Sublimation 101

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This post is a compliment from a very detailed write-up made by Cricut Tips & Tricks group expert who is a professional vinyl installer – Amanda Bergsma


Sublimation is when something goes from a solid to a gas and back to a solid, skipping the liquid stage (e.g., ice to steam without water). Crafting involves turning a solid ink design into gas using heat, applying even pressure to transfer the ink gas onto an item, and letting it cool to solidify the ink. Only the ink is transferred in this process.

Unlike HTV, where you get a second layer of vinyl sitting (melted) into your fabric, this process will have the ink embedded into your fabric. This leads to a more professional-looking, longer-lasting item.

There are three different ways to create Sublimation designs.

Printing You can set up your own home desktop printer. You will want a printer that takes ink tanks (vs. the ink carriages) and preferably one that has never used original inkjet printer ink. (If it has, you will need to thoroughly flush the lines or the printer will seize). You also need to make sure your printer doesn’t use a thermal printer head (since you don’t want the heat of the printer trying to turn your ink into a glass state while it’s printing).

You will need to buy Sublimation ink, and you will need to buy paper made for a laser printer (laser printers print with heat, so their paper is meant to withstand that heat. This is perfect when you go to transfer your design with heat). It’s probably better to buy paper specifically made for sublimation since the paper is less likely to burn when you go to transfer it.(Since you are probably going to use more heat to transfer then the standard laser printer)

Since you are printing your design (mirrored) there is no need to weed anything since only the ink will transfer. You only print your design exactly how you want it to show. Do not print with any bleed, you also don’t even need to use Design Space to print with since you won’t be cutting anything. If you do print using Design Space “print and cut” make sure to cut away that black box, or it will transfer with your design. You will want to look up the heat and pressure time for the type of sublimation ink you are using to ensure a proper transfer. Brands may have slightly different temperatures and durations. Also, your printed designs will always look a bit dull at first, the “brightness” of the colors comes after you press it.

Infusible PensThey are basically the same thing as a printer, but instead you are using your machine’s “draw” feature to draw the design (instead of a printer printing it).You still need to mirror the design, use paper made for sublimation, and you still don’t need to weed the design.

Infusible Ink SheetsThese are special sheets of either solid or a printed pattern of sublimation ink that is already printed for you. They are printed on a material that you are able to weed like vinyl. Now, you use your machine to cut the design, and you need to weed away the rest. If you don’t, the full sheet of ink will transfer. Once again though, even though you cut and treat it as vinyl, only the ink will transfer, there won’t be a second layer of vinyl on top.

— Transferring —The goal here is to securely wrap / place your design so there is even pressure across the whole surface area. You want all of your design fully touching the surface, and you want to make sure it’s even. (This is why those heat presses and teflon wraps are great). The whole point is to give the ink (as a gas) nowhere else to go when you heat it up. It can only go straight onto the surface it’s being pressed up against. There are no air pockets to escape.

You won’t “gain” anything by “pushing harder”. This isn’t like HTV where you also need a lot of pressure to really “squish” that vinyl on the fabric. Here, you are going to take your time to make sure it’s even, smooth and secured.

— Recap —

  • You always need a high polyester count. The less polyester, the more “faded” the design will be
  • You always want to mirror your design
  • You will want (but don’t need) light colour items to start with
  • Your unpressed design will always look a bit dull
  • You need consistent pressure and heat
  • They will be hot when finished, don’t burn yourself
  • Look up the temperature and time for the specific type of Sublimation Ink you are using


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