Finding the best Sublimation Printer for Heat Transfer & T-shirt making

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Home sublimation printing has been getting very popular over the past few years. With so many people looking for side income, printing t-shirts, mugs, decor, and more using this fast, inexpensive and clean technique is on the rise. What are the fundamentals you need to get started? Good thing you found us, because this is one of the only articles you’ll find giving you straight answers about the best sublimation printer.

In this article we will show you what is a real sublimation printer, and what is just another inkjet with an unrelated keyword slapped on it by an unscrupulous blog writer eager to funnel you to Amazon.

We’ll also cover the topic of printer conversions for sublimation and how to choose the right machine for your needs. We’ve got in-depth information on the top models, both for purpose-built sublimation printers and conversions.

In a hurry? Browse our list of top printers for sublimation

Printer Model

Features

Price (US$)

Sawgrass SG500

  • purpose built sublimation printer

  • 2 year warranty

  • prints on media up to 8.5" wide

  • personalized one-on-one setup session with purchase

  • ink is in cartridges

Epson SureColor F170

  • purpose built sublimation printer

  • 1 year warranty

  • prints on media up to 8.5" wide

  • full ink set with purchase, cheaper replacement ink

  • supertank printer, no cartidges

Sawgrass SG1000

  • purpose built sublimation printer

  • 2 year warranty

  • prints up to 13" wide with optional bypass tray

  • best printer for sublimating t-shirts and large items

  • personalized setup help

Epson EcoTank ET15000

  • best wide format Epson for sublimation conversion

  • prints up to 13" x 19"

  • great printer for sublimating t-shirts and large items

  • hard to find in 2021 at regular retail price

Epson EcoTank ET2800

  • new model that replaces Epson ET2720

  • prints up to 8.5" wide

  • easy to convert to sublimation ink

  • best sublimation printer option for Cricut owners

What kind of printer can you use for sublimation?

Before we go any further, we need to make a distinction between two kinds of printers that are both commonly called “sublimation printers.”

  1. Inkjet printers that use sublimation ink to create images for heat transfer
  2. Printers that use sublimation within the printer itself to deposit images on photopaper, ID cards, etc. Often called photo printers.

First, there are sublimation printers for heat transfers, like making t-shirts or coffee mugs. This is the kind of printer we are reviewing in this article.

The second kind of sublimation printer is used for commercial photo printing, like how you would get at a retail store or photo booth.

Though both of these styles of printer are called sublimation printers, they serve very different purposes and are fundamentally different. The sublimation printers we are discussing in this article are inkjet printers. What makes them special is the ink they use. Sublimation ink can be printed onto paper and then fused to fabric or specially coated hard surfaces using high heat and pressure to transfer a bright, vivid image onto the base material permanently.

The other type of sublimation printer uses heat to diffuse ink from a ribbon feed directly onto specially coated photo paper. Although models like the Canon Selphy are labeled sublimation printers, they are definitely not the kind used for garment decoration.

infographic showing the difference between sublimation printers for heat transfer and photo printing

Two basic kinds of sublimation printers for heat transfer

So, if sublimation printers are at their heart inkjet printers, can any inkjet printer be used for sublimation? The answer is no. For consumers and small businesses, the printers used for sublimation are either purpose built or converted.

  1. Purpose built sublimation printers (eg. Sawgrass, Epson F-series)
  2. Converted printers for sublimation (eg. Epson Eco-Tanks)

When we talk about converted sublimation printers, we are referring to a specific kind of inkjet printer that has been loaded with sublimation ink. Not all printers can be converted for sublimation. Sublimation ink contains solid dye particles suspended in a liquid carrier. The printer applies the ink, and when heat is applied, the solid particles in the dye sublimate. That is to say, the particles transition from solid state to gaseous state without becoming liquid. They are infused into fabric or other specially coated surface.

Some inkjet printers (thermal inkjet printers) use heat during the printing process. That is to say: the ink in the printer is heated as it is applied to the paper. This type of printer is incompatible with sublimation ink!

Thermal inkjet brands (not suitable for sublimation):

  • HP
  • Canon
  • Lexmark

Any printer that is converted to sublimation must use so-called “cold printing”, otherwise known as “Piezoelectric printing.” Epson has patented micro-Piezo printing, and there are a wide range of Epson desktop printers favored by sublimators.

