What’s the best printer for sublimation? It’s a typical question among people who want to start creating custom shirts, bags, flip-flops, cushion covers, and other paraphernalia. In this overview, we’ll publish a list of the best sublimation printers available for sale. Plus, we’ll explain the essence of this technology and share tips on making the most of it.
Why Sublimation Printing?
A purpose-built sublimation printer looks like a conventional inkjet printer. The difference is that after you create an image with its help, you’ll be able to transfer it to another surface — such as a mug or clock. The popularity of this technology has been steadily growing because:
- Anyone can start using it. It’s not necessary to be tech-savvy or complete any course. You’ll be learning on the go.
- You can create various different objects, including clothes, accessories, decor items, household items, and many more.
- Every day, you can produce large batches of high-quality products. The equipment isn’t sensitive to the number of items in the batch. Your manufacturing expenses won’t increase because of printing in bulk.
- If someone asks you to print something for them, they will be able to get the ready product the same day.
- The available color palette is almost limitless. You won’t have to pay a surcharge for adding an extra shade to the design.
- When you transfer an image to an object, you’ll be applying it directly on its surface. You won’t have to create an upper intermediate layer. Thanks to that, the ready item won’t be prone to scratches or peeling and will be more pleasant to touch.
This technology has a few limitations too:
- It can create images exclusively for light and hard backgrounds. You would fail to use sublimation ink on a dark or soft background.
- To prevent fading, it’s advisable to keep the printed objects away from direct UV rays.
- You can use for sublimation exclusively fabrics that consist of at least 65% of polyester.
The shortcomings of this technique aren’t too numerous and drastic.
You might want to buy a sublimation printer to have fun in your apartment and create gifts for your friends, colleagues, and family members. Alternatively, you can launch a small business and generate a profit.
What Do You Need to Get Started with Sublimation?
It’s not enough to choose the best sublimation printer — it’s also necessary to purchase supplies for it. Let’s have a look at what you should put into the basket!
The quality of the sublimation transfer paper is a crucial parameter that affects the looks of the ready product. You’ll need to apply the sublimation paper onto the blanks — that is, the objects to which you want to transfer the image.
Unlike a photo printer, the device that you’ll be using requires special sublimation ink. Over time, you’ll learn how to refill a sublimation ink cartridge.
Sublimation Ink Printer
Only a dedicated printer for sublimation printing will suit this type of work. The machine that you use for printing casual documents won’t do. However, selected devices operate on the all-in-one principle and can cope with both types of tasks.
To minimize their expenses, some individuals use a regular iron to attach the image to a sublimation blank. But it’s not too convenient and the result might look unprofessional. An iron is too small and can’t cope with large pictures.
Dedicated presses are available in various sizes. They ensure the best possible looks and exceptional durability of the ready products.
If you want to produce mugs in batches, purchase a dedicated oven for them instead of a press.
To design the visuals that you’ll be transferring onto objects, you’ll need to install profile software on your computer or mobile device. We’ll discuss this point in detail a bit later, so keep reading this article!
What Are the 3 Things You Must Know About a Sublimation Printing Machine Before Buying One
Before we focus on the specifics of various types of printers, let’s memorize three meaningful facts.
1. Dye Sublimation is a Low-Cost Option
A dye-sublimation printer should be more cost-efficient than a machine that lacks this technology. Its ink can be water-proof and smudging will be highly unlikely. A dye sublimation printer can guarantee unparalleled accuracy. The result of its work should be remarkably long-lasting.
2. A Wide Range of Products Can Be Printed
A true sublimation printer can create images that you’ll be able to transfer on a wide range of hard surfaces. You’ll be able to create toys, banners, flags, socks, hats, mouse mats, cushion covers… The list could go on and on.
3. You’ll Require Additional Gear
Since you’ll have to deal with ink and hot surfaces, it makes sense to protect your hands with special gloves. The fabrics require heat protection two — and this is where foam pillows come in handy. Silicone cover sheets will protect the heat press from ink.
To secure the paper before you start printing, apply spray adhesive or thermal tape to it.
When a person with limited experience uses a sublimation device for the first time, they should be much more careful than when handling a conventional desktop printer.
Sublimation vs Infusible Ink
Infusible Ink is a popular alternative to sublimation. Let’s compare them by five key parameters.
High-quality sublimation process and Infusible Ink can deliver an identically extensive palette — at least, from the end-users viewpoint. If you aren’t a professional in this sphere, you might fail to tell the difference between the two techniques at first sight.
If you’d like to cut down on the initial investment and are planning to create items only from time to time, Infusible Ink should cost you less than sublimation. If you want to start a business and have funds to invest in the equipment, opt for sublimation. It’s more suitable for commercial purposes and you should be able to break even rather soon.
