Whether you are new to sublimation printing or have been enjoying the craft for some time, it is no secret that you will need to troubleshoot at some point. Personally, this is my LEAST favorite part of my job and I will go to great lengths to avoid it! In fact, I call my husband my “TECH DEPARTMENT”.
However, each time we encounter and effectively troubleshoot a problem together, we become more confident in our skills and often produce better quality products. We also learn more about how to help our customers. Making things easier for you, makes the struggle a bit more worth it!
In this post, we will talk more about how to troubleshoot the most common sublimation problems quickly and when possible, how to avoid them altogether! If you can learn from our mistakes, please do!
Common sublimation problems and how to fix them
My sublimation transfer has streaking or banding.
No, you’re sublimation transfer will not run around naked (streaking), but one of the most common issues I’ve encountered is streaks or bands in my prints. This can happen no matter what brand of printer you have purchased. Why?
The printer head is clogged.
#1 Tip to Avoid: Use your printer frequently to prevent the heads becoming clogged. Do no purchase a used sublimation printer without first doing a few test prints. The longer a sublimation printer sits, the more likely the heads/ lines are to become clogged.
Each printer will have their own set of instructions to run a ‘print head check’ or a ‘nozzle check’. Follow your printers instructions on how to run and interpret this test. If the nozzle check shows there are some issues, you will want to move onto a head cleaning. Again, each printer will have their own set of instructions on how to perform this type of maintenance.
The print quality is low.
When printing a design, be sure that you have selected the highest print quality possible. If you are using a standard or ink saving mode for example, you will want to try for a higher qualify print such as photo paper. The print quality settings can make a huge difference. You will find banding happens due to the lack of ink the printer uses on lower quality settings.
My sublimation image is faded.
Sublimation images do not print at the same vibrancy as the original image. This is normal and you should not be alarmed if you have not pressed your image yet. The heat from the press activates the sublimation ink. If you have already pressed your substrate and the image is still faded, that is cause for concern.
You are using the wrong substrate.
Most often a faded image is the result of using a t-shirt that is less than 100 percent polyester or using a blank that is not intended for sublimation. Be sure to check your blanks before pressing. The higher the percentage of polyester, the more vibrant the image will be. The same is true of color. If you are not pressing on a light/ white colored shirt, the color from the shirt will influence the vibrancy of your image as well.
Your paper is the problem.
Be sure that you are using high quality sublimation paper to get the best results. Some papers transfer for ink than others. Also, double check to make sure you are printing on the right side of the paper! Don’t ask me how I know to suggest you check that….
The whitest, brightest part of the paper is usually the correct side. I really like A-sub paper! The transfer rate is fantastic and the back is watermarked so that you know not to print on that side.
Your heat press or heat press settings are the problem.
Faded images are often the result of too much time under the heat press, too much pressure, or an incorrect temperature. It is really important to check the instructions that go with the specific substrate you are pressing because they vary greatly. If you are not applying enough pressure, the images will appear faded and uneven. You may have to use a little trial and error when it comes to pressure.
If all of your settings are correct and you are still having trouble, it is possible that your heat press temperature is off. We have had this happen with some of the more budget friendly heat presses purchased from Amazon especially. Don’t worry, you do not need to throw the whole heat press out, at least not yet. You can order a digital temperature gun to check the temperature of the press. Once you know the actual temperature, you can adjust accordingly up or down to fix the problem. Most heat presses are consistently off by at least a few degrees, but others are off by a lot more which causes major problems and frustrations.
My sublimation image is blurry.
You are using too much time and/or heat.
Try reducing how long you are pressing your material. Too much heat can cause the colors in the image to bleed and appear blurry.
There is too much moisture.
Moisture on your material or sublimation paper can create imperfect images. Keep your paper in the original box, in a dark and dry place until use. You may find that if you live in an area of extremely high humidity that investing in a dehumidifier helps tremendously. You can also place your paper on the heat press for a few seconds (without closing it) to remove moisture. I personally always pre-press shirts/ fabric materials for a few seconds to be sure they do not have excess moisture in them.