What are the best Sublimation Printers for Heat Transfers?

Sawgrass SG500 – Best Sublimation printer for beginners

Sawgrass Sublimation Printer SG500 startup bundle

photo of the sawgrass sg500 sublimation printer
  • A “business in a box” – make high value personalized items with the industry leader in sublimation printing
  • Perfect sublimation printer for kids’ clothing, mugs, tumblers and other smaller projects
  • 2 year warranty and lifetime support
  • Bundled with Creative Studio – design software with a huge library of royalty-free artwork, templates and fonts for commercial use
  • Buyers get one-on-one setup and training session with Sawgrass support. A company rep will help you set up the machine and walk you through the software
  • Includes bonus pack of 110 sheets of WALASub sublimation paper from Heat Transfer Warehouse ($16 value)

The SG500 is the new base model from Sawgrass, the leading manufacturer of consumer sublimation printers. The SG500 has features and support that will get any sublimation newcomer off to a great start. It’s a great choice for making personalized gifts and crafts or starting a small home-based business.

Key Features:

  • Perfect for Crafters: The Sawgrass SG500 is a great dye-sublimation printer for serious home crafters. It is the perfect size for making artwork for ceramic mugs and tumblers, coasters, mousepads, cell phone cases and childrens’ clothing or smaller T-shirt sizes.
  • Starter Ink included: Each Sawgrass desktop printer includes a starter ink set with purchase. The starter set includes individual 20 ml CMYK cartridges (black, cyan, magenta and yellow).
  • Warranty support: The Sawgrass SG500 comes with a 2 year warranty and lifetime support. Sawgrass is the only brand to offer a warranty this long; Epson offers 1 year on its sublimation printers, and no warranty on converted printers. Sawgrass’s warranty covers manufacturer defects, but using non-Sawgrass inks or cartridges voids the warranty.
  • Easy Design Software: Users can take advantage of Sawgrass Creative Studio, an easy to use design platform. The program comes with a huge repository of templates, graphics and fonts available royalty-free for personal and commercial use. Cricut and Silhouette users will be familiar with the layout and tools available to create and import designs. Sawgrass has many tutorial videos to help you learn Creative Studio.
  • One-on-one training: An individual one-on-one training session is offered by Sawgrass for every purchaser. A company rep will walk you through the set-up and installation and help you get started with the software.

How much does Sawgrass ink cost?

image of sawgrass uhd sublijet sublimation ink cartridges
Sawgrass sublijet UHD inks

Each SG500 includes a starter set of inks with purchase. You get 4 x 20ml Sublijet UHD ink cartridges, which may not sound like a lot, but it will be more than enough to get you started an allow you to print hundreds of pages before needing replacement.

The standard cartridge size for the SG500 is 30 ml. The estimated printing capacity of a full ink set (4 x 30ml) is 800 8×10″ sheets or 1,200 standard mug designs.

Each standard cartridge costs about $77 USD (or $308 for a full set). Sublijet inks are the standard Sawgrass inks, but there are also two other ink types: EasySubli and Chromablast.

EasySubli and Chromablast are specialty inks for garment sublimation (for sublimating on dark colors or on cotton). For most users the standard Sublijet ink is going to be more than adequate. An important note about Sawgrass inks. Once you have loaded your printer with one type of ink, you can’t switch to another type. This voids your warranty, and isn’t recommended. Also note – these two ink sets are not available as starter inks. They must be purchased separately.

Sawgrass software and resources

Sawgrass bundles its printers with sublimation-specific printer management software that calibrates ink usage to the specific substrate. You can select what base material you are going to press onto, like a t-shirt, mug or plaque, and the software will calibrate the ink for best performance on the substrate.

Purchase of a printer comes with access to Sawgrass Creative Studio, a design software that cutting machine users will find very familiar. Like Cricut Design Space or Silhouette Studio, Creative Studio allows you to design using templates and pre-made images and text. Your free membership allows you limited access to certain features. You can buy a monthly or yearly premium membership for about $20 a month.

screenshot of sawgrass creative studio design software
screenshot of Sawgrass Creative Studio

Drawbacks

example of the printing area of the sawgrass sg500 sublimation printer

The main drawback of the SG500 is the small printing area. It can only print up to 8.5″ wide sheets, and the printer has a 0.5″ bleed area. That means you are limited to printing 7.5″ x 10″ on letter sized paper or 7.5″ x 13″ on legal sized sheets.

