Sublimation Printing 101 | Printers, Ink + Paper

Oct 17, 2020

I’m going to go ahead and start off with an apology for the amount of links that this post is about to include!  Today we are going to be covering a lot about the major supplies needed to get yourself going with Sublimation Printing — and in order to do that I’m going to be dropping links left and right.  And before we get to it, here’s a note about affiliate links.

Disclosure: As always, you’ll find some affiliate links scattered within my post, which means I receive a small amount of compensation if you end up purchasing something I’ve recommended.  Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.  Purchasing from my links does not alter the pricing in any way for you, it simply helps feed my sewing, creating and blogging habits.  Thank you for your support!

Alright.  Let’s get to it with the printer, ink and paper talk.  Because of course, these are the most important step in making dye sublimation happen out of your home.

There are three key things to decide upon before you make your purchase:

  • Print Size.  Just how big are you wanting to be able to print?  Most basic printers can only do 8.5″ wide, which means you’re limited in size right off the bat. **You can print in tile format and tape the prints together to achieve larger sizes if desired.
  • Budget. This goes hand-in-hand with the first point above.  Wider format printers are going to cost bigger bucks, but in the end are less hassle.  The letter sized printers are generally a lot more easy on your wallet.
  • Tanks vs Refillable Ink Cartridges. Essentially, how do you want to convert the printer?   Epson tank style printers make it so easy, by just allowing you to fill the tanks with sub ink instead of printer ink and getting on your merry way.  However, there are conversion kits with empty ink cartridges that you can fill with sub ink and print away as well.  It just depends on the direction you want to go, and your comfort level with the process.

WHICH PRINTERS CAN BE USED FOR AT-HOME SUBLIMATION PRINTING?

Ya’ll.  This list is not exhaustive.  There are so many printers out there that can be converted for sublimation printing that I’d never be able to talk about all of them.  But I’ll share a bunch that I think would be PERFECT for some sublimation fun.

— TANK STYLE PRINTERS —

**Updated 12/30/20.  After doing a bit more extensive research on printer types, HP printers are not sublimation compatible.  Why?  They use a print technology where their printers disperse ink onto paper using a thermal heat process.  This heating process creates a problem for sublimation printing because the sublimation ink basically is going through the chemical process and turning into a gas before it hits the transfer paper….and in other cases is baking onto the paper.  Big thanks to the HP rep who was able to help me through this understanding.

Perhaps this is why Epson holds the market on this style printer.

My printer that I currently have is pictured here.  It’s the Epson EcoTank ET-2720.  So far, this baby purrs like a kitten and hasn’t given me any fits.  I’m very happy with my decision to go with it.  While it only prints 8.5″ wide, I’ve been able to use (so far it’s all I’ve tried to extend it to) 17″ long paper in it.  Which means I’m limited more by width than I am length.  And for the majority of my purposes, 8.5″ is all I really need for width.  I can easily tile my image to spread it across two pages without any issue also — so if I REALLY need to go beyond the 8″ width, I’m completely capable.

Some other Epson EcoTanks to take a look at:

— CARTRIDGE STYLE PRINTERS — 

With this style printer, you’ll need to make two purchases.  First, the printer.  Obviously, right?  But second, you’re going to need some empty, refillable printer cartridges for you to put your ink in.  And they have to match up with the printer that you have.  This restriction means that there are less printer options out there, but it’s still a completely feasible thing to do!  You will need these refillable Cartridge for Epson Workforce printers

I’d like to point out that the reason you’ll see the Workforce printers mentioned the most in the sublimation world is because they are all “wide format” printers…meaning they can print up to 13″ wide.  The ease of having the ability to print that wide is a huge perk.  But these printers will run you a bit more — so first scour the used markets and see if you can score them for less than the retail price.

This particular cartridge works with the Epson Workforce series printers:

— WIDER FORMAT PRINTERS —

I’ve already mentioned the Workforce printer line above that will all print at a 13″ width, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Epson has a printer that is both wide format AND uses the tank style ink.  Again, the price point is much higher when you start to get into this size printer, but if you’re planning on turning this into a business (or adding onto a business) it might be worth the expense with the Epson EcoTank ET-15000 or the Epson EcoTank ET-7750.

OKAY, I HAVE A PRINTER.  NOW WHAT ABOUT INK?