Both Infusible Ink and sublimation allow you to create objects that will remain visually appealing for many years. Both technologies affect directly the surface of the object and don’t require you to apply any additional layer to it.
Ease of use
When sublimating images, you just print them, take them and apply them to the target surface. If you prefer Infusion Ink, you’ll need to cut the pattern from the sheet, which takes time and effort.
Sublimation might offer greater customization opportunities. If you use Cricut Infusible Ink, you’ll be allowed to select from a limited collection of designs and patterns. With sublimation, you can create whatever you wish.
Buyer’s Guide – Best Sublimation Printer for Beginners
There are so sublimation printers with different features on sale… You might get easily spoiled for choice. Below, we’ll list the key parameters that you should focus on when choosing your first sublimation printer.
Maximum Printing Dimensions
Both regular printers that use ink and sublimation ones have limitations when it comes to the size of the image. Smart tip: think of the largest size of the pictures that you’ll need and purchase the most compact machine that can cope with them. Most devices leave margins, so don’t forget to take them into account. When choosing a heat press, opt for the one that is at least 1 inch larger on all four sides than the pictures that you’ll be transferring.
How Easy Is It to Convert a Printer?
“To convert for sublimation” means that you take a regular printer and modify it so that it becomes compatible with the sublimation technology. Please mind that there is no way back. You won’t be able to return the device to its original state.
After a successful conversion, you’ll have to add sublimation ink with a syringe inside the machine. It’s a tricky process that requires training.
Most importantly, the conversion automatically voids the warranty of the device.
Color Accuracy in Printers
An inkjet printer mixes base shades to create a huge palette. Most devices rely on four shades while some can work with eight. If you’re planning to launch a business and print high-definition images, it would be reasonable to invest in a model with eight base colors. Otherwise, four base shades should be enough for home use and to start a small printing business.
The Printer’s Ease of Use
When looking for the best sublimation device, pay attention to the ease of its setup and settings. Most machines have comprehensive instructions in their boxes. However, with some models, the setup process is more straightforward than with the others.
The best machines have touchscreen displays that allow you to control their work. The models that lack such displays cost less than those that have.
Money Well Spent
The best sublimation printers of 2023 aren’t necessarily the most expensive ones. To optimize your budget, think about what you’ll print. Pay only for the features that you’ll genuinely need — such as the high speed of delivering the images or the opportunity to create them in bulk.
Both a regular printer and sublimation one can connect to other devices with or without a wire. USB, Ethernet and Wi-Fi are the most common connectivity options. Make sure the device that you’d love to buy supports the option that works best for you.
Printers differ greatly in their speed of work. If you want to establish a business, speed is crucial. For home-use printers for beginners in 2023, it’s a secondary parameter.
Some machines can deliver one image very quickly. But if you create a queue, they might take long to process the pictures one by one. To accelerate the process, you can print several pictures on one sheet. Alternatively, entrepreneurs can buy several identical printers that will be working simultaneously to accelerate the delivery. For business purposes, the process of creating one image should take no longer than one minute.
Sublimation Printer for Shirts
Kodak Dock Portable Instant is a top sublimation printer that’s also famous for doubling as an adapter and charger. Use a USB cable to connect it to any Android or iOS device. Alternatively, connect it to your smartphone through Wi-Fi and print photos right from your gallery. Feel free to edit the pics in the printer’s app.
This versatile device is very compact. On the one hand, it’s good because you can easily carry it with you. On the other hand, the image size is limited — but it’s pretty much enough for a t-shirt.
Best Epson Printer for Sublimation
Any Epson printer that can do sublimation transfers would be a great purchase. Here are a few examples of the most popular models:
- Epson Ecotank 2400
- Epson Ecotank 2803
- Epson Ecotank 5150
- Epson Ecotank 8550
- Epson Ecotank 15000
- Epson Ecotank 16650
The Epson Workforce series performs very well too.
Neither of them was designed for sublimation. Users convert them. Nevertheless, Epson machines deliver stunning results, compared to other printers that were purposefully made for sublimation.
Software for Sublimation Printing
Before you send an image to print, it’s essential to prepare it. Feel free to do it in any app that you love: Canva, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator or any other. It’s crucial to choose an app that enables you to manage colors. The second paramount criterion is a user-friendly interface. It can take you a few minutes to figure out how the simplest apps function. More advanced alternatives feature steeper learning curves but provide greater opportunities for exercising your creativity. Make sure the app you opt for is compatible with the operating system of your device.