If you are eyeing sublimation for garment decoration, you will be quickly limited in your ability to make designs for adult sized clothing. The SG500 might be great if you are focused on infant and childrens’ apparel, but you will be limited in what you can print on full-sized garments.

The second concern is that when you buy a Sawgrass you have to be committed to printing regularly and in significant quantities. The ink has a two year shelf life, and if you haven’t used it up before that, you run the risk of getting diminished print quality and clogged ink tubes and print nozzles on the printer.

Our Opinion on the Sawgrass SG500

Overall, the Sawgrass SG500 is a great printer with tons of features and extras, but it is a starter model. Its limited printing size makes it better suited to crafters rather than small businesses. Maintenance is automated, but best performance requires regular printing. The ink is premium and the prints are very high quality, but it’s also expensive and has a limited shelf life.

What we like

  • Professional quality printing
  • Specialized ink management software
  • Easy design software and a huge library of royalty free artwork for commercial use
  • 2 year warranty and 1-on-1 training session
  • Lifetime support

What we don’t like

  • Small print area
  • Pricey ink cartridges for beginners

Shopping around? Check price and availability of the SG500 at SwingDesign.com and Amazon.com

Sawgrass SG1000 – Best sublimation printer for T-shirts and business

Sawgrass Sublimation Printer SG1000 w/ Install Kit

image of the sawgrass sg1000 wide format sublimation printer
  • The best sublimation printer for t-shirt making
  • Wide format dye-sub printer that can print 11″ x 17″ (and up to 13″ x 19″ w/ bypass tray)
  • 2 year warranty and lifetime support
  • Specialized software to manage sublimation ink usage based on base material profile
  • Bundled with Creative Studio – easy to use design platform with a huge library of royalty-free artwork, templates and fonts for commercial use
  • Buyers get one-on-one setup and training session with Sawgrass support with the purchase of a new printer. A company rep will help you set up the machine and walk you through the software.

starting at $1,499

The SG1000 is the larger sibling of the SG500 and is much better suited for printing t-shirts and other apparel. It prints on media up to 11 x 17 inches, which is perfect for starter garment sublimation business. The SG1000 is also a great piece of equipment to add to an existing shop. You can expand services and do personalized pieces on demand with quick turnaround.

Key Features:

  • Best for Apparel: Best option for crafters and home businesses making t-shirts. The 11″ x 17″ paper option makes it easy to print a full range garment sizes and larger items like flags and banners
  • Expanded capacity: Users looking for even larger printing capacity can print sheets up to 13″ x 19″ with the optional bypass tray. The SG1000 is backwards compatible with the bypass tray for the earlier SG800 model
  • Personalized setup: First time buyers will love the personalized setup appointment with a Sawgrass employee. They can help you unpack, set up, and initialize your new printer.
  • Warranty: 2 year warranty and lifetime support from SawGrass
  • Sawgrass Creative Studio: Easy to learn design software with a huge gallery of commercial use artwork, templates and fonts. This creative collection is available for monthly or yearly subscription, and is very reasonably priced for commercial use artwork.

If you are considering a sublimation printer for full-time t-shirt making, we suggest you skip over the SG500 and take a good look at the SG1000. It has an 11 x 17 inch printing capacity right out of the box. You can expand that to super-tabloid size prints (13 x 19 inch) with the optional bypass tray. (The SG1000 does print with a half-inch bleed, however.)

3 different ink configurations

There are also different ink configurations that will be very interesting to t-shirt makers. If you want to make standard sublimation prints, you can use the included UHD Sublijet ink and get great results. This is also the go-to ink for printing mugs, cell phone cases, mouse pads, photo panels or any other solid bases. If you are just getting one machine to do everything sublimation, we recommend getting set up with the UHD Sublijet ink.

The cost estimate for Sawgrass ink is between one half cent per square inch (light coverage) and one cent per square inch (heavy coverage).

Solutions for dark fabrics & cotton

image of sawgrass Easysubli sublimation ink cartridges
EasySubli Inks by Siser and Sawgrass

If you want solutions for sublimating on dark fabrics, you can use EasySubli ink and printable vinyl from Siser, a system that will allow you to print sublimation ink on vinyl to press on dark fabrics. This is also a great solution to getting your printed work on cotton garments.

