Whether you are in the research phase of what sublimation printer to buy or an advanced sublimaker looking to upgrade their printer, this Comprehensive Guide On How To Choose The Best Sublimation Printer will show you what is available and what the differences are between them.
Choosing the Best Sublimation Printer will be simpler because you will be able to make an informed decision because you will be able to understand what you need and what to look for.
- What is the best sublimation printer to buy?
- Can you use any printer for sublimation?
- How to narrow down what sublimation printer to buy.
- Which printers can be used for sublimation?
- Convert to Sublimation versus Regular Sublimation Printers
- List of Sublimation Printers
- Equipment and Supplies For Sublimation
- Recommended sublimation printers:
What is the best sublimation printer to buy?
The best sublimation printer is the one that meets all your criteria for what it can print, fits your budget, and how much technical support it comes with.
There’s a wide range of options to choose from and what’s right for one person may not be right for someone else. This comprehensive guide by SublimakersAcademy will help you decide which criteria is important when choosing a sublimation printer.
Can you use any printer for sublimation?
No, not all printers can be used for sublimation. It takes a specialty print head to use sublimation ink and not all printers are capable of that.
The print head’s main job is to deposit ink onto the paper. There are two primary types of inkjet print heads: thermal and piezo. The printers with the Piezo print heads will work for sublimation while the thermal ones won’t.
Thermal Print heads
Thermal print heads use heat to boil the ink and create an air bubble of ink vapor. This bubble is forced through the print head nozzle where it explodes and comes out of the chamber. It is quickly cooled at the end of the process as the ink gets deposited onto the paper. Thermal print heads use water-based inks to help with this heating process. Printers such as Canon and HP use this type of print head.
Piezo Print Heads
Piezo print heads have a thin film on its head that is exposed to an electric charge that causes it to vibrate. This vibration is a signal for the film to bend and flex, build up the pressure which forces the ink from the nozzle onto the paper.
The quick vibration and flexion of the film gives it a more precise control of how fast the ink gets pushed out. This type of print heads are compatible with water-based, oil-based, eco-solvent, solvent, and gel-based inks.
Printers such as Epson, Sawgrass, and Roland have this type of print head and can be used for sublimation. Just to note, there are other printer brands that have this Piezo Print Head but there are no sublimation inks for them.
How to narrow down what sublimation printer to buy.
Before making the final decision on which printer is the right one for you, decide if you want to buy one that is already made for sublimation or one that is a regular inkjet printer that you can convert to sublimation.
You should also consider the size of sublimation prints that you need, how much you want to spend, cost of sublimation ink refills or replacements, and how much technical support you want in case you have problems with it. The right printer for one person may be different from what is right for another so it is a good idea that you have a clear expectation of what you want out of sublimation.
Convert a printer for sublimation or not?
There are printers that are made for sublimation and there are regular inkjet printers that you would “convert”.
In the most recent years, with the Epson EcoTanks becoming available, converting one is as simple as adding the sublimation ink to it instead of the standard inkjet it came with. Let’s see the pros and cons of converting one or buying one that is specifically made for sublimation already.
Remember, the epson printers that you convert to sublimation does come with a warranty and tech support but once you add your own sublimation ink into them, rather their own proprietary inkjet printer ink, the warranty is voided and they do not provide tech support for those inks not made for the printer.
In this case, size matters. You have to decide what the largest print you will need so you can get a sublimation printer that is capable of that. There are printers that can only print up to an 8.5 x 14” paper so if your goal is to only sublimate mugs, keychains, ornaments or anything small, then this size is perfect for you.
But if your goal is to eventually sublimate garden flags, door mats, t shirts in the L or XL size, then you would want to buy a sublimation printer that can print larger than 8.5 x 14”. These printers are called the wide format printers. You can either convert a wide format Epson printer or purchase a Sawgrass SG1000 or Epson F570 Pro.
Sublimation Printers can be as affordable as $170 and can cost up to $90,000+. Those more expensive ones are for the larger industrial printer businesses and the lower cost ones are perfect for those just getting into the sublimation world.
The mid range prices run from $400 to $1500 and can be a great choice for the average sublimakers. When setting a budget for your printer, make sure you also consider how much it would cost you to replace the ink.
Cost of the sublimation ink should also be a factor in your decision on what sublimation printer to buy. Ink can be as affordable as $12 per color and cost up to $130+ for the non-industrial sized sublimation printers.
Some printers will require you to buy their branded ink when refilling the printer in order to not void the warranty. If you go with a “converted” printer, then the warranty will automatically be voided because those are not technically made for sublimation.
All new printers come with the manufacturer’s warranty. Most have one (1) and some have two (2) years with unlimited tech support. If you decide to convert a regular inkjet printer for sublimation, the warranty and tech support is automatically voided.
