ink for sublimation

What Ink Is Used For Sublimation? Make The Right Choice!

One of the important things in sublimation printing is to ensure you’re using the right type of ink. If you use the wrong ink, your final prints will end up being dull or faded.

Sublimation ink is used to perform sublimation printing. Its chemical blend differs from regular printer ink and bonds to polymeric surfaces rather than paper. When heated, the ink turns directly into gas, like dry ice, and embeds itself on the print surface.

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This article will explain sublimation ink, particularly how it differs from regular ink. We discuss other common questions people ask about it. Read on to learn more.

How Are Sublimation Inks Different from Regular Inks?

Sublimation ink differs from regular ink in its chemical makeup, application, and print results. Printers use sublimation ink to print on polymeric surfaces and regular ink to print on paper. They cannot be interchanged in use.

Sublimation Inks

Chemical makeup

Sublimation ink is usually dye-based. You usually print with it on sublimation paper, then place the paper onto the print surface. Once you apply heat and pressure, the ink will fuse with the materials on the surface, creating the ‘printing’ effect.

Regular printer ink can be dye or pigment-based, with more expensive printers using the latter. We use regular printer ink to print on copy paper or some other paper such as glossy photo paper.

When you print with regular ink on paper, unlike with sublimation inks, you can’t then transfer the design to another surface.


Manufacturers have designed sublimation ink solely for one purpose: printing it on sublimation paper.

You then place the printed sublimation paper on top of the substrate, facing down, and apply heat and pressure to it. The design then leaves the sublimation paper and embeds itself into the substrate.

If you’re still deciding which printer to use for this job, check out a list of the best inkjet sublimation printers.

With regular ink, people print on many types of paper surfaces. You cannot perform any sublimation with standard ink, which means printing on sublimation paper using regular wastes your ink and paper. Regular inks work to print documents and sometimes photos.

Print Results

Sublimation ink generates print results that are more translucent in nature. This explains why sublimation doesn’t work on substrates with dark or non-neutral colors because it may affect the sublimation results.

This characteristic also makes sublimation look weak, blurry, and unclear if done on a transparent surface, for example, acrylic.

Regular ink tends to do very well on paper, as they are engineered to be absorbed into the paper. This means the printed surface feels smooth, unlike printouts from laser printers.

However, prints from regular ink may stain and smear when coming into contact with water, especially those with dye-based ink.

You may also like to check out this guide to explore more about the difference between sublimation printing and inkjet printing.

Are There Different Types Of Sublimation Ink?

In general, there are two types: water-based and solvent-based. Printers use water-based sublimation ink in regular inkjet printers because they seem to work very well with piezoelectric print heads. On the other hand, they use solvent-based ink with larger printers.

The printing industry also calls water-based sublimation ink aqueous sublimation ink. These inks use color dyes, with water used as a solvent.

Water typically makes up around 30-95% of the weight of the ink. The dye could make up about 1-10% of the solution. There might be an additional 5-40% co-solvents, such as glycerol, propylene glycol, and propylene glycol.

The ink would have a melting point of 392°F (200°C). This ink tends to be used in regular inkjet printers. They seem to work well with piezoelectric print heads and suit faster printing.

But before you start your printing journey, there are some important things you should know about sublimation ink.

Now, the Solvent-based ink combines dyes with an oil-based solvent.

You may see chemicals such as chloride-vinyl acetate copolymer at 2-6%, a polymeric amide at 0-4%, an ethyl acetate at 0-4%, N-butyl acetate at 0-2.5%, Butan-2-OL at 0-0.5%., and 2-methoxy-1-mthylethyl at 0-1.25%.

Printers commonly use this solvent-based dye ink in commercial and industrial printers due to these printers having larger printheads. Speaking of dye in sublimation printing, we also recommend you check out this guide on the best dye sublimation printers.

Can You Use Regular Ink Instead?

You cannot use regular for sublimation printing because regular cannot be sublimated. Regular also will not attach itself well to sublimation paper. Attempts to sublimate regular ink may instead stain your substrate and possibly your heat press as well.

Sublimation ink prints on the specially designed and coated paper. You then place the paper on the intended print surface and press it under high heat. The ink will then turn into gas and embed itself on the surface of the substrate. We call this process sublimation.

Sublimation is not something regular ink can perform, so you cannot use regular to sublimate. Printing regular ink on the special paper will result in the regular ink smearing right off the paper. By attempting, you completely waste your supplies.

Now, if you’re wondering whether you can use sublimation ink for regular printing, the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Bottle refilling sublimation ink tanks

Is Sublimation Ink Expensive?

Sublimation ink is not expensive, especially water-based types. Because more and more people have started doing sublimation, manufacturers can mass-produce and lower costs. A 4-bottle set (in CYMK color) generally costs under $50.

Sublimation ink is becoming increasingly more affordable due to its popularity. As a result, manufacturers can mass-produce and apply economics of scale to reduce the cost of producing these inks. As a result, prices have come down steadily across makers, passing the savings down to you as a printer.

A four-bottle set in 100ml bottles costs between $20 – $50. The four bottles contain the usual colors in inkjet printers – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black). However, these are refill ink bottles. You can only get printers at this price range if your printer comes with refillable ink tanks, for example, Epson EcoTank ET-2720.

However, if your printer models do not have external tanks, you must purchase refill cartridges. Depending on printer models, refill cartridges could cost $100 and above.

Speaking of the expenditure on sublimation printing, you might also want to check out this guide on how much sublimation printing costs.

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