• May 24, 2024, 4:31 am

The best sublimation printers of 2023 SoftAIT

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Update : Friday, November 10, 2023

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Sublimation printing allows you to print photos and artwork using special inks to transfer to items like T-shirts, mugs, canvases, and more. But gone are the days of sublimation printers being primarily for high-end production businesses. More companies are now producing these special devices for general consumer use, making the art of dye sublimation more approachable. Should one of those not fit the bill, most inkjet printers can also be converted to the sublimation process. The best sublimation printers are a great way to create custom products in your home or office without paying a third party to handle them. 

How we chose the best sublimation printers

For this selection of the best sublimation printers, we chose current models from some of the major brands that produce these types of printers. Those meeting most users’ needs earned the top spots on our list.  We researched and selected models that included the broadest spectrum of features and capabilities, such as connectivity options, print speed, ink capacity and price, printer footprint, maximum print size, and more.

The best sublimation printers: Reviews & Recommendations

While you can convert most inkjet printers to sublimation printers, more companies have started to offer dedication sublimation options for creators. Converting an inkjet printer has benefits, but for most, buying a sublimation printer ready to run right out of the box is the preferable choice. Just add laptop (and your own brand/creativity, naturally). We’ve included out-of-the-box dye-sub devices in this guide, though with a few traditional inkjets thrown in as well. 

Best overall: Sawgrass SG500

Specs

  • Maximum resolution: 4800 x 1200 dpi
  • Maximum print size: 8.5 x 14 inches
  • Weight: ‎32.8 pounds
  • Dimensions: 15.75 x 17.25 x 8.5 inches
  • Type: Purpose-built sublimation printer

Pros

  • Comes with a set of Sublijet UHD sublimation inks
  • WiFi connectivity
  • 2-year product warranty and In-house support

Cons

  • Somewhat pricey
  • Ink is expensive

Sawgrass is well known for its sublimation printers, with the SG500 sitting at the entry point of its lineup. It offers a high resolution for detailed prints and produces accurate, vibrant colors. You can print on media up to 8.5 by 14 inches and use it to create and apply custom graphics to a wide variety of items, including mugs, coasters, phone cases, apparel, and more.

The Sawgrass SG500 fits easily onto the top of a desk thanks to its small size. But, it’s still a powerful dye-sublimation printer that can be used on many projects, whether you’re a hobbyist or you own a small business or kiosk operation. It offers WiFi connectivity for wireless printing, so you don’t have to stay tethered to your desk. 

Since this is a purpose-built sublimation printer, you won’t need to worry about converting anything to get started. Set up is easy, as is printing. It comes with Sawgrass Print Manager, a software utility that automatically adjusts the ink output to ensure optimal quality while also reducing wasted ink. That’s ideal since ink for this printer is expensive, which is one of the main downsides. It also doesn’t hold very much, so if you print frequently, you’ll be refilling ink a lot.

Best for photos: DNP DS620A

Specs

  • Maximum resolution: 300 x 300 dpi
  • Maximum print size: 6 x 8 inches
  • Weight: 26.4 pounds.
  • Dimensions: ‎10.8 x 14.4 x 6.7 inches
  • Type: Purpose-built sublimation printer

Pros

  • Excellent performance and very fast
  • Prints high-quality photos
  • Offers several different print sizes
  • You can print either glossy or matte finish

Cons

The DS620A printer is ideal for event and wedding photographers and content creators who want to quickly produce many quality photos to hand out at an event. What’s also nice about this printer is that, unlike cheaper purpose-built sublimation printers, it can print in three different sizes: 4 x 6 inches, 5 x 7 inches, and 6 x 8 inches. 

The DNP DS620A is very fast, too. The company says it can print 400 prints per hour. You can also place a watermark on the back of all your images and use the same media to produce either glossy or matte photos. It features a standby mode to lower costs by making the most efficient use of energy. The printer also provides advanced status information from the driver, enabling you to check on remaining media, media format, printer status, printer life counter, color control data, firmware version, and serial number.

It’s important to point out that this is strictly a photo printer. It is not meant for transfer purposes, so you won’t be able to print photos to transfer to mugs, shirts, etc. But this is an excellent choice if you want to produce high-quality and durable photos for clients. 

