I’ve been asked a couple of times now if it’s possible to use a normal printer, instead of a specially made sublimation printer for fabric printing.
The short answer is that you CAN print and sublimate fabric using an inkjet printer. Inkjet printers do have limitations when it comes to how much heat you can apply while pressing printed design on a blank/fabric. But however, you may never get the same results as a sublimation printer. Also, if you have an inkjet printer, it must be a special pigment-based inkjet printer instead of a dye-based one or from laser printing because otherwise, on the fabric especially, the ink absorbs in it and it doesn’t work.
Why do I say that? Well, there’s quite a bit to this so let’s get started!
- What Is Sublimation And Why Does It Matter For My Printer?
- Types of printers that can be used with sublimation
- Important things if you decide to set up your printer
- Things To Consider Before Printing At Home
- How To Fix Common Issues Such As Ink Smudging Or Color Inconsistencies When Printing On Fabric?This is mainly because of the fabric type you are using. Cotton has high absorbency so it can easily pick up different pigment inks if they are not dry/cured before being sewn!
- What should I avoid when using a normal printer to print onto fabric?
What Is Sublimation And Why Does It Matter For My Printer?
Before starting off we should know about sublimation and how it works.
For those of you who don’t know what sublimation is, it’s a process of printing on transfer paper (a special kind of paper that only works with sublimation printers) and then transferring that printed design onto a shirt( or any blank) Read out more on the sublimation printing process. A sublimation printer prints the color black on your transfer, and then dyes the fabric (blank) with the color of your choice.
One of the things that makes sublimation special is that, unlike most printers, a sublimation printer can print multiple colors at different times. This is useful when you want to print a full-color (four-color process) or multicolor design on clothing instead of just one color.
What Can Go Wrong When Printing On Fabric With An Inkjet Printer
When you print something on fabric, the fabric absorbs some of the ink. That’s just a fact of life that we have to deal with, and there’s nothing you can do about it short of covering your design in plastic before printing on fabric.
Because inkjet printers work by spraying little dots of dye-based or pigment-based ink on the fabric, what happens is that the color from those tiny dots mixes on the fabric instead of creating new colors like a sublimation printer does when it prints different colored dyes onto a shirt.
What this means is that some colors won’t turn out as vibrant as they should, especially if you’re trying to print something more complex that uses multiple colors. That isn’t always bad though! Sometimes less vibrant look better for certain designs,
When it comes to sublimation printing, there are two things you need to know:
- The dyes used in sublimation typically have a chemical composition that is more heat sensitive than dye-based inkjet printers use. So what this means is that the dye used for sublimation is not as heat resistant as that of an inkjet printer and will fade over time if you expose it long enough to direct sunlight or very high temperatures (think an iron). This isn’t normally a problem because after the ink has been pressed onto your shirt with high pressure/temperature, you can pretty much assume no part of the image will be exposed to enough light or room temp air/water for anything bad to happen. Keep in mind that while the dyes are heat resistant enough to withstand being pressed under high temperature/pressure, other factors may cause them to fade over time.
- Sublimation presses use specially formulated inks for their printers. These specific inks have all of the dye molecules bound together into big fat globs, instead of being floating around freely in an inkjet printer. Because they are already bound together at a molecular level, you can get away with using less ink because there’s no need to worry about every single dye molecule getting into exactly the right spot where it should go when printing on fabric – this makes it much easier to create the print! So why does this matter? Well…the key property I mentioned above is that due to how these special inks are formulated, there’s a chemical reaction that happens to them at high temperatures. When the ink is exposed to high enough heat (and pressure) for a long period (~3-5 seconds or more), it will go through a change and then return to a solid state. The reason why I mention this is because this means you can’t do something like run an iron over your printed shirt to set the ink like you would with normal dye-based inks!
So what does all that mean? Well, it means that if you use the regular dye-based inkjet printer that your normal office printers use, not only will you get poor results (definitely noticeable fading within 6 months!), but even if you get the print perfect, it will only work for a short amount of time because as soon as you expose that print to water, heat or direct sunlight, it’s going to be gone pretty fast!
So what can I do?
You have two options:
- You can set up a home sublimation printer yourself, or
- You can work with a print shop that has regular printing equipment, not specifically designed for fabric.
Now there’s nothing wrong with option number two and, if you’re just looking for a one-time print job, this might be your best bet. However, if you plan on doing this for a long time or want to make it a business and not out of your pocket, then setting up your own is the way to go.
Hopefully, that clears things up!
Types of printers that can be used with sublimation
There are two types of sublimation printers to consider.
- Inkjet (Dye) – This is the most common type of printer used in the industry and has been for years. It is by far the easiest type of printer to use because it uses dye-based ink, which is heat-resistant and provides the best quality print.
- Heat Press (SubliJet) – This printer uses specially formulated ink for fabric printing, so it’s easier to do because you don’t have to worry as much about placement as you would with an inkjet printer. However, there are issues with this method as well related to image burn-in due to the high temperatures that the images are exposed to during the pressing process.
Important things if you decide to set up your printer
- Setting it up – There are several things you need to consider when setting up your home sublimation printer, most importantly the following: Price of ink vs price of fabric – It’s true that in general, your ink will be more expensive than the actual fabric/substrate you’re printing on. This means it is cheaper to print multiple small designs on a piece of fabric for one large design that uses less ink! Because most people tend to go for quantity over quality, in this case, I would recommend getting an inkjet printer instead of a heat press because you can cut back dramatically on how much ink you use during each print job.
