Learn all about sublimation printing at home from how to convert a printer to a sublimation printer and then how to print and apply sublimation pictures.
I’m a little in love with my new toy! I have been wanting to try sublimation printing for a while now and I’m so glad I finally did, it is so fun!
You all know I love my Cricut, but there are a few things that I can’t do with it and printing is one of them. I love being able to print out photos and add them to homemade gifts.
With my new sublimation printer, I am able to quickly print out anything I want and sublimate or infuse it into polyester fabric or sublimation blanks. So it actually becomes one with the material and will never chip or peel off!
Before I wrote this post, I was a sublimation beginner! I had never tried it, so don’t be scared to try. It really is easy and you can learn from some of my mistakes (I go over them through out the post!)
So What is Sublimation Printing?
In short, sublimation printing is transferring specific or sublimation dyes to a transfer sheet that then are imprinted or “sublimated” into textiles or other compatible materials by adding heat. The ink actually infuses into the shirt, fabric, mug, bag, phone case, etc, and creates a seamless design from seam to seam when high temperatures are added.
The heat transfers are full color and pretty permanent. There is also no cracking or peeling of sublimation prints like you sometimes get when applying iron on vinyl to shirts with heat transfer vinyl.
There is no thickness to the sublimation transfers since it actually embeds into the poly surface of the material. In essence, Infusible Ink transfer sheets are sublimation sheets that have already been printed.
It is also different than screen printing. The final product of a screen print will have paint on top of the shirt and not infused.
I love Infusible Ink for mugs and other projects, but you can only cut out images out of specific colors and can’t use photos or specific multi-color designs.
Can You Sublimate Anything?
Short answer is No. You need to use products that are specifically designed for sublimation ink.
These products have a type of poly coating that the sublimation dye sublimates into.
When it comes to fabric, tote bags, or shirts, you can use most light-colored polyester shirts or shirts with high polyester to other material ratios. The higher the polyester on a light color shirt the brighter the ink will come out. Make sure to check out my post all about sublimating on shirts for more info.
You can find some of my favorite sublimation products at my Amazon storefront here.
Can Any Printer Be Used for Sublimation Printing?
Unfortunately, no, you can’t just use your home inkjet printer. You need special dyes to print on the paper and not all printers play nicely with them. The majority of printers use thermal or heat technology which will bake the sublimation dye right into the paper.
Printers that use piezopressue technology (getting too technical for me!) are the types of printers that can handle sublimation dyes.
You can buy specific sublimation printers but they can be pretty pricey – around $800!
But you can easily convert a relatively inexpensive printer like Epson printers into a sublimation printer! Epson Ecotank printers use the correct piezo pressure and are also pretty affordable. Simply add sublimation dye into the ink cartridges and it’s ready to go!
If you want to get all the specifics and full details on how the process of sublimation works, check out Wikipedia here.
How to Convert an Epson Ecotank into a Sublimation Printer
Just as a reminder, anytime you convert anything into something the printer wasn’t intended for, you void all rights to warranties and such. So make sure you are getting a printer specifically for sublimation and you won’t be using it for anything else.
Converting a printer for sublimation is actually pretty easy only requires two supplies – an Epson Ecotank printer and sublimation ink.
I am using an Epson Ecotank ET-2760 and Hiipoo sublimation ink (or this one is in new bottles to directly transfer) that is specific for my model of the Ecotank that Hiipoo sent me to try out. Hiipoo has a few different lines of sublimation ink so make sure it says it works with the printer you get.
Note: We will not be using the ink that comes in the printer box!
Update: Hiipoo now has their sublimation ink in autofill bottles so no more need for the syringes when adding the ink to the Epson Ecotank printers! Find the new product here.
Inside the Hiipoo sublimation ink box is 4 different sublimation ink bottles (black, cyan, magenta, and yellow), 4 plungers, 4 tips and a pair of plastic gloves. The ink will stain your hands and clothes, so be careful!
To access the ink tanks in the Epson Ecotank 2760, lift up the top and then flip up the right side section that house the cartridges. Then you can rest the lid of the printer on the section that flipped up.
Each cartridge is clearly marked for the color of the ink that it needs. One the front side of the printer are the ink level windows. Once the ink is in the cartridges you will be able to see the levels in the windows.
Prepare each plunger or syringe thing but sticking on the thin attachment. Then pull off the case.
