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9 Things To Know About Dye-Sublimation Printers

In sublimation printing, dye-sublimation printers and regular inkjet printers are quite popular. And while you may already know about regular printers, dye sublimation printers can be new to you. So, here are the top 9 things you need to know about dye-sublimation printers.

  1. Dye-Sublimation Printers Use Only Sublimation Ink
  2. Dye-Sublimation Printers Use Only Sublimation Paper
  3. You May Not Want to Use Dye-Sublimation Printers Like a Regular Printer
  4. Dye-Sublimation Printers Differ from Converter Inkjet Sublimation Printers
  5. Dye-Sublimation Printers Uses Piezoelectric Printheads
  6. Dye-Sublimation Printers Can Be Small, Or Massive
  7. Sawgrass And Epson Makes Great & Affordable Dye-Sublimation Printers
  8. There Are Direct to Garment Dye-Sublimation Printers
  9. Dye-Sublimation Printers Work Best with Graphic Software

Sublimation Printer Working


In this article, we will explore these nine things one by one. When you finish reading, you will completely understand dye-sublimation printers and know how they differ from regular inkjet printers.

What Is A Dye-Sublimation Printer?

A dye-sublimation printer, an inkjet-based printer built specifically for sublimation printing, uses sublimation ink and paper. You cannot use it like a regular inkjet printer. Smaller dye-sublimation printers work well for home and hobby use, and large for industrial use.

The simplest way to describe a sublimation printer is that it is essentially a regular inkjet printer with modifications.

The manufacturers modify inkjet printer configurations to make them able to perform sublimation printing. These modifications may differ depending on the printer size and price. Here’s a guide on the complete cost analysis of sublimation printers you can refer to for further reference.

In short, the most basic dye-sublimation printer is modified to use only sublimation ink and sublimation paper and utilizes piezoelectric printhead technology.

More premium and larger-sized dye-sublimation printers may have wider printing widths to accommodate large sublimation paper sizes.

Many also come with external ink tanks for easier top-offs and self-cleaning printhead technology to prevent printer nozzle blockage.

Very high-end dye-sublimation printers may feature direct-to-garment technology, eliminating the need for sublimation paper and a heat press.

Brands such as Epson, Sawgrass, HP, Mimaki, Roland, and others make some of the most widely used sublimation printers.

9 Things To Know About Dye-Sublimation Printers

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1. Dye-Sublimation Printers Only Use Sublimation Ink

Dye-sublimation printers work differently than regular inkjet printers because they use only one type of special ink: sublimation ink. Sublimation ink differs from regular ink because it has a unique chemical mix.

Large Sublimation Printer

For example, because of the unique sublimation ink chemistry, regular paper will not absorb it. That’s because the final destination of sublimation ink is not paper but on a substrate (print surface) of choice.

Paper does absorb regular inkjet ink rapidly so that it does not smear.

Sublimation ink also reacts differently to heat than regular inkjet printer ink. When heated, sublimation ink goes from solid directly into gas and embeds itself into the substrate. This process, commonly done using a heat press, is called sublimation.

When placed under heat, regular ink stays stable and does not leave the paper. It certainly will not turn into gas, like sublimation ink.

So, you cannot interchange the inks when printing. You cannot use regular ink for sublimation printing or sublimation ink for regular printing. In the second scenario, you will end up with ink that does not absorb into the paper and smears easily upon contact.

2. Dye-Sublimation Printers Uses Only Sublimation Paper

From reading the above section, you know that paper does not absorb sublimation ink. Because the ink sits on top of the paper, you need a special kind of paper.

And that’s where sublimation papers come into play.

Sublimation paper is essentially a thicker piece of regular paper, with an additional coating or layer added on the printed side.

The suppliers add a layer of silica-based coating that also has additional additives to enhance its performance.

Paper mills design sublimation papers to hold onto instead of absorbing the sublimation ink when it is being printed out by the printer. The ink will end up not on paper but on the substrate (print surface).

  • In a regular sublimation process, you first print your design out on a piece of sublimation paper.
  • You then bring the sublimation paper together with your substrate and then heat the paper up using a heat press.
  • The heat will then turn the sublimation ink into gas. The gas will then travel to the substrate and embed itself there.
  • A good sublimation paper can hold onto as much ink as possible from the printer. At the same time, it should release as much of the ink as possible when heated.

As a result, dye-sublimation printers cannot work with regular paper. Printing sublimation ink on regular paper will result in the ink not being absorbed into the paper and smearing on any contact.

3. You Cannot Use Dye-Sublimation Printers Like Regular Printers

From the previous two sections, you can see how dye-sublimation printers use specialized paper and ink. This may make you wonder if dye-sublimation printers can be used like regular printers.

Ink Jet Printer Printing

Technically, you can use dye-sublimation printers like a regular printer. However, understand that you will be massively underusing the printer.

