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Silhouette Studio and Sublimation Printing: A Beginner Tutorial

I'm not afraid to say that I have yet to come across a printable vinyl that I can say I really love...and that's why I am so thrilled that I have finally been able to combine the powers of Silhouette with sublimation printing.

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Sometimes there are those multi-color designs that honestly are just too detailed for cutting and layering on vinyl. That's where sublimation comes in.  When combined with Silhouette, sublimation basically allows you to design in Silhouette Studio and then print (sans cut) on sublimation printer paper and apply with heat to certain surfaces such as coasters, mugs, and phone cases.  It's easy, fast and results in a really professional-looking product.  But...I would definitely consider a sublimation printer an investment.
I'm new to sublimation printing too so I thought we'd walk through this Silhouette and Sublimation printing tutorial together as beginners!

I'm using the Sawgrass Virtuoso SG 400 from Pro World which they so kindly sent my way to test out. In addition they provided blank mugs, coasters, keychains, and iphone cases.  The most straight forward items to sublimate on with a heat press are flat surfaces, so I decided to start with the coasters.

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I should also point out, you will need a heat press, but Pro World is running a special Sublimation Starter Bundle right now that includes the printer, ink, sublimation paper and heat press.

Sublimation Printer Setup 

If this is your first time, you can follow along to learn how to set up your sublimation printer too. This was honestly the most time consuming part.  First you want to install all of the ink cartridges into the printer.

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You'll then want to adjust the tray so the sublimation paper can be loaded. When you load the paper, put the backing side up so it prints on the correct side (ask me how I know). 

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Then plug in the power cord to the printer and into a power outlet.  Power the printer on and back.away.from.the.printer.  It will take up to 10 minutes for the sublimation inks to be prepared before your first print.

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Once the LCD screen says 'ready' you can move on to the next step of installing the printer software onto your computer. You will do this by first turning off the power to the printer. Then plug in the USB cable between the printer and your computer.

For this specific Sawgrass printer you'll need to go to the Sawgrass Support website to install the printer drivers and software by picking the type of computer you have and the operating system. About 15 minutes into this process I became confident it was much like applying for college...register this, get a registration number for that, enter your address, enter it again, download this, now download that, not download this again, spin around three times and bang your head against the wall.  Okay so maybe I'm slightly exaggerating, but wowzers...let's just say I'm glad that was a one time process.

Once that process is finished pat yourself on the back while you open up Silhouette Studio. Turn the power back on to the sublimation printer and now when you go to print with the USB connected the Sawgrass printer will be listed as one of your Silhouette Studio printers.

Designing for Sublimation Printing in Silhouette Studio

As I mentioned I did my first sublimation printing on coasters...because they are easy and if there's one thing I know about beginners you need to pick the easy project so you don't get frustrated right off the bat.

So...the first thing I did was measure the size of the coaster which was 3.75" x 3.75".

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In Silhouette Studio I used the Draw a Rounded Rectangle tool to draw out a square.  With the square selected click the Scale tool and enter the dimensions of the surface plus about 0.05-.10" so you have a little bleed over the edge of the coaster. This will prevent you from having a white edge.

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Once you have the basic shape of the coaster you can fill it with whatever you want...if you have photos in your My Patterns library you can easily create photo coasters (which is what I did).  On the other design I added a pattern and then drew a few basic shapes over it to create the monogram circle frame.
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Once you're finished designing, mirror your designs by going to the Replicate tool > Mirror right or right click > flip horizontal.  The idea is the same as HTV where you'll flip your design onto the surface so it needs to be mirrored when it prints to be correctly oriented when it's applied.

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From the Design Page Settings window make sure you have your page size set to current printer. Check the box for Show Print Border.  Make sure all of your designs are inside that area before you print.

Printing from Silhouette Studio to Sublimation Printer

At this point you'd normally either cut or print and cut with your Silhouette...but instead you are going to print directly from Silhouette Studio to your sublimation printer.

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Don't worry if when printed the colors seem muted on the sublimation printer...once heated and applied to the surface they will become vibrant!

Heat up your heat press to at 400 degrees.

Sublimating with a Heat Press

While you're waiting, you can prepare your coasters.  Make sure you peel off the protective file first.  Keep in mind these are coasters for sublimation specifically.

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If you have more than one design on a sheet of sublimation printer you can cut them apart. Lay the printed sheet down and place the coaster on top with the cork side up.

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Use the heat safe tape to secure the printer to the paper while press it.

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Once your heat press is warmed up, place the coaster onto the heat press with the cork side down and the paper side up.

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Cover with a teflon sheet and close the heat press locking it into place for one minute.

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Once the time is up, carefully remove the coaster from the press. Remove the tape and pull up the paper...

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You'll be left with some stunning results!

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I wish you could see just how smoothy and shiny these are...can you see the glare coming on this one?!

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31 comments

  1. So glad you have joined the word of Sub! Ive been using my Silhouette and SG400 for well over a year now and I absolutely love the results....I wouldn't be without it. Do you want to know a secret (if you don't know already that is!!)??? ;-)

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I'm very interested in getting into sublimation printing. I just started to research the costs associated with it. I noticed that the ink cartridges are a bit expensive. Do you have any idea how many prints you can get out of them? Do you have any advice for getting started? Thank you

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    3. I want to know the secret!!!

