What is Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing on metal, such as most vanity license plates and signs is a fast  growing trend, both for commercial applications as well as amongst hobbyists. When properly executed the sublimation process produces breath taking images. It delivers a vibrant, clean look, while retaining color balances with minimal color fade and unwanted fusion. Proper production techniques using high quality material ensures that the prints produced deliver an awe inspiring appearance wherever they are hung.

Sublimation printing on metal surfaces is fairly simple with the right equipment and media.

Sublimation takes the inks / dyes from a solid to a gaseous state, bypassing the liquid state. With a metallic media, sublimation printing involves infusing dyes onto a pre-treated metal sheet which is generally up to 1.1mm thick, via heat transfer.

The metal has a clear polymer coating to which ink can bond during the heat process. It creates an impermeable permanent bond that is waterproof, UV, crack and scratch resistant. Once the dyes / inks fully submerge beneath the medias surface, the process is completed.

Equipment Needed

1. A Heat Press Machine - A flatbed heat press machine is where the final product is produced. Most machines that work on aluminum will also work on tee shirts, fabrics and other material as well.

2. Sublimation Metal Sheets, generally aluminum. They are treated with a clear polymer coating as described earlier in this post. Gently cleaning with a mild soap and water is advisable before using them, there are at times unseen fingerprints and other markings not always visible to the naked eye that could ruin, or at the very least impair your design. Of course you'll rinse them to remove any soap residue and gently wipe them dry before using. Don't allow them to fully air dry without wiping as this can leave water marks.

3. Sublimation Paper is a specialized paper designed for transferring the ink onto the product, in this case metal. There are two types of sublimation paper that you can use for this purpose. Light and Dark sublimation paper. The Light works best with lighter colored backgrounds, while the dark works best with darker ones. Printing designs on a dark surface is more difficult than lighter ones and the dark paper is not recommended for hobbyists with little or no experience.

4. Sublimation Printer - Last, but certainly least, the sublimation printer has a misleading name. It does not print a finished product just the template used to transfer the design onto a metal surface. Designs from your computer are printed onto the paper before being transferred to the finished product. Software - most sublimation printers come with apps or software that need to be installed for printing high quality designs. Others can be used with a design software of your choosing.

Some Other Materials You'll Need Include

1. Parchment Paper - which is placed between the paper from which the design is being transferred onto the metal surface

2. Heat Resistant Tape - Although the parchment provides some protection against heat transfer it is simply not adequate for metal printing. Heat resistant tape should be place between the parchment paper and the product. The heat press surface should never come into direct contact with the product surface.

3. Gloves - heat resistant ones - trust me, I've gotten the blisters to prove it.

You will Probably Find The Epson YouTube Video below to be useful. Epson manufacturers some of the equipment used in Sublimation Printing, but they do have competitors. It is advised you shop around to find the products best suited to your needs.

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