Can You Sublimate on Acrylic? The Must-Know Steps!

Sublimation is probably the most popular way to print on many surfaces, as it produces a high-quality print that lasts long. However, can you sublimate on acrylic?

You can sublimate on acrylic because of its polymer-based material. However, not all acrylics can handle high temperatures, so you must select cast rather than extruded acrylics.

This article will discuss in more detail whether you can sublimate on an acrylic surface. We also discuss how to sublimate on acrylic if you wish to try. So keep reading till the end to learn more!

Can You Sublimate On Acrylic?

In short, you can sublimate on acrylic because it is a polymer-based material. For a successful print, you must select the correct acrylic. Only cast acrylic can withstand the heat needed to perform sublimation. You might want to consider layers to help your design to stand out.

Unlike glass, wood, or metal, acrylic has a polymer base similar to polyester. This means you can sublimate on acrylic, and ink can bond with its surface.

However, since sublimation involves high heat, be careful to select the suitable acrylic for the task.

Did you know that the ability to sublimate isn’t just limited to acrylic? You can also sublimate on plastic! The process is quite similar, but be sure to check the specifics because not all plastics are created equal when it comes to heat resistance.

Now, you will see two types of acrylics: cast and extruded.

Cast acrylic is a lot more heat resistant and will only become soft and malleable after being exposed to the high heat from the heat press.

Extruded acrylics, however, will simply melt and then weld themselves to the sublimation paper and heat press, resulting in a mess that may be cumbersome to clean.

Pro-Tip: Often, acrylic surfaces are transparent. As a result, sublimated designs may not appear clear and sharp unless a specific layer backing is added to them. Printers often rely on glaze coatings to get the job done.

Clear Acrylic

What Do You Need To Sublimate On Acrylic?

To sublimate on acrylic, prepare the following:

  • Acrylic blanks
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Sublimation printer
  • Sublimation paper
  • Glaze coating
  • Painters tape
  • Heat press
  • Parchment or butcher paper
  • Heat resistant gloves
  • Heat resistant tape

Definitions of Each Needed Item

Acrylic Blanks

Suppliers offer these product blanks with acrylic surfaces that you can sublimate on. Be sure you choose cast acrylic blanks rather than extruded.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol ensures a clean acrylic surface sublimation. Some sublimation blanks come with a plastic covering that you peel off, which means the acrylic surface is already clean. In that case, you can choose not to clean them with isopropyl alcohol.

Sublimation Printer

You need a sublimation printer to print out your design. Hobbyists usually opt to convert an inkjet printer with an external ink tank, such as Epson EcoTank ET-2720, to a sublimation printer.

You may also consider using a laser printer or purchasing a dedicated sublimation printer if you are looking at sublimating on a much larger scale.

Before diving in, make sure you have the right ink for your sublimation project. The ink used for sublimation is different from your standard inkjet ink, so getting the right type is crucial for a quality print.

Sublimation Paper

Sublimation paper, different from regular copy paper, performs a specific function. It holds on to the design after the printer prints it out and is resistant to the heat from the heat press.

With the help of heat and pressure, the design will then be transferred or sublimated onto the substrate (print surface).

Speaking of sublimation paper, you might be wondering what kind to buy. There are many options, but some are clearly better than others. Check out our guide on the best sublimation papers to make an informed choice.

Glaze Coating

Glaze coating helps increase the clarity and sharpness of the sublimated design on the acrylic. You spray it on the acrylic after the designs have been sublimated to it. We recommend SubliMate’s White Base Coating.

Painter’s Tape

Before spraying glaze coating, you use painter’s tape to tape up the edges of your acrylic blank. This keeps the edges free from the coating, which may distort the final look of the design.

For the Heat Press Steps

Heat Press

You can use a heat press to apply even heat and pressure to the substrate, allowing the sublimation ink to turn into gas, escape the sublimation paper, and blend with the polyester on the substrate.

Commonly, presses have a flat press plate, although you can get a heat press with a rounded surface. People are able to press on rounded surfaces like cups, wine glasses, tumblers, etc.

Parchment/Butcher Paper

Parchment and butcher paper serves as a layer between the heat press, substrate, and sublimation paper. It prevents heat from being applied directly to the substrate and sublimation paper.

Heat Resistant Tapes

The heat-resistant tape helps the sublimation paper to be taped onto the substrate, keeping it still. A still sublimation paper and substrate ensure high-quality, sharp results.

Heat Resistant Gloves

Heat-resistant gloves help you touch and handle the acrylic pieces, as they may get really hot after being in contact with the heat press.

Heat Resistant Gloves for Acrylic Sublimation

How To Sublimate On Acrylic?

The process of sublimation on acrylic involves preparing the acrylic surface, sublimating designs on the acrylic, and then applying glaze coating.

  1. Prepare the surface for sublimation coating. Pour some isopropyl alcohol on the cloth, and wipe down the acrylic blank. This cleans it from dust, dirt, and oil, which may hamper the hardening/curing process.
  2. If your acrylic blanks come with protective plastic stickers, simply remove the sticker. You may skip the cleaning process with isopropyl alcohol.
  3. Apply sublimation coating on the acrylic. Depending on your coating type, you may apply the coating through spraying or using a brush.
  4. Print out your design on a piece of sublimation paper. (Wondering what type of files work best for sublimation designs? You can use SVG files for sublimation. SVG files can be great for complex designs and are easy to resize without losing quality.)
  5. Attach the design to the acrylic blank and secure it with heat-resistant tape. Regular tape may melt when coming into contact with a heat press, so avoid using those.
  6. Preheat your heat press to 365F° (185C°).  
  7. Place a layer of parchment or butcher paper on the bottom plate of the heat press.
  8. Place the acrylic blank with the sublimation paper on top.
  9. Place another layer of parchment or butcher paper on top. This prevents the heat from being applied too directly to the acrylic and sublimation paper, which may affect the print result.
  10. Now, press on your plate. Allow up to 100 seconds for the sublimation process to happen completely.

Finishing the Process

  1. While waiting for the pressing process to complete, put on your heat-resistant gloves.
  2. Remove the heat press, and remove the acrylic from the press. Beware that the acrylic blank may be very hot at this time.
  3. Place the acrylic blank into a pan of room-temperature water with the sublimation paper still on. This cools down the acrylic blanks, allowing you to handle it better.
  4. Remove the sublimation paper and the heat-resistant tape. At this time, you should see a properly sublimated design. Still, since sublimated designs are usually translucent and acrylic is transparent, the designs may not look sharp and clear.
  5. With painter’s tape, tape up the edges of the acrylic blank. Lay the blank with the sublimated side up.
  6. Take your can of glaze coatings and shake for up to 1 minute. From a distance of around 1 foot (30CM), spray a layer of the coating from top to bottom.
  7. You should see the sublimated image being covered by a white coating. Do not worry, as the white coating will go away as it dries.
  8. Wait for a minute before applying a second coat. This time, spray a layer from left to right.
  9. After a few minutes, you should notice the white coating disappears, and the design becomes more evident and sharp. The colors are more vibrant as well.
  10. Done. Be amazed at your handiwork!

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