Making sublimated projects is fun and easy but when you run into these common sublimation problems, it can be stressful. These are the most common sublimation problems that almost everyone has experienced. We will discuss how to avoid these common sublimation mistakes, what causes them, and how to fix these so you can get back to creating your own mugs, tumblers, garden flags and other sublimation products.
- Pinwheels on Printed Sublimation Transfers
- Printed transfers are not vibrant
- Pressed sublimation image is different color than the design on the computer
- Design did not transfer to the sublimation blank
- Ghosting and Bleeding
- Blank or Light Areas In The Pressed Sublimation Blank
- Lines Around the Design On Your Sublimated Shirt or Towels
- Sublimation Design is faded on the sublimation shirt
- Blue specks on fabric after sublimating the design
When you print your sublimation transfer and you notice a visible line or area that is blank and missing the print, this is called banding. It is caused by a clogged print nozzle so when you print, it doesn’t spit out the ink and causes that band of blank output.
Causes of banding include dried ink in the print head, a clog in the line so the ink does not get to the print head, or a ruined print head. It’s a good idea to use your printer often so the ink does not dry up on the print head or not completely run out of ink. If you have a Sawgrass Sublimation Printer, it is capable of self-maintenance so they recommend that you leave this printer on at all times.
If you have a printer that is not capable of those self-maintenance cycles, just print a sublimation transfer once in a while. Some people recommend a few times a week which is sufficient to make sure you don’t dry up your ink on the printhead. With our converted Epson printers that, we make sure we print at least one page per week or run a nozzle check once a week.
So how do you know that the banding is caused by a print head problem? You simply print a nozzle check and see if the printed pattern is missing any lines. Go to the control panel of your printer and look for the option of printing a nozzle check.
If your nozzle check print is missing any lines, you may have to clean your printhead by printing a full page bleed to unclog the line. Run another nozzle check print again after the full bleed printing to see if that solved the problem. If it is still missing lines, you may have to clean the print head with denatured alcohol. Check this video for a tutorial on how to do that.
If the problem persists, try these steps from Sawgrass (resolve missing lines) or contact Sawgrass Tech Support for assistance. They will give you a step-by-step fix and if they cannot solve your problem, they may replace your printer if it’s still under warranty. My older SG400 had to be replaced due to this very same problem.
Pinwheels on Printed Sublimation Transfers
Pinwheels are also called roller marks and pizza wheel marks. These are the dotted lines that are printed on your sublimation transfers and will also transfer to your sublimation blank if you press it. This is caused by the ink on your paper not drying fast enough so the wet ink is picked up by the roller and prints onto the rest of the paper.
Make sure that you are using the right paper that is recommended by your printer manufacturer as they have been tested to work with them. If you have a converted Epson printer, try a different weight and see if it works better for you. Turning off the high speed print will also slow down your printer to give your ink some time to dry so it doesn’t get on the roller.
Printed transfers are not vibrant
If your printed sublimation transfers are dull, this can either be normal or a problem. Typically, printed transfers are dull but once you correctly press it onto your sublimation blank, the colors should be vibrant.
But if your pressed sublimation blank still has a dull image, then the cause can be one of these several things:
- You printed on the wrong side of the paper — most sublimation papers have a watermark on the back side so make sure you’re printing on the non-watermarked side. If you are using paper that does not have a watermark, then look for the side that has the whitest/brightest side; which is normally the side that you want to print on.
- You are not using a sublimation ink — double check that you actually got ink that is made for sublimation.
- Missing ICM profile — Some sublimation ink manufacturers provide an ICM profile so check and make sure you have it downloaded or that you are using the most current version.
- Your image is not high quality — check your artwork and see if it’s clear and vibrant to begin with. Images that are small or low quality will result in a low quality print.
Pressed sublimation image is different color than the design on the computer
When your computer monitor is showing a different-colored design than what you press onto your sublimation blank, this may be due to a missing ICM profile. Contact your ink manufacturer for an updated ICM profile and download it to your computer.
But not all sublimation ink requires an ICM color profile. The Cyclone Ink we used for our Converted Ecotank ET-2803 Printer and the Printers Jack Ink we used for our Converted ET-2400 Printer do not need them as you can see in the printed samples.
Oftentimes, what you see on your computer screen is not what you’ll see on your pressed sublimation blank. Computer screens process and show colors differently than what our eyes see on actual physical products. Calibrating your screen is possible and requires professional editing software to do it properly.
Other potential causes can be from your heat press not having the right or high enough temperature or not using a blank that can be sublimated. As discussed in our post: “What is Sublimation Printing“, the heat press has to reach the proper temperature for the ink to turn to gas to adhere to your sublimation blank. Read more about the necessary heat press temperatures here.
