How to Apply Sublimation Finish on Stainless Steel: Step-by-Step Guide

How to Apply Sublimation Finish on Stainless Steel: Step-by-Step Guide

Sublimation is a unique printing technique renowned for transferring images onto various materials, resulting in vibrant and enduring quality. However, the complexity increases when incorporating stainless steel due to its non-porous nature. Hence, learning how to apply sublimation finish on stainless steel is invaluable. This specialized finish forms a receptive layer, aiding the ink’s infusion into the metal, broadening sublimation applications beyond textiles and ceramics to include metallic items.

The significance of applying a sublimation finish on stainless steel is paramount. It bridges the stainless steel surface and the sublimation ink, fostering an effective bond. Mastering how to apply sublimation finish on stainless steel is essential for anyone looking to produce a diverse range of durable, high-quality products, be it custom promotional items, personalized gifts, or specific industrial components.

The Function and Significance of Stainless Steel Sublimation Coating

A unique chemical layer called sublimation coating is used to prepare various materials, including stainless steel, for sublimation printing. The coating acts as a receptive medium, allowing sublimation inks to bond effectively with the material. This is crucial in the sublimation process, where ink transitions from solid to gas, infusing into the coated surface to create vibrant, durable designs.

For stainless steel, this coating is particularly important. The metal’s non-porous nature makes it inherently resistant to ink adhesion, leading to smudging or fading if uncoated. Applying a sublimation coating transforms the stainless steel surface into a suitable canvas for printing, ensuring high-quality, long-lasting prints that can withstand various environmental factors. With this coating, the opportunities for customization and durable printing on stainless steel would be significantly expanded.

Materials Needed

Creating a sublimation coating for stainless steel involves using specific chemicals and equipment to achieve a receptive layer that facilitates high-quality printing. The list of supplies you’ll need is below:


  1. Main binding agent: TotalBoat Polyester Laminating Resin
  2. For cleaning and as a solvent: MG Chemicals Isopropyl Alcohol
  3. For better adhesion: TotalBoat Acrylic Resin
  4. For durability: UVP 95-0339-01 Ultraviolet Crosslinker


  1. Safety Gear: Glove Station gloves and goggles
  2. For blending chemicals: Valley Industries Mixing Container
  3. To measure ingredients: Etekcity Weighing Scale
  4. For mixing: SP Bel-Art Stirring Bar
  5. For coating application: 3M Spray Gun
  6. For curing the coating: Oven

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Sublimation Coating

Making a sublimation coating for stainless steel involves a series of carefully executed steps. You may create your coating by following this step-by-step guide. Please note that working with chemicals can be hazardous, so always follow safety protocols, work in a well-ventilated area, and consult material safety data sheets (MSDS) for each chemical.

Step 1: Prepare the Workspace

Maintaining a clean and organized workspace is crucial for successful sublimation coating preparation. A clean environment minimizes contamination risks, ensuring the coating’s effectiveness. Organization streamlines the process, reducing errors and enhancing efficiency, which is vital when dealing with precise chemical mixtures.

To prepare your workspace, first remove any unrelated items. Sanitize the surface to eliminate contaminants. Organize your chemicals and tools in labeled containers, placing them within easy reach. Ensure proper ventilation and establish clear access to safety stations like sinks and eye-wash stations for emergencies.

Step 2: Measure the Ingredients

Accurate measurement of chemical ingredients is pivotal in making an effective sublimation coating for stainless steel. Even slight deviations can alter the coating’s properties, affecting its durability, adhesion, and overall quality. Precise measurements ensure consistency and optimize the coating’s performance, making it essential for achieving desired results.

Utilize a digital weighing scale for exact measurements of polyester resin, isopropyl alcohol, acrylic resin, and crosslinker. Always tare the scale to zero before each ingredient. Use separate, clean containers for each chemical to avoid cross-contamination. Pour slowly, double-checking the weight to ensure you’re within the recommended ratios outlined by the manufacturer.

Step 3: Mixing the Ingredients

Begin the mixing process by combining the polyester and acrylic resins in a designated mixing container. Use a stirring rod to mix them until a homogeneous solution is formed. Slowly introduce the crosslinker while continuously stirring the mixture. It’s essential to add the crosslinker gradually to ensure a uniform distribution throughout the solution. Consistent stirring is crucial for integrating the ingredients seamlessly and should be done until you achieve a smooth, lump-free texture. This step-by-step, careful approach ensures that the coating adheres well to the stainless steel and performs as intended.

