Can You Sublimate on Any Type of Plate?

Can You Sublimate on Any Type of Plate?

Sublimation is a process that allows you to print on almost anything you want with a customized design. You can use this printing method on various popular items, such as plates, mugs, and tumblers. And you definitely don’t want to waste money and time on materials that won’t accept the ink transfer. 

You can sublimate on any type of bright-colored or white plate with a polymer coating and can withstand the heat and pressure of the sublimation process. The material should be rated for at least 400°F (204°C). Ceramics and glass are the best plate materials to use for sublimation printing.

Sublimation printing has become popular, with many picking up the hobby or branching into printing on items other than t-shirts. This article will explore the materials to avoid and what to look for when shopping for plates for sublimation printing: Can You Sublimate on Any Type of Plate?

Materials That Don’t Work for Sublimation

Not all materials are created equally, so you should ensure they are designed to withstand the sublimation process and absorb the dye transfer from your design.

As you’re looking for plates to sublimate on, you’ll want to avoid materials that don’t have the following characteristics:

  • Bright colors or a “true” white base.
  • A polymer coating for absorbing and setting the ink.
  • A heat rating of at least 400°F (204°C). 

Optimize Printing With the Right Base Color

You should start with a suitable base to achieve stellar details, definition, and vibrant color transfers from your original design. 

Product quality varies, and the dye from colored items is no different. Some product dyes will not interact well with your printing dyes, resulting in a failed transfer. This is especially true with certain plastics. 

The quality of polymer coating also affects how the ink transfer turns out because the layer absorbs and sets the ink design. 

But the sublimation blank base color is one of the main reasons your design colors change when printed on the item surface. It’s recommended to use blanks that are bright-colored or white for the best results. 

The reason for this is that the sublimation inks are transparentOpens in a new tab. so that the base color can alter the color of your design.

Polymer Coating for Sublimation

Polymer coatings are a type of coating that can be applied to various substratesOpens in a new tab. like plates and mugs to allow ink transfer during sublimation printing.

Sublimation printing requires two layers: one ink-resistant layer and one ink-absorbing layer. The ink-resistant layer keeps the color from seeping into your plate, while the absorbing layer takes in the colors to create your image. 

These layers are often created with a polymer coating, a plastic film used in manufacturing products like DVDs and CDs. These films can withstand heat without smudging or melting when used correctly.

The coating forms a thin film over the substrate surface, and the thickness and characteristics of the film depend on the polymer used and its application method.

Polymer coatings can be used on a variety of materials, including the following materials:

  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Ceramics
  • Glass
  • Wood

Typically, the type of polymer coating for wood is water-based, called polycrylic.

Can I Make My Own Sublimation Coating?

You can make a sublimation coating with a quality polymer product from a reputable company. Follow the directions on the label for the coating application. But this is not recommended because achieving an even layer that’s needed to be effective for the design transfer can be challenging.

Hot Off the Printing Press

Not all materials will hold up to the process because sublimation works by creating a physical reaction using heat and pressure

During the sublimation process, the heat press causes the ink to transform from a solid state into a gas. The gas then soaks into the substrate surface. When the substrate cools down, the gas condenses back into liquid form, leaving behind your image.

The material should withstand heat and pressureOpens in a new tab. during the process, so it needs to have a heat rating of at least 400°F (204°C) to prevent warping and damage to the item. 

So, it’s essential to choose a material that will not only accept the ink transfer with a polymer coating but also meets the heating requirements to prevent warping or melting. The type of material has to always be considered for sublimation, as we explain in this Opens in a new for mugs as well in our article Why Is Sublimation Not Transferring To Your Mug?

What’s the Best Material for Sublimation on Plates?

Polymer-coated ceramic and glass plates are the best for transferring higher-quality designs, especially with vibrant colors or detailed photos, but they can be more pricey than alternatives.

Ceramics and glass have become popular options for sublimation plates because of their durability, ease of cleaning, and heat tolerance. Glass and ceramic have a high melting pointOpens in a new tab. (3632°F or 2000°C), which makes them very durable. It also makes them ideal for sublimation, as the plate can withstand the high heat that is required to print onto it.

Can You Sublimate Plastic Plates? 

You can sublimate polymer-coated plastic plates with a heat rating of at least 400°F (204°C) to prevent warping and melting. The plate surface should also be smooth with no dimensional designs. Also, avoid dark-colored and pre-colored plastic plates as they may not work well with the sublimation ink.

The chemical structure of plastic products is not all the same, and even some reinforced plastic items are not up to par for sublimation printing. 

If the plate is already pre-colored or has a darker color, the sublimation dyes will not work and can damage the product. Bright or “true” white products are ideal for sublimation printing. It’s possible to use lighter colors if you dilute the printing dye by 15-25%

No one likes wasting time or money, so ensure your chosen product is suitable for the sublimation process.

In Conclusion

Sublimation printing is an excellent way to customize t-shirts, mugs, and even plates. Not all products are suitable for sublimation, so ensure the plate material you choose meets the necessary requirements.

Plates are made with various materials like ceramic, glass, and plastic. The sublimation blank should have a polymer coating to allow the ink transfer to be absorbed into the surface. And the material should have a high-heat rating to prevent damage during the sublimation printing process.

Angie HoldenOpens in a new tab.
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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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