What is the Sublimation process?

What is the Sublimation process?

The sublimation process is simple with a little complexity on how it works.  The process itself is defined with chemistry terms.  But basically it is printing your design onto a piece of special paper that is best for sublimation and using a heat press to transfer your design onto a product/substrate. 

Have you ever gotten a personalized mug with your kids photo on it?  That mug is printed using the sublimation process.

Sublimation is the process of transitioning a dye from a solid state to a gaseous state without it becoming a liquid state using heat. 

Now let's see if I can explain it a little bit better.  When you print the image on the paper it comes out of the printer like ink and when it hits the paper it dries out, then when heat hits it, it activates the ink and turns it into a gaseous state so it can grab onto your product.  Once it adheres to your product it is permanent.  

It is pretty interesting how it all happens, and simple really.  Only because I am not the one who created this process, I am the one who loves designing products using the sublimation process.

This mug starts out as a solid color and when heated up it shows the image and turns the mug white.  Once it cools down it morphs back to the original color.

For years I have been sublimating on mugs, mousepads, tiles, coasters, light switches, license plate frames, and so many more products.  I am addicted to this process.

Wait until you see your designs on the products!       

I mainly used Coreldraw for the last 15 years and I have been venturing out on Adobe Illustrator as well.  At one time I started out with photos and then started creating my artwork onto the products as well.    This is the sublimation process step by step:

Starting out in Sublimation 

I remember when I first started I had this Epson printer that had bulk ink containers feeding through long tubes into my printer.  It was a love/hate relationship because the nozzles kept getting clogged and I would waste a lot of dye just to print.  Even though that would keep happening when I got a finished product it was so exciting that I wanted to keep doing more!

Times have changed and you can get a nice Epson or Ricoh printer that houses individual or bulk ink cartridges for easy use and setup.  Happier times since that changed. 

The Sublimation Process Basic Steps

You will need a printer, ink dye cartridges, sublimation paper and patience.  

  1. The ink dye is in liquid form, just like regular printer ink but it is called sublimation ink dye.  And when you print on this special sublimation paper the ink dries on the paper, just like if you were to print a document on a regular piece of paper.

  2. Once printed you are ready to transfer the image onto your product/substrate.

  3. Most of the products used in sublimation has a polymer coating on it which adheres the ink/dye to the product.

  4. The ink/dye when heated turns into a gaseous state and adheres to the polymer coating of that product.  You can also use other fabrics with a high count of polyester, or even silk.  But that is another topic.

  5. Once you wrap the image around the product you are ready to turn your heat press on.

  6. The temperature of the heat press should be about 360-400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most products heat time ranges from 55 seconds to 7 minutes.  Just depends on what you are working on.  

  7. The image will transfer to the product in that allotted timeframe and once the heat time completes you remove the paper and enjoy your newly designed product.

Does that sound simple enough?

Remember just to have fun with it.  It is a process and once you get the hang of it and see the final product, you will be hooked!  I know I was.



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