Stirring too quickly or vigorously can cause air bubbles to enter the mixture, lowering the coating’s quality. Complete all steps; each ingredient must be fully integrated before adding the next. Also, avoid contamination; always use clean containers and stirring rods to keep the mixture pure. These precautions are vital for achieving a reliable and effective sublimation coating.

Step 4: Testing the Mixture

To test the consistency of your sublimation coating mixture, use the “stick test” by dipping a stick into the mix and observing its adhesion. Alternatively, apply a small sample onto scrap stainless steel and assess its uniformity after drying. These steps ensure the coating’s viscosity is appropriate.

Conduct a mini sublimation test on a small, coated stainless steel piece for effectiveness. After curing the coating, apply a sublimation print and test for vibrancy and durability through scratching and washing. Success in this preliminary test indicates that your coating mixture is ready for full-scale application.

Step 5: Application on Stainless Steel

Applying the sublimation coating to stainless steel usually involves using a specialized spray gun connected to an air compressor. After filling the spray gun with your prepared coating mixture, aim to hold it consistently about 6 to 8 inches away from the metal surface. Use a slow, sweeping motion to ensure even coating distribution, paying attention to consistent hand movement and speed.

Achieving an even coat requires some finesse. Make sure to overlap your spray patterns slightly and keep a consistent distance and speed during the application. Practicing on a scrap piece of stainless steel can be invaluable for perfecting your technique. After spraying, always inspect the coated surface carefully, addressing any uneven or thinly coated areas.

Step 6: Time to Cure the Coating

The essential process that comes next is curing after applying the sublimation layer. Place the coated stainless steel item in a preheated oven and set it to the temperature recommended by the coating manufacturer. The coating becomes more robust and prepared for the sublimation print due to the curing process. For best results, adhere to the manufacturer’s curing instructions for the whole duration.

To speed up the curing process or enhance its quality, consider using a convection oven that circulates hot air, allowing for more even curing. Additionally, ensure the object is placed so air may flow around it. Check for evenness and adhesion halfway through the curing process and make adjustments as necessary to avoid uneven curing and potential flaking.

Quality Control and Troubleshooting

Quality control is an essential part of the sublimation coating process. After curing, carefully inspect the coated stainless steel surface for inconsistencies like bubbles, streaks, or thin spots. An uneven or flawed coating can compromise the effectiveness of the sublimation print. Use a light source to illuminate the surface at different angles to detect potential defects better.

If you encounter problems like streaks or bubbles, these are often due to improper mixing or application techniques. For streaks, a second, lighter application often helps even out the coating. It could be required to sand bubbles and then reapply the coating gently. Always consult the manufacturer’s instructions for more guidance on troubleshooting.


Crafting a sublimation coating for stainless steel is a detailed endeavor, encompassing everything from ingredient measurement to the application and curing of the coating. This coating is pivotal for the triumph of sublimation printing, facilitating the creation of vibrant and enduring prints on stainless steel. A premium, lasting finish is contingent upon meticulous preparation, application, and curing.

Learning how to apply a sublimation finish on stainless steel can be a gratifying journey for those fervently for sublimation printing and DIY ventures. It opens the door to enhanced customization and gives you control over the final product’s quality. So, don’t hesitate to try it out!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What does sublimation coating entail?

A: Sublimation coating is a special type of coating applied to a surface to make it suitable for sublimation printing. The coating creates a strong, long-lasting print by enabling the sublimation inks to adhere to the surface.

Q: Can I use household items to mix the coating ingredients?

A: It’s recommended to use specialized equipment like digital scales and chemical-resistant stirring rods to ensure accurate measurements and prevent contamination.

Q: Is it safe to do this at home?

A: While it’s possible to do this at home, always follow safety precautions. This includes wearing safety goggles and gloves, keeping an eye-wash station nearby, and operating in a well-ventilated space.

Q: What is the lifespan of the sublimation coating on stainless steel?

A: The durability of the sublimation coating varies based on factors like the quality of the application and the environmental conditions it’s exposed to. However, a well-applied coating can last for several years.

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