What Is Sublimation Paper? The Ultimate Guide

A sublimation paper is a specialty paper used to print on shirts, mugs, and other sublimation blanks. Many beginner and professional printers use sublimation printing because it’s cost-efficient and produces vivid prints.

You’ve landed on this page for one reason — you’re trying to find out what a sublimation paper is. If you’re a beginner in the sublimation printing industry, this ultimate guide will help you understand the ins and outs of a sublimation paper.

sublimation paper

TeckWrap Craft’s sublimation paper

What is sublimation paper?

First of all, you need to learn what a sublimation transfer paper is made of. A sublimation paper is made of a special polyester coating on its print area. This special coating keeps the dye ink inside the paper which then transfers to the merchandise when exposed to heat.

Think of a sublimation paper as the vessel or the carrier of the sublimation ink. A sublimation paper is a vessel to transfer the dye sublimation ink into merchandise. That is the basic working principle of a sublimation paper.

How do you print on a sublimation paper?

To print on a sublimation printer, you’ll need an inkjet printer that contains dye sublimation ink. There’s no other way around it. You can’t use regular printer ink to print on sublimation paper because it won’t work.

Furthermore, you can’t print on a regular printing paper using dye sublimation ink and use it for sublimation printing. In a nutshell, for sublimation printing, you’ll need sublimation paper and an inkjet printer with sublimation ink.


What Is Sublimation Paper?

YouTube Source: Sublimation Printing T-shirt Full Page by MamaPlusCEO

How does the sublimation process work?

The sublimation process works in a simple way. Let’s say you have a sublimation paper printed with a design, of course using dye sublimation ink. You’re about to press it into a polyester t-shirt under the heat press machine.

What happens is that the sublimation ink turns into gas. At the same time, the fabric of the polyester shirt opens up and absorbs the ink. Once you’re done pressing the shirt, and it cools off, the gaseous ink that transferred to the merchandise turns solid. This means the ink is permanently printed on the merchandise.


sublimation printing

YouTube Source: Sublimation Printing T-shirt Full Page by MamaPlusCEO

What projects can I do with a sublimation paper?

There are plenty of custom-printed projects you can do with sublimation paper. With a sublimation paper, you can print directly on polyester fabric or any polyester-coated sublimation blank.

You can directly sublimate on synthetic fibers like polyester, lycra, nylon, and sportswear. Furthermore, you can also print the sublimation paper over a heat transfer vinyl. You see, directly sublimating on a cotton shirt or a dark-colored shirt won’t work.

Direct sublimation printing on a garment is only recommended for polyester shirts. But if you want to print on a dark-colored shirt or a cotton shirt, you can print the heat transfer vinyl first on the shirt. Then sublimate over it.

sublimation printing

As for the sublimation blanks, there are plenty of products available in the market now. This means you can custom-print on plenty of merchandise.

Several sublimation blanks available in the market now are:

  • Round fans
  • Mouse Pads
  • Tumbler
  • Mugs
  • Aluminum plate
  • Earrings
  • Keychain
  • Pet bandana
  • Tote bags
  • Cup coasters
  • Pillow covers
  • Jigsaw puzzle
  • Cosmetic bags
  • Pens
  • Caps
  • Baby bib

You can’t sublimate on random merchandise. It must be a ‘sublimation blank’ because it has a special polymer coating wherein the dye sublimation ink will bond. For instance, you can’t expect to sublimate on a regular mug bought at a craft store. It must be a sublimation mug. All of these sublimation blanks are in white colors.

sublimation printing projects


What do I need for sublimation printing?

As mentioned, for sublimation printing, of course, you’ll need a sublimation paper and a sublimation printer that contains dye sublimation ink. One more machine you need to invest in is a heat press machine and each one has its purpose.

Here are the different kinds of heat presses available:

  • Flat heat press machine: Available in swing type or clamshell type. Recommended for use for t-shirts, tote bags, jigsaw puzzles, pillowcases, mouse pads, and other flat surfaced items.
  • Tumbler heat press machine
  • Cap press machine
  • Mug press machine
  • Mini heat press machine (not recommended for sublimation printing)

Do you need to invest in all these heat press machines? The more heat press machines you have, the better! But if the budget does not allow it, starting with a flat heat press machine and mastering t-shirt printing first is a good way to start.

heat press for sublimation printing

A heat press machine

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Pocsywe

With sublimation printing, you’ll need other supplies like thermal transfer paper or tape, scissors, a Teflon sheet, and a silicone rubber pad. A bright desktop lamp on your workspace can also help you big time when printing.

How to sublimate merchandise?

Sublimating merchandise is a simple process. Print and press! That’s it! Whether you’re printing on a shirt or a sublimation blank. Whether you’re sublimating on a shirt or a mug, the transfer process is fairly similar. To give you an idea, here are the steps.

  • Print the design on your computer using sublimation paper.
  • Don’t forget to use the highest quality print setting on your computer.
  • Print on the white side of the sublimation paper.
  • Don’t forget to mirror the design.
  • Let the ink on the sublimation paper dry for a few minutes.
  • Cut the un-printed part of the sublimation paper.
  • Prepare the heat press machine to its recommended time and temperature.
  • Take note that the time and temperature of the heat press vary on the product you want to sublimate on. Make sure to check out the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • Place the printed image, with the printed side facing down the merchandise.
  • Secure the sublimation paper on the merchandise by using thermal transfer tape.
  • Heat press the merchandise.
  • Remove the merchandise from the heat press and remove the sublimation paper.
  • You’re done!


sublimation printing


Sublimation vs heat transfer paper: Which is better?

