So you want to start your own dye sublimation t-shirt business but haven’t gotten a clue where to get started? Great, no fear I have put together this guide to help you get started with the least amount of investment and with no hassles. Watch my Guide to sublimation printing video to help you get started.
Here is a list of my favorite products you will need to get you started. I break this list into sections
1. FINDING THE BEST PRINTER
The printer is the the most important investment that you will make when deciding to start your sublimation heat transfer business. I get asked all the time -” Can I use any printer?” The answer is simple “NO”. Here are a few thing you want to ask when choosing a dye sublimation printer.
Will the printer print hassle Free?
This is very important! There are tons of printers on the market that can be converted to dye sublimation printers using external bulk ink systems and refillable cartridges. Most of these systems have flaws and while they start out great , they will eventually get a clog , a cartridge not recognized error or stop working all together due to print head damage. You can loose your investment funds very easily by purchasing the wrong printer. Lucky you! You’ve found me so you don’t have to worry about that I’ve dealt with that headache for you and after extensive research my favorite printers for dye sublimation are…. hold up not so fast! we are getting there
What’s the most cost effective printer for your budget?
This question can easily be answered by knowing what type of products you are wanting to print. This will tell you the size of the printer you will need . A basic small format printer that prints 8.5in x 14in will be great for printing standard t-shirt logos, cups, mugs, keychains etc. However if you want to create larger prints items like cutting boards, blankets etc you will need a wide format printer. Wide format printing can be a printer that prints 11×17 inch, 13×19 in of even a 44 inch printer if you want to do all over printing. The larger the printer the more of an investment cost you will have.
Another very important feature to look at when deciding on the correct sublimation printer to purchase is the quality of the prints. You want to put out quality images and this means that you must consider the max printer image resolution that the printer can put out and the type of print head. You print head type controls the size of the ink droplets your able to print.
Here’s on factor that most people never consider – How the Paper loads into the feeder. I am here to tell you that one of my biggest headaches printing had always been bottom feeders! Bottom feeders load your paper from the bottom of the printer and this allows you to put in more sheets at one time. Great feature for regular paper on basic printing needs, but not I feature I want when printing on any type of specialty paper be it dye sublimation transfers, inkjet transfers or photo paper. Ok let me explain, the issues arise when you load your specialty paper into the bottom feeder. What commonly happens is the paper is feed in a curling motion and because specialty papers are thicker than the normal copy paper you get jams and misfeeds. These jams and misfeeds can cause damage to your printer and you will end up with ink splotches on your transfers and will need to do more head cleaning cycles, When you do frequent head cleaning, the life of your printer is reduced because your maintenance tanks fill up quickly and head cleaning will consume tons of ink . Ink is expensive so you want it on your prints and not in the maintenance tank.
The last thing to consider when purchasing a printer is any extra features you desire. Some of those will be wireless printing, bluetooth printing, mobile printing ,scanning and copying. Oh lets not forget the new Alexa Printing feature. I am a fan of usb printing because when your running a busy shop, printing needs to work seamlessly and fast. There are times that wifi and bluetooth slow you down. Don’t get me wrong wifi is great when the internet is fast! Most of today’s printers come with wifi capability so it’s not a big issue. If you want to be able to scan in documents this may be a feature for you, but not a must have. Most files are sent electronically via email or mobile SMS. While I am not a fan of the scanning feature, I do love the copy features of today’s printers. A great reason for wanting the copy feature is you can make copies of prints faster than printing them. Example of I have 100 dye sub transfers to print out, it’s much faster to print out 1 transfer in a high resolution and then run it through the copier and copy the rest of the prints really fast. Now on the down side most copiers wont give you the high resolution prints that printing directly from the printer will. You still can get some pretty sharp looking prints.
So lets recap, what your looking in a printer:
- NO HASSLE PRINTING
- MAX PRINTER OUTPUT SIZE
- PRINTER RESOLUTION QUALITY
- TOP LOADING PAPER FEEDER
- THE PERKS
2. CHOOSING THE BEST INK SET-UP
When converting your printer over to a sublimation printer, you have a couple of choices on ink set up. The first choice is to use refillable ink cartridges. This is a decent choice when using a printer doesn’t work well with CISS systems or when your not doing a lot of printing. Refill cartridges work buy purchasing empty aftermarket cartridges and filling them with dye-sublimation ink . Some cartridges come with auto reset chips and others need a chip resetter. If going this method , I advise not to take the cartridges out of your printer when refilling and to refill your cartridges at the 50% mark. This method can be a hassle due to ink handling and contaminants. The Main problem you will run into with this method is receiving a ink cartridge read error. This can happen due to a bad chip or due to your printer manufacturer downloading a firmware update to render the printer non functional. You must turn of automatic printer updates fo you will have issues and very serious issues. The only way to comeback firmware updates is to get a hold an older firmware version for your printer. Your second option is to purchase a CISS system, this is an external ink set that sits outside of the printer. They are relatively easy to install. The problem you can get with these systems is air in the line, and clogs due to none regular use and you can also get the ink not recognized error due to the manufacture firmware updates, so again you will need to turn the printer updates off. Lastly you can skip the headache of getting ink allover yourself, clogs and cartridge errors by just going with a ecotank printer. The epson Ecotanks are designed with bulk ink tanks and are cartridge free – so you don’t have to worry about that errors from using non compliant inks.
- Refillable cartridges
- CISS ink systems
- Eco tanks
3. Choosing Quality Sublimation Inks
Dye sublimation inks are not all the same, and you cant just buy any sub ink and toss into your printer, When choosing the best sublimation ink for your printer , you must make sure that the ink was manufactured to work with your printer. Ok this is where your print head comes into play. Get the wrong ink and it will clog and corrode your print head, this killing the printer. I always suggest carefully reading user reviews and purchasing ink from established companies. Some companies will sell very thin watered down sublimation inks. Your inks should be thick any your colors vibrant. A good way to tell is by looking at the yellow ink , it should be a bright yellow and not see though or watery looking.
4. Sublimation Paper
Here is the last piece of the puzzle needed to get great sublimation prints. There are sublimation papers for different types of substrates. You can use a universal sublimation paper that will work for most items but when printing on certain fabrics or hard substrates you will want to take some precautions. Let me start by saying you want to make sure your paper is formulated to use with your type of ink. If your printing 100% polyester shirts , those shirts have a tendency to move and that movement will cause a ghost image effect. There are a couple of ways to solve this issue, I recommend using adhesive transfer sheets or adhesive spray. You can also use adhesive tape but that is not as effective.
In the video , I will discuss all the different t shirt options and