To execute a sublimation print, you first print your design on specially designed sheets. But do you need specially designed and formulated ink and paper? Could you possibly print with regular ink?
As a general rule, you need to print using sublimation ink on sublimation paper because they are designed to work with each other chemically. The print results won’t look proper if you mix the specially formulated ink with regular paper.
This article will discuss sublimation ink and paper and how they differ from the regular versions. The article will also explore the possibility of mixing sublimation paper and ink with the regular kinds.
We’ll also answer some other questions about sublimation ink and paper. So keep reading till the end to explore more!
Pro-Tip: To fully understand the ins and outs of how the sublimation ink and the paper, work in conjunction with each other. Sublimation printing is a unique method that has its own set of requirements. If you’re curious about the basics, you can read more about what sublimation printing is.
How Is Sublimation Ink Different From Regular Ink?
In general, the chemistry of sublimation ink works differently than regular ink. When heated, sublimation ink changes into gas, forming a unique chemical bond with any polymeric material. Inkjet printer ink works differently. Copy paper absorbs the inkjet printer ink.
Printers and hobbyists use sublimation ink to print out designs on sublimation paper. The sublimation paper holds the image temporarily until heat transfers it to a surface.
Sublimation ink has its name due to its unique purpose. You don’t use sublimation ink for any other purpose but to sublimate a design on a surface.
- The printer applies heat to the sublimation ink on the sublimation paper during the sublimation process.
- The heat changes the ink from solid ink directly into gas. The process is similar to dry ice.
- This ink gas then embeds itself into the polymeric surfaces on the substrate (print surface).
Pro-Tip: Because of sublimation ink’s unique chemical makeup, you can’t use inkjet printer ink and sublimation ink interchangeably.
Chemists design regular printer ink with a different purpose in mind. Its chemistry causes it to rapidly sink or absorb into copy paper without spreading.
How Is Sublimation Paper Different from Copier Paper?
Makers of sublimation paper designed it to take and temporarily hold the sublimation ink after the design is printed. The special paper has two sides, but only one can hold onto the special ink. The second side cannot.
Sublimation paper performs one particular function:
Temporarily yet stably holding a design.
Printers then use the paper to permanently transfer the design onto your desired substrate (print surface).
Remember that sublimation papers usually have two sides, one with a treated layer designed to hold sublimation ink until you want to transfer it. The other smooth side, similar to regular paper, won’t hold the special ink.
- To transfer the image from the sublimation paper, you place the paper, printed side down, onto a substrate you want printed.
- You then apply heat and pressure.
- Usually, you would use a heat press for this step. (Check out the best heat
- The heat turns the sublimation ink into ink gas, and the gas embeds itself or chemically bonds with the material or surface to be printed.
Choosing Sublimation Paper
Sublimation paper looks different from regular paper. With regular printer paper, both sides look the same.
With sublimation paper, the two sides look different, with one side looking like regular paper. When choosing a sublimation paper, look at the transfer rate.
A good sublimation paper allows as much ink to turn into gas. This is commonly called the transfer rate.
When reading the transfer rate, the higher the number, the better the sublimation paper.
To learn more about how to choose a good sublimation paper, head over to this guide on the best sublimation papers.
Can I Use Sublimation Ink On Regular Paper?
You cannot use sublimation ink on regular copy sheets, as the specially formulated does not have the suitable chemical properties to adhere to regular sheets. Only sublimation paper has a suitable surface for receiving and holding onto sublimation ink. Attempting to use regular ink on sublimation paper will also not work.
Manufacturers of sublimation products design them to work specifically with one another. Sublimation ink turns into gas when heated and binds with polymeric materials.
There’s a lot to consider about sublimation printing. Costs can add up quickly, especially if you’re just starting out. If you’re wondering about the investment required, explore this guide on how much a sublimation printer costs.
After the sublimation printer prints your design, the special sheets hold the design temporarily. The paper is then used in the sublimation process with a heat press.
To summarize, you cannot cross-use any of these four elements: standard and sublimation paper, inkjet printer, and sublimation ink.
For example, you cannot use sublimation ink on regular paper; use regular ink on sublimation paper.
If you are curious about the result and try to cross-use the papers and inks, you’ll see disappointing results.
The paper will not be able to absorb ink not designed for it. As a result, you may see ink smears on the paper or some ink stains inside your printer because ink may have come off the paper.
Even if you print out something decent, the ink will usually smear upon contact because the paper did not absorb it.
So, we recommend you don’t try experimenting because you are wasting resources and money.
What Do I Need for Sublimation Printing?
Aside from sublimation ink and paper, you will also need a special printer to perform the printing. A sublimation printer could be a dedicated dye-sublimation printer or a regular inkjet printer you converted into a sublimation printer by changing the inks.
To successfully execute this printing, we must use specially formulated ink and thicker, specially coated paper. But what about the printer? Will any printer do?
Usually, serious printers purchase a dedicated sublimation printer such as a Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500.
Printers like this are designed specifically to perform this kind of printing, which means it takes only the special ink, and you can only use it with specially designed paper. You also get superior results.
You can use a regular printer if you’re a beginner or don’t want to buy a sublimation printer. Generally, sublimation ink works best with inkjet printing technology.
Laser printers can be used for sublimation printing, but they are not ideal. The conversion is generally costly and not beginner-friendly. To learn more, check out this guide about whether laser printers can be used for sublimation printing.
Beginners, casual hobbyists, and cost-conscious printers will convert a regular inkjet printer into a sublimation printer. Before starting the conversion work, you need to ensure the printhead is piezoelectric, as inkjet printers with thermal printheads are unsuitable for sublimation printing.
To convert an inkjet printer with a piezoelectric printhead, you replace the regular ink with sublimation ink. This saves cost since a set of sublimation ink bottles generally does not cost more than $50. Be sure to clean the print heads of standard ink before printing thoroughly.
Standard, affordable inkjet printers people like to convert for sublimation are models such as Epson EcoTank ET-2720 or Brother MFC-J995DW. These printers have external ink tanks, meaning they are easily refillable.
To learn about a side-by-side comparison between both printers, check out this detailed guide on sublimation vs. inkjet printers.
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