Sublimation Heat Pressing. What it is and how it works.

What kind of trickery is this sublimation heat pressing? Well, unfortunately it's not magic but it is pretty cool. But, to understand sublimation heat pressing, first you’ll need to understand what sublimation is.

Sublimation, also known as phase transition, is when a solid substance is transformed into a gas without first passing through a liquid stage. Not many substances can do this at normal atmospheric pressure; dry ice is one that can.

So now that we understand sublimation we can move onto what sublimation heat pressing is

Sublimation heat pressing is when a sublimation ink printed design is transferred onto an item such as a t shirt, mug, plate etc, using a combination of heat, time and pressure.

Here is the clever part. Heat and pressure make sublimation ink particles transform into a gas so when they are pressed onto an object the gas can actually be absorbed by the object, rather than just sat on the surface. And you don’t need to be Harry Potter to make it happen. "Sublimiatus".

Unfortunately sublimation heat pressing does not work with just any t shirts or mugs. Fabrics need to have an element of at least 70% polyester and solid items, such as mugs and plates, require a polymer coating. That's because the polyester or polymer coating expands when heated so the gas can be adsorbed and when the ink and sublimated object cool down the 2 become 1. And no, I did not quote the Spice Girls there, well not on purpose anyway.

There are loads of sublimation consumables available but remember that all sublimation consumables require a polymer coating or, if fabric, a content of at least 70% polyester.

Here’s are a few more of the FAQ’s we receive about sublimation heat pressing

What are sublimation inks?

Standard inks will not transform into a gas no matter how good you are at magic so if you use it to print on an object it will just sit on the surface and will quickly wipe of wash away.

That is why you need sublimation inks which are solid dye particles that have been grounded into a powder and then contained in liquid. The solid dye particles do not melt in the liquid and continue to retain their solid state.

Exactly how does a sublimation ink design end up on consumables?

A sublimation ink design is printed onto sublimation paper and then the paper is placed into the correct position on the consumable. Tape is sometimes used to hold the design in place. A heat press is then used to apply heat and pressure for a specific amount of time. When heat and pressure is applied the ink turns into a gas and the polyester or polymer coating expands to absorb the gas. When the ink and sublimation consumable cool down the design is contained within the fabric or coating of the sublimation consumable.

What materials are suitable for sublimation?

Any synthetic polyester based materials. Polyester textiles, lycra and rigid polyester films are suitable as is almost any other material that has a polyester blend or polymer coating. Nylon is also suitable for sublimation heat pressing.

Can I use standard paper or do I need special sublimation paper?

You will need to use sublimation paper. Sublimation paper has been designed specifically with a surface that releases the sublimation ink when it becomes a gas. Standard paper is not suitable because it neither holds or releases sublimation inks and any designs that have been heat pressed using standard printer paper will generally look rubbish and will not last.

What kind of printer will I need for printing sublimation designs?

There are dedicated sublimation printers available but they can be expensive especially for a business start up or someone trying out a new hobby. A much cheaper alternative, that can also provide excellent results, is using a standard Epson printer that has been converted using a gadget called a CISS (Continuous Ink Supply System). The CISS simply slots into where the standard ink cartridges would be positioned and then the Epson printer is able to print sublimation ink designs for a fraction of the cost of a dedicated sublimation printer. Epson printers with Piezo print head technology are suitable for use with a CISS.