Now open one bottle of sublimation ink at a time and place the long pointy part inside the bottle until it can’t go anymore. Then slowly pull up the stopper on the syringe to pull in the ink.
You might get a bunch of air bubbles at the beginning. I found it easies to lay the bottle almost horizontal while pulling up the plunger. You can watch this process in the video at the bottom if it doesn’t make sense!
Lift up the blue lid of the color you are going to fill (I’m filling black first) and stick the long nose into one side of the small ring. Slowly squeeze down on the plunger so the ink goes into the cartridge.
After each syringe, you’ll notice the ink level filling up in the window on the front side.
Keep repeating the steps to fill up the tanks, using a new syringe for each new color. I was able to get the entire black ink bottle in the cartridge and then about 2/3 of each of the colored inks into their respective cartridges. Make sure to watch the level line on the front and don’t fill it above the top notch.
Once the cartridges are full of sublimation ink, it’s time to plug in the printer and turn it on. Follow all the prompts to check and initialize the cartridges. Make sure to follow the Start Here guide.
It takes about 10-15 minutes for the printer to initialize everything. Now is a good time to download the printer software and driver on your computer from drivers-epson.com (link for the 2760 software!)
Once the Wifi and ink is verified it’s time to start sublimation printing!
Sublimation Printing Project Supplies
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links from Shareasale, Cricut, Awin, and Amazon.com. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using my links (purple text). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
- sublimation paper
- Hiipoo sublimation ink – click to get a 20% off coupon or the new Hiipoo direct transfer bottles with ink
- sublimation puzzle or
- sublimation mousepad or
- polyester pillowcase or
- butcher paper
- Cricut EasyPress 2 and mat or a heat press
- heat resistant gloves (optional)
- heat resistant tape
- lint roller
I am going to be making three quick sublimation printing projects for beginners like me and you! It really is quick and easy and the results are amazing!
How to Design for Sublimation
The first thing you’ll want to do is pick or create a design to sublimate on a blank. Sublimation works a lot like iron-on vinyl, in that it will sublimate the mirror image.
If you are simply applying a photo without any words, then flipping the image before printing it is probably not a big deal. With the sublimated mouse pad and pillow case I made, I didn’t use the mirror image, I just printed them.
But for anything that has words on needs to be in a certain direction, you’ll need to print the image on mirror or flip horizontally setting.
You can either do this within your printing software if available, Cricut Design Space, or while you are editing your design in a photo software.
For my software, I just click on the Edit and Create tab and then on Edit.
Then I crop if needed and then click on Flip with the horizontal arrows.
I like to use befunky.com to design what I want to sublimate if I want to add words to a picture. You’ll find the flip button under Options of the Text Properties. You’ll have to flip the picture too.
Then for sublimation printer settings, I like to choose Plain Paper or Matte paper and then make sure the Output Quality is on High or Best.
I’m using the feed of my dye sublimation printer, so I’m loading where the blank side is facing up. The bottom side of the paper has words on it so you know not to print on that side.
Note: The photo or image will look really faded after it prints! That is completely normal and how it should look. The vibrant full color does not show up until heat is applied to it on the blank!
Here is the image for the first sublimation project – a puzzle! Notice the image is flipped and the color is very faded on the sublimation paper.
How to Press a Sublimation Printing
In order to apply the dye sublimation image to a blank, you’ll need constant high heat, aka heat presses. Sorry, a regular iron will not work with sublimation designs!
You’ll need a heat press or an EasyPress 2 that is able to go up to 400F and provide constant even pressure.
I will be using my EasyPress2. I preheated it to 400F and set the time for 60 seconds.
Make sure to check with your sublimation paper on exactly what temperature and time settings it recommends. (All of the settings were on the back of the box the sublimation paper I’m using came in).
DIY Sublimation Puzzle
Then I took the sublimation puzzle blank out of the bag, removed the cardboard bottom, and put it on my EasyPress mat which was a mistake! I forgot to put a piece of butcher paper below the puzzle… you’ll see what happens…
The puzzles and mousepads were a weird size and did not exactly match up with an 8×10 or 8.5×11 print. So make sure to account for that when you are choosing your image and printing.
I knew there would be a little section of white on both sides of the puzzle because it was longer than the sublimation paper.
I centered the printed image face down over the puzzle and taped it down with heat resistant tape. You do not want the dye sub to print or you might get some ghosting of the image.
