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This post is sponsored by Hiipoo Sublimation Ink. The product review and tutorial steps are all mine.
If you love the results of screen printing with vinyl, you are going to LOVE sublimation. While the results of a screen printed shirt and sublimation shirt are very similar, the process is a good bit different.
Sublimation is the process of transferring ink that is printed on a special paper to your fabric. Using heat, the ink and fabric become one, leaving a design that will not peel or crack.
You may have used sublimation before if you have tried Cricut's line of Infusible Inks.
In this tutorial, I'm going to show you how you can print your own designs for sublimation rather than using the Infusible Ink sheets or pens. Being able to print any design from your computer means you can get creative with full color designs!
I'm going to walk you through how to setup a printer for sublimation. Then, I'll show you just how easy it is to make your first sublimation t-shirt.
Supplies You Will Need to Convert an Epson ET-3760 to a Sublimation Printer
- Epson ET-3760 Printer
- Hiipoo Sublimation Ink
- Sublimation Paper
- Heat Resistant Tape
- Lint Roller
- Teflon Sheet or Butcher Paper
- Heat Press
- Sublimation Blanks: 100% Polyester T-Shirts, Sublimation Hat Patches, Sublimation Puzzles
How to Setup a Sublimation Printer
Epson tankless printers are prefect for converting to sublimation printers. I chose the ET-3760 which prints up to 8.5″x11″ sheets. If you have the budget for a larger machine, you should check out the Epson ET-1500 which prints larger 13×19″ designs.
I recommend purchasing a new printer to start this process. It's much easier than trying to clean out the inkjet ink from an old printer.
When you unbox the printer, it will come with inkjet bottles. You won’t need these inks. Instead, you are going to want to use Hiipoo sublimation ink in each of the tanks.
The Hiipoo sublimation ink package comes with a black (B), cyan (C), yellow (Y) and magenta (M). Use the included syringes to fill the corresponding tanks in your Epson printer.
Go slow – you don’t want to overfill the tanks. You can see the ink level through the front of the machine, so stop before it overflows!
After your ink tanks are filled, your printer will need to finish the setup process. This process will use up some of the ink you just filled.
Once the setup is complete, you may need to top off your tanks before you print your first design. I didn't refill mine right away and the first print had some streaks through it. For best results, you want to have plenty of ink in the tanks.
You can design your own graphics for sublimation or you can purchase pre-designed files. I find a lot of great designs on Etsy. This saves me a ton of time not starting from scratch. I can download a design from Etsy and have a finished shirt in under 15 minutes!
Unlike the Cricut, you can use PNG files since we are printing the design instead of cutting it. This means full color designs and photos are possible with sublimation!
Which Program Do I Use?
I use Photoshop for my sublimation projects. Photoshop is a graphic design program that allows you do various text effects, gradients and so much more. I also find it very easy to size my design to match the size of my blank. This program can be intimidating if you have never used it, but it's worth looking into if you are interested in designing your own images.
While Photoshop is great for designing your own images, if you plan to purchase or download pre-made designs, you don’t need a program like this. You could use Word or Adobe Acrobat to size and print your designs.
Making Your First Sublimation Print
The most important step when printing your sublimation artwork is to MIRROR the design. Once the design prints, you are going to flip it over and press it on the shirt, so it’s important that your design is mirrored on the paper.
In Photoshop, you can mirror the design by going to Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontally.
Once your design has printed on the sublimation paper, you can immediately iron it on your blank.
Preparing Your Blank for Sublimation
Before you place your design on your blank, it’s important that you prepare the blank. If you have any wrinkles, be sure to press or iron those out.
Using a lint roller, carefully lint roll your entire blank. Any loose fibers left on your shirt will create permanent blue marks on your shirt (or blank) when it is heat set. It’s very important you don’t skip this step…. even if the blank is brand new out of the package. Use the lint roller!
Once your shirt is free of lint, place the design face down on the shirt. Using heat resistant tape, secure your design to the blank.
Place a sheet of card stock inside your shirt to catch any ink that might seep through the material. You don't want ink going through to the back of your shirt!
Align your shirt on your heat press, making sure the entire design is under the press.
Cover the design with a sheet of Teflon or butcher paper. This will keep ink from getting on your press, so it's important that you put something between your design and the press.
Now you are ready to press! You will want to follow the time and temperature settings on your sublimation paper or blanks. I found that the A-SUB brand pressed well at 400 degrees for 45 seconds on polyester t-shirts.
Carefully remove your shirt from the press after the timer goes off. Remove the sublimation paper to reveal your design!
You are all done! Your shirt can be washed and worn immediately.
What types of blanks work for sublimation?
If you like the dry-fit, 100% polyester style shirts, you are in luck. Sublimation works best on 100% polyester.
Using 100% polyester is ideal for the brightest print that won't fade. You can use poly-blend shirts but there is a chance they will fade after a few washes.
While you can use sublimation on any color polyester, you'll find that your inks will show up best on light color polyester. The ink on a darker shirt will look more muted or faded.
Which Heat Press Works Best for Sublimation?
The key ingredient to getting a good sublimation print is heat. Investing in a high quality heat press is going to ensure your sublimations prints are consistently bright and vibrant.
You want to make sure you use a press that is larger than your design. Moving your press during the process can cause a shadowing effect in your design. I use this 15×15 heat press from Pro World.
You can even use this process to print photos or design to print on coffee mugs using the new Cricut Mug Press!
Be sure to explore all of the sublimation blanks available – you will be amazed!