What is the difference between a sublimation heat press and a regular heat press?

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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, but the difference is that sublimation requires a higher heat to transfer to fabric or ceramic than vinyl.

In a nutshell, sublimation is a process in which an ink in infused into the material it’s applied to. Whereas 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 can be washed repeatedly and never lose their vibrant color.

Sublimation of garments is done at a higher temperature than HTV. Where 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 what’s being pressed.

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, and specific transfer paper is required to apply it to garments or other blank items.

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 items you pick up at a dollar store can’t be sublimated unless they have this special coating.

So, in summary, there are a lot of differences between using heat transfer vinyl and sublimation ink 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.


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