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How to Use Sublimation Markers

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Have you been wanting to try sublimation but don’t want to invest in a sublimation printer? I’ve got the answer for you – dye sublimation markers! In this tutorial, I’m going to show you exactly how to use them to create a fun and easy project!

What is Sublimation?

You may be asking yourself, what is sublimation anyway? I go into more detail in this post, but the short answer is that sublimation is the chemical process of turning a solid into a gas. In the crafting world, sublimation refers to dye sublimation. In dye sublimation, special inks are used to create a design which is then heat-applied to polyester-coated materials or clothing (also referred to as “blanks”). The heat causes the ink to turn into a gas and infuse into the material, creating a permanent image.

Sublimation printers can be expensive, especially for the crafter who only wants to create a few designs here and there. Creating designs with sublimation markers or stamp pads is an easy, low-cost alternative to printed designs. Sublimation markers look and feel like regular markers but they are actually thermal transfer markers filled with sublimation ink. They allow you to create durable, permanent sublimation designs without the need for a special printer or special paper.

What You’ll Need

The materials used in this project were provided by Artesprix in exchange for this post, but all opinions are my own.

Step 1: Create the Design using Sublimation Markers or Sublimation Stamp Pad

Using a pencil, lightly trace the shape of the blank onto plain copy paper.

Tracing a keychain template for sublimation design

Draw, color, or stamp your design using the sublimation markers of your choice or a sublimation stamp pad. Be sure to MIRROR the design, especially if it includes text. You’ll be very unhappy when you see the finished product if you don’t!

Monogram stamp with flowers for sublimation

Don’t worry if the colors look dull – that’s totally normal. The colors will brighten once heat is applied.

There are several different ways to create a design. Here are some that I tried:

Method 1 – Draw Freehand with Sublimation Markers

The inspiration for this design came from a doodle art coloring book. After tracing the outline of the keychain, I lightly drew some guidelines and sketched the shapes with pencil, then went over everything with a black sublimation marker. I made sure to extend the design beyond the edges of the template, so there wouldn’t be any white margins on the finished project after pressing. No need to erase the pencil marks either – they don’t transfer when pressed!

Freehand design drawn with sublimation marker

Method 2 – Machine Sketch with Sublimation Markers

Drawing this cute monogram was super simple with the help of my Silhouette. Using Silhouette Studio, I combined a font and frame from the Silhouette Design Store then modified it a bit to make the design more sketch-friendly. Once I had the look I wanted, I mirrored the design, resized it to fit the keychain blank, and sketched out by machine using sublimation markers in the pen adapter.

Sublimation design sketched with Silhouette
Flower Frame Design by Dresden Carrie, Silhouette Design Store ID 269176
Title Font by Lori Whitlock, Silhouette Design Store ID 12249

Method 3 – Stamp with a Sublimation Stamp Pad

If you’re like me and don’t own a bunch of rubber stamps but still want to play around with the sublimation stamp pad, I found something that works great for creating an alphabet stamp – foam letter stickers! I just placed the foam sticker on an acrylic block, applied some ink, and voila! A perfectly mirrored monogram!

Inking with sublimation ink stamp pad
Mirrored monogram for sublimation

For even more fun, I added some little flowers to the monogram. But instead of using a stamp pad to ink the flower stamp, I colored it with various shades of sublimation markers, finishing off with a small dot of yellow in the center of each flower.

Stamped design for sublimation

Step 2: Get Ready to Press

(Instructions for each type of Artesprix blank can also be found on their website.)

Trim the copy paper to approximately 1 or 2 inches larger than the blank.

Place the design face-up on your work space. Align the blank, face-down, with the template you drew earlier. Secure the blank to the copy paper with heat tape. You only need a couple of pieces of tape if you’re using a heat press, more if you’re using a home iron.

Sublimation design taped and ready to press

If you’re using a directional design and/or a blank that is not symmetrical, double-check to make sure the design is oriented correctly.

Arrange the layers in what’s called a “Sublimation Sandwich”. The “bread” will be two pieces of protective paper, one on top and one on bottom. Each piece should be larger than the copy paper/design. The “filling” is the sublimation blank with the design taped to it. Place the colored design face-down, with the blank facing up. When you press, the only thing that will be between the heat source and the design is one layer of protective paper.

Ready to press sublimation sandwich layers

Step 3: Press

Set your heat press to 400 degrees. If you’re using a home iron, set it to the highest setting (usually Linen) and NO STEAM.

Press with firm pressure for the recommended time for your particular blank:

  • Metal Key Chain – 45 seconds with a heat press or 3 minutes with a home iron.
  • Plastic Key Chain – 60 seconds with a heat press or 3 minutes with a home iron.
  • Maple Key Chain – 60 seconds with a heat press or 3 minutes with a home iron.

When you’re finished pressing, gently remove the copy paper – without sliding – to reveal the design. (The paper will be hot so you may want to wear protective gloves!!!)

Sublimated keychain with stamped design

Step 4: Finishing

Attach the key tab to the blank and admire your handiwork!

Sublimated keychains created with sublimation markers and sublimation stamp pad

Helpful Reminders

  • Use plain copy paper that’s at least 1 – 2 inches bigger on all sides than the blank.
  • Only use a pencil to draw your template. Lines drawn with a Sharpie or sublimation markers may transfer to the blank when pressed.
  • Don’t forget to mirror the design!
  • If your design goes all the way to the edge of the blank, be sure to color beyond the traced template area.
  • Be careful where you place the heat tape. It should only be on the outside of the design, not covering any part of it. Because the tape is heat-resistant, it will interfere with the transfer of the design in any areas it covers. (I always tape on the back of the blank so it doesn’t touch the design at all.)
  • Before you press, make sure that the design is face-down on top of the blank and that you have protective paper on both the top and the bottom.
  • After you press, pick the paper straight up to remove it from the blank. Sliding it could cause your design to have shadows.
  • If you accidentally get Iron-on-Ink on your clothing or workspace, be sure to clean it up before it comes in contact with any heat. The ink is water-based, but will become permanent when heat is applied. (Even the warmth from a freshly pressed blank is enough to set the ink…ask me how I know!)

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Sublimation markers are a great way to get the benefits of sublimation without the need for a sublimation printer – perfect for adults and kids* alike. Imagine how much fun it would be to get a group of your friends together and have a coloring party with them! I hope you’ll give them a try and let me know what you think!

Until next time,

*Adult supervision required

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