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What Printers Can Be Used For Sublimation? (8 Picks!)

Sublimation printing is a fun and creative way to customize all kinds of products like t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, and more.

But to get started with sublimation, you need a compatible printer. So what printers can be used for sublimation?

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing a sublimation printer, from how they work to the best options for different needs and budgets.

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What Are Sublimation Printers?

Sublimation printers utilize specialized inks and high heat to “gasify” printed designs so they infuse directly into polymer-coated surfaces like mugs, apparel, aluminum panels, and more.

The sublimation process works like this:

  1. Print your design in reverse onto sublimation paper using a compatible sublimation printer loaded with dye-sublimation ink.
  2. Place the printed design against a polymer-coated “blank” item and apply heat and pressure using a heat press.
  3. The heat causes the solid dyes to turn into a gas which permeates into the coating.
  4. When cooled, the dyes solidify into the blank leaving your print embedded as part of the item.
Sublimation Printers

Because the inks chemically bond at a molecular level, sublimation prints don’t crack, peel, or fade – even after repeated washings or exposure over time.

The result is photo-quality, permanent prints with vibrant colors and sharp detail that far exceed screen printing or vinyl heat transfer methods.

Can Any Printer Be Used for Sublimation?

No, you cannot use any printer for sublimation. Sublimation requires special printers designed for dye-sublimation that have been converted with sublimation ink.

The reasons most common printer models won’t work:

  • Incompatible ink 

Sublimation requires specialized inks that turn to a gas when heated. Standard inkjet printer inks are not formulated this way.

Attempting to use regular ink will damage the print head and electronics when exposed to 400 heat pressing temperatures.

  • Print quality issues 

Without sublimation-specific printer profiles and drivers, color accuracy printing on coated sublimation papers will be poor. Colors turn out muted and incorrect.

  • Heat damage

Consumer printers are designed for room-temperature operation. The high heat of sublimation pressing exceeds material limits.

Laser/toner printers use a powdered ink technology incompatible with the sublimation process. The printers lack the necessary ink ejection methods. Trying sublimation can damage fuser components.

Can We Convert a Normal Printer Into a Sublimation Printer?

In some cases, you might be able to convert certain Epson EcoTank printers to sublimation printing.

This involves replacing the original ink cartridges with compatible sublimation ink and potentially installing a Continuous Ink Supply System (CISS). However, this process is not without risks:

  • Compatibility: Not all Epson printers are suitable for conversion. Researching compatibility with your specific model is crucial.
  • Warranty voiding: Modifying your printer might void its warranty.
  • Technical expertise: The conversion process requires technical knowledge and can be risky, potentially damaging your printer.
  • Limited benefits: Even with successful conversion, converted printers might not offer the same performance and color vibrancy as dedicated sublimation printers.

Unless you’re comfortable with potential risks and have some technical expertise, purchasing a dedicated sublimation printer is generally the safer and more reliable option. It ensures optimal results, protects your original printer, and avoids warranty concerns.

I hope this clarifies the situation. If you have any further questions or would like more information about specific printer models and conversion processes, feel free to ask in the comment section below!

Factors to Consider in a Sublimation Printer

With both dedicated sublimation printers and converted desktop inkjet models available, make sure to evaluate these key factors:

1. Printer Type

Dedicated dye-sublimation printers designed specifically for sublimation printing offer reliable performance but higher prices. Manufacturers like Epson, Sawgrass, and Ricoh have models targeted for sublimation use.

Converted inkjet printers are consumer-grade models like Epson EcoTank that have been modified from standard inkjet use by switching to aftermarket sublimation inks. Much more affordable but print quality varies.

Inkjet printers with piezo printheads can be converted, unlike thermal inkjets. Any toner/laser printer cannot be used for sublimation printing.

2. Print Size

Consider the maximum print dimensions needed for your projects. Common sizes are 8.5” x 11” and 8.5” x 14” sheets for smaller items like mugs, mousepads, and ornaments.

Larger 13” x 19” sheets accommodate bigger substrates like large t-shirts, iPad covers, and display boards. Extra large 17” x 22” sheets are suitable for oversized shirt graphics or posters.

