Home / Resources / Ink Differently™ / April 2018 / Sublimation Production Tips and Tricks

Sublimation Production Tips and Tricks

Posted: 4/25/2018

As we put the finishing touches on the new Complete Guide to Sublimation Success, we wanted to give you a taste of some of the content you’ll find in this free download, available at SawgrassInk.com later this month. Here are some of the tips and tricks you’ll find helpful as you explore how to sublimate.

Heat Press and Substrate Variation

Due to variations in substrates and heat presses, the recommended heat press settings may vary for your environment. On this basis, recommended time, temperature and pressure settings are a useful starting point.

For best results, test different time and temperature combinations to find one that works best with your substrate and heat press combination. Remember, large variations of any setting may lead to poor quality imaging. Also, keep a log of the times, temperatures and pressures that work best for specific products, so you can easily refer to them when it comes time to start production.

Calibrating your heat press is recommended to ensure an accurate temperature. For this procedure, temperature test strips are more accurate than the use of infrared temperature guns. SEC Associates has a good YouTube video that shows several methods of checking a heat press’ temperature accuracy. Contact your heat press manufacturer or dealer for calibration instructions specific to your press.

Recommended Paper and Substrates

Always use the recommended paper and substrates for sublimation transfers – variations in paper and substrate quality lead to variations in print, transfer and finished product quality.

Print Overlap and Margins

Print your images approximately ¼ inch/ 6mm larger than the size of the substrate you are transferring to. This allows a margin of error when aligning everything under the heat press.

Preventing Scorching

Higher temperatures generally require less time to prevent scorching. This is when the substrate and transfer paper become too hot for too long, resulting in browning of the paper, blurring of the image, incomplete transfer and other similar issues.

Preventing Washed-Out Images

An insufficient time and temperature combination could hinder complete transfer of the sublimation inks to the substrate which may then appear washed out. Try increasing your temperature and/or time to get a more complete transfer. Pressure may also need to be increased, especially if the image is washed out only in specific areas of the substrate, and not the whole surface.

Cooling Sublimated Items

After transferring the image to the substrate, promptly remove the transfer paper. Do not stack the transferred items with anything else until they have completely cooled. Any paper residue left on the substrate after transferring can be removed with isopropyl alcohol.

Using Software Templates

Software templates are a good idea for substrates that you will be creating repeatedly such as tiles and mouse pads. You can usually download templates from the dealer from which you purchased the substrate or the substrate manufacturer.

CreativeStudio, which is included with the purchase of any Virtuoso system, has templates of most types of products available for immediate design, and new templates are added monthly.

Dealing with Moisture

The introduction of moisture into the sublimation process can cause unwanted results. During production with a heat press operating at 400°C /204°C, moisture can flash to steam and literally blow the ink away from its intended target. Some of the problems that are attributed to moisture include color shifting (colors lose accuracy), image bleeding and the uneven transfer of solid-filled areas.

Under normal circumstances, a small amount of moisture can accumulate in the transfer paper and it’s usually absorbed directly into the substrate during pressing. However, hard substrates, like metal and ceramic, are unable to absorb excess moisture. Thus, it’s important that you take steps to minimize the introduction of moisture into the process.

The first step is to protect the paper from moisture absorption. As a preventative measure, store your paper in a dry place. Consider a sealed container such as a re-sealable bag. If you suspect moisture, set the paper on your press for a few seconds. Do not press it; just expose it to the warmth. The heat radiating from the press should help evaporate most of the moisture.

Another trick is to use newsprint or butcher paper instead of a Teflon sheet. The paper will help absorb moisture from the transfer sheet during pressing, whereas Teflon will not. Be sure to use a fresh sheet of paper for each pressing cycle.

If you are working with garments or fabric, it’s also possible that the substrate may contain some moisture. Pre-pressing the garment for about 10 seconds should remove the moisture, as well as any wrinkles. To avoid this problem, keep your paper or fabric in a dry place. If you suspect moisture, try these techniques:

  1. Place paper on the raised pedestal bottom of the press and let it dry under the heat platen. Don’t close the heat platen!
  2. Pre-press fabric for 10 seconds before transferring
  3. Use a fresh, non-textured paper towel behind the transfer sheet

Dealing with Humidity

In addition to being mindful of moisture in pressing, you should also focus on your work environment. High humidity levels usually contribute to moisture issues. A dehumidifier can help control these issues, but reducing it too much can have negative effects on the inks and your equipment.

It’s wise to invest in a hygrometer and take some readings. The ideal operating conditions for sublimation are 59°F – 77°F or 15°C to 25°C with above 35% relative humidity (no condensation).

Keeping Your Press Clean

It is important to protect the rubber pad that is attached to the lower section of the heat press. The same is true for the rubber pad found in a mug press. Covering the pad with a protective sheet of paper, a paper towel or a Teflon sheet will prevent sublimation ink from being absorbed into it.

  • If You Use Paper: Choose an inexpensive white bond paper or a roll of white paper (cut as needed), and discard after each pressing. Unprinted newsprint paper is also a good choice.
  • If You Use a Paper Towel: Choose an inexpensive, white, non-textured brand (the texture will leave a pattern on the substrate), and discard after each pressing
  • If You Use a Brown Teflon Sheet: Clean it with alcohol after each pressing

Preventing Ghosting

Sublimation requires a tight connection between the transfer page and the blank product when under heat. For the best results, as the inks gas and dye the product, you must ensure that the paper doesn’t shift. If the transfer page moves during the sublimation process, this could result in a blurry image or ghosting, which resembles a shadow effect.

To prevent this, always fix the transfer paper to the product itself using heat-resistant tape or repositionable (temporary) spray adhesives.

Hard Substrates

When decorating hard substrates, use heat-resistant tape to attach the transfer page to the product. Do not tape across the image area, as this can often damage the image quality. Press the product normally, and then remove the transfer carefully. Heat tape can be purchased from your distributor.

Soft Substrates

One of the most common difficulties in working with soft substrates is having dust, lint and other fibers from the air imprint into the fabric when pressing. This will leave little blue marks on the fabric, which can detract from the quality of your print.

The best way to reduce this to use a sticky lint roller before each press. A simple tape-based roller that you buy at the local grocery store will lift most of the particles that you can see, and many others that are invisible to the naked eye. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of lint rolling fabrics before placing the transfer paper.

To use spray adhesive, spray a light mist on the image side of the transfer paper from about 12”/30cm away. Do not spray the product. Then, simply press the transfer paper to the product. If you position it incorrectly, you can lift it off and reposition it.It is difficult to tape to soft substrates, like t-shirts and mousepads. Instead, you can use a repositionable adhesive spray to tack the transfer paper to the product.

Press the product normally and remove the transfer. Ask your dealer about suitable adhesive sprays.