fade print

Why Is My Sublimation Print Faded? (How To Fix It)

Sublimation sounds easy, but there may be pitfalls along the way, especially if you are new to it. One problem you may face is your sublimation print appears faded when it comes out of your printer. So, why does that happen? Let’s dive in!

In general, sublimation prints appear slightly faded due to the film on the paper itself. However, if the fading is excessive, it could result from poor sublimation paper and ink. Wrong selection and setup of printers and software can also cause your prints to be faded.

This article discusses how you can tell if your sublimation print is overly faded, the reasons behind the problem, and how you can solve it.

Why Do Sublimation Prints Appear Faded?

In most cases, overly faded sublimation prints result from poor-quality ink and paper. Wrong selection and setup of printers and software may also result in faded sublimation print. The key is to troubleshoot the issue one by one to rectify it.  

Using The Wrong Paper

This is one of those mistakes that can make you slap your own head and call yourself silly names. Could the problem be as simple as…

Are you using the wrong type of paper?

Start by confirming that you are indeed using a sublimation paper. If you are, are you sure you are printing on the correct side? Sublimation ink can only work with sublimation papers. If you feed the wrong type of paper into your sublimation printer, you get a poor result.

Also, do note that sublimation papers have two different sides. One side has films to receive and hold onto sublimation ink, and the other side doesn’t. You must print on the side with the film.

SOLUTION: Check and make sure you are indeed using a sublimation paper. Once you have confirmed that, check the manufacturer’s instructions and ensure you are printing on the correct side of the paper. 

Poor Sublimation Paper

Sometimes, overly faded sublimation print could result from something as simple as using a low-quality sublimation paper.

Person loading paper into printer

Like with many other things in life, quality counts with sublimation paper. The two most significant differences between higher and lower-quality sublimation paper are the chemicals used and the number of layers added to ultimately hold onto sublimation ink.

Higher-quality sublimation paper transfers up to 99% of the ink from the paper to the substrate. This means you get brighter and more vibrant design colors when you transfer your print to your substrate.

SOLUTION: Experiment with different sublimation papers. We recommend the sublimation paper from A-Sub because it is thicker at 125GSM and has a transfer rate of over 98%.

Now, if you’re experimenting with different sublimation papers and not seeing any improvement, it might be the paper that’s the issue.

Need some help picking out quality sublimation paper? Here’s a guide to the best sublimation papers that can steer you in the right direction.

Low-Quality Ink

If you’ve determined you are using good quality sublimation paper and have loaded it correctly but still get faded results, the problem could be in the ink.

Although all sublimation ink should be similar across the board, you still could be getting bad results because of ink issues.

Perhaps the ink has degraded because it has expired. Yes, sublimation inks can expire. Sublimation inks can also degrade when left exposed, causing their quality to drop.

With expired or degraded ink, you get bad printouts.

It could also be that the ink you have chosen does not suit your printer. Some sublimation printers work best with their own brand of sublimation inks.

For example, Sawgrass sublimation printers give you the best results when you use Sawgrass inks. If you use sublimation ink from another maker on these printers, you may not like the desired.

SOLUTION: Check if your sublimation printer recommends any specific sublimation ink. If it does, follow the recommendations, and if necessary, replace the ink. Also, ensure that the ink you are using is not expired and has not been exposed to the environment for too long. If unsure, consider purchasing a new set of sublimation ink.

Now, speaking of ink, have you really dug deep into what sublimation ink actually is? Knowing the ins and outs of your ink can help you diagnose why you’re not getting the vibrant colors you’re aiming for. You can read more about what is sublimation ink to get a better understanding

Wrong Printer

If your ink is alright, we may need to investigate to the next level. Could it be the printer?

Several Printers

Not all printers can work with sublimation ink because sublimation inks have a different chemical makeup than regular ink. Usually, you can only use sublimation ink on two types of printers:

  • A dedicated sublimation printer or
  • A regular inkjet printer with a piezoelectric printhead.

