How Does Sublimation Printing Work? The Complete Guide!

How Does Sublimation Printing Work? The Complete Guide!

Are you wondering how does sublimation printing works?

The process of dye-sublimation printing is relatively new; however, it has grown in popularity recently. The word “sublimation” is derived from the Latin word “sublime,” which means “to rise higher or ascend.” It is a unique method that may be applied to almost any surface. The method employs heat to transfer dye to various surfaces, including fabric, metal, ceramic, etc. Special sublimation inks print an image onto transfer paper, then heat and press onto the target substrate.

When carried out correctly, sublimation yields beautiful prints that are hard to ignore. This article will help you learn about dye sublimation printing and how it works.

What is Dye Sublimation

Dye sublimation is a printing technology that employs heat to transfer dye onto a medium or substrate, most commonly polymer-coated paper or cloth. This method creates a permanent, high-quality image by heating solid dye particles until they turn into a gas. The gas then binds with the material’s fibers to form the image.

Dye sublimation is commonly used to produce customized promotional products, such as t-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, and photographic prints and textiles. The process produces high-quality, long-lasting prints with vivid colors and sharp details, making it a popular choice for printing graphics and images that require high quality and durability.

Before moving toward the process, let us learn more about the equipment used for sublimation.

Dye Sublimation Printers

Dye sublimation printers are machines that print on various materials with a high-quality, long-lasting image using the dye sublimation printing technique.

Unlike standard inkjet printers, which use liquid ink that smudges and fades over time, dye sublimation printers employ solid dye particles that are heated and turned into a gas before bonding with the material’s fibers. By doing this, prints are created that are waterproof, scratch-resistant, and able to withstand exposure to sunlight and other environmental elements without fading or losing color brightness.

Sublimation Inks

Sublimation ink is used in dye sublimation printing that consists of solid dye particles that can be transformed into gas under high heat and pressure. This ink’s unique formulation enables it to create vivid, durable prints on various substrates.

Sublimation ink is designed to bond with the material’s fibers, resulting in waterproof, scratch-resistant, and fade-resistant prints. It is typically used with a dye sublimation printer and transfer paper to produce high-quality, full-color prints for various applications, including promotional products, photographic prints, and textiles.

Sublimation Paper

Sublimation paper is a transfer paper used in dye sublimation printing to transfer images onto materials. It is typically coated with a heat-sensitive polymer that allows the solid dye particles in sublimation ink to bond with the fibers of the material being printed.

The paper is printed with the desired image using a dye sublimation printer and then placed face-down on the material to be printed. The paper and material are subjected to high heat and pressure, causing the dye to sublimate and bond with the material’s fibers, resulting in a high-quality, permanent print.

Materials Printed With Sublimation

Sublimation printing can print on various materials, including fabrics, ceramics, metals, polymers, and paper. In the textile industry, sublimation printing is commonly used to create custom t-shirts, hats, other apparel, and home decor items such as curtains, tablecloths, and pillowcases.

In the ceramic and metal industries, sublimation printing is often used to create customized mugs, plates, and other drinkware, as well as photo panels, plaques, and other decorative items. Any material with a polymer coating that can withstand high heat and pressure can be printed with sublimation ink.

Dye Sublimation Printing Process

Sublimation printing is a process where special sublimation ink is transferred from a so-called special transfer sheet to a substrate. The applied ink takes the form of tiny droplets which can be printed on clothing or other solid surfaces.

Sublimation application is limited to solid-colored items and cannot print on dark fabric without applying a white under-base coating. The dye-sublimated prints are glossy due to the heat that allows the dye to penetrate the fabric. The ink must be heated at least 175°C / 350°F to make it volatile, which means it will evaporate and pass through the paper’s pores. The ink will then re-condense back onto the transfer sheet’s surface.

The most common application of sublimation printing is textiles, but this process can also be used on many other surfaces, such as wood, metal, ceramics, and plastic.