Design did not transfer to the sublimation blank
The most exciting moment is when you finally pull off that sublimation transfer to see the image on your sublimation blank. Then when you see just a hint of a yellow residue instead of the design on your blank, it’s such a let down. If you see this happen, it could be due to:
- The ink you used is not made for sublimation — double check your ink to make sure it is for sublimation and not just a regular inkjet.
- The blank you pressed the design on does not have enough polyester material or coating to accept the sublimation ink — make sure your sublimation blanks are actually made for sublimation.
- The heat wasn’t high enough for the ink from the sublimation transfer to turn to gas — check the temperature of your heat press using an infrared thermometer and make sure it’s high enough for the sublimation process. You need to be closer to 380 degrees and up for the sublimation ink to turn to gas.
- Not enough time was used for the sublimation process to occur — most sublimation blanks call for around 1 minute and up of heat. This time depends on what you’re pressing too so check with your sublimation blank supplier for guidance.
Ghosting and Bleeding
Ghosting and Bleeding is a common sublimation mistake and happens a lot to beginners and advanced sublimators alike. This is when your pressed sublimation blank’s design has some shadowing or blurring at its edges instead of being clear. A few causes of these sublimation ghosting and bleeding are:
- There could be some moisture on the sublimation blank so when you pressed it, the moisture prevented the complete transfer of the ink. A simple fix for this is pre-pressing your blank for about 10 seconds to dry up the moisture.
- Your sublimation transfer shifting when you lift open the press can also cause ghosting. This is because your sublimation blank is still hot enough to accept that sublimation ink from your transfer that just moved or shifted. So to avoid this, make sure your transfer is adhered well to your blank so it does not shift when opening your heat press. Slowly opening your press will decrease the chance of the transfer shifting as well.
- If you don’t use a blow out sheet to cover your sublimation transfer, your design can actually transfer to the heat plate which will then be transferred again to your next sublimation blank. So make sure you use a new and clean blow out sheet every time you use your heat press.
Blank or Light Areas In The Pressed Sublimation Blank
When you see a blank or lighter area in your pressed sublimation, this can be due to an uneven heat from your heat press or moisture on your sublimation blank. Sublimation requires a fairly even, high heat in order for it to come out correctly. Moisture prevents this even heat so your design isn’t completely transferred onto your blank. Here are some ways to prevent these blank areas on your pressed sublimation blank:
- Use an infrared thermometer to check multiple areas of your heat press to see if there is a cold spot.
- Eliminate moisture on your sublimation blank by pre-pressing it for about 10 seconds.
- Avoid using teflon as a blow out sheet because it can trap moisture. It works well for vinyl but not sublimation. Use a plain white blow out paper.
- Uneven pressure from your press can also be a cause. If you are using a clamshell heat press to sublimate something thick like cutting boards or slates, the area towards the back of the heat press can have more pressure than the front of the press.
Lines Around the Design On Your Sublimated Shirt or Towels
Sublimation blanks that are soft like shirts, towels, linen, and neoprene do not need a heavy pressure in the heat press. The edges of the sublimation transfer paper can leave a line on your soft blanks from being pressed too heavily.
You can prevent this line by using less pressure on your heat press, tear the edges of the paper so it’s not a hard solid edge, and use a lint roller after pressing to fluff up the flattened fibers of your blank.
In this video tutorial on How to Sublimate Kitchen Towels, you can see how we tore the edges of the printed sublimation transfer to prevent the press lines from the paper.
Sublimation Design is faded on the sublimation shirt
As discussed in our What Is Sublimation Printing? Your Guide To The Dye Sublimation Process, your sublimation blanks need to be polyester or have a polymer coating in order for the sublimation ink to transfer and adhere to your blank. Sublimation works best for 100% polyester shirts or fabrics as it gives the most vibrant color. The less polyester is in the fabric, the lighter your design will be on it. But this lighter/faded sublimated image can work if you are going for a vintage look!
Check out the difference on the color of these sublimated designs on shirts with different polyester contents:
If you sublimated a cotton shirt and it looks good right after, just remember that the design will eventually wash off after a few washes. That’s because the sublimation ink only permanently transfers to the polyester part of the fabric.
Blue specks on fabric after sublimating the design
If you ever see those small blue specks on your shirt or any other soft sublimation blanks like towels and linen bags, they are lint that have been heat pressed. The bad news is that these blue specks are permanently dyed onto your sublimation blank and cannot be removed with washing.
To prevent this, lint roll over your blank before pre-pressing it, then lint roll it two more times! It’s important to do this more than once because lint is everywhere.