If or when you have a problem with the printer or have some technical issues, you would be left on your own to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. In today’s age, that is easy because there are a ton of forums with helpful sublimation that are willing to help and share their knowledge.
Most printer manufacturers offer technical support for their printers which come in handy.
There are also authorized vendors for Sawgrass Printers, such as Conde, that offer their own technical support on top of what the manufacturers provide and those are worth their weight in gold! They can usually be reached during the weekends and often respond faster than the manufacturers too.
If you decide to convert an inkjet printer for sublimation, there is no tech support for that and if/when you have a problem with it, you are left with trying to solve that problem yourself.
Which printers can be used for sublimation?
The Roland Sublimation Printers have a starting MSRP of $20,000 and they are for the large, commercial sublimation businesses. The average sublimaker will want to spend less than that. We will discuss Epson and Sawgrass here as those are more for the average sublimakers who are using this for a hobby or a small business. .
Ricoh used to be an option but in 2019, Sawgrass partnered with Ricoh to be their dye sublimation printer partner. The old Ricoh Aficio SG3110DN and SG7100DN became the Sawgrass SG400 and SG800. Those models have been upgraded and are now known as the Sawgrass SG500 and SG1000. Prices for those start at $550 and $1500 (prices can change without notice).
Epson has several inkjet printers that can be used for sublimation and need to be converted with just adding the sublimation ink in them instead of the regular ink they came with. We have compiled a Complete List of Epson Printers you can convert for sublimation and you can decide if converting one is a route you can take.
In 2020, the Epson SureColor F570 Pro became available and is the first Epson printer that is made specifically for sublimation. This is a great printer to those who are in a small business as it can handle more print jobs and is capable of printing 24″ wide.
In early 2021, its smaller brother, the Epson SureColor F170 became available as the first true sublimation printer in this lower price range. It’s super easy to set up too! Check out our Review of the Epson F170 Printer which includes pros, cons, test prints, and recommended settings.
Convert to Sublimation versus Regular Sublimation Printers
You have to decide if you are going to buy a printer that is already made for sublimation or a regular inkjet printer that you would have to convert to sublimation. Converting an inkjet printer has become so simple with the introduction of the newer Epson EcoTanks.
Those ecotank printers have refillable tanks so all you have to do is fill them with the sublimation ink of your choice. That’s all there is with converting. It’s easy!
Converting an EcoTank is the simplest at this time and the hard part is just deciding which sublimation ink to go with. There are many Epson Ecotanks for Sublimation that you can convert and they are also affordable…starting around $170 and up to $1000.
PROS OF CONVERTING AN ECOTANK:
- Easiest to convert
- Small format (8.5×14″ prints) are under $200 (example: Ecotank ET-2800, ET-2803 and the ET-2400)
- Wide format (13×19″ prints) are under $800 (example: ET-15000 and ET-8550)
- Can update your firmware without worrying about your ink not working anymore
- Sublimation Ink is around $15+ per color (prices can vary and change without notice)
Before deciding on which small format EcoTank to purchase and convert for sublimation, learn more about them in our detailed and comprehensive printer review.
Detailed review includes how easy it is to convert, set up process, recommended ink, print settings, and images of test pieces.
CONS OF CONVERTING AN ECOTANK:
- No warranty from Epson once you add your own sublimation ink
- No tech support when or if you have a problem with your sublimation prints
- Some wide format Ecotanks are hard to find and resellers are selling them for a much higher price than the MSRP.
Here’s a complete list of the Epson Ecotank printers that you can convert to sublimation. Find out what’s been discontinued and which models replaced them.
If you need a larger format Epson EcoTank to convert to sublimation, you have a few options. These printers allow you print up to 13 x 19″ sublimation transfers. This list will help you find what you can convert and how to find it.
The older style Epson WorkForce printers require an ink cartridge. They require more work to convert to sublimation because you have to also buy the correct cartridge for them, fill those with the sublimation ink with a syringe, then insert them into your printer.
PROS OF CONVERTING A WORKFORCE:
- Able to be converted using a third party refillable ink cartridges with chip.
- Wide format (13×19″ prints) are under $400 (example: WF-7310)
- Easier to find the wide format WorkForce printers
- Sublimation Ink around $10 per color
CONS OF CONVERTING A WORKFORCE:
- No warranty from Epson once you add your own sublimation ink
- No tech support when or if you have a problem with your sublimation prints
- Requires cartridges with chip — when you run out of ink, you will have to reset the chip or replace the chip.
- Cannot update the firmware as it will recognize the non-authorized third party ink cartridge installed.
- Required syringes and needles to fill the cartridges.
WorkForce printers also work well for sublimation BUT it requires more work when it comes to converting.
You need a cartridge with a chip, a syringe to refill the cartridge. And may need to reset or purchase a new chip when your ink runs low.
