Sublimation printing is everywhere these days – those awesome full-color graphics on coffee mugs, durable logos on t-shirts, and more. It uses a unique ink that bonds with the material when heat is applied.
But that got me wondering – can you just use sublimation ink in a normal inkjet printer like you have at home for photos and documents?
I did a deep dive on this topic, and here’s the tea…
How Does Sublimation Printing Actually Work?
The key difference with sublimation ink is that it contains special dyes that turn into a gas when they get hot. I’m not talking like boiling water hot, more like 350-400°F hot.
To print the image, a heat press vaporizes the ink onto a polymer-coated surface, sort of like a temporary tattoo. Except this bonds permanently into the coating, becoming part of the material.
This is why sublimation prints don’t fade or peel off over time – the ink infuses directly into the polymer layer. Pretty nifty!
Some examples are those full-color prints you see on t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, metals, wood, and stuff like that. The ink chemically reacts and hardens within the coating.
How Is This Different Than Regular Ink?
The main thing is that normal inkjet printer ink doesn’t contain special sublimation dyes. It’s not designed to turn into a gas when heated up.
Regular ink just stays liquid and sits on top of the paper when it comes out of the printer. It doesn’t sink in or bond – the ink just dries and sits there.
This is because normal printers don’t apply high heat as a heat press does. They’re made to shoot tiny droplets of ink directly onto the page.
Trying to vaporize sublimation ink would totally clog up and wreck the print head in a regular printer! The hardware isn’t built for that, so don’t risk it.
Can Sublimation Ink Be Used for Regular Printing
Sublimation ink cannot be used for regular printing purposes.
Sublimation ink is specially formulated to vaporize when heated, allowing it to permanently bond with polymer-coated surfaces.
Regular desktop printers are not designed to properly gasify sublimation inks. Attempting to use sublimation ink in an everyday printer will likely damage the print head and other components as the ink accumulates.
It also produces poor-quality printed output since the ink cannot sublimate correctly without the required heat, pressure, and polymer medium.
For quality, reliable results, sublimation ink can only be used for its intended purpose with printers and print media designed specifically for sublimation printing.
It is not interchangeable with standard inkjet inks in regular paper printers.
What Happens If You Try Sublimation Ink in a Regular Printer?
Based on what we just talked about, it doesn’t end well! Here are some of the likely issues:
- The ink won’t vaporize correctly without intense heat. It will just bleed all over the paper since it can’t penetrate. I’m talking big blurry messes!
- Excess moisture also gets absorbed by the paper, causing it to warp and curl up.
- Without properly gasifying the dyes, the prints come out faded and dull. Definitely not the vibrant colors you expect.
- That excess ink will clog up the printer head quickly. All those tiny nozzles are not made to handle gunky sublimation goo!
- And if things get bad enough, all that built-up ink can short out the sensitive electronics and hardware. Yikes!
So yeah, the printer will hate you for doing this and can get damaged. It also might void the warranty, so it’s really not worth the risk.
What Kind of Printers Actually Work With Sublimation Ink?
The short answer – printers made specifically for sublimation printing!
They have special gear under the hood:
- First, a high-precision piezo print head that can vaporize the inky gases accurately.
- They use custom cartridges and ink tanks with sublimation dye formulas. No trying to bodge it with normal ink carts.
- Software and print driver settings optimized for the sublimation process.
Some models like the Epson EcoTank ET series, Epson WorkForce Pro printers, or Sawgrass Virtuoso line are popular choices. But not normal consumer grade printers.
Those are only made for regular ink and paper combos. Trying to hack them with sublimation usually kills the warranty. Stick with the right tools for the job!
Can You Modify a Regular Printer for Sublimation Ink?
Technically you can try, you can flush out old inks from your regular inket printer and completely flush it out and then replace it with sublimation inks.
But there are downsides to be aware of:
- The printer model should be able to support sublimation inks or it simply won’t work.
- You need to completely flush the original ink first or contamination can happen. No leftovers!
- Print quality and reliability may not be as good as a printer built for sub dye.
- Most importantly, you’ll still void the warranty in most cases. So if anything breaks or fails, you’re on your own!
In my opinion, just buy a sublimation-ready printer to start with for the best experience.
Let’s Summarize the Key Differences Here
Sublimation printing is a totally different ballgame than standard desktop printing:
- Vaporizes ink with high heat for permanent bonds
- Needs a sublimation-capable printer model
- Only works on polymer-coated media
- Gives super vibrant, durable prints
- Ink stays liquid on top of paper
- Works on any basic printer and paper
- Output fades and wears over time
- Way cheaper startup cost
The bottom line – sublimation is awesome, but only when used properly!
It’s not compatible with regular inkjet printers. Know how it uniquely works so you get spectacular prints.
Let me know if you have any other questions!