If you’re a fan of crafty, you must have heard of sublimation printing – and if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. Sublimation printing allows you to turn any design into something tangible, from mugs to phone cases.
But what about acrylic? Can you sublimate on acrylic? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ In this blog post, I will cover all the basics about sublimation printing on acrylic so that you can make the most of this crafty technique.
First off, creating your custom designs is a gratifying experience. And once you learn how to do it on acrylic, there will be no stopping you. From t-shirts to keychains and everything in between – your imagination is the limit. So let’s dive in and start with all the basics of sublimation on acrylic.
Can You Sublimate On Acrylic?
Yes. There are several methods to do this, including using a UV printer or using an ordinary heat press. When printing with a UV printer, you must use special sublimation inks and coatings designed for acrylic surfaces. With the heat press process, you’ll need specialty paper specially treated to work with acrylic surfaces.
What’s Sublimation Printing & How Does It Work?
Sublimation printing is a fantastic form of image transfer that creates vibrant prints with a glossy finish. If you have yet to hear of it, let me fill you in: it’s a dye-sublimation printing process that uses heat to transfer a design onto coated surfaces like metal, wood, and acrylic.
Here’s how the dye sublimation process works
First, the special sublimation inks are converted into gas form under the high temperatures of the printer. Then, when printed onto special sublimation paper, this gas penetrates the fibers of the substrate and creates incredibly vibrant colors.
These colors are locked in by applying heat again to create a beautiful and durable print. This printing method allows for an endless range of colors and smooth gradients that make for stunning visuals.
Now that you know what sublimation is, our next step is to figure out how it works on acrylic materials specifically.
What is Acrylic Fabric? Is Acrylic a Good Substrate for Sublimation Printing?
Acrylic fabric is a highly versatile material commonly used in upholstery and clothing. But it can also be an excellent substrate for sublimation printing.
Its smooth, glossy finish makes the photographed images look vivid and vibrant. Acrylic produces brighter colors than most other fabrics.
Furthermore, since the acrylic fabric is synthetic, it doesn’t need special treatment and can be safely machine washed without fading or cracking.
For those looking for a unique way to give their creations a professional touch, sublimating on acrylic fabric is worth considering.
Its durable properties make it ideal for use in outdoor and indoor applications – whether creating custom signage or apparel – while its lightweight properties make it easy to handle.
Plus, the range of colors available with this material allows you to experiment with different combinations and create truly eye-catching designs.
What are the Pros of Acrylic Sublimation?
Here are some of the advantages of acrylic sublimation:
Acrylic is versatile
One of the most significant benefits of sublimating onto acrylic is its versatility. As a material, it is incredibly lightweight yet still durable. This makes it perfect for various applications – from wall art to signage and awards.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about warping or bending because the acrylic sheet will remain strong and sturdy even if exposed to humidity or heat.
Achieve eye-catching designs
The vibrant colors you can achieve with sublimation on acrylic are genuinely spectacular. You can bring photos to life by creating stunning custom acrylic prints or add some extra flair to your awards and plaques with eye-catching designs.
Plus, with sublimated acrylic surfaces, you won’t have to worry about ink fading over time–the colors remain authentic and vibrant for years.
Acrylic is easy to use and customize
I also love how easy it is to assemble projects requiring multiple acrylic pieces when using printer sublimation. You can cut your acrylic into preferred shapes and sizes to create the ultimate customized piece. And since the adhesive won’t interfere with the colors or images printed on your acrylic sheets, you must line them up and prepare for showtime.
Essential Considerations When Sublimating on Acrylic
Before I break down the acrylic sublimation process, there are a few essential considerations to remember.
One of the most essential elements is the type of acrylic you’re using. Different varieties will require different settings for temperature, pressure, and time. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to tune the heat press machine for your specific acrylic piece.
Getting this balance right is critical because if you overheat the item, it can damage or ruin it completely – so be sure to monitor time closely and accurately.
Quality of Surface
The quality of the acrylic surfaces also needs to be spot-on for sublimation to work correctly. This means it must be clean, scratch-free, and flawless before any heat application. The slightest imperfection can disrupt the process and result in inferior print quality.
Heat Press Temperature
Temperature is a crucial factor when sublimating on acrylic, so set it according to the manufacturer’s instructions—this will ensure an even transfer throughout.
Color of Acrylic Surface
The color of your acrylic surfaces also plays a vital role in how well your final designs turn out. Darker colors are unsuitable for sublimation because they absorb heat more quickly, causing discoloration or hot spots on lighter areas during transfer. I love printing on a white surface because the final print is attractive and detailed.
The quality of your print is also essential. High-resolution design images and good-quality sublimation ink can help you achieve a much better finish, so it’s well worth the effort. Additionally, tuning the sublimation printer to achieve your desired result is vital. You can do this by providing accurate temperature and pressure settings.
It would be best if you also cut acrylic plates to precision. Here, cutting software or a laser cutter is best for maximum accuracy and neat edges. Take extra care when cutting out delicate shapes as part of your design, too, as these can be more difficult to trim accurately. Following these measures when sublimating on acrylic will ensure stunning designs that impress your customers.
