Sublimation is an amazing art form to learn, but it takes some practice to become proficient. My goal is to make your sublimation journey as quick as possible, so here is my sublimation for beginners guide. Included below are my recommendations for equipment as well as tips and tricks for the best results for your products.
What is sublimation?
Scientifically, sublimation is taking something from a solid state to a gas without it first changing to a liquid. I don’t know anything about that. For the crafter, sublimation is taking something printed with a special ink and transferring it to another something such as a t-shirt or a cup using heat. There are loads of things you can sublimate. I’ve also made ornaments, coasters and hats using sublimation, as well as shirts and hoodies.
What do you need to sublimate?
So this depends entirely on what you want to make. Some of the items are the same, such as the ink and the printer. But there are some differences, mainly the type of heat source you use.
Sublimation for Beginners Equipment
- Sublimation ink
- Sublimation transfer paper
- Sublimation blanks (t-shirts, cups or tumblers, etc)
- Converted printer or sublimation printer
- High heat source
- Sublimation or heat-resistant tape
- Parchment/butcher paper
We are going to talk about the basics of making your image, and then we will get into specific item sublimation.
You will need a printer to begin your sublimation experience. You can either buy one exclusively for sublimation such as a Sawgrass SG, or you can buy an Epson Ecotank Printer. I personally think Epson makes the best sublimation printer for sublimation beginners. I have had two converted Epson printers, and they work incredibly well, especially when you are just starting out.
An Epson ecotank printer is a normal printer that comes with regular printer ink in bottles. DO NOT FILL THE PRINTER WITH THIS INK. Once a printer has had regular ink in it, it cannot be converted to a sublimation printer. You’ll want to fill the ink tanks with sublimation ink, essentially “converting” it into a sublimation printer.
Converting an Epson printer is slightly challenging, but it’s nothing s Youtube video can’t help with. I recommend this one.
My absolute favorite brand, Makerflo, also has a Ecotank sublimation printer. I absolutely adore this company, but you can check it out for yourself here.
Along with a sublimation printer, you are going to want sublimation ink. I use this one and it is awesome. It produces vibrant colors and transfers like a dream. You are going to want to make sure to put these in the correct color tank. It can get messy so I recommend a towel under your printer while you are doing this.
You’re also going to want sublimation paper. This is the brand I love. When you are searching for sublimation paper, you may notice numbers on the paper such as 105G or 125G. The G is grams per square meter, and indicates the heaviness of the paper and it’s ability to absorb and transfer the color. You’ll want heavier G paper such as 125G for vibrant color transfers.
You’re also going to want some heat tape. You may think you don’t need this, but you’re wrong. It makes things so much easier.
Sublimation For Beginners: Where To Get Designs
When buying them from Etsy or CF, you are going to want to make sure to check the image details to see whether the image you selected is for personal use or commercial use. Personal use images can ONLY by used for personal items IE things you are making for yourself or for gifts. You CANNOT sell personal use graphics made by someone else. Commercial use images on the other hand can be used on items that you can then sell. Be very careful when using someone else’s intellectual property, ESPECIALLY if you don’t have permission.
An easy way to avoid having to worry about this is making your own images. I use Canva to make mine. You can check out this article I wrote about how to use Canva for sublimation. You can make easy, high quality images with Canva. The best thing is it’s FREE. I have a Canva Pro account, which I highly recommend. There are lots of added bonuses to a paid account, such as background removal and resizing.
Now we get to the part where we start talking about different sublimation projects.
Sublimation for Flat Items
For sublimation on flat items (clothing, tote bags, ornaments, etc), you’ll need a heat press. This is essentially a large iron which can be set to high temperatures and allow sublimation transfers from the printed paper to the clothing.
To sublimate on clothing, the clothing needs to be at least a 50% polyester fabric. Cotton is not a good canvas for sublimation as ink does not transfer well at all.
I recommend this heat press. I have used it for a while and it has never given me a stitch of trouble.
Print your image using your chosen printer with sublimation ink. Make sure you flip the image if needed prior to printing. Once the image is printed, you will set your heat press to the appropriate time and temperature. Different materials require different times and temperatures, but I find around 380-400°F for about 45 seconds and medium pressure works very well for my heat press.
I recommend writing down your settings once you find a good one so you can refer back to it.
Prior to pressing the image on your chosen clothing, you are going to want to run a lint roller over it to get all the stray fibers (and in my case random fallen hairs) off of it. I also add a piece of parchment/butcher paper inside the clothing to keep ink from transferring through to the other side. Then press it for about 15 seconds to remove any moisture from the clothing.
Add your sublimation design onto your cleaned and pre-pressed t-shirt (or other item) and make sure you tape it down with heat-resistant sublimation tape. You CAN NOT use regular tape for this. It makes a huge mess and ruins your piece. Once the design is taped where you want it, press that bad boy.
Another great thing about having a large heat press is that it can also work for heat transfer vinyl.
Sublimation For Beginners:Tumblers
I have done a lot of trial and error when it comes to sublimation tumblers. I’ve finally gotten proficient at them, but these are one of those things it may take some time to get right.
For these, you have to have tumblers that allow for sublimation. You can’t just sublimate any old tumbler. I recommend these Makerflo for sublimation tumblers. They have a ton and they have amazing quality and customer service.
Makerflo also has an all-in-one sublimation for beginners starter kit, which contains everything you would need to begin you sublimation tumbler journey, if you are interested.
You are also going to need a heat source for your tumblers. While there are plenty of tumbler heat presses on the market, I have never used one. I’ve seen lots of people have luck with a tumbler press like this one, but I didn’t start out with that.
I started and still use a convection turned sublimation oven. It’s basically just a convection oven that I bought on sale that I use in my garage for sublimation tumblers and coffee mugs. You CAN NOT use the oven in your kitchen for sublimation (unless you move it out of your kitchen and never use it again for food).
I like a convection oven over a heat press for tumblers because you can make multiple cups at once. But then again, I have never used a tumbler press so I can’t really speak to them. Some people swear by them. So I guess it’s up to you.
You’re going to make and print your image just like you would for t-shirt or tote bag. Again, make sure you flip your image if needed.
Once you have your image printed, you’re going to cut it to the correct size. This will vary based on the size tumbler you have. I do not recommend overlapping your printed image on itself. The image itself will overlap, if that makes sense.
Use heat resistant tape to secure the image to the tumbler. Then I recommend using a heat gun and a shrink wrap sleeve. Sublimation tumblers have to have close contact with the transfer paper for the chemical process to transfer the special ink. If there isn’t, you’ll get something called “ghosting”. The shrink wrap helps give good contact between the paper and the tumbler, allowing the printed design to be transferred completely.
Once you have secured the image to the tumbler, you’ll want to heat it. Again, I use a convection oven for this. You can also use a heat press such as the Cricut mug press. The time and temperature will depend on the
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you reuse a sublimation tumbler if you mess up?
I have had minimal success resublimating a tumbler that already has an image on it. If you’re first sublimated image is very light, you may have some luck if you put a much darker image on top of it. That’s the only time I’ve been able to successfully do it.
I have not found any good way to get rid of an image once it is sublimated on a tumbler. I recommend turning it into an epoxy tumbler or selling it to someone who makes them.
Can you use Cricut Infusible Ink in this manner?
I have never used Cricut Infusible Ink, so I have no idea what is involved there. Sorry.