If you use a dedicated sublimation printer such as a Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500, or an Epson SureColor F170, you should be safe in this department.

However, if you converted a regular inkjet printer for sublimation printing, please check that the printer you converted is running a piezoelectric printhead technology.

If it’s not and your printer’s printhead is running thermal printhead technology, you have converted the wrong printer. Thermal printhead technology uses heat, which affects the performance of sublimation ink, which is sensitive to heat.

SOLUTION: Check if you are using a dedicated sublimation printer. If you converted a regular inkjet printer, check with the manufacturer or salesperson if the printhead uses thermal or piezoelectric technology. If it is thermal, change the printer, as it is unsuitable for sublimation printing.

Wondering what makes a printer suitable for sublimation? You can find a list of the best inkjet sublimation printers that are just perfect for this type of task.

Printer Setup

If the paper is correct, the ink is correct, and the printer type is correct, then perhaps the issue lies in how the printer is set up. This is an inexpensive problem to solve. You want to pay extra attention to this if you converted a regular inkjet printer for sublimation printing.

The solution could be as simple as your sublimation printer has not been running for a while, and your printheads and tubing may have clogged up with dried ink. This results in bad printouts or faded prints.

It could also be that when you converted a regular inkjet printer, you introduced air bubbles into the ink flow. This is possible if you convert an inkjet printer with external ink tanks such as the Epson EcoTank ET-2720.

You might also have installed the CISS (Continuous Ink Supply System) on your printer and may have ink flow issues.

SOLUTION: To ensure smooth ink flow and the removal of air bubbles, perform deep printhead cleaning. Check your printer’s user instructions on how to perform deep printhead cleaning. You may see significant ink usage during deep printhead cleaning, so be prepared to top it off once you complete the cleaning process.

Not Using The Right Software

Finally, the problem may not be physical but digital. Perhaps you are not using the right software and are not printing with the correct settings.

Computer Monitors with Data

As a start, use proper graphic or imaging processing software to print your design. Depending on your level of computer competence, you may go for something high-tech such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, or CorelDraw. If you prefer something simpler and user-friendly, you can try out Pixlr.

If you see that you have faded sublimation printing, you may also want to ensure you have the correct settings on your printer before you start printing.

At the most basic, usually, you will have to change your paper type setting to ‘matte’ and have the print quality at the highest possible setting.

You may also need to change the color profile of your printer. For these settings, check with your sublimation paper makers for specific instructions.

Some printers, like Sawgrass, come with their own software. Sawgrass printers come with the Sawgrass Creative Studio software, which automatically adjusts your design with the printer to produce the best print quality. This saves you the headache of ensuring you have the optimum printer settings.

SOLUTION: Use good graphics or image processing software to process and print out designs. Check with sublimation paper makers on the correct settings for the printer when printing.

How To Identify Faded Sublimation Prints?

To determine if you actually have overly faded sublimation prints, hold the printout behind a source of white light. It works similar to an X-ray. If you notice streaks, dots, or significant differences in print quality on different papers, you have overly faded sublimation prints.

The biggest challenge to knowing when you have faded sublimation prints is the fact that all sublimation print appears faded to some degree.

This is because the film on the print side of the sublimation paper appears matted, and, as a result, the print seems somewhat faded. However, the color will become vibrant and bright once you transfer the print to your substrate.

So, how do you confirm that your printout is overly faded? The key is to use bright light to examine the printout closely.

Just like a doctor examines X-rays to detect problems, you can detect imperfections. View the printout on a white background, preferably behind a source of white light. Identify if there are quality issues in the printout, such as:

  • White streaks
  • White dots
  • Imbalance of color intensity (some parts brighter than others)

Suppose you detect these issues with your printout. Then, it’s time to identify the issue by checking the aspects discussed above, rectifying them, and printing again until you get your desired print result.

Once you’ve sorted out your printer, ink, and paper, you might be wondering what else you can do with sublimation printing. Did you know you can even sublimate on white HTV? That’s right! It opens up a whole new world of creativity.

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