Many are interested in sublimation printing because it can become a hobby and also make some money. However, many are concerned about the cost of a sublimation printer. So, how much does a sublimation printer cost?
A small inkjet sublimation printer for home use will cost about $250 while large commercial sublimation printers designed for mass production can cost as much as $10,000 and more depending on size. The price of a laser sublimation printer falls between these two at approximately $1,500.
This article will discuss the costs of sublimation printers, from cheap to expensive. We will also discuss the upsides and downsides of these printing technologies and which one would suit you better.
If you want to learn more on dye sublimation check out our more detailed article on what sublimation printing is.
Beginner Sublimation Printer Picks
If you are looking to just start out and want to sublimate smaller items here are our quick picks. The eco tank can get refurbished off of eBay for under $200 and a Sawgrass from Amazon for around $650. If you are looking to get more serious with sublimation we suggest reading our other in-depth articles we refer to in the links throughout this whole article..
If you are looking for something inexpensive to get your feet wet we suggest the 2800 series Epson Eco Tank. Tip: Buy it new or refurbished and be prepared to be a little more tech-savvy and expect more maintenance. Toss the ink you get with it and purchase sublimation ink only.
Purchase one of these for under $200 refurbished on eBay here, but keep in mind it only prints 8.5×11. This will limit you to the size of products you can sublimate.
If you are new but want to start out to be hassle-free with support and fewer printing issues we suggest the SG 500 series by Sawgrass.
Purchase one here on Amazon for $650. It is more expensive but you get a printer built just for sublimation, tech support and dedicated software.
What are the different types of sublimation printers?
There are three common sublimation printer types:
- Converted Inkjet sublimation printer.
- Dedicated dye sublimation printer.
- Laser dye sublimation printers.
Each printer differs in cost, speed, volume, and performance and suits different kinds of usage.
Laser Sublimation Printer
Dye sublimation laser printers print the design on a sheet of paper, then the operator heat transfers it to the substrate (printing surface) using a heat press.
Unlike inkjet sublimation printers laser jets equipped with sublimation toner cartridges do not need to print onto special sublimation paper. The standard paper will work just fine.
An example of a laser dye sublimation printer is the Uninet iColor 350 dye sublimation printer. Cost = $1,450.00
Inkjet Sublimation Printer
Like you do with laser sublimation, for inkjet sublimation you convert a color inkjet printer for sublimation printing. Most people do this by replacing the regular inkjet printer ink with sublimation ink. First, the operator prints the design onto a specific type of holding paper called sublimation paper. Then heat transfers to the substrate using a heat press.
The only inkjet printers you can convert to sublimation printers are ones that use piezo technology. This is because most non-piezo inkjet printers use thermal technology. You should also try to choose an inkjet printer with external ink tanks. This makes the process of monitoring ink levels and topping off inks easier.
Standard inkjet printers converted into sublimation printing include the most popular models from Epson. Epson inkjet printers have a top rating because they have external tanks. Example- The Epson EcoTank ET2720.
ALSO READ: Can I Use Inkjet Printers For Sublimation?
Another type of printer used for sublimating is a dedicated sublimation printer. These printers are made specifically for dye sublimation printing and nothing else, hence the word dedicated.
Even though they are specifically designed for the process, they work the same as converted ones by first printing on a sublimation paper and then using a heat press to transfer the design to the substrate.
The difference lies in the ease of use, production software for most, and due to the increased cost of technical support, which is nice to have especially if you are non-technical.
What Are the Different Costs of These Sublimation Printers? (pros & Cons)
Converted Inkjet Sublimation Printer
Pro: Cost. Converted inkjet sublimation printers are the cheapest to set up and run. It requires about $300 to set up a brand-new inkjet sublimation printer compared to other printers. Even less as mentioned above if you get a refurbished one.
Con: Requires Regular Printing. Inkjet sublimation printers may be cheaper but require you to do regular printing. This prevents the print head from becoming clogged by dry ink. This can sometimes increase your ink costs even though you may not be using it.