Ideally, choose a printer that handles the largest size you may need for future applications.

3. Material Compatibility

Double-check printer specifications to ensure it supports printing onto coated sublimation paper. Dedicated models will be calibrated for common paper stocks like TexPrint XP HR.

For converted printers, some trialing may be needed to optimize print profiles and driver settings for compatible sublimation paper.

4. Ink Costs

Sublimation inks tend to cost more than standard inkjet printer inks. Depending on print volume, ink prices can add up.

Evaluate ink tank sizes, page yield estimates, and cost per ml/oz when factoring long-term operating costs into your sublimation printer purchase.

Also, consider ink delivery methods, some printers use closed cartridges while others have refillable tanks. Open ink systems allow you to buy cheap third-party inks which saves money.

5. Warranties and Support

Converting standard inkjets voids manufacturer warranties while dedicated sublimation printers include coverage.

See also  What is Sublimation Coating Spray? (Explained!)

If troubleshooting or maintenance is required, factor in the availability of technical support and accessible service options. DIY repairs vary in complexity.

what printers can be used for sublimation?

below are the best printers that you can use for sublimations:

Best Printers Overall

For exceptional print quality paired with reliable user-friendly operation, these models deliver:

1. Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500

The flagship Sawgrass SG500 provides gorgeous high-definition sublimation prints for desktop applications right out of the box thanks to automatic printer calibration and handy status display.

image
Image Credit: The Magic Touch

You pay a premium for hardware and proprietary inks but the peace of mind of comprehensive manufacturer support. For most users, it’s money well spent for this versatile sublimation workhorse.

Pros

  • Specifically engineered for sublimation
  • Onboard print profiling for quick setup
  • Vibrant color and up to 1200 dpi resolution
  • Fast 60 seconds per 8” x 10” print speed
  • Two-year manufacturer product warranty

Cons

  • High hardware and ink costs
  • Small 8.5” x 14” max print size

2. Epson SureColor F7200

For larger format signage, apparel, and home decor up to 24” wide, the SureColor F7200 is ideal.

It utilizes long-lasting ink bags and an advanced ten-channel MicroPiezo AMC printhead to produce extraordinary photographic prints on sublimation paper and polyester fabrics.

image
Image Credit: Epson

However high resolution comes at a cost, expect to invest over $2,500 for this production-grade printer.

Pros

  • Exceptional print quality
  • User-replaceable ink bags
  • Handles 24” wide rolls
  • Comes with Epson Edge print workflow

Cons

  • High hardware cost
  • Significant footprint

Best Printers For Beginners

Just testing the dye-sublimation waters? Get quality results without breaking the bank by converting these inkjet models:

3. Epson EcoTank ET-2760

The EcoTank revolutionized home printing with its revolutionary ink reservoirs, refilled mess-free bottles instead of expensive disposable cartridges.

Even better for sublimation use allowing you to use cheap third-party dye-sublimation inks.

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Image Credit: Epson

While prints have noticeably lower quality versus higher-end equipment, the ET-2760 gives you completely acceptable results for general use. Just be prepared for some initial tweaking to dial in optimal print driver settings.

Pros

  • Low operating costs with refillable tanks
  • Simple cartridge-free fill system
  • ICC print profiles available from suppliers
  • Decent 8.5” x 11” photo prints

Cons

  • Manufacturer warranty void after conversion
  • Mediocre line drawing and text quality
  • Trial and error print configuration

4. Brother MFC-J4335DW

Brother makes rock solid consumer printers packing useful features into petite packages.

Use the MFC-J4335DW to print, scan, copy, and fax with automatic duplex printing and scanning to save paper.

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Image Credit: Brother

It converts to sublimation duties with little fuss for moderate workloads. Ideal starter 3-in-1 printer but don’t expect exceptional print fidelity matching larger pro equipment.

