Can You Sublimate on Wood: 4 Methods to Use
Table of Contents
- Thermal Lamination Pouch
- No Coating
- Polycrylic Treatment
- Sanding Sealer
- Supplies Needed to Sublimate Wood
- Sublimation Paper
- Sublimation Printer
- Heat Resistant Tape
- Heat Press
- Protective Paper
- Sanding Block
- Other Sublimation Supplies
- How to Sublimate on Wood
- Tips on How to Sublimate on Wood
Sublimation printing is the use of special ink, transfer paper, and a heat press to design any type of substrate. The usual material is fabric such as t-shirts, blankets, or any polyester material.
However, with the advancement of technologies and techniques, sublimation has become possible in other materials. With this, you might be asking if you can sublimate on wood.
The answer is yes, but with a few tweaks in the process. Here are the most popular methods you can check out and some other important details a beginner should know about sublimating on wood.
Thermal Lamination Pouch
This method uses thermal laminating pouches to coat the wood and prepare it for sublimation. These pouches are the same type you use in a laminator for papers. One sheet is enough for the coat.
Remember, the sublimation print works best on polyester fabric, which has some type of plastic. Since thermal pouches are plastic, it creates a base for your design.
All you need is to heat press laminating sheets for 30 seconds at a temperature of 400F with moderate pressure.
Sublimation on wood without a coating may come as a surprise to some, but you can still achieve this with varying results. Print quality may not look vibrant and clear compared to those with coating.
Before printing your sublimation project, ensure that all moisture has been removed from the wood. This extra step will reduce your chances of success.
Image from Teckwrapcraft FB page
Polycrylic treatment is another option for curing wood. However, sublimation paper can stick to the wood with a layer of polycrylic. Then, you will need to press the wood to expel any remaining moisture before applying medium pressure. It will take 30 to 60 seconds at 400F to transfer your design to the wood.
The sanding sealer is thinner compared to polycrylic. Thus, you only need a light coat. Get a wet sponge or cloth and casually wipe the sealer across the blank wood.
Compared to polycrylic, sanding sealer dries significantly faster so you can get your projects finished quickly. Not to mention it’s much less likely to cause sublimation transfer from sticking to your wood.
Image from Teckwrapcraft
Supplies Needed to Sublimate Wood
Now, you have an idea of what methods are available for you. Let’s discuss the supplies you will need in sublimating. Depending on the method you choose, you may need additional supplies such as laminating sheets. But, here are the basic ones you need to proceed with sublimation.
It is a special heat transfer paper where you will print your design. An ordinary heat transfer paper will not work and will not give the best results. So, make sure you’re purchasing the right one. Besides, when you don’t use the right paper, the sublimation ink will not adhere to the paper.
This is a type of inkjet printer. It is compatible with dye ink or sublimation ink. Remember, that pigment-based ink will not work on this printer. If you have a home inkjet printer, you’ll need to convert its printhead so that it can handle dye or sublimation ink.
Heat Resistant Tape
Since you’ll be working with heat and pressure, you’ll need heat-resistant tape. This tape prevents ghosting that results from paper shifting during the sublimation process.
It won’t let the color bleed on the wood, fabric, or whatever material you are working on. You can choose between bright green or clear tape versions depending on the type of fabric you're using or if a more subtle touch is desired.
Image from Teckwrapcraft FB page
We recommend a flatbed or industrial press for sublimation fun projects because you need a lot of pressure and right sublimation temperature to achieve the best results. If you’re on a budget, a portable press such as the EasyPress family by Cricut would do.
You may also opt for a mini heat press if you’re working on small prints. But if most of your projects are t-shirts or involve larger prints, this portable machine may not be practical, considering you’ll need to constantly move the machine to press your designs.
The purpose of this paper is to protect your prints against the heating elements of the heat press. There are several protective papers available in the market.
Some hobbyists and DIYers use uncoated butcher paper while others use copy paper for a budget-friendly option. Parchment paper is also an alternative but not for sublimation printing.
This material is important for wood sublimation. Sandpaper is also a good alternative. You’ll need to smoothen the rough edges of your wood slices. This extra step will create a smooth finish and make the designs adhere properly to the wood surface.
Other Sublimation Supplies
These supplies include a laminating sheet, a sealer, or polyacrylic depending on the method you use to provide a base or coating for your sublimation prints.
How to Sublimate on Wood
Here are three general steps on how to sublimate wood for your next project.
Preparing the Wood Slices
The first step is selecting the perfect piece of plywood or wooden board for your design area. Alternatively, you can opt for pre-made samples from sublimation wood blanks sellers. Whichever wood you choose, make sure the material has an even surface and its thickness is compatible with your heat press.
Give the edges a light sanding so they feel smooth. After that, dust off any debris by wiping down all surrounding areas with a white cloth or microfiber towel.
You can apply white paint in two coats to ensure results have vibrant colors and impressive details. Wait for the first coat to completely dry before adding another coat. Other options include laminating sheets, polycrylic or sanding sealer.
Printing on Sublimation Paper
While waiting for the coating on the wood slices to dry, grab your favorite image and print it on heat transfer paper. Remember to mirror your sublimation design before printing. You can also use software to mirror and print designs.
One thing you will notice is its blurry print, which is natural. But, how do you know if you’re using the right one and not the wrong side of the paper? Sublimation papers have indicators where you can feed them to the printer correctly.
Sublimating on Laminated Wood Slices
Adjust your heat press settings to 365 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and keep it there for 60 to 90 seconds. Place a thermal laminating sheet on the wood.
Make sure to leave at least 0.125 inches or 1/8th of an inch from all sides. This lets your laminate shrink during the heating process. Trim excess laminate with a pair of scissors.
After cooling, you can print the image on your laminated or coated wood. Uncoated wood is still suitable for sublimation but the print quality is different. After pressing, carefully remove the paper from the wood.
Tips on How to Sublimate on Wood
- Always use a warmed-up heat press.
- Use parchment paper for the bottom platen of your press machine to protect it against scratches.
- A lamination pouch has two sheets, so use one for different projects.
- Use the glossy side of a laminating sheet as coating and should face up.
- Print sublimation design face down on the wood substrate.
- Convert Epson inkjet into a sublimation printer as a more affordable option.
- Use light-colored wood for the best results
- Use dye sublimation only for this project.
Sublimation on wood is easy to achieve with the right tools, machine, and technique. While it’s quite difficult at first, you can create amazing designs once you get the hang of it. And, we hope this simple tutorial has helped jumpstart your wood sublimation projects.