There is also an ink option for sublimation directly onto cotton: Sawgrass Chromablast ink. While not technically sublimation ink, the transfer process is similar and Chromablast ink bonds to cotton fabrics after being pressed. The pressed artwork does have a limited lifespan (fading begins after 30 washes) and it works best on light colored cotton garments.

(Chromablast inks also have a “hand,” meaning the printed ink has a slight feel to it on the surface of the fabric)

Why am I sharing this? Before you invest in an expensive Sawgrass for t-shirt making, you need to know that once you choose an ink for your printer, it is strongly recommended that you not switch to another ink type. For example, if you print with Sublijet for 6 months and then you want to switch to Chromablast, you void the remainder of your warranty, and you will waste a ton of ink doing a complete system flush.

If you want to use different ink types for different applications Sawgrass recommends separate, dedicated printers for each ink type.

Our opinion of the Sawgrass SG1000

People who want the warranty and support, including a guided step-by-step setup session with a company rep, should opt for the Sawgrass. If you have a more cost-conscious, DIY or hacker ethos, going the conversion route probably seems more enticing. The Sawgrass does entail higher upfront costs, but having ready access to support and premium sublimation printing management software has enormous benefits when you are actually producing items for sale, not to mention the benefit of access to Sawgrass’s design software and commercial creative library.

What we like about the Sawgrass SG1000

  • Best desktop sublimation printer for t-shirts and other apparel
  • Super high definition image settings
  • 2 year warranty and lifetime support
  • 1-on-1 setup and training session with Sawgrass support
  • Prints up to 13 x 19 with bypass tray

What we don’t like about the SG1000

  • Pricey ink cartridges
  • Can’t change ink types
  • Expensive compared to converted printers

Shopping around? Check price and availability of the SG1000 at Swing Design

Epson SureColor F170 – Best Alternative to Sawgrass SG500

Epson SureColor F170 Sublimation Printer

photo of the epson f170 sublimation printer - our pick for the best alternative to the sawgrass sg500
  • Cartridge-free Epson Sublimation printer
  • lower price point than Sawgrass SG500 ($400 vs $550)
  • includes 4 x 140ml Epson T49M CMYK inks with purchase
  • Ink refill cost is far lower than Sawgrass replacement cartridges: $18 per bottle
  • Includes 1 year warranty

The SureColor F170 is the first purpose-built desktop sublimation printer from Epson, and it is a worthy competitor to the Sawgrass SG500. The Epson has some unique features that many people doing small commercial sublimation projects will be interested in.

Key Features:

  • Cartridge-Free Printing: Unlike the Sawgrass printer, the Epson F170 does not use cartridges! This sublimation printer is equipped with refillable ink tanks and uses Epson T49M sublimation ink.
  • Full ink set included: The printer includes a full set of CMYK ink with purchase: 4 x 140 ml bottles of black, cyan, yellow and magenta ink. Ink replacement costs on the F170 are substantially lower than Sawgrass printers. The F170 uses Epson T49M ink, which sells for about $18 per 140ml bottle, compared with $77 per 30ml Sawgrass cartridge.
  • Superior price: The F170 retails for $400 and includes a full ink set, whereas the Sawgrass SG500 starts at $550 with just a starter set of ink.

Overall, the Epson F170 dye-sub printer is worth considering if you want a purpose built machine with warranty and support – the F170 has a 1 year warranty and offers phone support.

Big saving on ink costs with the F170

Epson includes a full ink set with purchase (Sawgrass includes a starter ink set). A full set of Epson sublimation inks costs about as much as one Sawgrass cartridge (4 x $18 vs $75 – $80 each). Put another way, the SG500 inks cost about 56% of what the printer does ($308 for ink, $550 for the printer). Ink replacement cost for the F170 costs about 18% of the value of a new printer (4 x $18 = $72, divided by $400 for the printer).

comparison of ink replacement costs between the sawgrass sg500 and the epson f170 sublimation printers

The Surecolor F170 also compares favorably to converted Epsons in terms of price. The EcoTank 2800 (successor to the very popular Epson ET2720) has an MSRP of $250. Add in a starter set of ink for a conversion, and your cost is about $330 to convert a basic Epson Ecotank. For the extra money of the F170, you will get the support and warranty of a purpose-built printer, and you won’t have to worry about mysterious, lurking firmware updates that Epson seems to favor to remotely disable printers used for “off-label” use.