Pros

  • Extremely affordable price point
  • Reliable and compact workhorse
  • Versatile printer/scanner/copier/fax
  • Wide third-party sublimation ink options

Cons

  • Limited 100-sheet paper capacity
  • Mediocre print resolution and detail
  • Maximum 8.5″ x 14” print size

Best Printers for Wide-Format Printing

serious about high-volume shirts, mugs, gear, or prints? Take your business up a notch with these professional printing solutions:

5. Mutoh ValueJet 1628TD

The ValueJet 1638 is a professional 42” wide format printer configurable specifically for dye-sublimation output using aftermarket inks and software RIPs.

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Image Credit: Duta Printing

Perfect for t-shirt printing with exceptional quality rivaling printers costing 2-3X more.

6. Roland Texart XT-640

Roland dye-sublimation printers are unmatched in terms of vibrant, saturated color perfect for soft signage, fashion, and sports apparel.

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Image Credit: Roland

The Texart XT-640 uses high-capacity ink cartridges to produce rich prints with minimal effort, simply load your files and go. Just budget $10K+ for entry costs.

Pros

  • Versatile 18” printable width
  • Handles banners, fabrics, paper
  • Automatic creaser for textiles
  • Roland color management tools

Cons

  • Requires ink conversion kit
  • Expensive hardware and supplies
  • Significant setup and learning curve

Best Printers for Small Businesses

If you don’t have a lot of money to invest in a premium sublimation printer, you can just read below to find the best printer for your small business.

7. Epson SureColor F570

Epson positions the SureColor F570 printer for signage and promotional uses with big 16” x 20” prints with the option to utilize convenient roll-fed media up to 24” wide – perfect for larger shirts, banners, and decor pieces.

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Image Credit: Epson

It faithfully recreates graphics and photos in rich detail rivaling pro lab printers costing thousands more.

Plan on an added investment in color calibration tools and software for production-level color accuracy.

Pros

  • Photographic 2400 dpi print quality
  • Handles rolls up to 24” wide
  • On-printer controls with LCD screen
  • Includes software for color management

Cons

  • Six-ink Epson UltraChrome DS inks are pricey
  • Requires additional ICC print profiles
  • No built-in spectrophotometer

8. Ricoh Ri 1000

Ricoh Ri 1000Don’t let the name fool you, this niche printer can churn out beautiful dye-sublimation photo prints like crazy.

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Image Credit: Ricoh

It’s built for photography studios and event photographers needing to print tons of top-notch, durable photos.

Pros

  • Super fast photo print speeds Up to 500 4×6 prints per hour
  • Gorgeous continuous-tone photo quality with high color accuracy
  • Operates “white glove” service calls from Ricoh technicians

Cons

  • Only prints up to 8.5 x 14 inches so no jumbo banner printing
  • You gotta buy Ricoh’s expensive proprietary photo paper
  • Six-figure price tag over $100k fully equipped!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a few frequently asked questions to deepen your understanding:

What is the best and cheapest sublimation printer?

The Epson EcoTank ET-2620 is the cheapest sublimation printer. It costs around $200-$300.
To use it for sublimation, you need to buy sublimation ink separately and fill the tank yourself. This voids the warranty, but it’s an affordable way to start sublimating.

Is it better to buy a sublimation printer or convert one?

It’s usually better to buy a sublimation printer instead of converting an inkjet printer.
Converted printers have more issues with print quality and you don’t get support from the manufacturer if something goes wrong. But buying a sublimation printer is more expensive.

What are the disadvantages of sublimation printers?

The printers themselves are expensive to buy. The special sublimation ink is expensive too. You need to refill it more often than regular ink.
You can only print on polyester fabrics or specially coated items. You can’t sublimate onto natural fabrics like cotton. If you convert a regular printer, you void the warranty so the company won’t help you if it breaks.

Wrapping Up

And there you have it, the scoop on sublimation printers!

Now you know which options are best for different needs and budgets. Sublimation lets you make super cool customized stuff. But you gotta get the right printer and gear to make it happen.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions about getting started with sublimation printing. And share this article with your crafty friends so they can learn about it too.

Bella Williams

I'm Bella, a mom of 3 cuties. With 7 years of sublimation experience, my blog dyethrive.com 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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