The Wonderful World of Dye-Sublimation

As the price of dye-sublimation printers continues to drop, the number of people exploring the world of dye-sublimation printing continues to increase.  For a relatively small investment, a home based business can be established that can produce commercial quality products with minimal effort.  Of course, the same equipment can also create a bunch of crap product with the same minimal effort.

SG800 Sublimation PrinterTo get started, you’ll need the following things:

  1. Computer (PC or MAC – doesn’t matter)
  2. Sublimation Printer
  3. Graphic editing software AND a working knowledge of how to use it.

Depending on what you want to make, you’ll need at least one of the following types of heat press:

For flat items you’ll need a flat Heat Press

This picture shows a generic clamshell heat press. Generally speaking, you’ll want to get the best heat press you can afford.

Flat clamshell heat press

 

For coffee mugs and travel mugs you’ll need a mug press or Convection Oven

There different kinds of mug presses, some of which are referred to as 4, 5, or 6-in-1 presses. Many come with different inserts that give you the ability to make different sizes and types of mugs.

Generic Mug Press
For other items like plates, and more elaborate things you’ll need a 3d Heat Press

Some 3d heat presses look like the following image. The top lifts up and there are two heat-controlled areas.

3d Vacuum Press

Before you start spending your hard earned money, stop to seriously consider what to sublimate. If you want to sublimate cutting boards or other large items, you’ll want a printer that can handle printing on large paper. We purchases our first TWO printers before we thought about this, and ended up with an additional printer.  (It did work out nicely for us as we now have a printer for smaller mugs and another that handles the larger mugs – and all other things using the bypass tray.)

I’m going to skip the debate on which printer is better. Epson has several nice printers that can be easily converted to use a Continuous Ink System (CIS).  The CIS is filled with special sublimation ink, and you simply add more ink to the CIS as needed.  The CIS system can be purchased empty, with ink, or prefilled with ink.  When we first started, we went this route. I had problems getting the air bubbles out of the CIS system and had issues consistently printing properly because of it. With nobody else to turn to we opted to replace our inkjet printer with a Sawgrass 400 unit. The initial price of the Epson units is substantially less than the Sawgrass printers; however, I think that the ROI and lack of effort with the Sawgrass printers offsets the initial investment. Others have used the Epson CIS printer system with no problems.

Shortly after we received the Sawgrass 400, my wife ordered some nifty cutting boards and decided to try sublimating on them.  She quickly discovered that although the SG400 met all of the needs we had at the time we ordered it, it wouldn’t print anything larger than 8″ x 10.5″.

Make sure that you know what you want to make – so your initial investment lasts through the first few years…

The next thing I’m going to say is – you get what you pay for.  We ordered an inexpensive heat press from Amazon and it worked great for the first few hundred uses.  Over the course of the first year, the pressure became uneven and this caused us to discard a bit of product as the ink was not transferred correctly.  Also the adjustment knob on it was a variant.  It was hard to adjust in areas, and very easy in other areas.  We have since replaced that heat press with a higher end, American made unit, and are loving life.  Consider your long term needs.  I encourage you to spend as much as possible on the initial investment of hardware so that it will last you as you continue to grow your business.

Welp, I hope that you’ve found this first article helpful.  I’ll be continuing to expand on this thread in future blog posts… until then – have a great day – and happy sublimating!

Michael

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