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What is sublimation?

Sublimation is a digital print technology that allows the reproduction of full color images on a variety of surfaces. Instead of printing images directly on a surface, which may scratch easily, the image is infused into a special coating that protects and preserves images for generations.

What do I need to begin sublimation?
  • Special Sublimation Printer
  • RIP Printing Software
  • Heat Press
  • Poly Fabric (to help wick away moisture)
  • Blowout Paper
  • Heat Gloves
  • Heat Tape & Tape Dispenser
  • Unisub and/or Chromaluxe Bare Products
Why does my print look wavy?

Usually, trapped moisture causes wavy prints.  Any moisture held inside the product during the heat press process becomes steam that tries to escape and leaves the final print with a “wavy” appearance.

Avoid wavy prints by using Poly Fabric to prevent moisture. Start by using a Nomex pad, blowout paper, blank product (face up), printed transfer (face down and taped to product), blowout paper and Poly Fabric to top it off.

On some occasions, you may need to preheat the panel to get rid of extra moisture. Try it two ways:

  1. Leave the heat press open, and place your panel in the heat press with a clean sheet of blowout paper and no transfer for one to two minutes.   We recommend only preheating MDF and hardboard, because they hold more moisture than other substrates.
  2. You may need to preheat the transfer paper. Leave the heat press open and place the unsublimated transfer paper under the heat platen for one to two minutes.  Make sure that the hot plate doesn’t come into direct contact with your transfer.
Why do I have duplicate images or text?

We call this problem “ghosting.”  When a shift in the transfer paper takes place while the panel is still very hot from the heat press it results in a duplicate or “ghost” image behind the original image. Here are the easiest ways to prevent duplicate images or text.

  • Make sure the transfer paper remains stationary when taping your panel to the transfer paper. Let the panel cool before removing the transfer paper once removed from the heat press so there is no risk of ghosting.
  • If you prefer to separate the transfer paper from the panel as soon it is removed from the heat press.  Detach your transfer paper vertically from the panel.  You should pull the transfer off in one quick, fluid motion to keep the panel “ghost” free.
Why do I have colored dots on my print?

Often colored dots come from small strands of cloth or fabric from clothes or microfiber cleaning cloths that fall in between the surface and the transfer paper before pressing.

Take extra care to wipe down and inspect your panel immediately before pressing it to prevent colored dots.

Why do I see white dots on my print?

You’ll find white dots when something blocks dyes from transferring to the surface. Usually, dust is the culprit. To prevent white dots, take these precautions:

  1. Always keep a clean, dust-free workspace.
  2. Don’t peel the protective film on the panel until you are ready to sublimate.
  3. Wipe down your panel and transfer paper with a soft, clean cloth right before sublimation.
  4. Use compressed or canned air to blow any excess dust from the panel and transfer paper.
  5. After you have pressed your image into the panel, look at the used transfer paper to easily identify and troubleshoot errors in sublimation. Any white dots or unsublimated dyes left on the panel will be visible on the transfer paper.
How do I make sure my print covers the entire surface of the product?

Make sure to add a bleed to your printed image. (Adding a bleed ensures that the printed transfer is larger than the panel so the image completely covers the panel). A bleed will leave about a .25 inch space around the panel on smaller products.

For example, if you’re sublimating an 8”x10” ChromaLuxe panel, you should print your image at a size of 8.25”x10.25”.  Most products will have an online downloadable template that will already include the appropriate amount of bleed.  (You can download templates at Unisub.com, by searching for the product number or name.) If you choose to use a template, make sure that text and all other important aspects of your image stay within your “live” area and do not extend into the bleed.)

If you are pressing large ChromaLuxe panels (larger than a 16”x20”) you will need to extend the bleed to compensate for the panel’s expansion in the heat press. For larger metal prints, MDF photo panels or plaques, we generally add up to a .5 inch bleed to the original size of the transfer image.

For Natural Wood Prints or Natural Wood Picture Frames, the bleed will need to be much smaller to keep the dyes from appearing on the sides of the product. For these items, add only a .1″ bleed around all sides, and use a neutral wood color around the outline of the image. Wrap and tape the transfer paper around the edges when pressing.

What can I do to prevent chipping on the edges?

When removing the protective film from your panels, make sure you’re not using any hard or sharp tools that could possibly damage the surface or edges and that you’re actually removing the film without digging into the sublimatable surface.

You may be able to save an aluminum panel with a chipped edge by sanding the edge until it becomes smooth, which also prevents future chipping. We recommend using 220 grit sandpaper and a sanding block (available at any general hardware store). Sand in one consistent direction along the edge, holding your sanding block at a 45° angle to the face of the aluminum in order to bevel the edge at a 45° angle.

If you experience chipping on small aluminum shapes (some keychains, keepsakes etc.), you can lightly sand the edge before sublimating to prevent chipping. We suggest sanding in a different location than where your heat press is located to prevent dust that may cause other sublimation issues.

Allow your panel to completely cool off before removing the transfer paper.

Handle hot aluminum panels with extra care, especially around the edges.

Never lean panels against the wall. When leaning against a wall, panels can develop a slight bow that will cause them to bow when they are displayed. We recommend storing larger panels on a flat surface before displaying them.

How would you suggest inspecting my product?

Look at the used transfer paper to identify any issues, instead of just looking at the sublimated surface. Here are some things transfer paper can reveal:

  1. Look for blotches of ink on the transfer paper. The ink should be evenly released from the used transfer paper. Typically you can find the issue quickly by comparing the transfer paper to the finished panel.
  2. Look for white dots or dust spots. If any spot on the transfer paper didn’t sublimate completely, you will be able to see that spot on the transfer paper in the same location.
  3. Look at the used transfer paper to determine the heat distribution from your press.  If you notice that some parts of your paper look burnt, but others aren’t yellowed at all, you may have uneven heat in your press that can cause sublimation errors.