Then put a piece of butcher paper over it to protect my press. I am using my large EasyPress 2 which covers the entire puzzle. If you have a smaller press, you need to press each half of the puzzle separately for the same amount of time.
I then made sure to place my EasyPress straight down on top so it didn’t move the paper, and pressed with medium pressure for 60 seconds.
When removing the EasyPress you’ll want to be careful to go straight up so you don’t move anything.
Now it’s time for the fun! Let the paper cool to the touch or use heat resistant gloves and remove the sublimation paper.
Woo Hoo, look how fun that is! The colors are so vibrant! And you can see what happened when I didn’t put butcher paper under the puzzle… some of the ink sublimated onto my mat, eek!
Sublimation projects are a great way to personalize so many items!
DIY Sublimation Mouse Pad
For the sublimation mouse pad, I am using the same steps. Except for this one, I am going to lint roll the blank mouse pad first to make there is no hair or anything on it (anything on it will mess up the dye sublimating).
One problem with sublimation is that you can get lines around the image where the edge of the paper is. I think using the Cricut EasyPress mat helps with that because it’s not so hard.
Also, if you can have the paper larger than the sublimation blank (which is the case for both the puzzle and the mousepads) then you don’t have to worry about the paper edge!
I learned my lesson and remembered to put a piece of butcher paper under the mouse pad. Then I taped on the print and pressed for 60 seconds.
Here are the two sublimation mouse pads I made. One with my logo and one with a picture of my family. I do have a full YouTube video tutorial on how I made the photo mouse pad and the pregnancy announcement puzzle at the bottom of this post.
DIY Photo Pillow Case
This was actually the first sublimation project I made. I wanted my son to be able to have a pillow with all of his friends and family on it while he was in the hospital.
It was amazing how many people commented on it and asked me how I made it! They all loved it and wanted to put it on their Christmas list for loved ones.
When you are sublimating pillow cases or shirts, you want to use polyester fabrics or one with a high polyester count. You can not sublimate into cotton.
You also need to make sure you have a piece of butcher paper or thick cardstock inside the pillow case so the ink doesn’t sublimate through to the backside. I had to keep moving the butcher paper around to make sure it was under where I was going to press.
I wanted to show you another mistake I made, I am always learning on my sublimation journey too! I told you this was a sublimation for beginners tutorial since I am a beginner too.
This was the first photo I pressed and it seemed kind of faded to me and not as vibrant as I thought it was supposed to be. Then I realized I only had my EasyPress at 340F, which ended up being the problem.
Because after I turned it up to 400F and pressed for 40 seconds, the photos came out in gorgeous full color!
I printed a few photos on each page and cut them out so I could place them around the front of the pillow case. Then for some of the smaller ones, I could press two at a time, but for most of them I just pressed it one at a time for 40 seconds.
Again, make sure to lint roll in between really well. Then preheat the fabric, my pressing it for about 5 seconds to remove the moisture.
Then tape down the photos ink side down, cover them with butcher paper, and press making sure the press covers the entire photo.
Make sure to lift the press straight up when the time is up. Remove the butcher paper and then peel off the sublimation print.
I just kept lint rolling, moving the butcher paper within the pillow, preheat press, taping down pictures, placing butcher paper over the photos, and then pressing for 40 seconds until I was done with all the pictures.
Pretty quick and easy to make and I love the finished product!
Pillows are much harder to photograph than I thought! I couldn’t really get a good angle of the entire sublimated pillowcase!
Sublimation for Beginners Video Tutorial
I have a quick video on the sublimation process for making the sublimation puzzle in action that you can watch here. Wouldn’t this make such a fun pregnancy announcement? You can put the pieces in a cute box or bag and send it friends and family to announce the sweet news!
But if you want a full length video walking you through the process of adding the sublimation dye to the printer through to the final sublimation projects make sure to watch my YouTube video here.
I hope you found this tutorial on sublimation printing helpful and that it gets you inspired to try. Sublimation is really a lot of fun and kick up your small business a notch!
If you’d like to learn even more, check out how to find the best sublimation printer.
If you’d like to save this tutorial on sublimation for beginners for later or share you can PIN It now! If you are on a desktop hover over the top left of the image below and if you are on a phone simply tap on the image and a PIN It button will pop up to click on!
Thanks for stopping by and have a creative day!