When I made my first Cricut Infusible Ink shirt, I fell in love with sublimation. The look and feel is so superior to vinyl. I don’t sell my crafts, so I am always looking for budget conscious ways to expand my crafting repertoire. I will show you how to get into sublimation on a budget.
What is Sublimation?
Sublimation is a process in which special ink is heated and the vapors adhere to a special substrate. This process requires very specific materials. You need sublimation ink, a sublimation printer, sublimation paper, a heat press for clothing, and a mug press or convection oven for mugs and tumblers. If you are like me, when you read that list you see $$$$. For those planning to sell their creations buying top of line equipment may be in their best interest. For hobbyists like me, there are some less expensive alternatives that work just as well.
Is Sublimation Superior to Vinyl?
Sublimation ink adheres to polyester fabric and becomes part of the fabric instead of sitting on top of the fabric.
Over time vinyl will crack. Sublimation on a 100% polyester will not fade. My first experience with sublimation was Cricut Infusible Ink. Check out my post on Infusible Ink here.
I made this tumbler with HTV. It turned out cute, but the vinyl eventually peeled off from daily use.
This sublimated tumbler will stand up to dishwasher and daily wear and tear. The design is baked in and can’t peel away.
Getting into Sublimation on a Budget
Picking Your Printer
There are printers made specifically for sublimation. These printers start at $500. After much research, I discovered an ingenious hack. Epson Eco Tank printers and Epson Workforce printers are easily converted to sublimation printers. The Workforce printers take cartridges and filling those cartridges seemed like it could be challenging. The printer also has sensors that can tell if non Epson cartridges are inserted. This seemed like an unnecessary complication. Instead I chose the Epson Eco Tank 2760. I got mine at Costco for around $249. It’s important to note, it’s best to buy a brand new printer that has never had regular ink in it! The only ink you should put in this printer is sublimation ink!
Cosmos Ink is an amazing company I found on Facebook. They have detailed videos on converting Epson printers and a fountain of other helpful information. Their Facebook group is Sublimation Cove. An incredible resource of helpful crafters. They even have YouTube tutorials on design programs to use. I ordered their ink for $50.00. After carefully following their set up video I was ready to go pretty quickly. The most difficult part for me was setting up the printer options. This is strangely more complicated on a Mac than on a PC.
I have seen some crafters successfully use regular printer paper for sublimating mugs. Honestly, sublimation paper is the least expensive item on your sublimation list, so just get the legit stuff. There are several brands. I chose this one.
Do not use your kitchen oven for this! You need an oven devoted to sublimation for safety. You don’t want residual vapors in the oven you use for cooking. The oven must be a convection oven. It is possible to find a convection toaster ovens as cheap as $50.00. However, in order to stand up tall tumblers and not have to open the oven and rotate your tumbler during sublimation, it requires a French door model. I chose this one. It works great. Convection ovens’ heat settings are not the most accurate. You need an oven thermemter to prevent scorching your tumblers and mugs. This one works great. The oven must be turned to 450 degrees in order to actually reach 400 degrees.
Everything I read indicated that you need to press at 400 degrees for 60 seconds. This was a problem for me, as I have the original Cricut Easy Press, which only goes up to 360 degrees. Cricut Infusible Ink is sublimation, so I decided to follow Cricut’s heat guide for Infusible Ink. Using the Easy Press set it to 360 degrees for 120 seconds. It works like a charm!
Sublimation on a Budget
All said, I spent a total of $470 for the equipment to start my new hobby. That’s less than the cost of the cheapest sublimation printer I could find.
Stay tuned for tutorials on making sublimation mugs, tumblers, and shirts.