Do you look with envy at all the funky t-shirts online today? Would you like to make your own? Sublimation shirt printing isn’t hard once you have the right machine to do it! If you’re an artist, then you’ve probably already looked at a few. You might not know what to look for, though. We checked out six of the best dye-sublimation printers for t-shirts to find which ones were the best for new buyers. There are a few pointers you’ll want to keep in mind before you start your search, however.
Things to Look for Before Buying a Dye Sublimation Printer
Accuracy & Speed
Overall, dye sublimation is slower than traditional printing technologies. You can expect that your new printer will make t-shirt transfers a good bit slower than you’re used to. Look for something with a reasonable page-per-minute count so you don’t end up feeling like you’re waiting forever. These inks can smear fairly easily as well, so you’ll also want to make sure you can accurately model too.
When shopping for a sublimation printer, you want to make sure that you invest in a stable model. Traditional printers vibrate when they commit words and images to a page. This is slightly irritating for users, but it doesn’t cause much of a problem. It can smudge the special inks that these printers use, however, so you’ll want to be sure you’re getting something sturdy.
Once again, dye-sublimation devices are more expensive than many traditional printers. However, there’s no reason you can’t look for a deal. Pay close attention to what your preferred model comes with. You might be able to save a bundle by purchasing something with a slightly higher upfront cost that comes with all the supplies you’ll need to get started.
Replacement & Warranty Policy
This is one case where you’ll need to closely read the fine print. Some replacement policies protect against every type of defect. Many of them only cover very specific types of problems. You’re unlikely to find anything that covers the cost of extra dye, but a few policies are surprisingly generous otherwise.
Sawgrass Virtuoso SG400
• Bundle package comes with every piece of sublimation equipment you’ll need
• Includes t-shirt design software
• Supports almost all modern Macs and PCs
• Designs can’t transfer to cotton fabric, only polyester
• Only supports a limited media size
If you’re looking for a professional sublimation printer that you could use in a craft store, then the Virtuoso SG400 might be the best model for you. It comes with a complete set of custom Sublijet ink bottles along with a number of other goodies that should get you off the ground right away. While the price tag might give some buyers a bit of sticker shock, the Virtuoso is a solid design. It’s reasonably fast and among the most accurate designs currently on the market. Color reproduction is also excellent, which is good news for artists printing detailed designs on their shirts.
Technicians from Sawgrass partnered with Japanese tech giant Ricoh to redo their entire fleet of sublimation printers, and the SG400 was one of the fruits of that partnership. Best of all, it comes with a full year warranty against manufacturing defects as well as free support from Sawgrass’ own technical department. It’s an excellent option if you don’t mind paying a bit more for a dye-sublimation printer that’s going to last you a very long time.
WorkForce WF-7710 Wide-Format Printer
• Uses much less power than most similar printers
• Supports wireless connectivity
• Is gentle enough not to smudge transfer sheets
• Sometimes suffers from accuracy problems when configured for quick printing
• Weighs over 40 lbs.
You’ve probably heard of the WorkForce because it’s been making waves as a combination copier and fax machine. While the company’s marketing literature has elected not to market it as an art printer, there’s actually an excellent dye-sublimation kit for it that comes with four multi-color bottles. Even though the kit is slightly higher priced than most others, the upfront cost of this machine isn’t nearly as high. That’s made it popular with a few professional t-shirt makers online who like the fact that it comes with a front control panel and supports 30 ppm print speeds depending on how it’s been configured.
The machine can print upwards of 13×19 in. pages accurately, which is bigger than most people would ever need for shirt printing. An included rear-feed tray makes it easy to load special heat-transfer pages if you use a shirt press. It even comes with a limited warranty that should cover the most common types of defects.
• Features USB iSerial ports
• Supports printing from OS X
• Can print a whopping 290 sublimation sheets every hour
• Weighs over 30 lbs.
• Requires proprietary print media, which isn’t included
If you don’t mind having a bulky machine in your workshop, then you can’t go wrong with the DS-RX1HS Event printer. This model uses a sophisticated print head cushion that supports a thermal transfer-based dye sublimation process. It’s perfect for transferring beloved family images to a t-shirt or printing custom designs. Considering that it supports both 300×300 and 300×600 resolutions, it’s capable of handling fairly large images. While it originally had some quality control issues, the DNP Event has been around for several years now and it appears that new units are quite sturdy. That’s helped to offset the higher upfront cost this model carries. Keep in mind that it’s quite large. The size, however, makes it quite durable and it becomes popular with those who print off large collections for major craft projects.
Epson Stylus C88+
• Relatively fast and quiet
• Print media is inexpensive
• May need an add-on
• Missing features found in many larger printers
For many people, the Epson Stylus C88+ is the only dye-sublimation printer on the market. Epson has been selling it for years now, and it continues to top some of Amazon’s lists when it comes to sublimation shirt printing. It’s a sturdy yet small design that supports a lot of legacy hardware if you really need it to. Since Epson markets their own dye sublimation kit that works with this as well as a number of other similar models, you won’t have to worry about tracking down supplies. They’re always available and they’re likely to continue to be for years to come. One drawback is that most people who are serious about making t-shirts will need an optional add-on that serves as a hopper for ink.
Fortunately, it’s pretty fast and accurate for a printer in this price range. If you’re just getting into these kinds of crafts, then the C88+ certainly deserves some attention in spite of its shortcomings. While it’s not the most stable model around, you shouldn’t have to worry about it shaking that much either.
Sawgrass Virtuoso Sublimation Printer
• Comes with a complete set of HD inks
• Durable, stable design that won’t shake
• Works with proprietary design software and Adobe Illustrator
• Among the more expensive models on the market
• Can be hard to shop for replacement materials due to naming confusion
In spite of the name, the Sawgrass Virtuoso is actually a different piece of sublimation equipment than the SG400. This might cause some confusion, considering that the two devices are named so similarly. However, even if this Virtuoso is somewhat like it packs quite a bit of a punch on its own.
As well as a one-year warranty, the Virtuoso comes with support for huge 1200×1200 resolution images. This should be a high enough DPI measure even for those who want to transfer the biggest pictures. While it has a big upfront cost, it also includes a free account for Creative Studio Online. If you were planning on buying a graphics package or clip art library to use when making shirts, then you’d actually be saving with the Virtuoso. It even comes with four quires of sublimation paper, which is quite expensive to buy separately.
Canon SELPHY CP1200
• Compact and portable
• Prints highest quality images in less than 60 seconds
• Relatively slow
• Doesn’t support resolutions higher than 300×300 dpi
While the SELPHY series is better known for making professional-level prints out of digital photos, the CP1200 also supports dye sublimation ink. It also works with several other color technologies. This, along with the small size and comparatively low cost, might make it a good option for art classes and other specialist applications. Connectivity options include PicBridge and Apple AirPrint. This is good news for anyone who has a bunch of images on their iPad that they’d love to put on shirts. It even features a full control panel on the top that offers users a variety of photo editing controls. Unfortunately, it does suffer from stability issues, but it can still make accurate prints nonetheless.
Professionals who need a top of the line system will certainly want to go with the Sawgrass Virtuoso or its cousin the SG400. These are purpose-built printers designed to work with shirts. While you won’t be able to put designs on cotton tees with them, they make unrivaled transfers for use with synthetic fabrics. Upfront costs are a little higher, but they’re worth it in the end. Both models even come with a full design kit. Any of the others on this list should be a great option to get your feet wet if you’ve never made shirt designs before, but Sawgrass’ printers have developed a sort of cult following in the industry for a reason.