Best for beginners: Epson SureColor F170

Specs

  • Maximum resolution: 1440 x 720 dpi
  • Maximum print size: 8.5 x 14 inches
  • Weight: 27.7 pounds
  • Dimensions: 14.8 x 19.8 x 7.4 inches
  • Type: Purpose-built sublimation printer

Pros

  • Affordable inks
  • Easy to get started and use
  • Works with a wide range of blanks
  • Excellent print quality

Cons

  • Can’t print larger than 8.5 x 14 inches

Epson makes some of the best home office printers, all-in-one printers, and even photo printers. So it should come as no surprise that it also makes an excellent sublimation printer. The SureColor SC-F170 is ready to produce dye-sub prints right out of the box. It features a 150-feet auto-feed tray to keep you from loading media constantly. And the large ink tanks mean you won’t need to refill as often, saving you money and reducing the plastic you use. 

This printer for sublimation offers a 144 x 720 dpi resolution and produces vibrant, detailed prints. You’ll be able to transfer your prints to a variety of blanks, from mugs and metal panels to mousepads, shirts, and more. It connects via USB, Ethernet, or integrated wireless, giving you plenty of options. It is easy to set up and easy to use, getting you printing faster with less fuss.

Best inkjet: Epson EcoTank ET-2720 

black Epson EcoTank ET-2720 with ink containers

Specs

  • Maximum resolution: 5760 x 1440 dpi
  • Maximum print size: 8.5 x 14 inches
  • Weight: 8.8 pounds
  • Dimensions: 13.7 x 14.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Type: All-in-one inkjet printer

Pros

  • Easy to convert to a dye-sub printer
  • Ink tanks can hold months’ worth of ink
  • Easy to set up
  • Has both wireless and hands-free voice-activated printing capabilities
  • Includes built-in scanner

Cons

  • Requires conversion, which voids your warranty

If you’d prefer to convert an inkjet printer for dye-sub printing, the Epson EcoTank ET-2720 is a great choice. The printer itself is affordable, saving you money in upfront costs. Its large tanks hold a lot of ink, so you won’t have to refill as often. And the 5760 x 1440 dpi resolution will produce detailed prints for transferring.

Converting the printer is as simple as adding sublimation ink, so you don’t need to be a tech guru to get started. As an all-in-one, it features a built-in scanner, allowing you to use it for more than just printing. It offers plenty of connectivity options as well, making it easy to print from anywhere. Finally, the relatively small footprint won’t take up much room on a desk. Just keep in mind that using sublimation ink will void the warranty of the printer. If it breaks, you’ll be left dealing with repairs or replacement on your own.

Best budget: Canon Selphy CP1500

The white Canon Selphy CP1500 sublimation printer is placed against a white background with a gray gradient.

Specs

  • Maximum resolution: 300 x 300 dpi
  • Maximum print size: 4 x 6 inches
  • Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Dimensions: 7.2 x 2.3 x 5.2 inches
  • Type: Portable photo dye-sublimation printer

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use
  • Portable
  • Can print on four media sizes, including small stickers
  • Can print directly from SD memory card (via memory card slot)

Cons:

  • Not for heat transfers 
  • Not very versatile

There’s a lot to like about the Canon Selphy CP1500 dye-sub photo printer, provided that you’re okay with being limited to printing only 4 x 6-inch photos. Also, Canon didn’t make this printer for what transfers, so you won’t be able to create images for mugs, shirts, and so on. But if you just want a compact, portable, affordable printer for quality and durable photos, the CP1500 is a great choice.

Beyond being a great budget option, the Selphy CP1500 is also the best portable dye-sub printer. It will fit in any small office or anywhere else in the home and is easy to tuck away or take with you on the go. There are also several options when you want to connect with the printer. You can connect to it via a USB port for a wired connection, print directly from an SD card or USB flash drive, or print wirelessly via WiFi. You can even print from your smartphone or tablet through the SELPHY Layout app, Canon’s PRINT app, Apple AirPrint (for Apple devices), or Mopria (for Android devices).

An AC adapter powers the printer. It also supports the Canon NB-CP2LH battery, allowing up to 54 prints on a single charge. The Selphy CP1500 also sports a small 3.2-inch LCD, which allows you to preview any images you’d like to print directly from your memory card or thumb drive.

What to consider when buying the best sublimation printers

For many of you, it’s quite possible that you’ve never even heard of sublimation (or dye-sublimation) printers before. You might be wondering: How does a dye-sublimation printer work, and how does it differ from the process inkjet printers use to create images and prints? Essentially, during the printing process, heat is applied to the layers of solid ink, which causes them to sublimate, which means it skips the liquid form and goes directly to the gaseous state. Then, once the ink hits the paper or other material, it transitions back to a solid, producing the image. The printer then finishes by applying a clear protective coating to prevent smudging. 

