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Important Dye Sublimation Information

What is sublimation?

Sublimation is a digital printing process that uses heat and pressure to put ink into a product instead of on it. It utilizes a special dye and a molecular bonding process to apply and permanently adhere HD images, graphics and photos to polymers and polyesters at a sub-surface level.

How is sublimation different from other product decoration?

Other printing processes utilize chemicals called binders to bond their inks to the surface of a product. Binders are present in the ink and/or paper (for transfer processes.) Over time, the binders will break down and the ink will crack, peel and fade. In contrast, because sublimation bonds at a sub-surface level rather than on top, it provides a high-quality image that won’t crack or peel. And in the case of apparel, it will not fade when washed. Sawgrass sublimation inks are HD and provide stunning graphics and photos, something most other decoration processes cannot achieve.

With sublimation, images can be applied to thousands of different products including mugs, signage, bags and apparel, and to many different materials including ceramics, wood, metal, polyester and glass.

What do I need to get started?

Sublimation requires a graphics program, a sublimation printer, sublimation inks, sublimation paper and color management software. Sawgrass provides an integrated solution that includes all of these elements, each of which has been engineered to work hand-in-hand to deliver high-quality images quickly and easily. In addition, you will need a good quality heat press. Our products are only available through a global network of authorized dealers. The Sawgrass Dealer Network sells complete startup packages so you can get everything you need in one place.

How do I choose a printer and heat press?

The most important question is: which products do you want to make? Printers come in different sizes in terms of the largest image they can produce. The Sawgrass line includes three different printers. The smallest, a desktop unit, can handle up to 8.5” x 14” (22cm x 35.5cm) media. The next size up, also a desktop unit, can handle up to 13” x 19” (33cm x 48.3cm) media. The third unit, an industrial 8-color system, prints on 25” (63.5cm) wide roll fed paper.

Your heat press must always be larger than the largest image you can print with your printer. For example, if you bought the printer that can produce 13” x 19” (33cm x 48.3cm) media, you would need at least a 16” x 20” (38 cm x 50 cm) heat press (a standard sized unit in the industry).

You should also consider a swing-away heat press rather than a clamshell heat press as it can handle thicker items such as wooden plaques, ceramics and more. To handle cylindrical objects, such as mugs and drinkware, you'll need a mug press, 3D heat press or convection oven.

What type of surfaces are good for sublimation?

Sublimation only bonds to polymers and polyesters. However, there are more than 1,000 sublimation-ready “blanks” available in the marketplace, meaning they already have a polymer coating. This includes products made of wood, metal, slate, glass, acrylic, ceramics, hard plastics and more. In addition, polyester and polyester blend fabrics can be sublimated.

How can CreativeStudio help with design?

CreativeStudio is a design software created by us, specifically for sublimation, and is included free with the purchase of any Sawgrass printer. It includes thousands of royalty-free designs, images and product templates, which means you don't have to worry about commercial licenses or wasting time searching the internet for beautiful imagery. No graphics experience is needed - you can get started as soon as you get your Sawgrass printer!

To access even more designs, CreativeStudio offers a monthly and annual membership program.

How do I print on fabric?

Sublimation will bond directly to most polyester fabrics using the standard Sawgrass inks and transfer papers. Sublimation will not bond directly to cotton, but there are special transfer papers that will allow Sawgrass inks to bond to the surface of cotton fabric. In addition, Sawgrass has partnered with Siser to produce a special edition of our sublimation inks, called EasySubli, which can be used to print on Siser vinyl. This vinyl can then be applied directly to fabrics such as cotton and dark colored polyester. Sawgrass routinely works with partner companies to develop new applications for sublimation in terms of fabrics and non-fabric products.

How do I print on a mug?

Because a mug is round, it will not fit in a traditional heat press. There are three solutions for sublimating a mug. The first is to use a mug press, which has a cylindrical heating element. The mug is placed in it and the unit is clamped shut around the mug. The second method is a convection oven (not a microwave nor a standard kitchen oven where you will prepare food). A special wrap is applied to the mug, which holds the transfer against the surface of the mug. The mug is then placed in the convection oven for “pressing”.

The third is to use a 3D heat press, which utilizes heat, vacuum and wraps to sublimate rounded products such as mugs.

Each method has different settings for time, temperature and pressure that will vary with the equipment and the product, and these setting should be available with the products.

Does it matter what ink/printer I use?

Very much so! All inks are not created equal. Think about a paint store. You have good quality paints that provide superb and accurate color that can last for many years, and then you have the low cost paints that do an OK job at best. You also have different paints for different surfaces. With sublimation, higher quality inks like those produced by Sawgrass provide more accurate color, a wider gamut (range) of color and higher quality images on each and every job, always.

Sawgrass makes the world’s only desktop printers engineered for sublimation from the ground up. The printers were designed for the ink and ink for the printers - both were made purely for sublimation. In addition, the software for color management and CreativeStudio were also designed specifically to work with Sawgrass inks and printers. It is the only integrated system available for sublimation.