Color Management for Sublimation in a Nut Shell

What is Color Management?
To sum up, color management is the process of managing colors so that they come out the way you expect them to and to make this consistent every time.  There are many variables in the process of printing.  This includes the inks, the printer and the canvas that have to be considered.  Color Management uses a color profile to profile the inks, the printer, and the canvas in order to achieve predictable color.  When we use the color profile, we keep all three of these variables consistent so that the final color output is consistent as well.  With color profiles, you are able to achieve more predictable results.  Most of the time, color management is used to match – as closely as possible – the colors that are printed out compared with what is shown on your screen.

What is a Color Profile?
A color profile is something that we create to convert colors more accurately.  When converting colors without a color profile a lot of inaccurate guessing is done by the computer.  By providing a profile, we eliminate much of the guesswork and if some guessing is required, the profile gives the computer more information to make a better informed guess than without a profile.  For instance if your third party inks tend to print colors a tiny bit more red, this information is given to the computer to adjust for the red tint when using a color profile.  In sublimation, when you buy sublimation inks from your supplier, they will normally provide you with either an ICC profile or a Power Driver (embedded color profiles are in the Power Driver).

Why is Color Management Necessary?
Without some form of color management, it would be very difficult to print anything that has color as you wouldn’t know the final result.  Without color management, it’s anyone’s guess how your image would come out on paper compared to the screen.   Color Management basically takes out the guess work in printing.  With a profile, you know that the color you are seeing on the screen is more likely to be the same color that comes out on paper or on your substrate.

How Come We Don’t Need to do This With Our OEM inks?
OEM stands for “Original Equipment Manufacturer”.  This is the standard inks that come with your printer (if you bought an Epson, the OEM inks would be the Epson brand inks).  OEM inks also require a color profile for them to print properly.  All printers with OEM inks will need a color profile and they are normally embeded in the printer driver you have to install before being able to print from your printer.  So there’s no need for a color profile for your OEM inks as your printer driver is already using one.

If you bought a sublimation package, your vendor may have taken out of the box, the OEM inks and replaced them with sublimation inks to prevent users from accidentally loading the OEM inks for their sublimation printer.

When using inks other than OEM inks such as sublimation inks, you will need a different color profile.  When you buy sublimation inks, your supplier will supply you with either a Power Driver (with embedded profiles for individual substrates) or an ICC profile.  It is recommended to use the profiles provided by your sublimation vendor to achieve predictable color results.

Other factors that affect Color
Because sublimation isn’t just printing to paper, it gets a little bit more complicated than just color profiles.  And the following factors below can also affect your color.

Heat Press Temperature and Press Time – Be sure to follow your vendors recommended settings when printing to your substrate as different variations of press time and temperature will also affect how your colors will turn out as well as the sharpness of your image.  If you are unsure, call your supplier.

Nozzle checks – If you are finding color shifts but you know that your color profile, press time and temperature settings were correct; it may be that your printer’s nozzles are not firing correctly.  With sublimation inks, we recommend doing daily nozzle checks to ensure your printer is performing normally.  And clean your printer heads if your nozzle check fails.

Choosing The Correct Color Profile – Use the correct profile!  Don’t use a profile specifically designed for a different printer than the one you are using.  For example, don’t use an Epson 1400 color profile for your Ricoh 7000 sublimation printer.

Last but not least, be sure that your color settings in your design software are correct when using your profile.  Sawgrass has very good instructions on how to set up your Power Driver or your ICC profile for your Ricoh GX7000/3300 sublimation printers.  You can download the instructions/ICC Profiles/Power Drivers here.

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Common Mistakes When Using Sublimation

Many users have had great success with sublimation; they have achieved consistent results every time.  The images are bright, vivid, and match the colors that they have desired.   A few users have had some problems with their images and here are some of the most common mistakes made when using sublimation.  We have duplicated mistakes purposely so that you can compare with our results!

Nozzle Check problems
If the color of your image is off.  For example, if your image has a red tint, or other color tints, there’s a high chance that it is because your nozzles are not firing properly in your sublimation printer.

At the beginning of the day, I always print a nozzle check before I start any jobs as this will ensure that all nozzles are firing.  We suggest daily nozzle checks to prevent virtually all clogs.

Here’s a comparison between a perfect nozzle check and one that isn’t.

Here is a comparison between a print with a perfect nozzle check and one that has a nozzle check problem.

Nozzle print Comparison
The top picture resembles the colors of the original photograph and the bottom one is no where near the original colors

Fixing this problem is very simple.  If your nozzle check isn’t perfect, just clean your nozzle head through your OEM printer driver or through the power driver that you downloaded. And then, perform another nozzle check.  Sometimes it may require more than one head clean to clear the clog.

Check to make sure you are using sublimation paper.

Sublimation requires special sublimation paper for the sublimation inks to release properly when heated.  It is easy to mix up sublimation paper with normal paper as they are both white and feel very similar to one another.  Most standard sublimation papers are only coated on one side (however there are some that are coated on both sides).  You can compare the two sides of the paper to tell sublimation paper and plain paper apart.  The coated side is usually brighter than the uncoated side.  With plain papers, both sides will be the same brightness.


Here is an image of a mug sublimated with normal plain paper.

Printing on the wrong side of the paper

You may be printing on the wrong side of the paper.  As stated above, the coated side of the sublimation paper is brighter than the uncoated side. So be sure to print on the brighter side

If you are printing on the wrong side of the paper, you will get the same result as when you use plain paper.

 

Follow the instructions for your product

Most imprintable blanks will come with their own instructions.  Please follow them carefully.  Each type of blank may have a different set of instructions.  If unsure, please confirm the instructions with your vendor.

   
Here is a comparison between using just the right amount of heat, too much heat, and not enough heat,

As you can see images using too much heat turns the image a bit brown and in some cases the image and text on it will appear pixilated.  And images with insufficient heat will appear faded.

Using the wrong inks


If you accidentally installed the OEM inks that came with your printer instead of sublimation inks, this is what you will get.

Sublimation is an easy to learn method to print onto a variety of substrates including 100% polyester clothing, bags, ceramic mugs, tiles, plaques, etc.  But the instructions have to be followed accurately to achieve consistent results.  Also the setup of your sublimation printer has to be correct.  Sawgrass (A Manufacturer of sublimation inks) has posted excellent videos of how to setup your sublimation printers.  Here are some useful links below for your reference.

Sawgrass Sublijet-R Technical Support
Sawgrass Sublijet-IQ Technical Support