single color pricing remain the same. Thus, it’s cheaper to print colored images when compared to other printing options. 

Similarly, sublimation printing is also ideal when printing a small number of products. The mode of printing allows for cheap costing when doing one or two products. It’s therefore popular when printing personal materials such as fabrics and ceramics. It not only works for commercial printing but individual décor as well.

The sublimation process is painless to learn, allowing for quick learning and implementation. With the necessary equipment and a few tutorial videos, you can start offering sublimation printing services. Similarly, the production time for a sublimation print is relatively low compared to screen printing.

Sublimation Printing Does Have a Few Shortcomings Though

Sublimation, like other printing methods, has its disadvantages:

  • For starters, it’s limited to polyester and polyester-coated material, which limits the options available in terms of media. 
  • The limitation in terms of material color is also an issue. Sublimation printing does well only on white or light-colored materials as dark materials tend to reduce the image quality.
  • The process itself is in two sections — sublimation paper printing and heat transfer. Thus, it may take longer to do sublimation than direct printing.
  • Finally, the investment required to start the business is high, considering the need to buy a printer and a heat transfer machine.

Apart from the concerns raised above, sublimation is a good printing option. It ticks all the crucial boxes in terms of quality and durability. The process helps save money and assures quality. If you want your designs to stand out, go for sublimation printing.

Share this article

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

terms and condition.
  • Danni Watson

    Any paper you recommend for the UK?

  • Jordan Edwards

    Great info and thanks for the explanation

  • Kevin Murray

    Simple and straight forward but important bits, thanks!

Share this article

Luke Fitzpatrick

Tech Expert

Luke Fitzpatrick has been published in Forbes, Yahoo! News and Influencive. He is also a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney, lecturing in Cross-Cultural Management and the Pre-MBA Program. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

Cookies user prefences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics