sublimation on concrete

Can You Sublimate On Concrete? (A Detailed Guide!)

Concrete is starting to show up in many places previously unimagined, such as wash basins and even wristwatches. You may also explore using sublimation on concrete for custom-design printing. But can you sublimate on concrete?

You can sublimate on concrete using two methods: by using heat transfer vinyl and applying sublimation coating yourself before printing. Both methods have their own ups and downsides.

This article will discuss whether or not you can sublimate on concrete and, if you can, how to do it. This post will also describe in detail the two possible sublimation processes for concrete. We will also provide answers to other questions you may have about sublimating on concrete. Ready? Let’s dive in!

Can You Sublimate On Concrete?

Bare concrete is not sublimable as it contains no polymeric materials for the sublimation ink to bind with. Two solutions make concrete sublimable: sublimation coating and the vinyl transfer method, where you sublimate on concrete indirectly.

On its own, bare concrete is not sublimable. Because concrete contains no polymeric material, the ink can’t bond to anything.

Sublimation ink cannot successfully bind and attach itself to the concrete surface without it. However, you can still sublimate on concrete by providing bond-friendly layers for the ink.

If you’ve bought sublimation ink and are wondering if you can use it for regular printing tasks as well, you might find this article about using sublimation ink for regular printers super helpful.

You can either apply sublimation coating to the concrete before printing or print the design to a vinyl transfer sheet, which you heat transfer to the surface.

You can also do it indirectly by first sublimating your design to a vinyl transfer sheet and then heat transferring the vinyl to the concrete surface. Each sublimation technique will come with its strengths and weaknesses, and you may need to consider it carefully before deciding.

How To Sublimate On Concrete?

To sublimate to concrete, you have two options. One is applying sublimation coating yourself before sublimating. You can also sublimate your design to a vinyl transfer sheet before heat transferring the vinyl to the concrete surface.

The following guides assume you are sublimating to a thick one-inch (2.5CM) concrete slab.

Option 1: Using Vinyl Transfer Sheet

With this approach, you are basically sublimating indirectly to the concrete surface.

  • Your first design and print your design on a sublimation paper.
  • Then, print the design using sublimation inks to a vinyl transfer sheet.
  • Cut the unwanted background from the vinyl sheet before heat transferring the vinyl sheet onto the concrete.

What’s great about this approach is not worrying about how the concrete’s color may affect the sublimation result. This is because the vinyl transfer sheet is usually white, meaning your sublimated design will always have a white background behind and around it.

You also save yourself the hassle of having to apply and cure the sublimation coating, which can be a messy process.

Not applying sublimation coating also prevents you from possibly altering the color and appearance of your concrete surface.

However, a negative is that the vinyl attaches to the concrete surface as an additional layer. You don’t get a smooth surface.

When you run your finger over the concrete surface, you may notice a slight ‘bump’ when your finger goes from the concrete to the vinyl. Your vinyl sheets may also peel off in the future.

To try this method, first prepare:

Curious about what type of printer you need for sublimation? Well, not all printers will do the trick. For a deep dive into printers suited for sublimation, you can check out this helpful guide on whether you can use any printer for sublimation.

  1. First, print your design in a mirrored format on the sublimation paper.
  2. Heat your heat press to 350°F (177°C) while you wait for the printout to be ready.
  3. Cover the top of the bottom plate of the heat press with a piece of parchment paper.
  4. Lay the vinyl sheet down, with the matte surface on the top facing you.
  5. Your sublimation paper should be placed with the printed side facing the vinyl transfer sheet. If you need to, tape both pages together with heat-resistant tape.
  6. Add the second piece of parchment paper.
  7. Lock the heat press by closing it. Allow the sublimation process two minutes to complete its work.
  8. Remove everything and examine the sublimation’s results.
  9. Cut out the areas of the transfer sheet that will not be on the metal at this time. You can cut manually or use machines like a Cricut or Silhouette.
  10. Now, bring your vinyl sheet to your concrete piece, ensuring they meet at the proper position. Secure and tape with heat-resistant tape.
  11. You will now heat transfer your vinyl sheet to your concrete piece. Set your heat press to 370°F (188°C) to begin with.
  12. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the bottom plate, followed by the concrete and vinyl sheet, and another parchment paper on top.
  13. Close the heat press and begin pressing.
  14. Allow the heat transfer process 60 seconds to complete its task.
  15. Put on heat-resistant gloves.
  16. Release the heat press and remove the concrete piece from the heat press. The concrete piece may be hot, so be careful when handling it.
  17. Remove the vinyl backing paper and examine the results.