You may also ruin it for performing sublimation printing well in the future. Usually, you do not try to use a dye-sublimation printer like a regular printer because, first of all, they cost more. You should just buy a regular inkjet printer to use for these purposes instead.

Secondly, you may need to exert much effort to use it as a regular printer. You need to change the ink into regular printer ink, which means you must empty the sublimation ink in the printer’s systems first, which may take a long time. You then must perform multiple deep printhead cleanings to remove residual sublimation ink.

Suppose that in the future, you want to reuse the dye-sublimation printer back for regular printing. You need to go through the hassle of replacing the ink all over again.

4. Dye-Sublimation Printers Differ from Converted Inkjet Sublimation Printers

Suppose you have done your homework about sublimation printing. In that case, you may notice that some people attempt to save money by taking a regular inkjet printer and converting it for sublimation printing.

Here’s a guide to the best inkjet printers for sublimation. You can refer to this guide to explore more about inkjet printers.

Printer Showing Print Cartridges

  • The conversion process commonly includes replacing the ink in the printer system with sublimation ink.
  • Then, you perform a deep cleaning on the printhead to ensure that the printhead is cleaned from any old regular printer ink.
  • You also need to change some settings on your computer to reflect the changes in ink and paper use.
  • First, you must change to a thicker paper setting and, second, indicate your computer’s new ICC color profile.

Consider this option if you are approaching sublimation as a hobby or if you are new to it.

A converted inkjet sublimation printer can perform sublimation printing rather well, although limited in some respects.

However, a dye-sublimation printer can perform much better sublimation printing than a converted inkjet printer.

Dye sublimation printers stand out from converted printers in the quality of the printout, speed, ease of setup, and the sizes of sublimation papers they can use.

For example, with a Sawgrass dye-sublimation printer, you would just connect the printer to your computer by plugging it in.

Your Sawgrass printer can then adjust the settings automatically without you needing to tinker with it manually. Some dye-sublimation printers, such as those from the HP Stitch series, often have larger widths. This can help if you intend to perform sublimation printing on wider and longer sheets of sublimation paper.

5. Dye-Sublimation Printers Use Piezoelectric Printheads

In the world of inkjet printing technology, the ink usually enters the printhead and then turns into tiny bubbles before being picked up by the nozzle and sprayed onto the printing surface.

There are two major technologies used to create these tiny ink bubbles, Piezoelectric, Thermal.

In Piezoelectric printheads, the printer ink turns into bubbles using vibration. When you apply electricity to a piece of crystal, it vibrates, and the vibration causes the ink to push into the print head.

Quartz watches work the same way. Printer brands that use piezoelectric technology include Epson and Brother.

The printer ink heats up in Thermal printheads, causing it to expand and turn into bubbles. These bubbles contain a small amount of ink. The ink is then picked up by the nozzle and sprinkled onto the print surface. Common printer brands that use thermal technology include Canon and HP.

Dye-sublimation printers must use the piezoelectric technology because of the sublimation ink itself.

The previous sections show that sublimation ink turns into gas when coming into contact with heat from the heat press. This means sublimation ink is sensitive to heat. So, thermal printheads do not work well with sublimation ink.

The heat that pushes ink into the printhead nozzle may affect sublimation ink’s stability and performance, resulting in unfavorable print results.

You want to take note of this if you intend to convert a regular inkjet printer for sublimation printing.

Make sure the printer uses piezoelectric rather than thermal technology in the printheads, before attempting any conversion.

6. Dye-Sublimation Printers Can Be Small, Medium, Or Massive

The sublimation printing process works on many substrates, small or large. Printers use it widely and in various capacities.

On the weekend, you may find people performing sublimation as a hobby. You may also find big businesses and corporations mass-sublimating large products such as carpets, jerseys, and drawings.

Industrial Dye Sublimation Printer.

For the variety of operations, dye-sublimation printers come in many sizes and specifications. For example, smaller dye-sublimation printers, such as Sawgrass SG-500, may work well for home use.

They work with A4-sized sublimation paper, which means they may work well for occasional custom t-shirt printing. These printers can work well if you are trying to sublimate on mugs, mouse pads, card tags, etc.

Small businesses may also use the printer, although as orders increase, they may quickly find the printer unable to perform up to speed and scale. At this stage, you may want to explore medium-sized dye-sublimation printers.

These printers often come with functions and features that help to scale up the printing process. It may come with a wider ‘mouth’ to accommodate wider sublimation papers. It may also have external ink tanks, making it easy to take note of ink levels and top up when necessary.

Instead of typical CMYK (Cyan, Magnets, Yellow, Key/Black) ink configurations, these larger dye-sublimation printers may come with more ink colors. This helps the printer produce a more accurate and vivid print result.

These larger printers include models such as Sawgrass SG-1000, Epson SureColor F570, or Mimaki TS 100-1600.

