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Which Printer Should I Get Next? Sublimation vs DTG vs DTF vs White Toner Printer vs Roland BN-20A

One of the best things about Silhouette Studio is not only how powerful a program it is, but the fact you can export from it in various file types allowing for printing on a wide range of printers. 

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When it comes to pairing a printer with Silhouette Studio or Silhouette CAMEO, print and cut is usually the first thing to come to mind. But it's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to printing and Silhouette! 

What typically happens with Silhouette crafters is they come across a design with multiple colors or shading and they realize the amount of time and materials it will take to cut it on vinyl or HTV. That's where inkjet printable HTV comes in.  A piece of inkjet printable heat transfer or Oracal printable vinyl is placed directly into the inkjet printer and printed directly from Silhouette creating a transfer or full color decal. 

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Soon though crafters start to realize they are limited in one way or another with printable vinyl and HTV and they are looking for a way to create a permanent, vibrant no hand transfer on hard or soft goods using a compact at-home printer. 

Because of the familiarity with it, most crafters think the next natural step is a sublimation printer.  It's a good choice - but it's not the ONLY choice. 

Personally, I think this video should be required watching before purchasing a sublimation printer...

Before you decide on if a sublimation printer (or some other printer is best for you) the question you really need to ask yourself is: Is my focus (whether that's for your business or your hobby) hard goods, textiles or both? 

The answer to that question will lead you in one of several directions: Sublimation, Ecosolvent Print and Cut, Direct to Garment, Direct to Film or White Toner.

If your MAIN goal is to create custom and personalized hard goods such as mugs, luggage tags, license plates, key chains, photo boards... then a sublimation printer is the best option.  

Sublimation can do fabrics and apparel but to be pressed directly onto a garment, it must be a light color garment and it must contain at least 65% polyester. This is why I ask what is the MAIN reason you need a printer because if the main reason is for textiles or garments, a sublimation printer may limit you immediately. 

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If the answer to why you "need" a speciality printer is shirts, bags, hats or other garments, you need to ask a second question: 

Is light colored cotton or the ability to work with dark fabrics my main goal? 

If lighter colored cotton shirts, sweatshirts, towels, bibs, and bags are your main focus a Direct to Garment printer like the Roland BT-12 is a good at-home option at a price that's more affordable than the commercial grade DTG or DTF printers.  

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The Roland BT-12 price is thousands of dollars less than many commercial DTGs because it does not print white. Not having white ink keeps the price down closer to $3,500 and means you don't need to mess with pretreat. But, it also means you can't print on black or dark fabrics unless the ink is darker than your fabric (like the black on red).  

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The biggest drawback to the Roland BT-12 is how limiting it is - both in size (A4 or A5) and flat, light colored fabrics that are at least 50% cotton.  

There are other DTG options on the market including the Epson F2100 which is a DTG printer that prints white allowing for printing on any color shirt - including black. The F2100 is even more attractive because it also doubles as a DTF (direct to film) printer. Keep in mind though - for price point alone - there's no way I would ever recommend this for a crafter or anyone who does not have a t shirt business. You can learn more about the Epson F2100 DTF/ DTG printer here.

However...the drawbacks of DTG and sublimation are exactly why direct to film printers have taken off in popularity.  The ability to print full color transfers without cutting or weeding and with virtually no limitations to the color or type of fabric garment, DTF has become a popular choice.  

There are several desktop DTF printers on the market each is a little different but the one thing they all have in common is they should really only be considered if you plan to print on a regular (aka daily) basis as DTF printers require use to stay in good working order, otherwise the white ink can clog the lines and cause issues. If you're new to DTF printing or want to lean more, I suggest you start here. 

Finally, if you like the concept of Direct to Film printing (ability to print white and not needing to cut or weed) BUT you do not plan to print everyday - then I would recommend a White Toner printer.  

White Toner printers offer the most flexibility, including the ability to print white so you can apply 
multi-color images, graphics, and designs to dark color surfaces including printing on dark paper AND the features of a laser printer (like the ability to add foil accents to paper).

The UniNet iColor 560 is an at-home, compact White Toner printer with a price comparable to the Roland BT-12 DTG printer.  

Along with printing white this printer's biggest brags include the ability to swap out toner cartridges easily and quickly which allows to to be a white toner printer (over and under print), a regular laser toner printer, and a sublimation printer all in one depending on the ink cartridges you have in the printer.  

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Because it uses powder toner and not 'ink' you do not need to drain the lines or perform constant any maintenance on the printer. The printer includes five toner cartridges (black, white, cyan, magenta and yellow - CMYK +WH) which yield about 7,000 full print pages (compared to CMYK sublimation ink cartridges at about 300 pages).  

The sublimation toner cartridges, florescent inks, gold and silver toner are all sold separately and are not cheap. The four pack of sublimation toner cartridges is as much as a Sawgrass SG1000, however the yield of 7k prints vs 300 must be considered. 

Aside from a relative steep learning curve compared to the other printers, one of the biggest drawbacks to the Uninet iColor 560 White Toner Printer is it can not be used on a MAC.  You either need to run an emulator which is not an easy setup (I tried...over about 5 hours with the help of this very helpful Youtube video ... but still never got it completely set up before I gave up) or have a PC to run it on (what I am ultimately doing). 

Finally the Roland BN-20A is an ecosolvent printer and cutter that can make vinyl stickers, full color heat transfers, labels and stickers, banners and more! 

It's a 20" wide format print and cut machine that I find myself turning to more and more because it's so close to a "do it all printer".   Along with all of the BN-20A tutorials I have, I also have a gallery of projects I've created using it and as you can see - they are wide ranging!

The great thing about all of these printers is you can do all of your designing, customizing, and creating in Silhouette Studio then export and use the SAME designs you already own or create in each and every one of the programs needed to directly print. 

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Note: This post may contain affiliate links. By clicking on them and purchasing products through my links, I receive a small commission. That's what helps fund Silhouette School so I can keep buying new Silhouette-related products to show you how to get the most out of your machine!

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  1. Thanks for the info, Melissa. Will you eventually look into DTF printers as well?

  2. Thank you for the overview. One of the biggest drawbacks to most of the higher level printers is the incompatibility to Mac. I have a Roland VersaCamm 300 and I had to get a Windows laptop solely to run it. Since I know relatively little about writing drivers for printers and cutters, I am hesitant to complain but it seems like Roland and other manufacturers are really missing the boat. I'm fortunate that I was able to get a Windows laptop to use with mine but when you consider the cost of these higher level printers, buying another computer is an added cost a lot of people just can't absorb. ( there a Mac driver for the DTG printer?

    1. The Roland BT-12 is a DTG printer and it runs on Mac. I don't disagree with you, I had to pull out my old PC to run the White Toner printer.

  3. I have a question about using the white toner printer for sublimation. Do you feel it does as good of a job printing sublimation to put on hard surface blanks as say the Sawgrass sublimation printer? I want to be able to do cotton dark shirts and also mugs and tumblers. Would like to only invest into one printer instead of two if the quality is the same.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi there! There is a transfer dedicated to hard goods for the Uninet. If you go to Swing Design and check out the bundle called "Uninet IColor 560 White Toner Printer Business Bundle w/ Media, $1044 Software" This has a starter pack of the hard substrate transfers too.


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