What is a Sublimation Heat Press? When Should You Use It?
Cover Image: What is a Sublimation Heat Press?

Thinking that all heat presses are identical is a huge mistake. The ones you’ve heard about up until now are most likely transfer heat presses, which use the power of heat and pressure in order to transfer designs onto certain types of surfaces. But did you know that there are other types of heat presses as well?

What is a Sublimation Heat Press?

Man Printing Image On a white T-Shirt using a heat press machine

In order for you to understand what a sublimation heating press is, we’d first have to explain the concept of sublimation. When something that is in a solid-state turns to gas without first becoming a liquid, that process is known as sublimation.

This is actually a rather common way of transferring dyes to different types of surfaces. Sublimation printing actually requires using a digital printer with a type of ink that’s designed specifically for sublimation use. The image that’s printed will then be used with a heat press in order to transfer the design onto a product.

When the heating press reaches a certain temperature, the ink turns into a gas that penetrates the pores on the surface of the product you’re printing on. Basically, the die gets inside the fibers or pores of the material. At the end of the process, the ink is permanently locked into the material. Once you’ve opened up the heat press, the ink returns to its solid-state.

What to Look For

If you’ve never bought a sublimation heating press before, you might be wondering what some of the features and characteristics are that you should pay attention to:

Man printing on coffee mugs in workshop

  • When you’re looking to transfer designs using the sublimation technique, you are going to need a heat press that can reach a temperature of 400° F. Generally speaking, it takes about one minute of pressure and the aforementioned temperature in order to customize a product using the sublimation method. You need to make sure that the heat press you choose can reach this temperature if you want your product to be a success. As far as temperature is concerned, you also have to make sure that the heating elements that are inside the plates don’t create any cold spots. If heating is uneven, this could ruin your product.
  • The second most important thing when choosing a sublimation heat press is the times. This means that you need to opt for a piece of equipment that comes with a programmable timer, so you will always leave the products under pressure for a specific amount of time, thus getting the best results. Pay close attention to heating presses that automatically open once the timer has run out. There are cases where this particular feature can cause the transfer paper to shift its position, create a ghosting image that can destroy your end product. If you already own or want to buy a heat press that has an auto-open feature, try to disable it.
  • Heat transfer presses rely on two very important factors: heat and pressure. Needless to say, the pressure of the machine can make or break the crafting project, and you want to avoid uneven pressure. Sublimation quality is dependent on the constant and even pressure of the upper part of the heat press. Otherwise, ghosted images may result.

Man Printing Image On T-Shirt In Workshop

  • If you want to get the best results, you need a sublimation heating press with a pressure of at least 40 PSI. However, you will most likely buy a heat press that doesn’t show pressure levels. In that case, know that medium pressure is typically enough for sublimation printing. For the most part, these heat presses have a mechanical closing system that you’ll have to operate manually. This means that there’s a pressure adjustment knob that’s connected to a jack-screw system.

You will have to operate this knob if your upcoming printing project product has a greater thickness compared to what you previously customized. However, know that there are also heat presses that come with pneumatically controlled systems. These machines close the platen using air pressure and when the timer is up, the system opens up automatically. These presses are better than manual ones because they don’t require any force on your behalf, but also because they allow you to set the desired pressure with greater precision, as opposed to manual machines that require trial and error for you to adjust the knob to the right amount of pressure.

Sublimation Heating Press Types

How the platen is configured will also have a say in how your end products will look like. For the most part, sublimation heat presses are either clamshell, swing-away, or drawer presses.

Young man printing on a white t-shirt at workshop using a Draw Heat Machine

  • Clamshell units are very common because the way they open makes them take up little space. For the most part, these types of machines are good for thin substrates, but they won’t always provide even pressure when you’re working with thicker products (such as ceramic tiles).
  • Swing-away heat presses have an arm that allows the upper platen of the machine to be lifted and pushed out of the way, which is why these pieces of equipment are considered to be safe, as they get the heated element away from your immediate reach. Thanks to their design, swing-away heat presses are generally known for applying even pressure, even when you’re working with thicker products.
  • Drawer heat presses have an upper platen that you can lower or raise, but you can’t swing it out of the way. Much like a drawer, you can pull the lower platen and gain easier access. These types of heat presses work with both thin and thick products.

Conclusion

Man Printing On a white T Shirt In Workshop using heat press machine

Even if there are a lot of people unfamiliar with the concept of sublimation printing, that doesn’t make this technique any less important. It is actually a great method to use when you’re working with polyester apparel, especially in light colors. Sublimation heat presses are used to make a variety of other products, like mousepads or coasters. With all that being said, if you’re looking for more of a multi-function machine that’s good for heat transfer, then we’ve got some details on Mostcraft.

What you need to remember is that with sublimation heat presses, having even distribution of heat and pressure is absolutely essential to getting the best results.