For industrial use, you may want dye-sublimation printers in sizes that occupy a room and weight up to hundreds of pounds.

These printers come with all the bells and whistles and a higher printing speed for true mass-production capabilities.

These large printers can print on sublimation papers as wide as hundreds of inches and you can easily use them to sublimate large surfaces such as carpets. Check out models such as HP Stitch S1000 or Mutoh Valuejet 2638WX.

7. Epsom and Sawgrass Make Great & Affordable Dye-Sublimation Printers

Suppose you intend to shop for a dye-sublimation printer. In that case, you might get confused about what to get, especially if you are new to the sublimation game.

Because not many people do sublimation, you may find it hard to get recommendations on the right dye-sublimation printers. As a start, check out these two brands – Epson and Sawgrass.

Epson Printers

Epson is a Japanese company that makes precision instruments and digital printing solutions. The Epson Company, one of the original proponents of the piezoelectric printhead technology, have some very popular printers with excellent quality at an affordable price.

Epson printers are popular within the sublimation community – their dye-sublimation printers are one of the more affordable in the market and give a good print result. Many also like to convert their regular inkjet printers for sublimation printing.

Epson’s SureColor F170 and F570 are excellent dye-sublimation printers that are quite affordable and suit home or small business use.

Suppose you intend to convert their regular inkjet printers for sublimation. In that case, consider using the very popular Epson EcoTank ET2720

Epson EcoTank ET-2720 Wireless Color All-in-One Supertank Printer with Scanner and Copier - White Buy on Amazon
Sawgrass Printers

Sawgrass, an American company, focuses on sublimation printing. It does not have the size and scale Epson has.

Still, by focusing only on the niche of sublimation printing, many experts consider Sawgrass as one of the best brands for sublimation printing.

Sublimation enthusiast particularly love Sawgrass’s Virtuoso SG-500 and SG-1000 for their excellent print quality and easy setup and use.

Sawgrass also makes its own sublimation paper and ink, meaning you can ensure the best quality easily. See Sawgrass as the Apple of sublimation printing.

Another benefit to buying a sublimation printer from Sawgrass is you gain access to its graphic software, the Sawgrass Creative Studio.

With this option, you no longer need to think about getting access to other expensive graphic and image processing software such as Photoshop.

Sawgrass’s Virtuoso SG-500

Sawgrass SG500 Sublimation Printer with Inks, 330 Sheets SUBLIMAX Paper, 3 Rolls Tape, White Buy on Amazon

Sawgrass’s Virtuoso SG-1000

Sawgrass UHD Virtuoso SG1000 Sublimation Printer Starter Bundle with Easysubli Inks, 300 Sheets of Sublimation Paper, Tape, & Blanks and Access to Exclusive Content Buy on Amazon

8. There Are Direct to Garment Dye-Sublimation Printers

Common sublimation technique usually involves you first printing out your design on a sublimation paper.

You then bring the sublimation paper together with your substrate of choice and use a heat press to sublimate the design from the paper to your substrate. This may work fine for performing sublimation as a small or medium-sized business hobby.

However, you may need something faster for larger orders to get the job done. Here, DTG sublimation printers come into the picture.

DTG stands for Direct-To-Garment, which means the printer prints directly into your substrate. Using DTG printers, you do not need to print on sublimation paper and then sublimate the design using a heat press.

This massively speeds up the production process and helps immensely in mass production. To perform DTG, the substrate must first be treated with some special chemical to ensure it can take in the sublimation ink well. DTG printers can also be expensive and may not suit home users or small businesses.

9. Dye-Sublimation Printers Works Best with Graphic Software

With specialized equipment such as a dye-sublimation printer, you will need to consider using a more professional graphic or image processing software to achieve the best print result.

Man Using Graphics Program on Laptop

This means you need to upgrade from Microsoft Paint or Mac Preview to something that matches your sublimation printer better.

The most common software for image and graphic processing is Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. However, the market offers many other software choices which might be better and cheaper than what Adobe offers.

For paid solutions, you might buy software such as CorelDraw which experts consider equally as powerful as Photoshop and Illustrator at a more affordable price.

If you want something less intimidating, you can check out solutions such as Pixar or Sketch. They have a more user-friendly interface, albeit less powerful.

You certainly would not feel as overwhelmed as you might when seeing the dashboard and menus on Adobe Photoshop. Pixar and Sketch have a more Canva-like experience.

You can find other, good open-source graphic software out there you can use with your dye-sublimation printers, such as GIMP or Inkscape.

Members of the public build and contribute these, meaning you get this software free for a considerable time. However, they are free for a reason.

You may find them less user-friendly and maybe a bit clunky and harder to use. Many do not mind these hassles with free software.

If you own a Sawgrass dye-sublimation printer, you get free access to their proprietary graphics and image processing software, the Sawgrass Creative Studio. This might just spare you from the headache of having to decide what software to use and may just save you on subscription fees long term.

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