Can You Use Sublimation Paper in Any Printer?


Sublimation paper

Printing is a staple of office life and will remain one for years to come. Unfortunately, it’s also a part of office life that’s costly. At times, it’s tempting to make the dollar stretch by switching papers around, but that’s not always doable. This is especially true when it comes to sublimation paper, a unique specialty paper. 

Can you use sublimation paper in any printer? It’s a really risky endeavor and generally isn’t a good idea. If you have a printer that can work with sublimation ink, you can do it as long as you match the ink to the paper.  If your printer isn’t compatible, it won’t work out. 

If you are going to try printing with some sublimation paper you’ve found, make sure to read this guide first. It might just save you some ink!

Why Doesn’t Sublimation Paper Work With All Printers?

Printers come with recommended paper types for a reason, and the reason is that different papers will do different things. Not all printers can use sublimation paper, simply because of the way that sublimation paper is built. 

With regular printer paper, it’s the ink that does the work. With sublimation paper, it’s the paper that tends to do the work in keeping print on the page. Sublimation ink turns into a gas that is then pressed into paper for a permanent, highly detailed mark. 

The thing is, many printers don’t have printer heads or ink cartridge options that work with the sublimation process. As a result, not all printers can handle it. 

What Does Sublimation Paper Do?

One of the reasons that sublimation paper is so uniquely different is because of its purpose. Sublimation paper isn’t for documents like accounting pages or recipe books. It’s actually a specialty paper that is used to print patterns onto clothing and textiles. 

Sublimation uses heat to vaporize ink and transfer it onto clothing. When the sublimation ink hits the fabric, the ink bonds with fabric fibers and becomes part of the fabric. So, if you just found sublimation paper and wanted to use it for office work, you’re out of luck. 

Which Printers Can Handle Sublimation Paper?

Since it’s clear that not all printers can handle the sublimation process, it’s important to have a general idea about whether or not your printer is compatible with this printing process. Here are some general guidelines for printers that might work well with sublimation paper:

  • Any printer specially made for sublimation printing. These printers are often advertised as sublimation printers and are bought with sublimation in mind. These will always work with sublimation. 
  • Inkjet printers that have sublimation compatibility. Most budget Inkjet printers won’t have this compatibility, but upscale ones like the Epson Artisan 1430 Inkjet printer will. It’s good to check your specific model to find out. 
  • Workforce printers might be able to work, too. This is just casual observation. 

Any printer that is compatible with the sublimation paper will say so as part of its specifications. If you’re not sure if you can, check the details of your printer online. 

Which Printers Won’t Print With Sublimation Paper?

Generally speaking, if a printer isn’t advertised as sublimation-friendly, you probably shouldn’t try it. That being said, these are some good rules of thumb to follow:

  • The cheaper the printer, the less likely it is that it will have a printer head that’s sublimation-compatible.
  • Most printers from HP won’t print with sublimation paper, but can sometimes be converted to sublimation paper printers with the right CISS kit. 
  • If the printer isn’t compatible with the Sublimation CISS Ink System, it’s a no-go. 

Can I Convert A Printer To A Sublimation Printer?

Technically, you might be able to. If your printer can work with a CISS Ink System, you can replace the printer head and make your printer work with sublimation paper. Currently, this option mostly seems to be available with specific models of Epson printers.

To convert your printer to a sublimation-ready machine, you will most likely need to buy a CISS Ink System. When shopping around, make sure to pick a system that’s compatible with the printer model you have. Not all CISS systems are alike. 

What Happens If I Try Using Sublimation Paper On An Incompatible Machine?

Realistically, not much will happen. Using sublimation paper won’t immediately break your printer if that’s what you’re worried about. However, anything you print on it won’t stick. It’s a waste of time and ink. 

What Do I Have To Do In Order To Print On Sublimation Paper? 

In order to make your print stick-on sublimation paper, you will need sublimation ink and a printer that is compatible with sublimation paper. Here’s what to do to prep your printer:

  1. If you have to convert your printer, install the CISS Ink System. You should be able to find instructions on how to convert your printer online, or via the instruction booklet that comes with it. 
  2. Switch out your regular ink cartridges for sublimation ink cartridges. When replacing your cartridges, make sure they click into place. 
  3. Replace your regular paper with the sublimation paper. This is a given, but still worth saying. 
  4. Load up any software your printer may need, and print. Certain models may need specialized software in order to properly print sublimation paper. You can find out about any software you need to download online. 

Can I Just Use Regular Ink On Sublimation Paper?

You can try as much as you want to, but you’ll soon realize that it won’t work regardless of what you print. Sublimation paper is specifically made to lock in the gas that sublimated ink releases. 

Regular ink isn’t made to be compatible with sublimation paper, and will usually smear right off the page if you print using this paper. After all, sublimation paper is mostly used for clothing prints, so it wouldn’t make sense to have ink that sticks to the paper. 

Can I Use Sublimation Ink On Regular Paper?

You can, but it won’t look too good. Because of the process that goes on during printing, the regular paper makes for a poor carrier of the ink. This leads to about half of the ink being lost during the printing session. 

This leads to a blurry print out that often smears. If you were hoping to transfer that print onto a tee-shirt, you’ll also be sorely disappointed. Regular paper can’t transfer prints as sublimation paper can. 

I Don’t Have A Sublimation Printer. Are There Any Alternatives I Can Use?

Let’s say that you don’t want to pay $15 or so for a sublimation paper print at the local print shop, but you still want to get a garment printed up. That’s understandable. It happens. If this is your situation, you’re probably wondering what other alternatives you have. 

Since this is actually a fairly common issue, you might want to check out these options:

  • Professional Printing. Though it’s not exactly the most budget-friendly option, it is a surefire way to make sure your design gets on a shirt without losing quality. 
  • Heat Transfer Paper. Sublimation paper tends to be the most popular option for textiles, but if you are in a pinch, you can also try heat transfer paper. Most printers can handle heat transfer paper, even if they can’t handle sublimation paper. 
  • Screen Printing. If you are willing to put in extra time and effort, you might be able to get your shirts printed via a screen-printer. However, this is a very long and involved process. 

Henrik Bruhn

Owner of a danish Print On Demand production facility and writes about the craft, techniques, and trends in the business

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