Sublimation Printer for Heat Transfer
Brother MFC-J805DW is one of the best sublimation printers on the market in the heat transfer category. It can deliver images without borders and their quality will be amazing. Even though it’s not the fastest machine in its niche, it comes in handy for home use.
Wide Format Sublimation Printer
HP Stitch S1000 is a very worthy wide-format sublimation printer. It’s perfect for creating decor items, fashion pieces, and sportswear.
It works on the dye-sublimation technology, has four ink cartridges, and features a 1-year hardware warranty. The machine weighs 300 kg and measures 126 inches in width. The software for creating images is included in the package.
Sublimation Printer Cricut
Cricut is a cutting machine that is compatible with sublimation. You can use it to create the designs of your print.
If you want to get a sublimation printer that you could pair with Cricut, consider Sawgrass SG500. It’s incredibly durable and reliable. It comes with a 2-year warranty. It can deliver ultra-fine photos and is capable of automatic duplex printing.
On the flip side, this Sawgrass printer might look a bit bulky. Besides, its backlit LED display looks not as stunning as the multicolor display of many Epson models.
Commercial Sublimation Printer
Sawgrass Virtuoso SG1000 fully lives up to its name. Entrepreneurs love it for its color accuracy and the ability to deliver large-size pictures. The setup is intuitive and the range of connectivity options is extensive.
This Sawgrass sublimation printer is not the most budget-friendly option but it’s worth every cent you’ll invest in it. It’s spot-on for bulk printing and it won’t require too much maintenance.
Pay attention to other printers from Sawgrass too — it’s a highly reputable brand.
Laser Sublimation Printer
If you’d like to find the best sublimation printer that will be working at a mind-blowing speed, consider Uninet IColor 350. It operates on the dye sublimation technology and its printheads never get clogged. Its laser creates images twenty times faster than printers that rely on ink, without compromising on quality.
Cheapest Sublimation Printer
Canon Pixma TS Series is a noteworthy cheap sublimation printer. It’s famous for its ease of installation and highly detailed pictures. You can connect it to other devices with a wire or without it. This machine can scan and copy regular documents too. However, it might slow down if you add multiple documents to the queue.
13×19 Sublimation Printer
Canon PIXMA iX6820 is a budget-friendly sublimation printer that can produce 13×19 images. It’s very lightweight and supports wireless connection. The quality of the prints is always impressive.
The key drawback of this machine is the substandard quality of the plastic that it’s made from. Please be careful when transporting it. The manufacturer cut down expenses on plastic to make the device more affordable.
Sublimation Printer 11×17
Epson EcoTank ET-15000 is a superb sublimation printer that can print 11×17 images. It’s an inkjet printer that supports both wired and wireless connections. You won’t need to install any extra apps to print photos right from your smartphone gallery, regardless of your phone’s operating system. It’s a five-star sublimation printer for home use. It copes equally well with color and black-and-white images.
Best Sublimation Printer for Beginners
Brother MFCL2700DW is probably the best sublimation printer for beginners. It can print regular documents as well as scan PDF ones. It’s heavy, reliable and seamlessly connects to other desktop and mobile devices. The setup is intuitive even for those who start from scratch.
FAQ for Best Sublimation Printers
What are the drawbacks of sublimation?
- Some printers are expensive.
- You can carry out sublimation only on a light background but not a black or dark one.
- Even with wide format printers, the size of the image will be limited.
- Just like a regular inkjet printer, printers that are specifically made for sublimation can stop working because its printheads get clogged. To prevent this issue, you can either make the machines work every other day — or make its printheads clean themselves automatically.
- Even if you use a perfect sublimation printer, you should avoid placing the ready objects under direct sunrays — otherwise, the sublimated image might fade.
Is sublimation cheaper than heat transfer?
In the past, the latter technology used to be cheaper than the former. Today, they both require nearly identical expenses. To save funds, get an affordable sublimation printer. The best sublimation printers in 2023 have reasonable price tags and won’t make you compromise on quality.
Can a Cricut do sublimation?
Yes. This cutting machine can deliver designs that are suitable for sublimation printing.
What is the easiest printer to convert to sublimation?
Epson printers can be converted to this technology with a relatively small effort. It’s easier to convert the EcoTank series than the Workforce one.
Is sublimation better than vinyl?
Compared to vinyl, high-quality quality sublimation prints are more durable and long-lasting. When using sublimation, you transfer the image to the surface of an object. If you opt for vinyl, you need to apply a vinyl coating on the surface of the object first. Over time, this coating might peel or get scratched.
Can you sublimate it onto 100% cotton fabric?
No. The sublimation print technology is compatible only with fabrics that contain at least 65% of polyester.
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