But I know people who are new to sublimation often have questions about the sublimation inks used in the process.
What’s in them? What brand is best? And the big one – how long does sublimation ink actually last?
These are great questions to ask if you’re new to sublimation!
I was totally confused by sublimation ink when I first started out. I had no idea if it would last as long as regular ink or what.
But I’ve been sublimating for years now, so I want to break it all down for you clearly.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the lifespan of sublimation ink from the sealed bottle to the finished sublimated product.
Let’s start at the beginning…
How Long Does Sublimation Ink Last (Sealed Unopened)
First things first – how long does sublimation ink last if it’s still sealed and hasn’t been opened yet? This is known as the ink’s shelf life.
Sawgrass Ink – The Most Popular Brand for Sublimation
Sawgrass is the leading brand when it comes to sublimation ink.
According to Sawgrass, their sublimation inks have 2 years of shelf life when properly sealed and stored.
Ideally, you want to keep them between 60-80°F
I keep mine in a closet away from any heat sources like the heat press or windows with direct sun. I
Epson Also Makes Great Sublimation Inks
In addition to Sawgrass, Epson is another trusted brand in sublimation inks. Their line of SureColor printers is very popular for sublimation too.
Epson’s sublimation ink is called T49M. I contacted Epson support and they also confirmed their T49M ink has a 2-year shelf life sealed.
So just like Sawgrass, if you keep Epson sublimation inks sealed in proper storage, they maintain peak performance for 2 years before opening.
Beyond the major brands, there are also third-party companies that make more affordable sublimation inks.
These allow you to convert regular inkjet printers for sublimation on a budget.
The shelf lives on third-party inks are a little shorter than Sawgrass and Epson though. Here’s what I found:
- Cosmos Ink – 9-12 months sealed
- Hiipoo Ink – 2 years sealed
- Cobra Ink – 18 months sealed
So while not quite as long-lasting sealed as the big brands, third-party inks still tend to have a decent shelf life.
How Long Does Sublimation Ink Last (Opened)
Okay, so sublimation ink can last 1-2 years unopened on the shelf if stored properly.
But what about after it’s opened and loaded into your printer?
How long does opened sublimation ink remain good for?
Sawgrass Ink Cartridges (Read Expiry Dates)
Once Sawgrass ink cartridges are opened up and loaded into the printer, you want to use them up somewhat quickly.
The cartridges have expiration dates printed on them showing how long the ink is viable for.
Most people get good prints for a few weeks or months after the Sawgrass expiration date before quality deteriorates.
But Sawgrass only guarantees their inks up until that printed date.
And using old expired ink risks stuff like:
- Ink particles separating and getting gunky
- Ink drying up inside the printer
- Potential clogs in the printhead or lines
Not worth it!
Stick to unexpired cartridges to keep your printer running smoothly.
Epson Inks Last 1 Month Opened
For Epson sublimation ink bottles, their support team told me opened bottles should be used within 1 month for best results.
However, Epson ink that’s loaded into printer tanks can last until the expiration date on the label, as long as the tanks stay sealed.
Just make sure to tighten the lids!
Tips To Increase Your Sublimation Ink Lifespan
To maximize the usable life from opened sublimation inks, proper printer maintenance is crucial. Here are some tips:
1. Sawgrass Printers Run Auto Cleaning Cycles
One nice thing about Sawgrass printers is they have automatic maintenance cycles programmed in to keep things flowing properly. Typically they run every day or so.
These quick cleanings use a tiny bit of ink, but they prevent drying or clumping that could lead to clogs.
The only catch is the printer needs to stay powered on for the cleanings to run.
2. Epson Printers Need Manual Cleanings
For Epson sublimation printers, either purpose-built models or converted EcoTank/WorkForce printers, you have to be more hands on.
I make sure to run nozzle checks at least weekly. This prints a test pattern to ensure all nozzles are still flowing properly.
And I do a printhead cleaning every 7 days to flush the system and keep ink moving freely. This takes 2 minutes and saves tons of headaches!
Staying on top of maintenance gives you the best results from your Epson sublimation setup.
Sublimation Ink Duration on Finished Products
Alright, so we’ve gone over shelf life and how long sublimation ink lasts in the printer itself. But what about how long it lasts on the final sublimated goods?
Let’s talk about ink durability on different popular items:
1. Sublimation Ink on Polyester Apparel
The ink actually bonds at a molecular level with polyester fibers to become part of the shirt, mug, etc. It doesn’t just sit on the surface.
This means sublimation ink prints will last until the garment itself wears out!
I have shirts I printed 5+ years ago that still look flawless.
Now just make sure to use polyester blanks.
Sublimation won’t work on natural fibers like cotton without special pretreatment.
2. Sublimation Ink on Mugs and Tumblers
On mugs, bottles, and other drinkware, you can expect sublimation prints to last 3-5 years if cared for properly.
I hand wash my sublimated mugs gently with just a soft sponge and mild detergent. Avoid abrasive scrubbing!
And I always test new mug designs on myself first for a few weeks before selling them. Ensures the ink and coating hold up to real-world use.
3. Sublimation Ink on Paper and Vinyl
For sublimation paper and vinyl, the prints remain vibrant until heat transferred over to the polyester product.
The ink releases from the transfer medium and permanently bonds to the substrate. Your designs will last for years on the finished product.
The Bottom Line on Sublimation Ink Lifespans
As you can see, there are a lot of variables when it comes to how long sublimation ink lasts!
- Unopened bottles can last 1-2 years if stored properly away from heat and moisture.
- Opened ink lasts around 1 month for Epson and 6 months for Sawgrass before quality suffers.
- On finished products, sublimation ink lasts permanently, outlasting the lifetime of polyester fabrics, mugs, and other printable goods.
I hope breaking down the longevity of sublimation inks at each stage helps provide clarity!
Now you can sublimate confidently knowing what to expect from these amazing inks.
Let me know if you have any other sublimation questions. I’m always happy to help!