Which sublimation paper is best?
Sublimation printing is becoming ever-more popular, thanks to the variety of products you can create and the longevity and quality of the print. To have a quality sublimation print, you need quality sublimation paper. It’s the foundation for a clean, crisp, successful transfer.
A favorite sublimation paper among enthusiasts and professionals alike is the A-Sub Sublimation Paper. Averaging a transfer rate of at least 98%, it’s designed to work with all inkjet printers and to be used on a variety of items and materials.
What to know before you buy sublimation paper
Sublimation printing is a printing process that relies on heat to fuse the ink and the surface material together. When heat is applied, the ink, which is held in the sublimation paper, transforms into a gas, then fuses with the material. This creates a permanent print, because the two materials have essentially become one.
There are a few reasons sublimation printing has exploded in popularity. First, it allows you to print onto hard surfaces, like mugs and plates. This opened up the market on personalized items to include a greater variety. Sublimation printing also doesn’t require a lengthy education process. It’s a fairly short journey to be adept at it, making it an accessible hobby or business for just about anyone.
The unlimited range of colors and designs has also been praised by the community. There are no added costs to use certain colors because sublimation printers use CMYK — or cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) — ink. With these four colors, you can recreate absolutely any color imaginable.
A benefit to business owners is the option to print limited runs on printed items. Rather than having to order 1,000 pieces at a time in the hopes they sell, you can print as needed, saving you money and storage space. This makes same-day orders possible, because you don’t have to wait for a distributor.
Above all, sublimation printing is far less likely to fade because of the printing process. Fusing the ink in the design with the surface material essentially creates a new material that’s a combination of the two. And with the right sublimation paper, you can ensure the transfer is done in a way that preserves the design and ensures the transfer of the ink.
Sublimation paper is what quality sublimation printing is built on. It’s paper specifically designed for the sublimation process from start to finish, from printing the design on the paper to the application of heat for the transfer.
Made of paper substrate based on normal paper, sublimation paper stands out in part due to the specialized coating it has. Most sublimation paper has a coating that includes about 35% silica and 5% binding agent. The ratio is dependent on the weight of the paper when it’s dry.
When you select a sublimation paper, there are a couple of things to take into consideration, all of which can impact the quality of your sublimation print.
Quality of transfer
Most quality sublimation papers will include a percentage indicating the transfer rate. This is an indication of a better-made substrate for the paper and it also tells you it will require less ink for the transfer, saving you money. For a successful sublimation print, you need a sublimation paper with a transfer rate of at least 95%, but higher is always better.
Sublimation paper comes in an array of sizes. There are two measurements you need to pay attention to: the size of your printer and the size of your project. If it’s too small, you’ll end up having to reprint it on a larger sheet of sublimation paper or settle for a subpar transfer as you try and match up two sides of the design. If it doesn’t fit in your printer, then you risk crumpling your project and with each crease, your transfer will suffer.
Just as paper weight makes a difference with copy paper, it will make a difference with your sublimation paper. When you see a paper weight marked, it usually refers to the weight of a ream. For example a ream of standard printer paper, or 500 sheets, is about 20 pounds.
Because there are so many factors influencing the standard weight measurement of a ream of paper, you may want to go by the more accurate alternative: the grams per square meter, or GSM. This tells you the measurement of density of the paper rather than the weight of the ream, which can be much less accurate.
Some general rules of thumb: A thicker, higher density is going to result in better transfers. For one, the paper will be less likely to crease, avoiding lines in your design. A higher-density paper can also go through more stress, like the high heat used in the sublimation process. Additionally, higher-density paper will hold the ink better, leading to crisper lines and design on your transfer.
What to look for in a quality sublimation paper
Range of sizes
Before you go shopping for sublimation paper, always know the numbers: the size of your print and the size of your design. This will allow you to make the best purchase based on the project you’re working on. Quality sublimation paper should come in a variety of sizes so you can find exactly what works for you.
Anytime you’re considering a brand of sublimation paper, check the GSM. Quality sublimation paper will have a GSM of at least 120. This is a good standard thickness that will lead to consistently well-transferred designs. It’s also a mark of higher-quality paper.
During the sublimation process, the paper will be exposed to temperatures as high as 400 degrees. This high level of heat is the reason sublimation works. It’s a catalyst for the ink fusing to the surface material. Always make sure you choose a sublimation paper that can withstand those heat levels.
Many brands of sublimation paper are designed to work with specific printers. Ideally, you would pick a sublimation paper specifically created to work with your brand of printer. There are some that are meant to be universal matches, as well. Always check the compatibility before buying.
Variety of applications
Another feature to look for in your sublimation paper is its versatility. You should purchase a ream that can definitely work on multiple materials and for a variety of projects. Rather than buying a new ream for each project, your goal should be to buy one that will work for multiple projects.
Double-check that the sublimation paper you’re interested in is smudge-free. It’s a small distinction, but one that will make a huge difference in the quality of your transfers. You’ll see fewer mistakes and that leads to fewer reprints. In general, smudge-free paper means better results.
How much you can expect to spend on sublimation paper
For a ream of sublimation paper, you will likely spend between $15-$50. The price will depend on both the quality of the paper and number of sheets in a ream, so you should factor that in. You might spend $15 on one ream, but if it has half the number of sheets as a competing ream, you could be spending more per page. The average cost per sheet in a ream is somewhere between $0.16-$0.40.
Sublimation paper FAQ
Is there a difference between sublimation paper vs. copy paper?
A. There is definitely a difference and you should never attempt sublimation printing on copy paper. Sublimation paper is designed to accept the ink differently, carrying it better and transferring it easily. Sublimation paper can also withstand the high heat required for proper sublimation printing. Additionally, sublimation paper has a coating that includes silica and a bonding agent to facilitate the transfer.
In contrast, copy paper is made of paper substrate, but not coated. It’s usually thinner. It’s designed to hold onto ink and not let go, which is why important documents can be printed on it. Because it’s not made to transfer the ink, the sublimation process will fail.
What weight paper is best for sublimation?
A. You should aim for a sublimation paper weighted between 90 to 120 GSM. A lower weight will present issues. It will be difficult to print smoothly. One reason for this is lower-weighted paper will be more affected by humidity.
What are the best sublimation papers to buy?
Top sublimation paper
What you need to know: Fast-drying with a transfer rate of 98% or higher, this is a great all-purpose sublimation paper for any printer.
What you’ll love: One of the best features of this sublimation paper is it is designed to be used with any inkjet printer. That universality opens up the applications with this sublimation paper. It’s also available in a variety of sizes and weights.
What you should consider: For clothing, it’s made to be used on white material only.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top sublimation paper for the money
What you need to know: As a budget option, this sublimation paper will still usually lead to a quality transfer.
What you’ll love: At 123 grams, this paper is a good thickness to ensure a quality transfer, regardless of the source material. It’s compatible with an inkjet printer when combined with sublimation ink.
What you should consider: Unfortunately this paper does not work with laser printers.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: Another popular sublimation paper option, this is a quality sublimation paper with a 98% transfer rate.
What you’ll love: Many buyers love the variety of items you can print with this paper. Whether it’s custom mugs for your podcast or T-shirts for the next family reunion, this sublimation paper will make clean work of it.
What you should consider: This paper is only compatible with Epson, Ricoh and Sawgrass printers.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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