Sublimation for Beginners: Equipment, Tools, and Supplies

Sublimation for Beginners: Equipment, Tools, and Supplies main article image
Posted on August 23, 2021 by Naomi Garcia
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Have you ever wondered about trying sublimation?  A couple of years ago, I thought to myself: “As if I really need another area of crafting to get into.”  I was enjoying my Cricut and my Cuttlebug machines. My heat press was getting a lot of use and I was happy. But then YouTube did that thing to me.  

As I was watching tutorials for vinyl and HTV, a video about sublimation popped up in my “recommended” feed.  So I watched it. Then I watched the next one after that. I really tried to not want to do sublimation. But that crafting FOMO (fear of missing out) voice became stronger and stronger. Then, one day, the struggle was over.

I realized that I had EVERYTHING I needed to get started with basic sublimation. OK, not everything. I was just missing the printer. Yeah, I know… that’s the most important element. But that ended when I saw a really inexpensive option for a new sublimation printer on EBay. I ordered it, it arrived less than a week later, and I was rolling with the big guys.  Just kidding. 

I may not be at the top of the sublimation game. I may not have the latest and greatest equipment. However, what I had when I first started and what I have now are the basics for sublimation and the desire to create and explore. Join me on a brief overview of sublimation basics.  

This article will be covering:

  • What is Sublimation?
  • Sublimation Printer
  • Sublimation Paper
  • Sublimation Designs
  • What do I do if I don’t have a sublimation printer?
  • Heat Source
  • Sublimation Blanks

 

Sublimated Mug (Naomi D. Garcia)

What is Sublimation?

Sublimation is also called dye-sublimation (or dye-sub) printing.  It’s basically a technique where you use heat to transfer dye to your material. The biggest difference between sublimation and heat transfer vinyl is that the dye becomes a part of the material when you sublimate. So what materials, supplies, and equipment do you need to get started with sublimation?

Sublimation Printer

The most obvious piece of equipment you will need is a sublimation printer. There are several brands of sublimation printers. They vary in cost from about $600 to up into thousands of dollars.  

As a more affordable option for the hobbyist, many crafters purchase an inexpensive inkjet printer (especially Epson brand) an “convert” it to use for sublimation. The reason Epson is a choice for many beginners is because the EcoTank system allows you to simply add sublimation ink that you can buy from Amazon to the tanks. This is what I used in the beginning phases of my sublimation journey. It did work and I was able to make beautiful prints. You can find an Epson EcoTank printer on Amazon and in several stores like Target and Office Depot.

The printer I currently use is a Sawgrass 500. Sawgrass is a reputable sublimation equipment company. (Stay with me, here.  I promise this isn’t an ad for Sawgrass). The Sawgrass 500 is the most basic of their line of sublimation printers. But again, basic is all I need. Sublimation isn’t my main business; this is something I do for fun and occasionally for small orders. You can find more information about Sawgrass on their website. Michael’s also recently began selling the Sawgrass 500.

As I mentioned earlier, you’ll need sublimation ink as well. There are different kinds of ink. When I had my converted printer, I ordered sublimation ink from Amazon. It can get a little messy filling the tanks, so be prepared with gloves, towels, and clothes you don’t mind getting ink on.  

With the Sawgrass printer that I currently use, the ink is different. It requires an ink called SubliJet. They’re more like cartridges and there is no need to fill tanks. I promise this is the most technical part of sublimation printing. Everything from here on out will be easy.

Sublimation Paper

Sublimation paper is designed to absorb the dye and then release it when heated. Since sublimation requires high temperatures, the paper is made to withstand those temperatures. The transfer tends to look faded when printed, but is amazingly vibrant once pressed. My current favorite sublimation paper is from Hayes Paper Co. (Again, not an ad.)

I do have a more affordable alternative. Being new to sublimation and not knowing if I really was going to do it much, I didn’t want to spend much money. I found out from YouTube that laser copier paper could be used in place of sublimation paper. Some people have even used regular paper. My recommendation, though, is the laser paper because it’s made to withstand the higher temperatures. That’s important because, as you will learn, we’re talking about some pretty hot temperatures. I was able to find a ream of laser copier paper at Walmart for a great price and it lasts FOREVER.

Sublimation Designs

Designing is my most favorite thing about sublimation. If you have your own sublimation printer, you can design your own prints. Although you can design using Cricut Design Space, Silhouette Studio, Adobe Illustrator, or other design software, none of these things are really necessary for very basic sublimation. You can design using software like Microsoft Word, Publisher, or Google Docs. You can even print photos directly from your phone or computer to your sublimation printer. Cool, right?

Creative Fabrica has tons of images that are great for sublimation designs. You can use images as is or create your own designs by combining images. If you search for sublimation designs, you’ll find beautiful backgrounds and images that look great when added to a project using sublimation.

Sublimated Socks (Naomi D. Garcia)

What do I do if I don’t have a sublimation printer?

If you find yourself with everything you need except for the sublimation printer, don’t worry. There are vendors and creators who sell sublimation prints. Some are pre-made designs. Some shops will just print designs you have made. I’ve found several of these shops on Etsy.

Heat Source

  1. Just how hot are we talking here? Generally, sublimation requires heat at about 400 degrees fahrenheit for a successful transfer. Because of this, it’s safe to say that a heat press is your best bet. The Cricut Easy Press 2 (all sizes) and the Easy Press Mini can be used since they reach the required heat settings. I use my Easy Press Mini for small projects and my 16” clamshell heat press for most other projects.

If you are interested in sublimating on cups, tumblers, and other drink ware, a cup press is a good tool to have. The Cricut Mug Press as well as cup presses you can find on Amazon and from various dealers are perfect. Alternatively, some creators (I am not one of them… yet) have had success using an air fryer for sublimation as well. Now, if you really want to get fancy with it, there are also sublimation ovens on the market. I think that may be my next stop. Maybe.

Sublimation Blanks

At this point, you may be wondering what you can actually add sublimation to. There is a wide variety of blanks you can use. Be sure that materials you choose are meant for sublimation.  

Shirts, socks, and other clothing

  • Fabrics need to have a high polyester count in order to directly sublimate them. I get best results when my garments are at least 60% polyester.  
  • Mugs, cups, tumblers
    • These have to be “sublimation” blanks. They will have a special coating that allows the sublimation to transfer.
  • Coasters
  • Earrings
  • Mouse pads
  • Wood (yes wood!)
  • Phone grips. 

Sublimated Earrings (Naomi D. Garcia)

In addition to the above supplies, I would also recommend teflon sheets, a lint roller, heat resistant tape, and a heat glove (for drink ware).  

There are so many possibilities when it comes to sublimation. You can even get fancy and creative and combine sublimation with other techniques. If you’ve been on the fence about sublimation, I hope this article has helped you. You can find more guidance by searching here on The Artistry for more articles about sublimation.  

I’d love to see your sublimation projects.  Please tag me on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok.  I am EJsFunCrafting on all platforms. Make something creative!

 


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