sublimation vs infusible ink

Sublimation vs Infusible Ink: What’s the Difference?

Sublimation printing and Cricut infusible ink allow crafters, hobbyists, and small business owners to customize fabrics, mugs, tiles, and other items with vibrant, permanent designs.

But despite some similarities in the end product, sublimation, and infusible ink have key differences in their processes, results, applications, startup costs, and more.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explain what sublimation and infusible ink are, the differences between the both, and the tips for choosing the right option for your needs and projects.

So, keep reading!

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What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing is a digital printing technology that allows designs, photos, and graphics to be permanently infused into polyester fabrics, polymers, and specially coated substrates.

It produces highly vibrant, photorealistic prints that bond directly with the material at the molecular level.

Sublimation vs Infusible Ink

Here is an overview of how sublimation printing works:

  • Sublimation ink contains specialized dye particles that turn into a gas when heated to around 400°F. This process of going from solid to gas is called sublimation.
  • Using professional graphics software, designs are created or edited and then printed in reverse onto sheets of sublimation transfer paper.
  • The printed sublimation transfer sheets are placed against the polyester or polymer-coated substrate and pressed using heat and pressure usually around 400°F for 30-60 seconds with medium pressure.
  • When heated, the sublimation ink converts directly from a solid to a gas, bypassing the liquid stage. The ink in gas form then permanently bonds with the polyester fibers or polymer coating.
  • Once cooled, the result is a crisp, vibrant print that has essentially become part of the material at the molecular level. The print does not sit on top like vinyl or ink, it is embedded permanently into the substrate.
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What is Cricut Infusible Ink?

Infusible ink is Cricut’s version of sublimation printing that allows you to create embedded, permanent prints without investing in a commercial sublimation printer. It offers the look and feel of sublimation in an at-home craft product.

Image Credit: Amazon

Here is an overview of how Cricut infusible ink works:

  • Infusible ink sheets have a sticky backing that keeps the ink in place once cut. The sheets are available in a range of solid colors and patterns.
  • Using a Cricut machine, designs are cut out of the infusible ink transfer sheets. This removes the negative space, leaving just the design stuck to the sheet.
  • The ink sheet is then placed against the polyester or sublimation-ready substrate and heat-pressed using a heat press or iron.
  • The heat melts the ink layer, allowing it to infurp into the material just like sublimation ink. It bonds with the fibers or coating.
  • After cooling, the ink print is left permanently embedded in the substrate. It does not sit on top but rather becomes part of the fabric or material.

Sublimation vs Infusible Ink: What’s the Difference?

While sublimation and infusible ink both offer permanent, customized prints, there are some notable differences between these two techniques that are important to understand:

1. Printing Method

  • Sublimation requires printing your designs first using a professional sublimation printer, sublimation inks, and transfer paper. This allows for complete customization of designs but requires investment in a good-quality printer.
  • The ink is pre-printed onto Cricut’s proprietary sheets which are cut using a home cutting machine like the Cricut Maker. No sublimation printer is needed, but you can only use Cricut’s pre-made color/pattern options.

2. Design Options

  • One of sublimation’s biggest advantages is the ability to print unlimited custom designs in full color. Anything you can print can be sublimated, including photos, complex graphics, layered designs, and more.
design option
  • Infusible ink severely limits design options to only what is available pre-printed on Cricut’s sheets. There are some solid colors and patterns to choose from, but no ability to print custom graphics, layered designs, or detailed photographic images.
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3. Print Quality

  • Sublimation produces incredibly vibrant, photorealistic prints thanks to its specialized inks, high DPI printers, and ability to print rich, complex designs in layers. Crisp details can be printed with precision.
  • While infusible ink prints have good color vibrancy, they cannot match the photorealism, crispness, and clarity of sublimated prints. The solid sheets of color limit the depth and detail of the designs.

4. Startup Costs

  • Sublimation carries higher startup costs, usually $200+ minimum for an entry-level printer. Ongoing costs for paper and ink are very affordable though, bringing the per-print cost down over time.
  • Infusible ink has a lower startup cost since it only requires a Cricut machine and materials. But the proprietary sheets mean you are locked into higher ongoing print costs versus sublimation blanks.

