Choosing the Best Dye Sublimation Printer

What is the Best Dye Sublimation Printer?

Just like so many searches for “best”, the answer is that it depends on what‘s best for you.  Which Dye Sublimation Printer fits YOUR specific needs best.

The dye sublimation printer that would be great for someone just getting into the custom t-shirt business might be the one that is the least expensive.  One that only does small sizes and does not have a lot of features.

Whereas the best dye-sub printer for a company making custom textiles, rolls of fabric, or all-over printed material? That’s a different case altogether.

Let’s start by making sure we’re on the same page about what a “dye-sublimation” printer is and what it does, then we’ll survey the different types and help you pick the “best” printer for you.

What is Dye Sublimation?

Simply put, it’s a way to produce a transfer that can be heat applied to a garment or an object.

A dye-sub printer uses special liquid ink and an inkjet process to apply that ink to an equally unique sublimation transfer paper.

The transfer is then applied to a polyester-coated surface or a polyester fabric using a heat press. The combination of the heat and the pressure causes the ink the transfer to the finished good.

In technical terms, that means that the ink turns into a gas, then is bonded molecularly to the material.   It’s a very strong bond. 

You can think of this as “melting” into the fibers or the polyester surface if that helps.

Because it uses liquid ink you can convert some standard color inkjet printers into sublimation printers – though there are pitfalls to that.

Things you CAN and CANNOT print on with Sublimation

You only sublimate onto synthetic materials.

Sublimation inks will only bond to, for example, polyester t-shirts.  It can also bond to coated materials like a coffee mugs that have had a polyester surface material added. These are commonly referred to as “sublimation blanks”.

That means, you won’t be able to pick up mugs from Walmart to customize, you’ll have to get sublimation mugs from a more specific source.

Here are a few examples of sublimation blanks:

And Vapor Apparel is an example of a brand that’s devoted to supplying blank apparel specifically for sublimation: Vapor Apparel Garments For Sublimation Printing ( These are the best blanks for a sublimation t-shirt printer.

You cannot use sublimation t-shirt transfers on natural materials.

No cottons, bamboo, hemp, canvas or linen for example. (though you may find some promotional items like bags that have been specifically treated for sublimation.

No printing on DARK garments or blanks.

From the cheapest sublimation printers on the market to the most expensive options, these devices do not use white ink. And laying down a later of white ink is what makes images look good when applied to dark garments or blanks.

You can’t printer on black t-shirts, or any of the darker colors.

Choosing a Printer

Here are the basic parameters that set different printers apart and will help you quickly decide which is the best dye-sublimation printer for you.

The Importance of Print Size

Think of your business application. Are you looking for a t-shirt printing machine specifically?

Or are you making fabric panels for quilting or interior design?

Are you creating material for cut and sew application – may be to make all over prints on performance wear?

Your application is going to determine the best printer for you. We’re going to focus on the most common applications below.

Custom T-Shirt and Promo Products

If your primary business is going to be selling custom t-shirts or athleticwear, applying images on the front, back or sleeves, then you won’t need anything larger than an 11”x17” print size. And you may even be able to get away with an 8.5”X11”.

The same goes if you’re going to be making custom mugs, some small signs, nametags and a variety of other promotional products.

But do consider workflow here as well. You can fit TWO 8”x10” images on a single 11”x17” transfer – a very common graphic size – where you’ll need 2 of the smaller sheets.

You can also fit more clothing tags, left chest logos, etc on a larger sheet. That saves you time and money.

There are also times when the 8”x10” image just won’t be big enough, so if you choose the smaller printer you may miss out on opportunities for bags, promo products or XL + custom t-shirts.

Because we’re talking about “Best” sublimation t-shirt printer in this case, we’ll avoid the home inkjet printers that have been converted to use sublimation inks.

The Epson and HP home printers are not designed to handle the vastly different ink set required. So, while the DO work for a while, the print heads and other components eventually fail. You save some money up front but pay for it in the end.

Best dye sublimation printer for t-shirts and more

Sawgrass Virtuoso SG1000

This purpose-built desktop printer is a great combination of quality, print size and ease of use.

While it looks and works just like a typical color inkjet office printer, the components are very different.

Because it is a more professional product you get printer and designer software with it as well as a warranty and real tech support from Sawgrass. (That’s as opposed to a converted desktop printer – the act of making a desktop printer into a sublimation one voids the manufacturers warrant for those machines)

Current Price is $1,549 – but prices do change. Financing is typically available from as low as $42/month.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a great heat press as well. And if you’re going to do mugs or tumblers an additional specialty heat press.

Signs, Banners, and Artwork

Obviously, if you’re getting into or adding a sublimation printer for a sign business, or to do banners, you’re going to need larger than 11”x17” prints!

The process for a larger printer is still exactly the same as one you might purchase for doing custom t-shirts or mugs. In fact, you can use a larger printer to create smaller transfers too!

When you consider that you really can’t do larger banners, signs, or artwork with a desktop-sized printer, but the larger printers can do all – Printers like the Sawgrass VJ 628 could be the best sublimation printers for you.

Sawgrass VJ 628 Larger format Sublimation Printer

You can print up to almost 25” wide with the VJ 628.

The limit to how long a transfer you can print is limited only by the length of your roll of material. 

And it’s an EIGHT color system, so the prints look better than just about anything on the market.

Banners, large signs, and high-volume promotional products are all available to you and your business with this Sawgrass printer.

The software and warranty are the same for the VJ and for the smaller Sawgrass printer:

Current Price is $5,499 – but prices do change. Financing is typically available from as low as $42/month.

More Options for Sublimation Printing

The sublimation printer market doesn’t start with the SG1000 – there are cheaper consumer-oriented printers available. And it doesn’t stop with the VJ 628 as there are some great larger format printers out there as well.

But for more businesses, probably yours included, they are great options to start or expand into t-shirts, promotional products, and more.