sublimation printer vis inkjet

Sublimation Printer vs Inkjet (Whats the Difference)

When it comes to comparing sublimation printers vs inkjet printers there seems to be a lot of confusion out there especially if you are just learning about the subject. So what is the difference between a sublimation printer vs inkjet?

A sublimation printer is a inkjet printer, made with Piezo or MicroPiezo print heads which has the capabilities of printing sublimation ink onto special dye sub paper. Inkjet printers use a thermal print head and print pigment or dye based ink directly onto paper, cotton or other substrate.

NOTE: Only printers with Piezo print heads can print with dye sublimation ink.

Sublimation Printer vs Inkjet Printers: The Difference

When I first started into my sublimation printing journey I found there was a lot of confusing explanations out there so we will try and clear the air in this article.

Keep reading and we will discuss the differences in printer types and functions but don’t get it confused with the actual process of sublimation. The 2 different aspects seem to get confusing at times.

Sublimation Printer

  • Sublimation ink.
  • Uses MicroPiezo Print Heads for printing.
  • Dedicated for sublimation printing only.
  • Prints on special dye sub paper for transferring image to final product (the sublimation printing part.)

Inkjet Printer

  • Pigment and dye based inks.
  • Uses thermal print heads and piezo print heads depending on mfg.
  • Prints directly on to paper or substrate with no additional process
  • Can be converted to sublimation printing if it is made with Piezo Print Heads.

How Do Sublimation Printers Work? 

A sublimation printer works by printing the image with Piezo print heads on to special dye sub paper. The paper placed on top of the substrate that is being printed and placed on a heat press where pressure is applied and thus sublimating (transferring or printing) the final image to the substrate.

The transferring of the image from the paper to the final product is the dye sublimation printing part.

Sublimation printing uses heat and pressure to transfer dye onto a variety of materials such as fabric, plastic, ceramics and metal. The printer uses special sublimation inks, which are in the form of solid dye crystals.

When heat is applied, crystals vaporize into a gas and penetrate into the material, solidifying into a permanent bond with the poly coated substrate.

Pressure helps to ensure that the dye is evenly distributed on the material. The end result is a high-quality, long-lasting print with vibrant colors.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Sublimation Printer 

Sublimation printing is known for producing high-quality, long-lasting, and vibrant prints with excellent color accuracy and consistency. However, like any technology, sublimation printing also has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

sublimation printing advantages vs disadvantages
Dye Sublimated Tiger Musky on Metal

Sublimation Printer Advantages:

  1. High-Quality Output: Sublimation printing can produce hyper realistic images and products like the Tiger Musky image shown above. It can produce high-quality, vibrant, and long-lasting prints with excellent color accuracy and consistency.
  2. Durability: The prints produced by sublimation printers are resistant to fading, peeling, and cracking, making them suitable for a wide range of applications, including outdoor use.
  3. Versatility: Sublimation printers can be used to print on a wide range of materials, including metal, fabric, plastic, and ceramic.
  4. Cost-Effective: Sublimation printing can be a cost-effective method for producing large volumes of high-quality prints.
  5. Low cost of entry: When producing smaller items typically under 20 inches. As heat presses 24 inches and under along with 13 x19 inch dye sublimation printers can be obtainable by many even the hobbyist.

Sublimation Printer Disadvantages:

  1. Limited Range of Materials: While sublimation printing can be used on a wide range of materials, it is limited to those that are polyester-based or have a polyester coating that was applied.
  2. Expensive Equipment: Sublimation printers can be expensive if you are looking to produce larger items, the 52 inch musky above was done on a large heat press and wide format printer, which have a substantial price tag.
  3. Somewhat Complex Process: The sublimation printing process can be complex depending on what you are printing and sometimes requires more knowledge and skills.
  4. Limited Color Gamut: Although sublimation printing can produce high-quality prints, it has a limited color gamut, which means that it may not be able to reproduce some colors accurately.
  5. Limited Size Options: Sublimation printers are typically limited in terms of the size of the prints they can produce in relation to the printer and heat press.

How much does a sublimation printer cost? 

Depending on your needs and requirements, a sublimation printer can start from around $300 and run as much as $6,000. For common graphic printing on substrates such as t-shirts or mugs, most printers that cost under $1,000 should do the job very well. 

Suppose you use a sublimation printer for regular use, primarily graphic printing with perhaps an occasional t-shirt or mug printing. In that case, you should do fine with any models under $1,000. You could also consider converting certain inkjet printers into sublimation printers. 

For a more in depth look read our article where we discuss all aspects and costs of sublimation printers.

How Do Inkjet Printers Work? 

Inkjet printers work by spraying droplets of liquid ink onto paper to form the desired image or text. The CMYK colored ink is stored in cartridges and is transferred to the print head, which contain tiny nozzles. The print head moves across the page, emitting precisely controlled droplets of ink through the nozzles.

