Which sublimation printer for beginners is best?

Sublimation can be a lucrative opportunity for novice entrepreneurs to create customized products for a niche market. While the process is not complicated, selecting the right equipment can make the difference between a successful venture and one that goes nowhere.

For the beginner, making their first T-shirt or printing a custom line of mugs or glassware, the sublimation printer may be their most important tool. Several printer manufacturers make excellent sublimation printers suited for both beginners and experienced users, but the Epson EcoTank ET-15000 is the top choice.

What to know before you buy a sublimation printer for beginners

What is sublimation?

Sublimation is a printing method that transfers a design onto a fabric or other material using ink and heat. The procedure is widely used in the apparel industry to modify shirts, T-shirts, pants, cotton fabric and more, according to the latest fashion trends.

In the sublimation process, the ink becomes infused into the fabric, a technique that differs from digital printing where images and color are printed on the surface of the material.

Sublimation begins with a wide-format inkjet printer that prints dye-sub inks on a special transfer paper. Using a heat press, the ink is then heat transferred from the paper onto fabric and converted from a solid to a gas, permanently embedding it into the polyester fibers. The result is a long-lasting, full-color image that won’t crack or peel and is less prone to fading even with multiple washings, while a digital print is subject to rapid decay.

Tools needed for sublimation printing

Sublimation printer

While several printer companies offer sublimation printers, both Epson and Sawgrass offer high-quality printers at reasonable prices for sublimation beginners.

Sawgrass printers are exclusively dedicated to sublimation printing, while Epson printers come from the factory using inkjet technology for normal printing. Once you have converted an EcoTank or traditional cartridge Epson inkjet printer for sublimation printing, you can’t go back to printing with normal ink on paper.

Sublimation paper

Customized logos, works of art and any picture or designs consisting of a full spectrum of color can be printed on sublimation paper.

Based on a normal paper substrate, the special sublimation paper has a coating made with about 35% silica and 5% binder to hold the dye sublimation inks. Copy printer paper does not work as well because it is a poor carrier of ink. If the colors bleed through, they could damage the printer.

Raster image processor software

Raster image processor (RIP) software translates computer vector files created by programs such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, JPG, PDF and more, to a bitmap (raster image) composed of a matrix of dots that the printer interprets and prints.

Some sublimation printers include RIP software, but with others, it must be purchased independently. Make sure the software you select is compatible with your sublimation printer.

Heat press

Once the design has been printed on sublimation paper, it must be transferred to the designated materials such as T-shirts, tablecloths, coffee mugs and others, using a heat press.

Four main types of heat presses are used for sublimation:

  • Calendar heat press: These are used for printing on larger soft materials such as clothes, sportswear, flags, fabric signs and interior decorations. The calendar heat press typically handles the small production of cut piece jobs and roll-to-roll.
  • Small heat press: The small footprint makes this heat press ideal for smaller items such as handheld kitchenware.
  • Flatbed heat press: While this press can be used for printing on apparel, it works well for harder material and most flat objects which can be heated above 200°C.
  • 3D vacuum heat press: Designed for sublimating on items with diverse shapes and edges, this press is ideal for smaller objects without flat surfaces.

What to look for in a quality sublimation printer for beginners

Resolution

Resolution is the most important feature of a sublimation printer. High resolution means vibrant and detailed high-quality images.

To create a sharp print, the source design or photo needs enough pixels for the size at which it will be sublimated. A larger print size requires more pixels. Typically, artwork and photos between 150 and 300 dpi produce sharp printouts, but above 300 dpi is required for high-definition prints.

Most desktop printers can print up to 1200 by 1200 dpi.

Device compatibility

Look for a sublimation printer that not only produces high-quality prints but is also compatible with various types of media and multiple connectivity standards (Wi-Fi, USB, Ethernet). Many printers are multifunctional and can be used for embroidery, printing, and transferring more accurately than traditional methods. 

Type of ink

Transferring graphics from paper to fabric or other material requires the use of a special ink capable of converting from a solid-state liquid to a gas.

These dispersed dyes (commonly called “dye-sub inks”) are available in vibrant colors and permanently bond to the finished product. Many sublimation printers come with dye-sub inks but for others, they must be purchased separately. For example, the Sawgrass printers include the Sublijet UHD Sublimation Inks starter kit ink cartridges. Make sure to select an ink that is compatible with your printer.

How much you can expect to spend on a sublimation printer for beginners

Entry-level inkjet printers for home or small business use that can be converted to sublimation printers sell for less than $300 while dedicated high-quality sublimation printers for beginners cost about $900.

Sublimation printer for beginners FAQ

How do I get the best results of sublimation printing?

A. Good sublimation printing results not only depend on a quality printer but also a high-quality heat press. The device must produce consistent pressure and temperature. Swing-away presses are recommended because they can accommodate thicker objects.

How long should sublimation be pressed?

A. The sublimation heat-press settings depend mainly on the type of substrate being used. For example, garments made of 100% polyester usually require around 385-400 degrees and 45-60 seconds at medium pressure.

What’s the best sublimation printer for beginners to buy?

Top sublimation printer for beginners

Epson EcoTank ET-15000

 Epson EcoTank ET-15000

What you need to know: This printer uses a high-density print chip that generates about 40 million precise dots per second to create accurate prints, and a simple change of ink converts it to an excellent wide format 13×19 sublimation printer.

What you’ll love: The EcoTank ET-15000 is a multifunction printer with 2.7 inches color touch screen, scanner, copier, fax and ethernet capabilities. Epson includes low-cost replacement bottles that save up to 90% on ink.

What you should consider: Some users report the printer is more complex to use initially than competitive products.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top sublimation printer for beginners for the money

Epson EcoTank ET-2720

Epson EcoTank ET-2720

What you need to know: The EcoTank ET-2720 makes an excellent sublimation printer at a reasonable price that creates stunning prints on T-shirts, coffee mugs or other dye sublimation items. 

What you’ll love: The unique micro piezo heat-free technology produces impressive color graphics and photos on any paper type including coated sublimation paper. Like the EcoTank ET-15000, the ET-2720 uses a cartridge-free solution with high-capacity, easily refillable ink tanks that save up to 90% on ink costs.

What you should consider: Users report the screen is too small, and the print speed is only average.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500 Printer

Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500 Printer 

What you need to know: The super bundle package includes a complete set of Sublijet UHD inks, 440 sheets of Instant Dry Sublimax brand sublimation paper and five rolls of heat tape to get your sublimation printing business off to a good start.

What you’ll love: The Creative Studio online designer software and stock design library developed by saw grass are included. The printer includes a two-year warranty and partner plus support from Sawgrass to make sure your sublimation printing business gets off to a good start.

What you should consider: Although the print quality is excellent, the replacement ink is pricey.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

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Jeff Harper writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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