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  2. I use a sublimation printer most of the time for my mugs and t-shirt business, with the Silhouette handling complex cut outs on subliflock paper (as well as cutting vinyl for shirts).
    One thing that might interest your readers is when you come to print on the hardboard-type coasters, first of all press them face down on a sheet of blank paper for about 25 seconds to get rid of any moisture.
    Let them cool before applying the sublimation print or you might get a bit of an unintentional shadow effect. If they are even slightly damp you'll get a mottled effect when you print on the shiny surface.
    As an alternative to heat tape, which can be fiddly especially when you're printing several on one sheet, I lightly spray the printed sheet with textile adhesive (sometimes known as Scotch 75) and press each coaster into place.
    Finally, as I learned to my cost, you need to place scrap paper underneath the coasters on the platen, to absorb the bleed. The first time I created coasters I ended up with ink on the teflon sheet which then accidentally got smeared on to the t-shirt which followed!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for that info. It is very helpful and will save me a lot of time, energy and money.
      Ann

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  3. Wow, I wish it wasn't as expensive as it is to start up. The results look amazing.

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  4. Does dye sublimation only work on specific types of t-shirt fabrics, or can you use any type of shirt, i.e. cotton, polyester, etc.?

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    Replies
    1. Works best on 100% polyester. Can't print on dark colours (that's why I use a Silhouette to cut vinyl). Will definitely NOT work on 100% cotton (unless you use a spray coating which isn't durable)

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    2. The ink cartridges are expensive but they do last quite a long time - depending on what you're printing out, of course. A few bits of lettering obviously use less ink than 50 A4 full colour photos!
      Sublimation garments are more expensive to buy wholesale but the process is a lot quicker (no weeding!).

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  5. Thanks...that's a BIG help!

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  6. For anyone interested in trying more affordable in Sublimation, you can purchase Epson Stylus C+88 and order sublimation inks online. I purchased printer from Amazon for less than $140 and sublimation ink which I use with CISS ink system. Using my SSBE software, epson printer, inexpensive ink, and $40 convection/toaster oven, the mugs I made turned out beautifully! If mugs are your thing and using convection oven to sublimate, then you have to use either a mug press or silicone mug wraps. I purchased mugs and wraps from ProWorld.

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    Replies
    1. Tina, I purchased a Epson WF 7110 to print sublimation. I have it all set up but the colors don't seem bright after I have printed on sublimation paper. I haven't heat pressed it yet but wanted to get advice from you on something I should do to get brighter colors. I am printing from my Silhouette. Thanks for you help!

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  7. I haven't tested any other inks but please be aware that some brands don't stand up well to dishwashers and may fade quickly. I use a top quality brand of inks and a supplier of blank mugs which has a coating which has been tested 2000 times. If in doubt, only hand wash your items!

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    Replies
    1. Its generally the coating on the product rather than tbe ink that causes this. Any ink on a poor coated product will fade

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  8. Help! The coupon code for ProWorldinc.com is not working for me. :(

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  9. The color of the printed image do not match when I print from Silhouette. I've spent a couple hours looking and researching and installing drivers and still no luck. Any suggestions?

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    Replies
    1. when you are selecting the printer, you need to print from the Powerdriver, not the sg400 printer to get the correct colors. This is downloaded from the sawgrass site. All sublimation printers require a color profile to get the colors correct.

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    2. Hi Cara - was it that they didn't mat when printed, or even after pressing the colors were off? I know that when I use my Epson C+88 with sub ink purchased on Amazon and sub paper from Coastal Business, the colors are matte/dull, but like Melissa pointed out, when pressed on your substrate they come out vibrant and I'm not using any kind of ICC profile or RIP software.

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  10. Has anyone ever used a printer with Pigment Ink for making shirts? I saw that it was suggested on another forum and it is a little cheaper than the sublimation ink and printers.

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    Replies
    1. You need special paper and although inks are cheaper the paper is way more expensive

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  11. I've been researching the sawgrass sg400. So, do I not necessarily need the "creative studio" that is used with the sawgrass? I can just use silhouette studio (which I'm completely comfortable with)? Thanks for the tutorial!!

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  12. Can you use this technique on metal? We are looking at different options for my husband's side business. He make guitar effect pedals and we want to decorate them.

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  13. Is it true that you will have issues with the inks (drying up or clogging) in sublimation printers if you do not run it everyday?

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    1. Hi yes - you should keep it plugged in and powered on (it will go into sleep mode) so it can run routine maintenance.

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  14. You can also find individuals on ETSY who can print a sublimation transfer for you. This saves you the cost of setting up a printer and purchasing ink. This can be an expensive and frustrating set up if you do not use it regularly. If inkjet nozzles/print heads can get plugged if not used regularly unless your printer automatically and routinely keeps them open by flushing small amounts of ink through them into a collection unit where this “waste” ink is collected. If you will only very occasionally use sublimation it may be more cost effective to purchase custom sublimation files. Send them your file, they print it and mail a sublimation transfer back to you and you press it. I’ve seen prices range from $0.50-$1.50 per transfer. For some this may be a better option.

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  15. How feasible is it to apply a sublimation image to wood?

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    1. press a laminate sheet onto the wood product then sublimate onto the wood product onto the laminate side 185c for 60 seconds ive had some good results.probable because ive been sublimating for about 5 years

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