In a typical inkjet printer, the ink is heated to turn it into a vapor, which is then expelled from the nozzles as tiny droplets. The droplets are charged by an electrically charged plate, causing them to be attracted to the paper and form the desired image. The paper then passes through rollers to absorb the ink and fix it in place.

There are different types of inkjet printers, but they all use similar principles to produce high-quality images and text. Inkjet printers are widely used for home and office printing, and are known for their affordability, ease of use, and versatility.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Inkjet Printers 

Compared to sublimation printers, inkjet printers print directly onto the paper and/or substrate being printed. The smaller and lighter inkjet printers usually have lower price tags. They, however, do not produce print quality as great as sublimation printers and are not water-resistant. 

Advantages of Inkjet Printers:

  1. Affordability: Inkjet printers are generally less expensive than laser printers, making them a popular choice for home and small office use.
  2. Versatility: Inkjet printers are capable of printing a wide range of materials, including standard paper, photo paper, and labels, making them ideal for a variety of printing tasks.
  3. High-quality output: Inkjet printers are capable of producing high-quality images and text, with sharp detail and vivid colors.
  4. Convenience: Inkjet printers are compact and easy to use, making them a great choice for small spaces and for users who want a simple and hassle-free printing experience.

Disadvantages of Inkjet Printers:

  1. Slow printing speed: Inkjet printers tend to be slower than laser printers, especially when printing large volumes of text or images.
  2. Short lifespan of ink cartridges: Ink cartridges need to be replaced regularly, which can get expensive.
  3. Poor durability: The printed documents are not as durable as those produced by a laser printer, and may fade over time or become smudged if exposed to moisture.
  4. Maintenance: Inkjet printers require regular maintenance to keep them working properly, including cleaning the print heads to prevent clogging and ensuring that the ink cartridges are installed correctly.
  5. Higher cost per page: The cost per page of inkjet printing can be higher than that of laser printing, especially if you use high-quality photo paper.

How Much Does an Inkjet Printer Cost? 

Depending on your requirements, an inkjet printer can start at about $50 and run to over $13,000. Most printers under $500 should perform up to your needs for everyday printing at home for craft use.

Twenty Dollar Bill in Printer

Like sublimation printers, all inkjet printers function based on the same principle – cartridges with liquid ink, heated up, drawn to the print head, and sprayed to the substrate. 

The price differences result from any printer enhancements. Some printers come with additional functions such as scanning and photocopying. Some also come with the ability to print larger sheets of paper. 

Higher-priced models tend to print faster and in higher resolution. Some also allow wireless printing and have external tank systems that make high-volume printing easier. 

Basic inkjet printers would do the job decently for home use such as printing birthday cards or documents. If you are using an inkjet printer for a small or home office, consider additional functions such as scanning, or wireless printing. 

Is it Worth Getting a Sublimation Printer? 

It is worth getting a sublimation printer if you intend to apply craftwork that requires sublimation. For example, t-shirts, mugs, or cap printing. If you primarily print documents on regular paper, you are better off with a regular inkjet printer. 

You get the best use out of sublimation printers when you print great graphics. You first print the design on sublimation paper. Then heat transfers it to a surface like a T-shirt, mug, helmet, or cap.

Sublimation ink does not work like regular ink. It requires sublimation paper to hold the ink and work properly. Regular paper will absorb the ink and cause the print result to be

Is Sublimation Ink and Paper Expensive? 

Sublimation ink and paper generally cost more than regular inkjet ink and office paper. Sublimation ink and paper take more effort to manufacture as once the page is printed it is used to transfer the image via heat and pressure to the final substrate. 

When comparing prices, it is possible to see that prices for sublimation ink are more than regular printer ink.  You pay more for good reason. With sublimation you can print beautiful images and graphics on many types of surfaces like t-shirts, mugs, and helmets. To do so, you will need a sublimation paper.

Sublimation papers prices run higher than regular photocopy paper prices. To get the ultra high quality of image of the sublimated Musky shown above the sublimation paper used was Neenah Coldenhove you canbuy at Metal Art Maker here. It costs approximately $0.23 per sheet of 8.5×14.

Sublimation paper may seem expensive but its a small cost of the overall process to produce a high quality product.

For comparison 20# bond copy paper costs about $0.03 per sheet, but can’t withstand the heat and pressure of sublimation.

You naturally expect the price difference since it can perform functions that regular paper cannot. Sublimation papers can hold on to prints and then transfer them to a surface with the help of heat. The main attraction is that sublimation printing can help produce custom-made merchandise that you can then sell to generate profits. This alone justifies you investing in sublimation printers, ink, and papers. 

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