The Best Sublimation Printer for Beginners
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Are you ready to try sublimation printing and looking for information on the best new sublimation printer to choose? I know just how daunting that choice can be! Before I purchased my first sublimation printer, I did a ton of research and talked to a lot of people. Now that I’ve got a few years of personal experience under my belt, I’m here to share what I believe to be the best sublimation printer for beginners (actually the two best printers for beginners) – both small business owners and those who are looking for a printer strictly for home use.
Before we get into the details of my recommendations, let’s talk a little about the basics of sublimation.
Sublimation Printers vs. Standard Inkjet or Laser Printers
Sublimation is the chemical process of turning a solid into a gas. Dye sublimation printing is different from traditional printing, such as that done with a laser or inkjet printer, and requires specialized tools and supplies.
The process of dye sublimation printing requires a
- Sublimation printer, using
- Sublimation inks, printed on
- Sublimation paper.
The printed sublimation transfer is then applied to a sublimation-ready item (coffee mugs, tote bags, t-shirts, polyester fabrics, etc) using a heat source such as a heat press or dry iron. The heat transforms the special ink into a gaseous state and the ink “infuses” into the material being pressed, creating a permanent imprint that is resistant to fading.
Sublimation-Specific Printers vs. Printers Converted to Sublimation
There are a few standard inkjet printers that can be converted to dye-sublimation printers, most notably the Epson EcoTank printers. However, I personally do not recommend doing this. Not only does converting an inkjet printer to a sublimation printer void the inkjet printer’s warranty, it also requires using ink that is not made specifically for that brand of printer.
Converted printers don’t offer the same print quality as sublimation-specific printers (printers that are made to be used for sublimation), don’t last as long as sublimation-specific printers, and require much more trial and error to get good results. While you may save a few dollars up front, you’ll likely end up spending more money in the long run on wasted materials and lost production time if you choose to convert a printer.
When (not “if”) something goes wrong with a converted printer, your only choice for help will be from other users since the printer manufacturer will not be able to offer support for a converted printer.
Whether you choose to follow my advice and purchase a sublimation-specific printer or convert a printer to sublimation, keep in mind that ALL dye sublimation printing must be done on a dedicated printer that is used ONLY for sublimation. You cannot switch back and forth between sublimation inks and regular inks in the same printer, nor can you convert an inkjet printer to a sublimation printer if it has previously been used for inkjet printing.
Best Sublimation Printer for Beginners: Sawgrass SG 500 with Sublijet Ink
The Sawgrass SG500 with Sublijet-UHD ink is an ideal choice for the beginner, based on
- Ease of Use
- Print Quality
Sawgrass desktop sublimation printers come in two models:
The main difference in the two is the size of the print you can create and the price. The maximum print size for an SG500 is 8.5 inches x 14 inches. The SG1000 prints up to 11 inches x 17 inches using the standard paper tray but costs almost $1000 more than the SG500. The print size of the SG1000 increases to 13 inches x 19 inches with the optional bypass tray, which will run you an additional $200 or so.
For beginners, the maximum print size of the SG500 is more than adequate. Should you ever want to print something larger, you can piece together designs from multiple prints.
When purchasing a Sawgrass printer for sublimation, you’ll find there are two choices of ink cartridges, either of which will give you high quality prints:
Sublijet-UHD ink is the standard Sawgrass sublimation ink. EasySubli ink is a specially formulated sublimation ink which gives the best results when printing on Siser EasySubli HTV.
Unless you plan to print the majority of your sublimation prints onto EasySubli HTV, choose Sublijet-UHD ink. Sublijet-UHD ink can be printed on both traditional sublimation paper types as well as EasySubli material and is an excellent choice for application on a variety of blanks.
In order to keep the ink from drying out and clogging the print nozzles, you’ll need to print from your dye sublimation printer on a regular basis. Sawgrass printers have an automatic self-maintenance feature that keeps the nozzles from getting clogged between uses. (This was a key factor in my decision to purchase a Sawgrass because I knew I would not be printing in large volume and there would be weeks that I didn’t print at all.)
The Sawgrass SG500 offers wi-fi connectivity along with USB, and Ethernet connectivity options.
Sawgrass has been a leader in the dye sublimation industry for over 25 years. There is an extensive knowledge base on their website (including free Sawgrass Academy courses) as well as direct technical support via chat, telephone, and email.