What we like about the Epson F170

  • Includes full set of Epson 4 x 140ml CMYK sublimation inks
  • Lower price of ink refills
  • 1 year warranty
  • Phone support available
  • $150 cheaper than Sawgrass SG500
  • Less maintenance and cleaning required compared to Sawgrass (weekly vs daily cleaning cycles)

What we don’t like about the Epson F170

  • Doesn’t include creative asset library like Sawgrass Creative Studio
  • Limited to letter or legal sized printing

Epson EcoTank 15000 – best wide format Epson for Sublimation Conversion

Epson EcoTank ET15000

epson ecotank et15000 - our top pick for best wide format epson printer for sublimation conversion
  • Cartridge-free Epson ecotank printer that is a great candidate for conversion to sublimation
  • borderless printing up to tabloid sized images, and can print 13″ x 19″ A3+ sheets as well
  • Wireless and mobile connectivity
  • Economical option for t-shirt sublimators

The ET15000 is the base model wide-format Epson Ecotank printer. It is very popular among sublimation enthusiasts because of its print size and the ease of conversion. Simply fill the tanks with sublimation ink and you’re good to go.

Potential downsides to the ET15000

The downside of the ET15000 is that the super tabloid print feed (13″ x 19″) is single sheet through the rear feed. If you have a lot of prints to make, this kind of babysitting can get old fast.

The ET15000’s main paper tray has a 250 sheet capacity, but if you are switching between letter and tabloid sized sheets, the single tray could be frustrating as well.

Otherwise, you can do borderless printing up to 11 x 17 inches through the main paper tray. This compares very favorably to the Sawgrass SG1000 which has a 10″ x 16″ print area on a tabloid page.

The other downside of the ET15000 is the scarcity. All wide format Epson printers are hard to come by at the moment, and if you can find the ET15000, chances are it will be priced significantly higher than the $600 MSRP.

What we like about the Epson ET15000

  • No messy cartridges to refill
  • Firmware updates won’t disable printing
  • borderless prints up to 11″ x 17″
  • can print super tabloid A3+ pages (13″ x 19″)
  • very easy to convert to sublimation

What we don’t like about the Epson ET15000

  • single paper tray means switching between different sheet sizes between jobs
  • rear feed for A3+ sheets is single feed only
  • very hard to find!

Other wide format Epson EcoTank printers to consider

If you can’t find an ET15000, consider these other Ecotanks that print up to 13 x 19 inches. Although they have higher price tags, many come with additional features that will make your sublimation projects easier

Epson EcoTank 8550

  • 6 color printer (CMYK, photo black, gray)
  • borderless printing up to 13 x 19 inches
  • MSRP: $700

Epson EcoTank 16600

  • 4 color CMYK printer
  • borderless printing up to 11 x 17 inches
  • A3+ rear paper feed tray has 50 sheet capacity
  • MSRP: $1000

Epson EcoTank ET2800 – Best sublimation conversion printer for Cricut Owners

Epson EcoTank ET2800

epson ecotank et2800, a favorite printer for sublimation conversion with cricut owners
  • Replacement model for popular ET2720
  • No replacement ink cartridges required to convert to sublimation
  • Top choice for Cricut crafters and home sublimators
  • prints up to 8.5 inches wide
  • Great for sublimating mugs, keychains and children’s clothes

MSRP: $250

For crafters looking for a budget-friendly option for sublimating personal projects, the Epson Eco-tank ET2800 is our choice for you. Just released by Epson to replace the very popular (but sadly discontinued) ET2720, the ET2800 has a few minor cosmetic changes to the exterior, but is still the same basic letter-sized eco tank printer as its predecessor.

(One gripe about the new model: despite no significant changes or upgrades, the MSRP has gone up to $250 from $200)

The ET2820 is the most economical way to get started sublimating at home. It doesn’t take much effort to convert – just add sublimation ink to the tank instead of the ink included with the printer. As we’ve said before, the drawback is that you void the warranty and you can’t get support from Epson. There are lots of community support pages on Facebook, YouTube and Reddit, but it leaves you in a position where all the troubleshooting is going to be DIY.