What will you be using the printer for? 

Sublimation printing is used for two main types of processes: Printing photos or printing images and graphics for transfer. Some printers can do both, but some are only intended for one or the other. So, when you buy a sublimation printer, you’ll want to be clear on what you’ll be using it for. The media type that works in the printer will determine what you can use it for. 

Sublimation technology is especially common in compact, portable photo printers. That is partly because sublimation photo prints are more durable than standard inkjet prints due to this heating process. They come out of the printer totally dry and won’t smudge if touched too soon. They are also more resistant to fading. You can also find larger devices that use this method of printing, but those can get rather pricey.

Many creatives and small business owners use sublimation printers in order to transfer images or designs onto fabric or a range of hard materials, such as mugs or metal sheets. To do this kind of dye-sublimation printing, you first create a graphic or photo and produce a dye-sub print (which is printed in reverse) onto transfer paper. Once the ink is dry on the transfer paper, the photo or graphic can be transferred onto an object by heating it. Heat is applied to the ink, at which point it’s vaporized and transferred to an object. 

Type of printer

If you’re interested in placing your photos or graphics on customized gifts, like baseball hats, cell phone cases, mugs, or t-shirts, you have two options. First, you can convert an inkjet printer to a dye-sublimation printer. This process is as simple as adding sublimation ink instead of the ink that comes with your printer when buying a new device. You should be aware, however, that when you decide to convert your printer to the sublimation process, you will no longer be able to use it as an inkjet printer. It also voids your printer’s warranty since you are not using ink intended for the printer. Also, not all inkjets can be converted. So, be sure to do some research to find out if your model can be converted. 

Your other option is to buy a purpose-built sublimation printer. These are becoming more common, with more brands offering consumer-level devices suitable for home or office settings.  

Print size

Before purchasing a printer, you’ll want to consider what size you will be printing. Some printers can only print up to four by six inches, while others can print up to 13 inches wide. If you are primarily creating small graphics to put on mugs and other promotional items, a smaller printer will save you money and still work well for your needs. But if you want the ability to create large graphics, focus on printers that support larger print sizes. 

What other equipment and supplies will I need on hand? 

If you are purchasing a sublimation printer in order to transfer images to objects or other materials, you will also need a heat press. Heat presses come in different forms, with some specifically built for mugs, hats, or other oddly shaped objects. You’ll also need to invest in sublimation paper, ink, heat-resistant tape, and blanks to transfer your images onto. Be sure to factor all these costs into your budget when choosing a printer. 

FAQs

Q: Can any printer do sublimation printing?

No. There are specific models by a few printer manufacturers, such as Epson and Canon, that claim their printers can be converted to produce sublimation prints. For more information on specific models, go to those printer manufacturers’ websites.

Q: How long do sublimation prints last?

Done correctly with quality materials, sublimation prints can last a lifetime. This, of course, depends on the material you are transferring to as well, however. And the quality of inks you use will determine how resistant to fading the print is.

Q: Can I use a dye-sublimation print and transfer it to any fabric or mug?

No. You can only print on a shirt that’s been made out of synthetic fiber, such as polyester fabric, or fabrics with a polymer coating. As for mugs, you’ll need to buy a special type of mug—one that has a glazed ceramic surface with a special coating that allows the surface of the mug to preserve the sublimated ink. These are called sublimation blanks, as they are made specifically for this process.

Q: What is a good brand of sublimation ink?

Hiipoo is one of the most popular sublimation ink brands available. Sawgrass, the maker of our top printer pick, also makes excellent sublimation ink, as does Epson. 

Q: Is it better to buy a sublimation printer or convert one?

Whether it is better to buy or convert comes down to your budget, experience level, and personal preference. Purpose-built sublimation printers are typically more expensive than the inkjet printer you would buy to convert, so the conversion process can save you some money. Converting a brand-new printer is as easy as adding sublimation ink, but converting a used printer is a more involved process. You’ll also want to keep in mind that using sublimation ink in an inkjet printer does void the warranty, which may be less than ideal for some, especially when buying a new printer.

Final thoughts on the best sublimation printers

Sublimation printers can be a fun way to either create durable, long-lasting photos or to transfer images and designs to all sorts of objects and materials. There are a range of sublimation printers out there for all experience levels, project types, and budgets. You can even convert inkjet printers, adding even more options. No matter what, be sure to consider what type of images you want to print and how you will be using those images in order to choose the best printer for your needs. 

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.



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