- Placement and sizing – As mentioned above, it’s much easier to do this with an inkjet because you don’t have to worry as much about placement and sizing, but rather you can resize your image as needed before printing. With a heat press printer, it is very difficult to adjust the size of the print from the original file without compromising quality or making it look pixelated. However, if you plan on doing one large design that covers most of the fabric anyways, then this won’t be a problem!
- Heat settings & timing – When setting up your printer at home, please make sure that you use 100% cotton fabric and follow exact temperature requirements for whatever type of paper/fabric you’re using! The reason why I emphasize cotton so much is because polyester will NOT work with sublimation! Also, when setting the heat press, please be sure to follow the timing requirements for that particular fabric/substrate – some fabrics can withstand more heat than others.
- Printing speed – This one is pretty self-explanatory but I’m mentioning it anyway. An inkjet printer prints much faster than a heat press so keep in mind if you choose to do this yourself, your job will take longer.
Things To Consider Before Printing At Home
- Heat & Pressure – Because most of these printers are designed for standard paper; they won’t necessarily apply enough pressure or heat to the substrate/fabric during the process! So even though you’re getting an “okay” print, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will look as good as if you were to take it somewhere else.
- Image Quality – If you’re printing multiple small designs or using smaller images on fabric, then your image will come out pixelated and not high quality looking at all. So unless you plan on putting a large design such as a solid color, keep in mind your image quality won’t be that great when doing this yourself!
- Cost – As mentioned above, the cost of ink can add up for larger projects so please consider this before printing in bulk! Plus in most cases, the price of set up and equipment is more than what it would cost to go elsewhere in general which also factors into the cost!
Tips For Using A Normal Printer To Print On Fabric
- Use 100% cotton fabric that is preshrunk.
- Prepare your printer by using proper settings for the fabric/substrate you are using. Make sure your inkjet printer uses pigment-based inks to prevent fading or bleeding! Check out Best Dye-Sublimation Printer for T-shirts Printing Business
- If possible, resize your image to fit within an 8×10 format before printing because smaller images tend to come out pixelated on larger fabric!
- Last but not least, keep in mind some printers cannot print white… So make sure you turn off the white background and remove any pixels with white on it (most editing software such as Photoshop can do this)! This makes it easier when printing multiple small designs because you won’t need to leave any white space if you don’t want to!
Remember, these are all helpful tips but it’s also crucial that you choose the best printer for the job since not every printer is designed to produce high-quality prints on fabric! Hope this helped clear some things up and good luck with your project!
Common problems you may face when printing on fabric with a normal printer
- Image quality isn’t the best because printing small designs usually make images more pixelated
- The fabric/substrate print may bleed or fade due to inkjet printer settings so you should use pigment inks such as dye-based inks which are designed specifically for cotton fabric!
- You must know how to configure your printer and use proper settings for the substrate you’re printing on. This is crucial when it comes to having a high-quality print!
- Some printers cannot print white so this needs to be turned off and any blank white space needs to be removed from your design (most editing software can do this)
Experiment with different printers and media before making a final decision on what you want – this will help best sublimation printer for t shirt printing
How To Fix Common Issues Such As Ink Smudging Or Color Inconsistencies When Printing On Fabric?
- This is mainly because of the fabric type you are using. Cotton has high absorbency so it can easily pick up different pigment inks if they are not dry/cured before being sewn!
- Make sure your printer head nozzles are clean and free of any ink build-up. Wiping them with a damp cloth or cleaning kit normally gives you the best results.
- You should also consider printing on plain white paper first to test out what will happen when heat is applied to the print (in most cases prints may smudge or fade). If this happens, then choose another substrate such as tulle, organza, mesh, etc…
- Another option is to use heat transfer paper to print your design on. Then iron the paper onto the fabric for a completely smudge-proof print!
- I have also heard that you can use a wash-away stabilizer if your prints are still “tacky” after being heat pressed before you sew them… But I have never tried this so it may not be very effective.
What should I avoid when using a normal printer to print onto fabric?
- I would not recommend printing on mesh, vinyl, oilcloth, etc…. because they are not designed for dye-based inks and may cause bleeding/fading issues even with proper settings! However, other printers work excellently with these substrates so it can be worth investing in them if you want to do sublimation projects on mesh, vinyl oilcloth, etc.
- Never EVER use any ink that is not designed for cotton fabric because this will ruin the substrate. Always choose pigment-based ink cartridges that are recommended for your specific brand/model of the printer!
- I would also recommend that you try out the different types of fabric to see which one works best for your project before investing in a ton of different substrates. Some may work great while others may cause fading or smudging issues when printed with normal printer settings…
Final Thoughts About Using A Regular Printer For Sublimation
As you can see, there are a lot of advantages to using an industrial printer for sublimation rather than trying to use a home printer. The quality and durability are better with the industrial type printers, but it also eliminates all those pesky problems that come from printing at home such as not having enough ink or paper on hand when needed. When considering how much money you spend on your business just think about what kind of return you want in terms of ROI (return on investment). Is saving $10-$20 per shirt worth not being able to keep up with orders? I don’t know about you, but we would choose the former every time! So if we have convinced you that getting a great printer for sublimation is the best option, please share your experiences with us. Thank you.