What we like about the ET2800

  • Easy printer to convert to sublimation
  • many third party ink makers tailor their products specifically for Epson EcoTanks
  • much lower price than smallest purpose built sublimation printer

What we don’t like about the ET2800

  • New model jumps MSRP $50 over previous model
  • Slow print speed (5 color pages per minute)

FAQs for Sublimation Printer Buyers

By now, we hope you’ve got the information you were looking for in your quest to find the best sublimation printer for your needs (and your budget). In case we’ve left you with questions, here is our FAQ section where we address a lot of the common queries and issues that we uncovered in our research.

Is it worth it to buy a sublimation printer?

Only you can decide whether or not a sublimation printer is going to be worth it. Some questions to ask yourself: do you want to earn side income? Is this for a hobby?

If you plan to be making sublimation prints regularly (daily or multiple times per week), it would be worth it to invest in a purpose-built sublimation printer like a Sawgrass. These printers produce quality images, but they require frequent maintenance (most of that is automated, so you can’t turn the machine off when not in use).

Sublimation is preferable for people who want to make full color projects without having to layer HTV. When you are making projects to sell, cutting and weeding multiple layers of vinyl is time consuming and limits your productivity. But full color sublimation transfers are quick and easy by comparison.

Another advantage is that you don’t have to mess with any of the headaches associated with print and cut, contour cutting, or registration marks associated with cutting printed vinyl. In fact, you don’t need a vinyl cutter at all to start making sublimation projects.

Why Do We Prefer Epson Printers for Sublimation Conversions?

Fans of sublimation printing favor Epson printers for conversion because

  • The prices are low
  • The printing technology is compatible with sublimation ink
  • Epson printers have several options for cartridge-free printing
  • Manufacturers of sublimation ink tailor their products to Epson printers
  • There are many online communities to provide support and troubleshooting for sublimating with converted Epson printers
epson logo - maker of the surecolor f170 sublimation printer

The support is welcome, because Epson will not honor any warranty claim for any of its regular home printers that have been loaded with sublimation ink. Any conversion will void the warranty and service will be unavailable as well.

What has changed in 2021?

So, if you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and global supply chain crisis, and week to week, anything could be impossible to find or jumping in price. Desktop printers are among these hotly sought-after items, and finding Epson desktop printers for sublimation conversion can be frustrating. It’s not uncommon to see third party sellers on Amazon selling Epson printers that would normally retail for $300 for almost a thousand dollars.

global supply chain problems have made it difficult to find sublimation printers
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Equally frustrating is the resistance that Epson has to people using their printers for “off label” use. When people convert Epson cartridge printers for sublimation (or other applications like edible ink), there seem to be ongoing efforts from Epson to remotely disable or disrupt printing with 3rd party ink and cartridges via firmware updates.

So beware, if you are considering converting an Epson cartridge printer like the popular Workforce series, you will meet roadblocks from Epson itself.

Which Epson Printer is Best for Sublimation?

The purpose-built Epson F170 sublimation printer is the best Epson for home users and crafters. For just a little more than the cost of an Epson ET2800 plus third party inks you get warranty and support and an included full set of Epson inks.

However, F170s are not easy to find right now, and you may be looking for a larger-format printer, so we’ve also got some advice if you’re looking to convert an Epson.

Choose Eco Tank over Workforce

Here’s our biggest takeaway for selecting an Epson to convert to sublimation. Choose an Eco-tank model. That’s our most important piece of advice. Workforce models were very popular with sublimators for years, but popular models like the WF7710 and WF7720 (both capable of printing up to 13 x 19 inches) have been discontinued and replaced with the Workforce WF7320.

The problem with Workforce Epson printers is that they use cartridges, and the manufacturer-included cartridges are useless for sublimating. You can’t empty them, clean them and then fill them with sublimation ink. You have to purchase third party cartridges and fill them with sublimation ink.

This worked well for lots of people for years with Workforce 7000 series printers. But the new generation of WF7320 printers has a different chip to stymie the use of 3rd party cartridges and ink.

The lowdown on the WF7320 (as well as new WF7820 and WF7840) is that you need to use a cloned chip for every cartridge refill, to the tune of about $60 per chip. Epson has been more aggressive with firmware updates for printers that will disrupt your printing if you are using 3rd party cartridges.

EcoTank printers are much more hassle free to convert to sublimation. There’s no chip to spoof and the firmware updates for the printers aren’t a problem. You can basically unbox a new printer and load the empty tanks with sublimation ink and be ready to print right away.

How do you choose the best Sublimation Printer for your Business?

