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

Advantages of Sublimation Printing

Sublimation is a digital printing method for a variety of hard surface products and also includes printing onto polyester t-shirts. Because there is such a huge selection of items that can be printed with sublimation, it is a very attractive printing option.

What Do You Need To Get Started In Sublimation?
You will need an inkjet printer (Ricoh or Epson), sublimation inks, sublimation paper, and a heat press. In addition, you will need a white or light colored substrate that is either coated with a polyester coating or made of polyester fabric for sublimation to work.

Inkjet printers that are compatible with Sawgrass (a major distributor of sublimation ink) inks include: Ricoh GX7000, Ricoh GX3300, Epson 1900, Epson 4880, Epson 1800, and many older models that are discontinued.

If you are just getting started on sublimation, it is recommended that you buy a complete packaged system as that will save you a little bit of money compared to buying the components separately.

What Can You Print With Sublimation?
Anything that is flat, white or light colored and is either polyester coated or made of polyester fabric. You can also print on mugs, shot glasses, etc if you use a mug press or a mug wrap with an oven. Here is a small list of popular items that sublimation can be used:

Ceramic mugs | Water bottles | Coasters | Metals | Magnetic sheets | Plaques | Name badges | License plates | Car flags | Mouse pads | Fabric puzzles | Ceramic tiles | Glass tiles | Poker chips | 100% polyester shirts and more!

The Unisub catalog has a huge selection of high quality polyester coated items for you to choose from as well.

Why Choose Sublimation?
Here is a list of the advantages that come with sublimation printing

  • Sublimation is one of the very few methods you can print full colored images onto hard surfaces.
  • It has a relatively low learning curve compared with screen printing.
  • Almost unlimited colors to choose from. Thousands of colors can be produced with sublimation (even if you choose a 4 color printer). And it doesn’t cost extra to add additional colors to your design.
  • Same cost to print one item or 1000 items. So no need for minimum orders, and perfect for 1-up items and promotional items for small businesses, schools, charities, sports teams, parties, reunions, and many more!
  • Complete customization! The advantage of digital sublimation printing is that no plates are required, so it is ideal for customizing designs with changing elements such as names, numbers, etc.
  • Sublimation is quick and easy to produce, allowing for same day or same hour printing, as well as on demand printing that reduces risk and wastage.

Disadvantages
With every printing method there will be disadvantages and so here are a few…

  • Substrates need to be polyester coated or made of polyester fabric.
  • Substrates need to be white or light colored. You cannot print onto dark or black colored items.
  • Printers tend to clog if not used for extended periods of time. With the introduction of Ricoh printers, the clogging risk has been significantly reduced. However we still recommend doing a nozzle check once a week.
  • Sublimation inks are relatively expensive compared with OEM inks. This will need to be factored in when pricing your products.
  • Color Management issues. With the installation of the PowerDriver, color management problems have been significantly reduced. As with all printers, color management issues will vary depending on the graphic/photograph.

With all the advantages of sublimation, it’s obvious why sublimation has become a very popular method with digital decorators!

What is sublimation?

Sublimation is the process from a solid state to a gas state bypassing the liquid state.  Sublimation systems work the same way.  Your inkjet printer, will print onto a specially coated sublimation paper with special sublimation inks.  When it dries onto the paper, the ink is in solid form.

Once you apply heat and pressure on the solid inks, they quickly become gas bypassing the liquid state.  Because of the pressure and heat, the gas slowly and accurately moves from the specially coated paper to the polyester coated substrate.  Once heat is taken away and the ink is allowed to cool, the gas is then trapped in the polyester coating.  Thus, the image is permanently trapped in the polyester coating.

Without the polyester coating, the inks cannot be trapped.  Only some synthetic materials will allow the inks to go into it and to trap the inks inside.  Because the inks are translucent (part transparent, and part opaque), sublimation will not work on dark colored substrates simply because the dark background will show through and contaminate the image.  In a worse case scenario, the dark background may make the image completely not visible.

In addition, not all inkjet printers can use sublimation inks.  The reason for this is because some inkjet printers use heat to print.  Because heat is used in the sublimation process, heat cannot be used during printing on the printer, as it will allow some of the inks to evaporate and color consistency cannot be achieved.  Thus there are only a hand full of printers out there that can use sublimation inks.

Sublimation also requires a flat or consistent surface.  the reason for this is because the heat needs to be applied evenly in all areas at the same time for the image to print onto the hard substrate.  If heat is not applied evenly, the image quality will not be consistent.