Sublimation Printers Resource
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What is Sublimation

The actual process of sublimation involves placing a sublimation transfer that has been printed on paper onto polyester or polymer-coated material and then applying heat (usually with a flatbed heat press) to both. The heat changes the solid print on the paper into a gas, which then prints into the polymer surface

The operative word here is into. In addition to the heat causing the sublimation process, it also opens up the polymer so the gas actually goes into the surface coating. Seconds after the surface starts to cool, the gas reverts back to a solid and the polymer closes back up, trapping the solid. This is why you can run your finger across the surface of a sublimated metal plate and you will not feel anything.

The two most common methods retailers use to produce printed transfers is with an inkjet printer or a single color desktop laser printer. Either one requires the special sublimation cartridges used to produce heat transfers.

Laser Printer Sublimation: We provide laser printer sublimation toner cartridges for over 500 different types of older and newer laser printers. The most common printers used are Hewlett-Packard's. Everything from the still excellent HP II & III, to the more modern HP 4000 & 4050 are great sublimation transfer printers. The list is too large to list all the other printers. Call us to see if your printer is supported, or before you buy one for sublimation.

The four most common colors used in single color laser printers are black, blue, red and green. Black is by far the most commonly used color and there is a reason for this. Laser printer transfers print deeper and cheaper on gold, silver and bronze polymer coated metal than inkjet printers. The print is deeper because the sublimation toner lays down heavier than what is possible for an inkjet so the metal color does not bleed through.

The transfers are cheaper because the prints are done on ordinary copier paper (all inkjets require more expensive coated paper) and the yield per cartridge dollar is much, much higher with laser printer sublimation cartridges.

Almost every personalized badge, button, wall sign, desk name plate, plaque, legend plate, trophy plate and more, that displays crisp black print on a gold, silver or bronze colored metal plate, has been printed, using the laser printer sublimation process.

Blue, red and green also sublimates very bold and clearly. It is possible to put two colors on the same plate (a blue logo and black text, for example) by printing one color first and then printing the paper again with the second color.

While laser printer transfers will certainly sublimate onto fabrics (t-shirts, for example) its main use is for metal plates. As one nationally known sublimation expert recently wrote, "There is no comparison with a good (looking) metal plate done with laser printer sublimation - especially in price. If the need is to quickly produce lots and lots of lettered plates, there is no (better) option."

We will close this section with a business thought. No matter what sublimation process you eventually decide upon, always keep single color laser sublimation in your mind.
It is just too profitable to ignore.

If you would like to see how great our cartridges print transfers, click here and send us your request for free samples and transfers. We'll even include a free e-mail subscription to our sublimation business newsletter, "Toner Times".

Inkjet Printers: Inkjet printers are most commonly used if most of the sublimation is going to be done on white fabrics like t-shirts, ball caps, mouse pads, etc., some white plastics, and polymer coated coffee cups and the need is for a full color process.

Inkjet cartridges do not print good colors on metal especially on gold. The bright color of the metal bleeds through and produces a slightly faded appearance. This is true, even if you are printing with black. On white metal it does look good.

Be aware that most inkjet printers are not suited for sublimation inks. The two most common inkjet printers used are the Epson 980 and Epson 3000 and (unlike laser printers) they should be dedicated solely to sublimation.

The Epson 980 has a much smaller price tag but only uses two cartridges, one for black and one for cyan, magenta and yellow. The Epson 3000 printer has a much higher price and require's a separate cartridge for each of the four colors.

The 980 may be a good choice if you know that you are not going to do very much sublimation and the lowest possible entry level price is your most important consideration.

However, the operational cost of the 980 may be much higher than the 3000. You will frequently run into situations where one color is used a lot more than the other colors. The cartridge is sealed and cannot be refilled. If you run out of one color, the entire cartridge has to be replaced, no matter how much is left of the other two colors.

If we were using a 980 to print sublimation transfers we would definitely keep a couple of extra cartridges on hand. After all, have you ever run out of anything at a convenient time?

The Epson 3000 has a much higher price but, if you are going to use it a lot, is probably cheaper in the long run. It holds four cartridges, one for each color. This, by itself, can quickly make up for the difference in price between the 980 and the 3000. When a color runs out, you only replace the one cartridge.

For the price, most of our laser printer sublimation cartridge customers seem to be fairly satisfied with the Epson 3000 when they need full color, especially on whites. When they need single colors on metal, they always go with their laser printer.

For diversification a great number of our customer's use both processes, although most started off with laser printer sublimation. There are two primary reasons for this fact. First, is cost. A sublimation print from an inkjet costs about twenty times more than a print from a laser printer. Second, is the fact that while there are several dozens of "white" items that look great in full color, there are many hundreds of items that look great with a personalized metal plate attached.

The information on this page is covered in great detail in our Sublimation Library. Click here, for more information and a link to ColourMagic! TM full color laser sublimation.