Sublimation Printing – Basics on how it Works

Updated post – more info added

So you have contacted Epson to ask a question about the new sublimation printer that you have purchased. The Epson representative’s first question is, are you using genuine ink cartridges? Answer no to that and it is downhill all the way from there dealing with Epson. Why is that?

Epson’s only interest in selling you a printer is the number of new ink cartridges that you will purchase and use in the printer and the amount of money that you spend doing so. They use words like “genuine” to describe their own cartridges that another company in China has manufactured for them. This of course suggests that all other cartridges are fake! This is not the case at all, they are an alternative to Epson’s.

If you get into this situation, try asking the telephone representative what ink type your printer uses in the cartridges and then try asking what print head technology is used and how it operates. You will find that most of the telephone operators do not know, but what they do know, is that you have been mis-sold a printer.

A printer used for dye sublimation printing, can not use Epson cartridges as it is the wrong ink type required for dye sublimation printing. They do not support the application and that is why they will advise you that you have been mis-sold the printer. It is on the basis that they do not sell desktop sublimation printers or the ink, not yet at least.

This of course does not mean that an Epson printer can not print dye sublimation inks. The missold statement is about as accurate as the context that they incorrectly describe their cartridges as “Genuine”

So what makes a printer Capable of printing dye sublimation inks!

Dealing with an innovative company is a start, however….

To answer this we need to look at what dye sublimation printing is. Sublimation is a natural process that turns a solid or liquid into a gas. Dye sublimation printing is the process of turning inert particles contained within a water-based dye ink, into a gas, by means of applying heat at a certain temperature over an amount of time. The particles in the ink are turned into gas that bonds with polyester fabric or other polymers, such as coatings applied to ceramic mugs. The printer prints images or graphics using sublimation ink onto a sublimation suitable transfer paper. The transfer paper is applied to the item to receive the graphic and heat is applied accordingly.

Let’s break that down a little in simple terms. Dye sublimation inks have inert particles carried within the ink that are printed through the printer in the colours and patterns required to create an image. The particles in the ink remain inert until heat is applied at approximately 193 degrees Celsius. This temperature varies according to how heat is applied, pressure and air temperature. (Nothing is straight forward is it?

So, inert particles in the ink, convert into a gas when heat is applied to the ink. This is the key point in understanding which printers are capable of printing with dye sublimation inks.

Canon and HP printers use printheads that superheat the ink droplets to push the ink through their printheads. So if you were to try to use one of these printers, the sublimation process would happen in the print head when the ink was heated and the printhead would be blocked very quickly. No inert particles would be in the ink that was printed onto the transfer paper.

Epson printheads use a different method to push ink through their printheads that does not involve heat. They use electric impulses that create vibrations that in turn, create the pressure required to push the ink through their piezo printheads. Because no heat is applied, it also prints the inert particles through the printhead ready to have heat applied and to commence the sublimation process.

This is the reason that all Epson printers are capable of dye sublimation printing. It is only printers that use the piezo printhead technology that are dye sublimation capable. Other printer manufacturers who use piezo technology in their printers, also have printers that are capable of printing dye sublimation inks. Other desktop printers would be Brother and Ricoh Sawgrass.

It is all down to the print head method of applying ink, heat or no heat. No heat = dye sublimation capable.

This explanation has been kept deliberately simple and avoided some of the complexities of explanation, in order to retain message clarity. To reiterate

  • Dye Sublimation printing is considered a specialised printing subject.
  • Only printers that do not apply heat in the printhead to print, can be used for Dye Sublimation Printing.
  • All Epson printers or printer manufacturers that use Epson piezo printheads in their printers will work.
  • The term “Genuine inks” is used to confuse to obfuscate and is irrelevant for Dye Sublimation printing.
  • You have not been missold a printer if it uses alternate cartridges to a manufacturer’s cartridges or inks.

Finally, we would strongly make the point that anyone deciding to get involved in Dye Sublimation printing, must have some basic knowledge or be prepared to learn to attain the knowledge and skills. This applies to any kind of specialised printing.

We offer advice, support and basic information in order to get our customers familiar with and able to perform the basic functions required to use a printer. Image manipulation and enlargement are a subject that is software and learning-dependent. We do not teach this.

We hope this article helps!

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