It is sometimes confusing when you are trying to understand the terminology of a new hobby or pastime. Diving into heat presses in their many forms presents an opportunity to learn a lot of cool stuff while making your own amazing projects.
One question newcomers ask is “What is the difference between sublimation printers and a regular heat press?”
For the typical user, there is no difference.
Most heat presses are labeled as suitable for pressing heat transfer vinyl (HTV) or sublimation ink. The difference is that sublimation requires a higher heat to transfer to fabric or ceramic than vinyl.
In a nutshell, the sublimation process infuses an ink into the applied material. Vinyl bonds to the top of fabric. Heat and pressure applied to sublimation pigment makes it permeate the fabric, in effect dyeing it permanently. Sublimated garments never lose their vibrant color, even after repeated washes.
Garment sublimation requires higher temperature than HTV. You would set your press between 300 and 325 degrees to press vinyl to cotton, spandex or blends. Sublimation requires temperatures from 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Sublimation pressing also requires a longer press time, depending on the garment type.
Sublimation Requires Special Printers, not Heat Presses
When you are planning sublimation projects, the specialty equipment you need is generally sublimation printers, inks, transfer papers and blanks. There are a range of printers from home to commercial quality that specialize in printing sublimation ink. Garments or other blank items require application via specific transfer paper.
When you are considering a heat press for sublimation projects, the most important factor to consider is size. You want a heat press that matches the page size of the sublimation printer. Simply put, the larger the printer, the larger the heat press. If you have a printer that can print 11 x 17″ or 13 x 19″ paper, you should invest in a 16 x 20″ heat press.
These blank materials, like t-shirts, or coffee mugs, signs, canvas or whatever, need to be either polyester or coated with a special polymer that binds to the sublimation ink. Everyday dollar store items can’t be sublimated without this special coating.
So in summary, there are a lot of differences between using heat transfer vinyl and sublimation ink used to create custom garments and other branded merchandise; the heat press that applies either the vinyl or the sublimation ink is usually fine for either kind of project.
To read our recommendations for the best heat press machines for sublimation or vinyl projects, click here.