Sublimation printers use a special ink that, when heated, turns into a gas. Similarly, when heated, polyester fibers open up and allow the gas to enter into the fibers and dye those fibers permanently.
Sublimation works on polyester fabrics or other specially coated substrates. You can use a polyester BLEND of fabric, but any fiber that is not polyester, will not accept the ink the same way. Meaning if you have a poly/cotton blend shirt, any fibers that are cotton will not dye. You can do this, but the lower the polyester content, the more vintage the look. Which is sometimes a cool look! Just depends on what you want!
You need a sublimation printer such as the Sawgrass 400 ($600) or Sawgrass 800 ($1600). The difference between these two, other than price, is that the 400 will print a max size of 8.5×11 and the 800 will print up to 11×17 or 13×19 with the bypass tray ($200)
You CAN also use a regular designated printer with a sublimation ink conversion kit. This is a much cheaper alternative because you can get a printer like the the Epson 7210 that prints up to 13×19 for $150 on Amazon.
Sublijet Inks run about $77-$131 each color (CMYK – so 4 colors) depending on if you get the “enhanced” one or not. In my experience so far, I can get about 200 ish 11×17 images on the $77 ink. But it all just depends on how ink dense and saturated your design is.
There are other brands (and generics) that are cheaper inks. But Sublijet is the “standard” for quality.
REMEMBER THAT SUBLIMATION PRINTERS ARE NOT WHITE TONER PRINTERS. So if there is any white in the design, there will be NO ink! When white color is present in a design, the color of the SHIRT (or item) will be the color that shows in these places.
You can use TexPrint-R paper. Which again, is the quality standard. It runs about $17 for a pack of 100 8.5×11 or $35 for a pack of 100 11×17.
There are other papers on Amazon that many people use and have no trouble with.
You also HAVE to have a heat press. And I hate to say it, but your press may make or break you. A GOOD press will really make a difference in how your design looks on your image. You don’t have to invest in a beast mode one up front, but keep that in mind if you’re subbing and you don’t feel like your colors or lines look just right…the issue may be in your press.
Sublimation blank providers are few and far between. You can search different blanks for you.
Thanks to hoopmama for the tips!