The printers we’ve discussed in this article are best geared for at-home crafters or people with small businesses. Small entrepreneurs, t-shirt makers or people with established print businesses can find huge benefits with sublimation printers that can print oversized sheets.

The best way to decide what printer to get is to look at what your product is, who your customer is and how many items you plan on selling. If you plan on making keychains to sell on holidays to friends, family and co-workers, you probably don’t need to invest in top of the line equipment.

On the other hand, if your mind is on apparel, and you have a plan to sell a high volume, you should go big to cover all sizes of apparel and be able to take advantage of buying supplies in bulk.

What to Consider When Buying a Printer for Sublimation Heat Transfer

Cost per Impression

Before you purchase, you should have a good idea of what your input costs are going to be. When it comes to your printing costs, it’s not just the printer itself, but also the ink and sublimation paper. Both Epson (F series sublimation printers) and Sawgrass have ink management software that allows you to keep track of your ink usage as well as track the ink cost per job and per milliliter.

Print Size

As I have said at several points in this article, print size is critical if you are planning on going into garment sublimation. Making t-shirts for adults is going to require you to be able to print larger than letter or legal sized designs. You might be able to make smaller designs work for a while, but very quickly you will have customers that want large designs printed on larger garments. Having a printer with larger printing capacity will let you accept more jobs.

Resolution

The question of resolution is one some reviewers might put at the top of a product review, because it’s a way to impress a reader without much knowledge with a big number. For example, the newly released Sawgrass SG500 and SG1000 printers have an “Ultrafine” photo setting that prints up to 4800 dpi x 1200 dpi.

Most laypeople won’t know exactly what that means, but it’s a big number, so it must be better, right? High resolution is not necessary for most sublimation projects. For t-shirt making, you should print your images at 150 – 200 dpi because when the image is pressed onto a woven fabric, any high definition will be lost.

Similarly, you don’t need to print images for hard materials – like ceramic, wood or metal – at any resolution higher than 300 dpi.

So any discussion of printers with super high resolution capabilities is an irrelevant point for most people getting into sublimation for heat transfer. The human eye can’t make out super fine details in prints above 300 dpi, and printing images with super high resolution will make your printer slower, user more computer resources and use up more ink than you need to.

Any of the printers we’ve listed will be able to print in high enough resolution for 99.9% of any dye sublimation projects.

Ease of Refilling Ink

We’ve discussed both purpose-built and converted sublimation ink printers in this article, and the models we recommend include machines that use cartridges and machines that have refillable tanks. If you get a cartridge model like the Sawgrass SG500 or SG1000, we strongly recommend you stick with the Sawgrass inks and not try to refill them with third party ink.

If you are using a converted Epson, there are numerous sublimation ink suppliers that specialize in ink for Epson Eco Tank printers and you should be able to refill these printers easily if you follow the instructions.

We don’t recommend converting a cartridge-based Epson because it is getting more difficult and expensive to replicate the chips required to make the printer actually print. The popular Workforce models for sublimation have been discontinued and Epson’s new replacement models need extensive workarounds. It’s just not worth it in our opinion.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has brought some clarification to you if you’re researching sublimation printers for your home or small business. There’s a lot of poor quality information out there, mostly because there are two different types of sublimation printers (one for heat transfer projects and another type for making photo prints) and bloggers aren’t making the distinction between them.

The big choice you have to make is whether you want a purpose-built sublimation printer to take advantage of the warranty, support and specialized ink management software, or if you want to go the DIY route and convert a regular inkjet printer.

Purpose-built printers like the Sawgrass SG500 and the Epson F170 are both great choices for serious crafters and entrepreneurs looking to make small-sized sublimation projects. If startup and consumables cost is your main concern, choose the Epson F170. If you want a longer warranty and sublimation specific software, choose the Sawgrass SG500.

When it comes to going the DIY conversion route, our most important piece of advice is avoid printers with cartridges. Ecotank printers from Epson do a great job and you’re not under constant threat of remote disabling through firmware updates or having to buy expensive replacement chips for cartridges.

The biggest problem with converting printers these days is scarcity, especially ecotank printers with the capacity to print wide format. If you can find an Epson Ecotank that fits your needs, grab it. The alternative is the much more expensive Sawgrass SG1000, which despite the higher price tag, will let you get to work and start making high quality items for your business.

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