Sublimation Ready Printers
There are also sublimation printers that are specifically made for sublimation so there’s no need for them to be converted. These are called “TRUE” sublimation printers.
They are perfect for the beginners or those who prefer to have a warrant and tech support that come with their printers. The only way for the warranty to be voided is if you use another non-branded sublimation ink in them.
True Sublimation Printers:
For the advanced, industrial sublimation, Roland has the Texart sublimation printers that start at $20,000 and can print 64” wide.
If you are interested in getting into sublimation, read: Sublimation Printing: Your Guide to the Sublimation Process. It will teach you what sublimation is, how it works, what can be sublimated on, and what additional equipment you need to get started.
List of Sublimation Printers
Discontinued Sublimation Printers
Here are the discontinued printers that are used for sublimation. They are either converted or already made for sublimation. You may still find these as a refurbished printer direct from Epson or may even be in the used market place. One thing to be cautious when buying them second hand is to make sure their print heads are still functional. If the printer has been unused and unplugged for a while, chances are print heads are dried up. So, buyer beware.
- Epson Artisan 1430
- Epson WF-3620
- Epson WF-3640
- Epson WF-7110
- Epson WF-7710
- Epson WF-7720
- Epson WF-7610
- Epson ET-2700
- Epson ET-2750
- Epson ET-2720
- Epson ET-2760
- Epson ET-3760
- Epson ET-4760
- Sawgrass SG400
- Sawgrass SG800
Current Available Sublimation Printers List:
- Epson WorkForce 7310 (WF-7310)
- Epson WorkForce 7820 (WF-7820)
- Epson WorkForce 7840 (WF-7840)
- Epson EcoTank 2400 — Full Review of the Converted ET-2400 For Sublimation Printing is available.
- Epson EcoTank 2800/2803 (ET-2800, ET-2803) — Full Review of Converted ET-2800, ET-2803 Printer is available.
- Epson EcoTank 2840 (ET-2840)
- Epson EcoTank 2850 (ET-2850)
- Epson EcoTank 3800 Series (ET-3830, ET-3843, ET-3850)
- Epson EcoTank 4800 Series (ET-4800, ET-4810, ET-4850)
- Epson EcoTank 5150 Pro (ET-5150)
- Epson EcoTank 5170/5180 Pro (ET-5170, ET-5180)
- Epson Ecotank 5800 (ET-5800)
- Epson Ecotank 8500 / 8550 (ET-8500, ET-8550)
- Epson EcoTank 15000 (ET-15000)
- Epson EcoTank 16600 (ET-16600)
- Epson EcoTank 16650 (ET-16650)
- Sawgrass SG500
- Sawgrass SG1000
- Epson SC F170 — Detailed Review of the Epson Surecolor F170 Sublimation Printer is available.
- Epson SC 570 Pro
Equipment and Supplies For Sublimation
After choosing your printer, don’t forget that there are other equipment and supplies that you also need to get started on sublimation. Our List of the Basic Equipment You Need will help you with your shopping list of the other supplies you need to get started; including heat presses for shirts and other flat surfaced sublimation item and mug and tumbler presses.
And don’t forget that you will also need to get a design software in order to get your designs to your printer. Choose the Best Design Software For Sublimation using our comprehensive guide.
If you’ve decided on the Epson Ecotank printer to convert, check out this Complete List of Epson Ecotank Printers That Can Be Converted for Sublimation.
Recommended sublimation printers:
- Based on the above detailed comparison below, these are our recommended sublimation printers:
- Best for beginner sublimation, small format: Epson SureColor F170
- true sublimation printer that you do not have to convert so it includes tech support and warranty
- great entry level price
- low costs ink refills
- easy to set up
- Best for beginner sublimation, large format: Epson EcoTank 15000 (ET-15000)
- easy to convert to sublimation printer: just fill the tanks with the sublimation ink of your choice
- great price for a large format printer
- Best Epson printer to convert to sublimation: Epson Ecotank (choose your model)
- easy to convert to sublimation printer as compared to the WorkForce printers that need cartridges
- Best Epson printer for intermediate sublimation: Epson SureColor F570Pro
- great price
- prints 24″ wide that you can cut for the size you need.
As you can see, you have a lot of options of which sublimation printer to buy. Answering the most important question on what is the best sublimation printer is dependent on each person. Deciding on what you want to sublimate so you know what size printer you need, how much you want to spend so you can factor in cost of printer and ink refills, and what kind of tech support you need. Also make sure that you go to the manufacturer’s website and read the complete specs of each printer as those may change without notice.
Once you’ve picked out which printer to get, check out this Complete List of the Basic Equipment you need to get started on sublimation. We have a printable shopping list so you don’t forget anything.
And the second most important piece of equipment you need for sublimation is the heat press. This is another expensive equipment so choosing the right one is for your project is important. Find the right one for you using our Sublimation Heat Press Buyers Guide.