The quality of your original image is low.
Double check that the image you are printing was designed at the size you are printing and is a high quality. Sometimes an image looks great on the screen, but when we go to enlarge it for print, it gets blurry. Having a high quality image to start is super important.
My substrate has double lines/ pictures, also known as ghosting.
Ghosting happens when your sublimation paper moves during the sublimation process. Even a subtle shift can cause a shadow/ repeated image, etc.
Tape down your image securely.
Use heat tape to secure your image! It is inexpensive and it is your best friend when it comes to sublimation. Another option you may prefer depending on what you are pressing is an adhesive spray.
Tips when securing your paper in place:
do not tape across your image as this can lift the image, tape along the sides instead
use minimal tape so you can quickly remove your paper after the heating process
if using an adhesive spray, add a light mist onto the printed side of the paper instead of spraying the material
when removing your paper, lift it straight off of your material, making sure not to slide it as this can cause ghosting since the substrate and transfer are still very hot
Be sure you are closing your press quickly and securely.
Closing the heat press too slow or struggling with it, can give the image time to shift. Using a manual press or a quality automatic press is important. Sometimes the automatic press can “pop” open causing the image to shift just before removal.
Lastly, make sure you are using protective paper.
I buy cheap butcher paper in bulk from Amazon and change it often. I would recommend covering the full bottom platen of your press, placing some in between any layers, and then covering the entire top of the substrate/ platen. If you do not change your paper often, there can be residue ink left on the paper and/ or the press. The residue will sublimate onto your new substrate even if it is not very bright/new.
The color of my sublimation image is not correct.
I want to start by saying, please do not let color stress you out before it is an issue. When doing our research on sublimation, we heard so much about color troubles that we anticipated that we would need to go through and match each color and make sure all was well.
I am going to say something somewhat controversial, your colors are not going to be perfect.
There is a lot going on when it comes to the world of color. The output color is most often correct, what we input is the problem.
Your computer monitor show color in RGB, but your printer uses CMYK. Color between different computer monitors can vary as well- sometimes in a major way. So, the color on the screen will not ever be exactly the color that prints.
Once you press, the colors are going to change again, and that is okay! Usually.
#1 Tip to avoid: Print from a quality software. There is going to some argument as to what that means in practice. I personally use and love Adobe Photoshop.
Another great option is to reach out to the provider you purchased your printer from. Sawgrass and Epson both have excellent support teams. Keep in mind this is only an option for printers that are made for sublimation intentionally and will not apply to converted Epson eco tank printers for example.
There are transfer lines on my substrate.
Transfer lines can appear after pressing where the edge of the sublimation paper sits on the material. This happens when the fibers of your material melt along the edge of the paper and leave a permanent line.
How to reduce transfer lines:
Pre-press your substrate.
Experiment with turning the heat and pressure down. The pressure especially plays a role in causing transfer lines.
Buy a sheet of high-temperature foam or a Teflon pillow to place between your heat press and your material.
Tearing the image instead of cutting it is a commonly suggested method as well. I don’t personally find that to be very time effective and choose not to go that route.
Certain materials are more prone to lines and sometimes the best option is to choose to work with another material when that is an option. Shirts especially. I like to use these press pads.
Although there are many common problems to encounter when working with sublimation, there are often easy solutions! Please do not become discouraged. I assure you that working through these issues is worth the frustration.
Sublimation is a part art – part science and brining the two together requires a bit of trial and error. The good news is that once you get it, the process is pretty easy and quick to replicate with very consistent results offering you and your business a world of different options at the touch of button/ press.
If after reading this article, you are still have problems, be sure to reach out to your equipment supplier to troubleshoot further. We also have a Facebook community you might find helpful: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sublimationstudio