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How to Select the Right Sublimation Printer

By Jimmy Lamb

The number one question I get about printers is “which one should I buy?” And to this I throw back my own question: “what do you want to make?”

The buyer-to-be then comes up with an answer – “sublimation.”

Great! But sublimation is a broad answer, and we need to narrow this down. We've also created a fun quiz at the end of this post to help you figure out which printer is best for you!

What to Consider When Choosing a Sublimation Printer

When selecting a sublimation printer, the key is to understand what products you want to make, as the capabilities of the printer must match the parameters of the substrates.

Sublimation printers are typically defined by:

  • Media Size
  • Ink Colors
  • Ink Quality
  • Throughput

How Large Should Your Sublimation Printer Be?

Media size is the most important considerations when researching your printer as it defines the largest paper size that the unit can handle. Keep in mind that printers cannot print to the edge of the paper, so media size is always slightly larger than print area. For example, if the media size is 8.5x14in/21x35cm the print area is probably closer to 8.0x13.5in/20x32cm.

Note: Desktop style printers print on individual sheets of paper, whereas industrial style printers print on rolls of paper.

Before you start shopping for printers, start thinking about the items you want to produce so that you can select a printer that will handle the size of those products. Be sure to think broadly, because you will probably expand your product line as your business grows.

What are Sublimation Ink Colors?

Ink colors refers to the number of base inks (cartridges) a printer has, not the total number of colors it can print. The majority of sublimation printers have four base colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). By combining different percentages of these four base colors, thousands of print colors can be created.

However, there are some printers that have eight base colors, which creates some interesting possibilities in terms of color creation. Typically, these ink sets are designed for specific uses like high-end photography, where there is a need to produce enhanced skin tones, deeper blacks, or fluorescent colors. Most sublimators are fine with a CMYK system, but the eight-color option is available on a limited number of printers if needed.

How to Choose Ink: Sealed vs Refillable Cartridges

Ink quality is (and should be) of top concern. Sublimation ink should be designed for the printer itself and the printer should be designed for the ink. This ensures the best quality print. In addition, sealed cartridges tend to deliver more consistent quality than refillable units as they were filled using a controlled system.

With refillable cartridges its very easy to introduce contaminants and air bubbles into the ink, which will lead to poor quality printing and possible damage to the heads. Be sure to inquire the source of the ink for the printer that you are most interested in.

Desktop vs Industrial Sublimation Printers

Throughput refers to the speed and efficiency of the printing production. Most of today’s desktop units have adequate speeds, but they use sheets of paper, which means someone has to be available to reload the paper periodically. If you need to produce in high volume, then an industrial printer might be more of what you need. An industrial printer (such as the Sawgrass VJ 628) uses rolls of paper, meaning it can print for hours without having to reload.

So, the next time you ask “which printer should I buy” you will at least have an idea of what each Sawgrass printer can do and how it affects production. Focus on the unit that will produce the best quality and widest range of products for you so that you can make the most money possible on each and every order. 


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