By the way, if you’re thinking of trying sublimation on other materials, like nylon, for instance, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know about sublimating on nylon.

Option 2: Apply Sublimation Coating Yourself

This option is for the hands-on, DIY person. You start by applying a layer of sublimation coating and allowing it to cure and harden. You then sublimate your design onto it, just like a normal polymeric surface.

The upside of this strategy is you get a smooth surface. While the vinyl transfer method creates an additional layer on the concrete, when you apply sublimation coating instead, the sublimation will be inside the coating, meaning you are not creating an additional layer.

However, an issue you may need to deal with is the coating result. At times, you might not get a great result as you did not apply the coating properly, or some sublimation coating may alter the appearance of your concrete.

Your concrete’s color may change after you add a layer of sublimation coating.

If you are keen to give this method a try, first prepare the following:
  • Sublimation printer
  • Heat press
  • Sublimation paper
  • Sublimation coating
  • Butcher/parchment paper
  • Heat resistant tape
  • Heat resistant gloves
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Glass bowl
  • Small brush
  1. First, wipe down the concrete surface with some alcohol to remove oil, dirt, and other contaminants.
  2. Shake and prepare the sublimation coating bottles.
  3. Mix the main solution with the activator based on the manufacturer’s recommended ratio. Stir to ensure an even mixture.
  4. With a brush, apply a thin layer of sublimation coating on the concrete surface. Allow a few minutes for the coating to settle.
  5. Leave overnight for the coating to cure.
  6. If the coating surface is not smooth or shows some brush lines, you can lightly polish the surface to smoothen it. Be careful not to over-polish, as you may remove the coating altogether.
  7. With the coating now smooth, you will now sublimate your designs on the surface.
  8. Place parchment paper on top of the bottom heat press plate, followed with the concrete, sublimated side up.
  9. Your sublimation paper is placed next, printed side down. Use heat-resistant tape to attach the sublimation paper to the concrete pieces if necessary.
  10. Place the second piece of parchment on top.
  11. Lock the heat press by closing it. Allow the sublimation process 60 seconds to complete its work. Set temperature at 370°F (188°C).
  12. Remove everything and assess the sublimation process.

What Are The Tips To Sublimate On Concrete?

To ensure an excellent sublimation process and result, use darker colors in your design. You can also use a portable heat press if your concrete surface is too thick and cannot fit into a conventional heat press. You may also test the sublimation coating on a small surface before fully applying it.

Sublimate Dark Colors

Sublimation on concrete may come with its own challenges. First is the color of the concrete itself, which may vary from shades of gray to brown, depending on the mixture.

Sublimating on Concrete Can Be Challenging

This means you need to consider that you are not sublimating onto a white surface when you sublimate on concrete.

The grey-brownish background color may influence your sublimation result. Suppose you intend to sublimate using the vinyl transfer sheet method.

In that case, you do not need to worry, as the vinyl sheet has provided a white background to neutralize the effect of the concrete.

However, when sublimating using the coating, you should only sublimate dark colors, as darker colors are much less likely to be influenced by the concrete’s grayish-brown background color.

Use Portable Heat Press

At times, you may be trying to sublimate on a concrete piece that is too thick to fit a regular heat press. To solve the problem, you can use a portable heat press, such as a Cricut EasyPress.

Portable heat presses are usually one-sided, so you do not need to try to fit the concrete piece between the top and bottom plate. As a result, you can now sublimate concrete pieces without worrying about their thickness.

The downside of portable presses, however, is you may need to apply the pressure yourself during the sublimation process. This may be tiring for you.

Sublimation Coating: Test Before Applying In Full

Not all sublimation coatings are the same. There are so many brands out there. The same could be said of concrete as well. This means you may not get a consistent result for all the sublimation coating you applied to the concrete surfaces.

You may be using the same sublimation coating brand but a different type of concrete. Changing elements influences the end result.

After applying the coating, you may notice your concrete surface becomes too glossy or matted for your liking.

At times, the color of the concrete may change slightly as well. This means you want to first test the coating on a small surface. If you dislike the end result, you can always send it away with sandpaper and test it with another brand of sublimation coating.

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