Ink is a much easier thing to talk about than printers.  No matter what you do, DO NOT USE REGULAR PRINTER INK in your sublimation printer.  You will have a heck of a time cleaning it out and making sure it’s running only the special ink that is needed for the dye sublimation process.

The minute you unpack your printer, say adios to the ink that came with it.  I took the bottles that came with it, emptied it into my sink, rinsed the bottles out, and refilled them with the sublimation ink that I purchased.  It’s the easiest way to get ink into your printer, as these bottles were meant for filling the EcoTank printers.

I’ve not used any brand besides Printers Jack sublimation ink and it has been FABULOUS so far.  I probably won’t be switching, as I’ve had success with it.  The colors are super vibrant and the price point is awesome.  At this point, I’ve printed hundreds of full-color designs and the tanks on my printer are still incredibly full.  I am not mad!

Other sublimation ink brands I’ve seen around:

WHAT KIND OF PAPER DO I NEED FOR DYE SUBLIMATION AT HOME?

You cannot print on regular paper and expect the process to work.  Sublimation paper has a special coating on them that allows for the sublimation process to happen.  I know there are a lot of brands out there for this as well, but I’ve had wild success with the A-SUB brand sublimation paper and would highly recommend it.  Personally, I’m a fan of having the 8.5 x 14 paper for printing on, so I have that extra length.  But they also have them in other sizes for your use.

Whew!  We made it through this list pretty quickly, didn’t we?  If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask!  I hope I didn’t send your head spinning too much.  Once we get through all of these informative posts, we will be going over printing ALL THE THINGS together!  Thanks for coming along with me on this journey!

Please follow me at Wild + Wanderful Blog on Facebook / Wild + Wanderful Blog Facebook Group / Wild + Wanderful on Instagram so you know when the newest posts come out.  They’ll all make their way to my new resource page on the blog: Sublimation.

9 Comments

  1. Melaney

    hi, i just purchased an hp smart tank plus 651 and was wondering if you can help me turn it into a sublimation printer? I’ve looked everywhere and cant seem to find any help. I’d greatly appreciate it 🙂

    Reply
    • Katy M.

      Hi Melaney, I don’t have specific experience with that printer. But I’m assuming you could do what I did. Dump out the ink that comes with the printer (don’t put it in your printer at all!) and then refill those tubes with sublimation ink and fill your printer tanks with that instead. :). Good luck!

      Reply
    • Jennifer

      Hi! Did you find out how to make your printer work? I got the same one for Christmas and did put the sublimation ink into the tanks but the color won’t sublimate. Colors print but don’t sublimate.only black does. So confused

      Reply
      • Katy M.

        I spent some time digging into HP as a brand and ended up calling their help desk. I’ve updated my blog and removed their printers from my suggestion list, after my findings. Apparently their ink disbursement technology uses a thermal heat process, which can lead to evaporating the ink before it has a chance to print on the transfer paper. It was a long phone call but I’m so thankful they were able to give me some insight.

        Reply
  2. Angel

    Thank you for your experience & information. I’m knew to the entire sublimation printing. So thrilled I’ve read your article before purchasing HP Printer

    Reply
  3. Erika Atwell

    I just got this same Epson eco tank, and I want to use it to print sublimation AND just regular pattern printing. Can this be done by just using the sublimation ink only? Does sublimation ink print regular on standard paper, or do I need two different printers?

    Reply
    • Katy M.

      I suppose in theory, yes you could print on regular paper with sublimation ink and use it as a standard printer. The colors would be different, since sub ink is a lot more muted before applying heat, but if you’re just using it for basic pattern printing….I think you could technically get away with it.

      Reply
  4. Cassie

    Hi Katy! Let’s say a friend purchased an Epson ET-4700 for virtual school and used the regular printer ink. Is there a hope of converting it to a sublimation printer? How bad is this cleaning process? Thanks for your help!!

    Reply
    • Katy M.

      I’ve never cleaned one out myself, but I can imagine it’d be a long and messy process. Since that’s one of the smaller sizes, thus also a lower priced printer, it might almost be worth saving yourself the headache and getting another printer solely dedicated to sublimating — and just keeping this one as a regular printer.

      Reply

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Welcome to Wild+Wanderful!  I’m Katy.
Momma. Wife. West Virginian.
Designer. 
Dreamer. Coffee Consumer.
DIY-er. 
Craft Beer Enthusiast.
Purple Obsessor. Lover of Handmade.

MILDLY WILD. MOSTLY WANDERFUL.

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