5. Learning Curve

  • Sublimation has a much steeper learning curve. You must learn color management, printer profiles, graphic settings, heat press settings, etc. to get good results.
  • Infusible ink is extremely beginner-friendly. There is no complex printing or coloring involved – just simple cutting and heat pressing. The barrier to entry is much lower.

6. Print Size

  • Sublimation printers allow much larger print sizes, like 16×20″ or bigger. This accommodates large murals, banners, etc. Infusible ink maxes out at the Cricut machine size.
print size
  • Infusible ink print size is limited to the cut area of Cricut machines, so usually no larger than 12″ x 24″. Great for shirts and small goods but not big projects.

7. Material Limitations

  • Both techniques can only be used on polyester or polymer-coated materials. 100% cotton and other natural fabrics do not work. The material limitations are similar.
  • Special sprays and coatings can expand sublimation to more materials like wood, acrylics, metals, etc. Infusible ink relies solely on Cricut’s sheets.

How to Choose Between Sublimation and Infusible Ink

Deciding whether sublimation or Cricut’s infusible ink is the right choice for your needs depends on several factors:

1. Your printing goals

For professional, photorealistic results with unlimited customization, sublimation is a clear choice. Its specialized inks and high-resolution prints cannot be matched by infusible ink.

If you only need simple designs in solid colors and patterns, infusible ink may provide enough print quality while being easier to learn.

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2. Startup costs

Sublimation requires an initial investment in a printer and accessories ($200+ minimum). Ongoing material costs are lower though.

Infusible ink needs a Cricut machine ($100+) but no other major equipment. However, proprietary ink sheets raise long-term costs.

3. Convenience and portability

Sublimation involves printing computer graphics, so it is less convenient than infusible ink’s standalone process. However, sublimation printers are still portable.

Infusible ink allows crafting anywhere just using a Cricut machine. No print setup is required. Very convenient but limited designs.

4. Learning curve

Sublimation has a steep learning curve. You must master printer profiles, graphic settings, presses, etc.

Infusible ink is extremely beginner-friendly. Just cut and press. The only knowledge needed is Cricut machine operation.

5. Ongoing costs

Once the sublimation printer is purchased, additional prints only require inexpensive blank substrates. Long-term costs are low per print.

Infusible ink sheets are proprietary and sold in set quantities. The ongoing cost per print remains higher than sublimation blanks.

6. Print customization

Sublimation allows for complete customization and unlimited designs within the printer’s capabilities.

Infusible ink relies on Cricut’s pre-made sheets, limiting you to those color/pattern options only.

7. Project types and sizes

Sublimation can accommodate large murals, banners, etc. thanks to larger printer sizes. Better for wide formats.

Infusible ink is limited to the maximum cut size of Cricut machines, usually 12″ x 24″. Better for smaller goods.

Evaluate your specific needs in these areas above. For most hobby crafters doing occasional prints, Cricut infusible ink is the easier starting point.

For frequent printing or unmatchable quality and customization, investing in sublimation is worth the effort and startup costs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a few frequently asked questions:

Can you sublimate with Cricut infusible ink?

Yes, infusible ink is essentially Cricut’s version of sublimation printing that doesn’t require a special printer. The end result of a permanent, embedded print is the same.

Which is better sublimation or infusible ink?

There is no definitive “better” option. Sublimation offers superior print quality and customization.
But infusible ink is easier to learn and more affordable to start. Choose based on your specific needs.

Do you need a heat press for infusible ink?

Yes, a heat press is required to transfer infusible ink. A temperature of 400°F+ applied for 30-60 seconds is ideal.
Cricut’s EasyPress can work, but bigger projects may require a full heat press.

Wrapping Up

In summary, sublimation and Cricut infusible ink both offer permanent, embedded prints onto polyester fabrics and coated substrates.

Sublimation provides exceptional vibrancy and customization but has a higher learning curve. Infusible ink is limited to Cricut’s designs but extremely beginner-friendly.

Carefully consider your needs, budget, and project goals when deciding between sublimation or infusible ink. Either option allows you to create beautiful customized prints and products.

Bella Williams

I'm Bella, a mom of 3 cuties. With 7 years of sublimation experience, my blog focuses on all things sublimation and printing. Join me for tips, tutorials, and inspiration to enhance your sublimation journey. Let's create and thrive together!
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