If you have spent any time at all in the world of sublimation, you know how frustrating it is when your design does not transfer evenly to your substrate. You may end up with some parts of your design that are darker or lighter than others, or even no ink transfer at all. This ruins the quality and appearance of your final product effectively wasting your time and money. Nobody wants that!
But why does this happen and is there a way to prevent it? Yes, you can diagnose the problem and resolve the uneven transfer of sublimation ink! In this blog post, we will explain some of the common causes of uneven ink transfer and give you some tips and tricks on how to avoid them.
Sometimes the ink transfer does not go as smoothly as expected, and you may end up with uneven or incomplete results. There are several factors that affect the quality of the ink transfer, such as:
Inconsistent or incorrect heat and pressure settings: The heat and pressure settings of your heat press are crucial for sublimation printing. If the temperature of your press is either too hot or not hot enough, it will affect the amount and distribution of the ink on your substrate. When the heat or pressure you will find that less ink transfers than desired and the image will be faded or blotchy. If your heat press is not hot enough, you will find that your image and substrate are scotched and the image will be distorted and/or discolored.
Air bubbles or wrinkles: If there are any air bubbles or wrinkles between the paper and the substrate, they will interfere with the ink transfer and create white spots or streaks on your design. Air bubbles or wrinkles can be caused by improper alignment of the paper and substrate or by pulling down the heat press too slowly or unevenly.
Ghosting: Ghosting is when you see a double image on your substrate, as if the design has been shifted slightly. This can happen if the paper moves after the heat has activated the ink, either during pressing or after lifting the heat press. This can be caused by using too much pressure making it difficult to pull the press down smoothly, by not securing the paper and substrate together with heat-resistant tape, or by not removing the paper quickly enough after pressing allowing the image to shift and the ink to continue to transfer in the new position.
Using the wrong ink or substrate: Not all inks and substrates are suitable for sublimation printing. You need to use sublimation ink that is compatible with your printer model and sublimation paper that can hold the ink well without bleeding or smudging. Not all sublimation papers work well with all sublimation printers either. You are also going to need to use a substrate that is suitable for sublimation, such as polyester fabric or an approved sublimation blank. If you use regular ink and print paper, or a substrate that is not compatible with sublimation, you will find that little to no ink transfers to your substrate.
Now that you know some of the common causes of uneven ink transfer in sublimation printing, here are some tips on how to prevent them and achieve better results:
Use the right equipment and materials for sublimation printing: Make sure that you have a good quality heat press that can maintain consistent temperature and pressure settings throughout the pressing process. An iron for example, will not work. A Cricut EasyPress is another common choice and more affordable than a standard heat press. We don't personally recommend the EasyPress because the user controls the pressure, making it less consistent. For the best results, you are going to want to invest in a professional heat press. Once again, it is super important to be sure you are using ink/paper/ and substrates that are made for sublimation as well.
Prepare your design properly before printing: Before you print your design on sublimation paper, make sure that it is clear and crisp, that it does not have any overlapping or gaps, and that it fits the size of your paper and substrate. You also need to mirror your design before printing, so that it will appear correctly on your substrate after pressing. Many crafters attempt cutting and "marrying" images together to create larger images when their printer isn't large enough. Unless you're willing to sacrifice the substrate to work on this, it is not recommended. If you need a larger transfers than your printer is capable of printing and are not ready to upgrade, we recommend purchasing transfers from a shop.
Align your paper and substrate carefully before pressing: Before you place your paper and substrate on the heat press, make sure that they are aligned properly with each other and with the heat press. You can use a ruler or a straight edge to check the alignment, or use some heat-resistant tape to secure them together. Make sure that there are no wrinkles or creases on the paper or substrate, and that there are no air bubbles or gaps between them. Your shirts/ hoodies/ fabric should be as flat as possible. Use heat tape to secure your transfer prior to pressing!
Press your design correctly with the right temperature and pressure settings: Once you have aligned your paper and substrate on the heat press, you need to press them with the right temperature and pressure settings for your specific materials. You can check the manufacturer’s instructions for recommended settings, or do some test runs to find out what works best for you. Generally speaking, you need to use high temperature (around 400°F) and medium pressure for sublimation printing. You also need to press your design for the right amount of time, depending on the size and thickness of your substrate. Usually, it takes between 30 seconds to 4 minutes to press a design.
If your temperature settings are correct and you have ruled out other problems, you may want to use a digital thermometer to check and be sure your heat press is the temperature that it says it is on the screen. We find that the budget friendly presses tend to have some trouble with calibration and often read a different temperature than they really are. Once you find the discrepancy, you can adjust your press accordingly.
A note about pressure: If a piece of paper can be easily taken out of the press, you likely aren't using enough pressure. If the press is hard to close, you're likely using too much pressure. Avoid any sudden movements or vibrations that may cause uneven heating or pressure.
Remove your paper and substrate quickly after pressing: After you have pressed your design, you need to remove your paper and substrate from the heat press as quickly as possible, to prevent any leftover ink from transferring and creating a double image. You can use a pair of heat-resistant gloves to handle the hot materials, and peel off the paper from the substrate in one swift motion.
By following these tips, you can avoid uneven ink transfer in sublimation printing and enjoy a more consistent and satisfying result. We hope you find this blog post helpful!