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How to Convert a Printer to a Sublimation Printer

How to Convert a Printer to a Sublimation Printer main article image
Posted on September 2, 2022 by Naomi Garcia

What does “crafting at home” make you think about?  Maybe you think of knitting and crocheting.  Maybe you picture your grandma sitting at her old Singer sewing machine making new dresses for you and the whole neighborhood. It could be that your mind flies to stacks and stacks of pretty paper waiting to be made into something amazing.

Now, what do you think about when you hear “sublimation?”  Do you imagine a huge warehouse somewhere mass producing shirts on great big presses?  Are you thinking about those really cool souvenir mugs and shot glasses you always bring home when you take a trip?

“Where are you going with this, Naomi?”  

Stick with me here.  We’re really going somewhere amazing with this.

So what exactly does “crafting” and “sublimation” have in common?  Well, sublimation crafting has taken off in the last couple of years and it is here to stay.  That’s right.  Sublimation is no longer only for large companies.  Thanks to technology, we can now make items for ourselves, our families, and our friends right at home using the process of sublimation.

For making sublimation projects at home, you’ll need three main things:

  • A sublimation printer
  • A heat press
  • Sublimation-compatible blanks

What Kind of Printer?

If the thought of making your own sublimation t-shirts, mugs, keychains, and coasters right at home seems exciting to you, keep reading.  However, if this sounds like it may be too expensive or too difficult to try at home, still keep reading.  In this article, I want to walk you through how easy and affordable it can be to get started with sublimation.  I recently helped my sister through this setup and I want to share it with you, too.  Let’s focus on what you’ll need most of all: a sublimation printer.

Can I use a regular inkjet printer?

A sublimation printer is an absolute necessity if you want to print your own sublimation designs to use.  Sublimation uses ink that is formulated to bond with the fibers of the garment (or another blank) when heated.  During the process, the ink is turned into a gas and becomes a part of the blank.  

In order for this process to work, you must use (1) a compatible blank, or substrate, and (2) the correct type of ink.  

Inkjet ink is not formulated to transfer during the heating process and bond with whatever compatible blank you may be using.  For this reason, an inkjet printer will not work for the purpose of printing sublimation designs.

screenshot of Epson EcoTank Printer

What about converting an inkjet printer to be used as a sublimation printer?

If you’re reading this article, this is likely the part you’re most likely interested in.  Over the past couple of years, it has become very popular, in fact, trendy, to take an inkjet printer and convert it to a sublimation printer.

Why People Convert Printers for Sublimation

So why would anyone convert a printer to begin with?  There are various reasons. The biggest factor is cost.  Purchasing a true sublimation printer is a huge investment.  Printers start at around $600 (US) and, depending on the features, can run up to thousands of dollars.  

Converting an inkjet printer into a sublimation printer is much less expensive.  You can find a compatible printer for a little over $200.  Of course, there are printers that will print a larger area, and those are sure to run you a little more.  You can then purchase the ink you’ll need for about $25 online.  So in all, you’d be spending under $300 to get started.  This is the route my sister took.

Compatible Printers to Convert

One last thing you’ll need to know before you dive in is that not just any printer will work.  The easiest and least expensive route is to purchase a NEW Epson EcoTank printer.  These printers utilize individual tanks for each ink color.  This makes it easy to add sublimation ink into the individual tanks.  

Some people ask about converting a used EcoTank printer to sublimation.  Although it is possible, it’s not something that I’d personally recommend.  You don’t want to mix inkjet ink with sublimation ink.  There are ways to flush out the old ink.  But again, in my personal experience, I don’t prefer this method.

There are other options for converting printers.  In fact, the first time I tried sublimation about three years ago, I purchased an Epson printer with a conversion kit.  It was a fairly inexpensive printer.  It was under $200 I’m sure.  The cartridge carrier had been replaced with tanks but I had to mess with connecting the wiring harness.  The tanks sat OUTSIDE of the actual printer and I had to be sure to keep them above the level of the printer.  It wasn’t that easy.  But it worked.  

Here’s a screenshot of the very first printer I converted back in the day.  It included everything.  And I thought I was all that!

screenshot of Epson WF conversion kit

Sublimation Ink and Paper

Remember, sublimation ink is what will make this a success.  I have purchased sublimation ink in bottles from Amazon.  Just search “sublimation ink” and you’ll have lots of options to choose from.  There are also individual companies that sell ink.  I’ve found out that the kind of ink that works best tends to vary with the paper I use as well as the blanks they’re put on.  So you may want to experiment with it a bit.

Screen shot of sublimation inks on Amazon

As for the paper, there are mixed reviews.  I highly recommend using a sublimation paper.  I have used laser copy paper and it worked fine.  However, I get better quality and more consistent results when I use sublimation paper.  You can find sublimation papers on Amazon as well.  Some quality brands I recommend are Wala-Sub paper, ASub, Hayes, and PYD Life.

The Conversion Process

Alright.  Let’s get down to converting your printer.  Below you will find a step-by-step walkthrough of how I converted my Epson EcoTank inkjet printer to use as a sublimation printer.

Materials, Equipment, and Supplies

  • Epson EcoTank Printer (new, recommended)
  • Sublimation Ink 
  • Sublimation Paper
  • Gloves (optional)

The Process

  1. Unbox your printer and remove all of the tape and packaging
  2. Set aside the ink bottles that are included with your new printer.  (Don’t ever touch them again… just kidding).
  3. Follow the instructions included with your printer to set it up.  DO NOT ADD THE INK.
  4. When you get to the step where you add the ink into the tanks, put on your gloves… this can get a little messy.
  5. Use the SUBLIMATION INKS to fill the tanks as directed
  6. Load a couple of sheets of regular copy paper into the printer
  7. Follow the instructions for your printer to align the print heads.

The next thing you need to do is connect the printer to your computer.  You can do this wirelessly using a wired connection.  In either case, follow the instructions that came with your printer to add the printer to your computer.

Once this is all complete, your printer will be ready to use!

Epson EcoTank setup

Test Print

Here is the moment of truth.  Let’s do a test print to make sure your printer is set up correctly.

  1. Load sublimation paper into your printer.  
  2. Be sure to load the paper so that it prints on the correct side.
  3. Open a document in Word, Docs, PDF, or any software you can add a test graphic.
    1. Creative Fabrica has lots of really fun sublimation files.  
    2. Here’s a really cute Fall bundle you might like to use to test your printer.
  4. Insert the image you want to print on your canvas or document
  5. Size the image so that it will fit within your print area or on the surface you’ll add it to
  6. Select “print” and choose your newly converted printer
  7. In the print dialog box, be sure to select “mirror” or “flip horizontally”
  8. Now you can print your design

Test Print

Final Thoughts

Converting an inkjet printer to use for sublimation can be a really good starting point.  To be honest, I actually did this successfully with three, yes three, different printers before I was able to purchase a true sublimation printer.  Be sure to run your printer often (at least a couple of times a week) to avoid the heads clogging.  If you notice that your print quality is low and that you have clogged print heads, try running the head cleaning maintenance.  This usually helps.

I really hope this helps you get up and running with sublimation. Once you complete this process, let us know!  We love seeing what you’re able to accomplish with your crafting.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment.  I’m happy to help when I can.

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