Con: Could void the warranty. Converting the printer to dye sublimation it will void the warranty from the manufacturer. This is the risk you run when converting but many people still do it. Remember to keep this in mind should you decide to go this route and proceed at your own risk.
When it comes to the pros and cons of a laser sublimation printer it may seem like there are a lot of pros, but don’t be fooled as not m
Pro: Ink won’t dry out if left unused for a long time as it uses dry toner.
Pro: Speed. Laser printers are known for their speed. You could print an A4 page in less than 10 seconds.
Pro: No Sublimation Paper is Needed. Laser sublimation printing also does not require sublimation papers, unlike inkjet sublimation. You only need to print the design on a copier paper and then heat transfer the design to the substrate.
Pro: White Toner. You can apply white on any color surface (2-step)
Pro: Apply White & color. You can apply white plus all colors on almost any surface.
Pro: Specialty inks like neon are available.
Pro: Do not need specialty-coated end products.
Con: Printer & Ink Cost. The downside of laser sublimation printing is cost. Laser printers in general, cost more than inkjet printers. Figure about $500 for the printer and $1,000 for the ink. Yes, the ink costs more than the printer for some.
Con: Applies on the top surface of your substrate unlike inkjet which embeds in the surface
Con: Shorter washability and lifetime than inkjet sublimation. (less durable)
Con: The quality of high-end photos and images is not as sharp and vivid as inkjet dye sublimation.
Maybe you can find a refurbished or inexpensive printer, but you need to do your homework on sublimation ink suppliers and the types of printers they will work in.
Dedicated Sublimation Printer
As mentioned above a dedicated sublimation printer is used specifically for dye sublimation products.
Pro: Service. Most dedicated sublimation printers like Sawgrass come with good tech support and service.
Pro: Software. Dedicated printing software for the layout and printing of items comes with the printer.
Pro: Self-Maintenance. Printers that are manufactured just for dye sublimation normally have stand-by or maintenance mode if you don’t plan on using it for a week or 2 it doesn’t matter, unlike converted printers.
Pro: Learn. If you have never done dye sublimation before learning is easier when you buy a dedicated printer because most manufacturers have a knowledge base to help guide you through the learning curve.
Con: Cost. As mentioned above dedicated dye sublimation printers cost more because they include tech support, and software and oftentimes have better quality.
Con: Non-Interchangeable. Manufacturers of sublimation printers design them to only perform sublimation printing, so you may be limited to the types of sublimation ink that you can use.
What Is The Most Cost-Effective Sublimation Printer?
When starting out on a new venture like dye sublimation making the right choices can be a little nerve-wracking. A dye-sublimation printer is one of the main components needed to do a good job, so what is the most cost-effective?
A converted dye sublimation printer is the most cost-effective printer to start dye sublimation as a hobby. If you plan on doing dye sublimation for profit a dedicated dye sublimation printer would be more effective in the long run.
Dye Sublimation laser printers may be right for you if you are looking to create items like coasters, key chains, mugs, and other similar items where high-quality photos are not going to be a factor.
The cost for the laser ink however is expensive so you might want to get some test prints before taking the plunge on a laser sublimation printer.
Dye Sublimation Printer Costs: Final Notes
To help you decide between printers, look at the potential return you could generate from investing in each type of printer.
If you are a hobbyist printer, you likely just print for fun, not as much for monetary gain. In this case, you should go with the lowest cost possible and set up which would be a converted sublimation printer.
If you want quality and plan on producing high-quality products with photos I would consider a dedicated dye sub-printer.
Figure out the size of the products you plan on producing and look into one with good customer service. So when you have a printing issue you will have support to back you up and won’t be left hung out to dry.
Laser dye sublimation printers have their place but are not as popular due to the lack of ink suppliers, styles of printers, and the types of products you can produce that have a longer life span.
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