You may have heard of another transfer printing method using heat transfer paper. These heat transfer papers are called dark transfer paper and light transfer paper. These types of special printing paper are coated with wax and pigment which transfers into the canvas.

Unlike sublimation paper where the dye-based ink turns into a gas and only the ink transfers into the merchandise. Sublimation printing and heat transfer paper printing are both different printing methods.

Heat transfer paper is available in laser heat transfer paper printed on a laser printer. There’s also the inkjet heat transfer paper to be printed on the inkjet printer only. Which printer do you use when working on a heat transfer paper design? Inkjet or laser printer?

Inkjet or laser transfer paper is commonly used as an iron-on print. But which printing method is better? Sublimation or heat transfer printing? This depends on your preference. If you don’t want the wax coating transferred onto the heat transfer paper garments, sublimation printing is preferred.

Which printers can you use with sublimation paper?

There are printers specially used for sublimation printing. However, you can use a regular inkjet printer with dye sublimation ink on it. If you intend to invest in a printer for sublimation printing, make sure to consult with the manufacturer if the printer is compatible with sublimation printing.

There are also printers you can convert into sublimation paper using a CISS Ink system. If you have a regular inkjet printer at home and it already has regular ink on it, you cannot use it as your sublimation printer. Just like any other printer, when you refill a different kind of ink, other than the original ink you used, it might ruin the printer. That’s a big no-no!

The best brands of inkjet printers for sublimation are Epson and SawGrass. Just a tip, most HP printers won’t print a sublimation paper. Also, generally speaking, laser printers cannot print quality images.

Can I use regular ink on sublimation paper?

No, you cannot use regular ink on sublimation paper. Even though the sublimation paper will produce prints, it will not transfer to the merchandise. Sublimation paper is a special paper that contains a special coating that locks the ink and releases it into gas when exposed to heat.

The bottom line is, that regular printer ink is not made compatible with sublimation printing. The regular ink when printed onto a sublimation paper when printed on light-colored polyester fabrics or any sublimation blank.

Can I use dye sublimation ink on regular paper?

In sublimation printing, you cannot use dye sublimation ink on regular paper. You can try to print dye sublimation on regular paper, maybe for your documents, but it won’t look too good. The colors will look pale on the paper, a bit too blurry, and oftentimes smears.

Don’t even think about using dye sublimation ink on regular paper if you intend to use it for sublimation printing. It simply won’t work! Sublimation paper works only for dye sublimation ink, and that’s about it!

Does sublimation ink transfer onto dark-colored shirts?

No, sublimation ink does not directly print onto dark-colored shirts. If you want to print on a dark-colored shirt, there’s an indirect way to do it. What you want to do is print a white heat transfer vinyl on the dark shirt, then sublimate over it.

Sublimation print won’t be visible in dark-colored shirts like royal blue, dark gray, maroon and black. Also, one tip you should know — white ink does not print out in sublimation printing. White ink remains unprinted, in short, transparent.

Which side do you print on sublimation paper?

The print side of the sublimation paper is the white side with a matte texture. Typically, a sublimation paper has one white side and a colored side. As for TeckWrap Craft’s sublimation paper, the colored side is colored light pink.

As mentioned, a tip when printing on sublimation paper is to always mirror the image on your computer. This tip was mentioned earlier because it is important. Once you press on merchandise, you have to press the printed image facing the merchandise, that’s why you have to mirror the image.

sublimation printing

YouTube Source: Sublimation Printing T-shirt Full Page by MamaPlusCEO

What to look for in a sublimation paper?

When you’re looking for a sublimation paper, what you need is a high-quality product. A sublimation paper must have a high transfer rate, at least 100 gsm, fast drying speed, ink-saving performance, and does not fade, smudge or crack.

High Transfer Rate

When you’re looking for a sublimation paper, you’d want a product with a high transfer rate. A sublimation paper with a high transfer rate prints vivid images and is ink-saving. A sublimation paper with more than a 98% transfer rate prints higher quality images.

Fast Drying Speed

Some sublimation paper may have longer drying times. This means you have to wait several hours for the ink to dry before pressing the design onto merchandise. You can’t even touch the ink for hours as it may smudge. Why wait for the ink to dry if there is sublimation paper with a fast-drying speed? That’s what you should look for!

Ink-Saving Performance

Who likes to waste ink? No one! If there’s any way you can save on ink or any additional overhead cost, you should! That’s why you should look for sublimation papers with an ink-saving performance. Sublimation papers with a higher gsm have an ink-saving performance.

sublimation printing

What is the best sublimation paper?

One of the best sublimation papers available is from TeckWrap Craft. It’s fast-drying, waterproof, has great ink-saving performance, and does not fade, smudge or crack. Additionally, it’s affordable. You can use the TeckWrap Craft sublimation paper to print on shirts, mugs, tumblers, and all sublimation blanks.

The Takeaway

Now that you’re aware of what a sublimation paper is, its uses, and the projects you can create with it, are you excited to start with your crafting projects? Surely, you are! Don’t forget — only use a sublimation printer containing sublimation ink and a high-quality sublimation transfer paper.

For your sublimation paper needs, don’t look elsewhere. A pack of TeckWrap Craft sublimation sheets comes in 100 sheets of A4 paper. It’s 100 gsm that’s why it dries fast, is ink-saving, and has a 98% transfer rate. Get your sublimation paper at TeckWrap Craft now!

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