Choosing The Right Sublimation Printer

Much like everything else, printers are not all created equally, thus you should do some research using a scientific approach rather than just pouncing on the cheapest unit you can find.  Your first step is to identify which printers are capable of processing sublimation dye, so that you aren’t considering any non-supported printers.  Sawgrass produces three sublimation solutions and lists the supported printers for each one online: SubliJet IQ, SubliJet-R and ArTainium.

To simplify things, its best to make a list of basic functions that you want to compare as follows: 

  • Size Of Printing Field.
  • Number Of Ink Colors
  • Maintenance
  • Speed
  • Price

Size does matter and the cost increases as the print field gets larger.  The key here is to identify the largest jobs you anticipate doing on a routine basis.  For example, if t-shirt sublimation will play a big part, then a printer with a maximum paper size of 8.5” x 14” probably isn’t the best choice. (Keep in mind that most printers won’t print to the edges of the paper, so the maximum image size is usually smaller than the maximum paper size.)It should also be noted that there are some printers that offer roll feed options, so you can print onto continuous rolls of transfer media rather than just pre-cut sheets.

For most applications, a four color printer will do just fine.  However, if you are doing fine art and/or photographic work where subtle shades of color make a big difference, then you may want to consider a six or eight color printer.  If this is an important consideration for you, work with an equipment dealer to reproduce an image on different printers so you can compare the results.

In addition to the number of colors, look at the capacity of the ink cartridges.  A printer with very small ink cartridges is going to run out of ink frequently, which means a stop in the production process.  For sure you will want to always keep at least one set of spare ink cartridges in stock at all times so that you don’t lose valuable time waiting for new ones to ship in.

No matter how well-built the printer is, if it goes unused for an extended period of time, the inks may start to dry out resulting in clogged print heads.  This is a reality of chemistry, not a defect in the ink or the printer.  Thus, it’s critical that you follow the instructions of the ink and printer manufacturers in regards to printer maintenance, which may involve flushing out the ink if the printer will be unused for an extended period of time.

Some printers such as the Ricoh have automatic cleaning functions, so all you really need to do is leave them powered up and in theory they will take care of themselves.  For printers without automatic cleaning functions, you can simply hit the head cleaning button a couple of times per week whether you are using the printer or not.

Of course everyone wants the fastest printer they can get, the concept being more pieces per hour equals more profits.  Unfortunately you usually sacrifice quality for speed, so there may be some trade-offs if high speed is your primary concern.  But on a positive note, printers keep getting faster as technology evolves.  Even the slowest printers of today tend to be on par with the fastest printers of just a few years ago.

When reviewing printing speeds, be sure to pay attention to the details.  First of all focus on color printing, not black printing.  Second look closely at the image size used for the speed specs.  Obviously larger images take longer than smaller ones, so be sure to quantify all of the data in regards to the print speed specification.

Certainly price is always a factor, but as stated earlier, it should not get in the way of buying the best printer for your needs.  Price is a short term consideration; performance is the long term consideration, and short term thinking is usually a roadblock for positive business growth.  The good news here is that even a top quality desktop printer, suitable for sublimation printing is reasonable in price, especially when compared to embroidery, screen-print and direct-to-garment equipment.  For example, the four color Ricoh GXe3300 setup with sublimation inks can be purchased for under $500.00

Take the time to find the right printer for your needs, then take the plunge and start generating more dollars for your business.

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