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Sublimation Printing 101

(October 2013) posted on Tue Dec 03, 2013

Use this overview to familiarize yourself with dye-sub printing and decide whether the technology is right for your shop.

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By James Ortolani

Starting at the top
Sublimation artists work in the RGB color environment during the design phase. A good way to think of RGB color is that what you see on the computer screen is what your image will look on the substrate—or at least the way it should look on the substrate. To ensure the color that you see on your computer screen is reproduced accurately, it’s important to have the correct print driver installed for the brand of ink that you’re using. This part is easy, too—just ask your ink supplier for the recommended print driver for the type of ink they sell.

Print a primary color chart onto transfer paper and heat-apply this chart to white polyester fabric after the print driver is installed. You can use this color chart to show customers the actual primary colors that your system can reproduce and to act as a comparison guide at a later date when you check the inkjet nozzles for proper ink flow. It’s important to perform periodic nozzle checks to ensure proper ink flow through the printhead.

Another advancement over the past ten years is in the area of digital clip-art solutions for sublimation decorators. It’s no longer a requirement to be an artist, what with all of the digital artwork that is available today—everything from team mascots to civic groups. A couple of companies to consider for sublimation artwork are Great Dane Graphics ( and Unisub (

Lastly, it’s important to color-correct the image before you print the transfer; you can make manual color adjustments on your computer screen once you have gained the experience and have a feel for which colors need to be boosted and how to improve the contrast in a design. Most software has automatic color-correction adjustments, but the pros have their manual tricks that really help make a design pop off of the substrate.

The sublimation printer
Many types of inkjet printers are available for sublimation printing: Epson, Mimaki, Roland, Ricoh, and others. Many beginners start out with an inexpensive Epson desktop model and, as they develop their printing skills, move up to wider print formats. If you decide to start out with an inexpensive model, you can expect the printer to only last a year or two (maybe less), because these inkjet printers are made for the home user and not for high-volume printing.


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