How Does Sublimation Printing Work

The steps involved in sublimation printing are:

Step 1. Create a Design for Sublimation

Step 1. Create a Design for Sublimation

You can choose anything as your design that you feel will be perfect for sublimation printing, like; t-shirts, bags, mugs, caps, or key chains. It could be photographs of yours or whole-body images (for t-shirts). Create a design or artwork using software that supports sublimation printing. This software allows for high-resolution designs with fine details and vibrant colors. The design should be made to fit the dimensions and layout of the final product.

Step 2. Print Out Design on Sublimation Paper

Step 2. Print Out Design on Sublimation Paper

This step involves printing your design on sublimation paper; you need the sublimation printer to print out the design. You have to prepare your artwork, feed it into the computer connected to this printer and then click print.

The printer uses sublimation ink, solid at room temperature and turns into a gas when heated. The ink is specially formulated to withstand the high temperatures of the heat press and produce vibrant, long-lasting colors. The sublimation paper is specially coated to accept the ink and transfer it onto the final material.

Step 3. Trim the Design

Once your design is ready, you need to trim the excess areas around it and punch holes to attach the other components like buttons, etc. You may also attach zips or strings while printing to make it perfect for personal use. You can also use a custom-made bag or cap while printing.

Step 4. Transfer Paper Design to Fabric

Step 4. Transfer Paper Design to Fabric

The printed design is then placed onto the material to be printed on and then covered with the printed sublimation paper. The material must be clean and free of dust or other impurities to guarantee a clear design transfer. The material is then placed on the heat press machine, and the heat press is adjusted according to the type of material being printed on.

The temperature, pressure, and duration are then adjusted in the heat press to suit the printed surface type. The pattern is then sublimated onto the material by the heat press, then turned on.

Step 5. Let the Prints Cool Down

Step 5. Let the Prints Cool Down

Once the heat press cycle is completed, the material is removed and cooled. To avoid causing any harm to the printed image, the material must cool before handling.

Common Problems with Sublimation Printing

Following are most of the common problems we faced while using sublimation printers:

  1. If the cloth isn’t entirely polyester, or at least 2/3rds of it is, you’ll receive very light or even bad results.
  2. Only items with a unique polyester covering can be used on non-textile surfaces.
  3. Sublimation is not possible on black or dark colors items.
  4. If you’re not using protective paper, ink migration is a real risk.
  5. It uses low-resolution pictures that do not appear as good when enlarged.
  6. Over or underheating when pressing with a heat pressure machine.
  7. Most often, you’ll get paper and press marks when imprinting t-shirts.
  8. The lack of established color profiles. (Conde’s ICC or the Sawgrass power driver may be used)
  9. The printheads may clog if not utilized often, much like all inkjet printers. Using the printer most often is advised because of this, which will keep the printhead clean automatically.


Dye sublimation printing is a reliable and efficient method that produces high-quality, vibrant images on various materials. Small enterprises and individuals wanting to produce large quantities of material with custom printing can use this solution because it reduces production costs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How does dye sublimation printing work?

The sublimation inks used in this process are unique because they are solid at room temperature and become a gas when heated. When the ink is heated to a high temperature, typically around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, it sublimates or turns into a gas and is absorbed into the material’s fibers. This results in a high-quality, durable image without fading or peeling.

Can dye sublimation printing be done on any material?

Fabrics, cups, metal, pottery, and plastic are just a few materials that may be printed using dye sublimation technology. However, not all materials are compatible with the process, so choosing a suitable material for dye sublimation printing is important.

How long do sublimation prints last?

Dye sublimation prints are permanent, and as long as the printed material is handled carefully, the print can last for a long time. The longevity of the print can be affected by factors such as exposure to sunlight, abrasion, and improper cleaning.

What is dye sublimation printing?

Digital printing, a process known as dye sublimation, employs heat to transfer dye onto various substrates, including fabric, metal, ceramic, and plastic. The process entails printing an image onto transfer paper, using certain sublimation inks, and heat-pressing that image into the target material.

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