Sawgrass printers are available online from a variety of retailers and in-store at select Jo-Ann and Michaels locations but customer support options from these vendors will vary. I highly recommend that you purchase your Sawgrass printer from an established distributor such as Heat Press Nation, which will give you an additional avenue of support if the need arises.
The Sawgrass SG500 is warranted against defects in materials and workmanship for a period of two years from the date of original purchase. If your printer is determined to be defective during that time, Sawgrass will either repair the defect, replace the product, or issue you a refund (at their discretion).
Ease of Use
Step-by-step setup instructions are available on the Sawgrass website. Should you have any problems during setup, contact them and a live person will walk you through the process.
Once the printer is set up, the printing process is relatively simple. You can either print directly from your design software (Windows only), through Sawgrass Print Manager, or through Creative Studio (see more below).
The print quality you can achieve with a Sawgrass printer cannot be beat. Print quality options of the Sawgrass SG500 and SG1000 models range from High Speed (300 DPI) to Ultra Fine Photo (4800 x 1200 DPI).
Color management can be fine-tuned through the Sawgrass Print Manager software to match the blank you’re printing on, the paper you’re using, and the Color Mode you desire. Colors can also be selectively adjusted using the sliders in the Color Adjustment panel.
Everyone who purchases a Sawgrass printer gets free access to their CreativeStudio software, which includes templates for commonly used blanks along with a library of images, designs, fonts, and other royalty-free, fully-licensed graphic elements. This is a great option for beginners who’ve never used design software.
A paid subscription to CreativeStudio Premium unlocks additional features and access to even more designs and graphics. CreativeStudio also features Project Cards, which are step-by-step instructions for a variety of different projects, although most of the projects use graphics that are only available with a Premium membership.
Other well-known design software programs can be used with Sawgrass printers, including Adobe Photoshop, Affinity Designer, CorelDraw, and (my favorite) Silhouette Studio.
Best Budget-Priced Sublimation Printer for Beginners: Epson SureColor F170
If a Sawgrass printer isn’t in your budget, the Epson SureColor F170 is an affordable sublimation printer and a good choice for beginners based on:
- Ease of Use
At the time of this writing, the Epson SureColor F170 has an MSRP of $399, which is an affordable price and about $175 less than the Sawgrass SG500. The F170 features refillable ink tanks which make it easy to see the ink levels at a glance. Replacement ink bottles retail for about $25 per color, substantially less than the Sawgrass cartridges.
Ease of Use
The Epson SureColor F 170 is essentially plug and play. A step-by-step installation guide can be downloaded from the Epson website in PDF format as well as a User’s Guide. Print drivers are also available for download on the website.
Comparison to the Sawgrass SG500
The maximum print size for the Epson SureColor F170 is the same as the Sawgrass SG500 (8.5 x 14 inches). It also offers the same wireless connectivity, USB, or Ethernet connection.
However, the Epson does not have the advanced features of the Sawgrass, does not come with access to any design software, nor does it offer the same high resolution print quality.
I like the fact that I can print directly from my Mac to the Epson SureColor F170 without going through print management software, but the trade-off is a lack of color management. While the Epson SureColor F170 is a very good sublimation printer, I simply have not been able to achieve the same vibrant colors from the Epson that I get with my Sawgrass.
Support is available from your dealer or by consulting Epson’s online knowledge base or contacting them via email or telephone.
The Epson SureColor F170 is warranted against defects in materials and workmanship for a period of one year from the date of original purchase (or 15,000 A-4 sheets, whichever comes first). If you experience problems during the warranty period, Epson requires you to call a toll-free number during regular support hours and speak with a service technician to resolve the problem. If they are unable to repair the defect, they may replace the product at their discretion.
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Choosing the right sublimation printer can be a tough decision. Both the Sawgrass SG500 and the Epson SureColor F170 are high quality printers that can be used by small businesses or individuals who are just getting started with dye sublimation printing. Their compact design makes either a perfect choice for office use or personal use. I hope this post has helped you make an informed decision about which one is the best choice for YOU!!!
Until next time,
Lycia is a lifelong crafter whose goal is to help others find value, confidence, and joy in whatever they create. She geeks out on using technology to supercharge craft projects with Silhouette Studio, Design Space, Glowforge, sublimation, etc.! Lycia teaches these skills and more through online tutorials and videos as well as in-person classes at both the local and national levels.