Materials to Gather Before Acrylic Dye Sublimation
Before you can dive into the wondrous world of acrylic sublimation, there are a few key materials you’ll need to gather. Know exactly what you use acrylic paint on, plus other supplies like a printing machine, CAD software, a pressing machine, and sublimation acrylic blanks.
Let’s break it down:
You’ll need a machine to print vibrant images onto transfer paper. Your chosen device should either use solvent-based or sublimation inks. Remember: the type of ink will depend on the material you’re transferring onto.
CAD software is essential for accurate and intricate designs. You want user-friendly software with lots of editing functions and access to fonts/color/sizing tools. That way, you can create unique designs every time.
Heat Press Machine
The heat press accomplishes the heat transfer process. It is the one responsible for transferring your design onto acrylic. As with other machines on this list, find out which specific model works best with the materials you’re using (and your budget).
Acrylic Sublimation Blanks or Vinyl
You’ll also need blank sheets of acrylic (or vinyl if you prefer). Depending on the project – from custom phone cases to keychains – always get the appropriate thickness for each item. Double-check if it’s compatible with the sublimation ink and transfer paper technology you’re using.
Also, remember to grab some butcher paper for extra protection when pressing your acrylic items. I use butcher paper when pressing to prevent any heat damage.
Another essential item is heat tape, which you’ll use to secure the acrylic substrate to the heat press platen. This will ensure your print stays firmly in place when pressing.
The type and size of heat tape you choose will depend on the substrate size. Ideally, you want something that won’t leave any residue behind once removed. Additionally, ensure the heat tape is rated to withstand temperatures up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius).
Your other supplies might include gloves, protective eyewear, and a lint roller for cleaning the surface of your acrylic before pressing.
Read also: Acrylic ink vs acrylic paint.
Step-By-Step Guide to Sublimate on Acrylic
What you need to know to sublimate on acrylic successfully is right here. Let’s go through this guide step-by-step, so you can learn how to do it like a pro.
Prepare the design file in CAD software
The first thing you’ll need to do is prepare the design file in graphic design software. This will allow you to edit and customize the design as much as you need before printing.
With robust programs such as Autodesk Inventor, you can easily create your designs from scratch or tweak existing ones – then print directly from the software.
Print the design on a piece of sublimation paper
Once your design is ready, it’s time to print it onto a piece of sublimation paper. Ensure the image is mirrored before printing – this helps ensure accuracy and clarity when transferring the design onto acrylic.
Add protective heat tape
Once the design is printed out, adding a protective heat tape over it is essential – this will help keep everything together during the transfer process. You can use a silicone baking mat or parchment paper instead of heat tape.
Wipe the acrylic sublimation blanks
Now that your materials are all ready start by wiping down the acrylic blanks with alcohol and microfiber cloth. This will remove any dust or debris that could prevent proper adhesion during transfer – and help ensure smooth results for your projects.
Place the printed sublimation paper on top of the acrylic
Finally, place the printed sublimation paper on top of the acrylic blank, ensuring everything lines up and all sides are secure.
Heat up the heat press machine
Next, heat the pressing machine; depending on your machine type, this could take 10-15 minutes to a few hours.
Position the acrylic in the pressing machine
Once the machine has reached its ideal temperature, position your acrylic in the pressing machine so it won’t move around during pressing. Remember to check the print side before pressing. Also, add a protective cover or cloth to avoid any scratches or damage.
Place the pressing machine on the acrylic
Once everything is in place, place your pressing machine on your acrylic and lower it slowly and evenly. This helps ensure that no air bubbles form when you press down.
Take away the printed paper
Carefully lift off the heating plate and remove your printed paper, revealing your newly printed acrylic surface.
Clean the newly printed acrylic surface
Finally, clean any residue off with a damp cloth or spray bottle, and then voila. You’ve successfully sublimated onto an acrylic surface.
What are the Best Acrylics for Sublimation?
Have you ever wondered what the best acrylics are for sublimation? Well, fret no more—I’m here to tell you all about them. Each type of acrylic has its temperature range for sublimation.
For the highest quality prints, use acrylic that can handle a higher temperature range. This type of plastic is excellent for capturing vibrant colors and sharp details. It’s also durable and resistant to scratches and abrasions—a great choice if you want something long-lasting.
Modacrylic is a good alternative for working with a lower temperature range. It has excellent color vibrancy and sharp detail but is less durable than regular acrylic. It’s ideal for prints that you need to replace more often.
Lastrile plastic is perfect for items needing extra abrasion and scratching protection due to its hard surface coating. Plus, it handles temperatures up to 220°C, so your designs will still have plenty of vibrancy and detail.
If you’re looking for something inexpensive but still with good quality, nitrile is an excellent option. It can handle lower temperatures than regular acrylic but still produces vibrant colors and sharp details in the finished product.
What To Do If Sublimation Paper Sticks on Acrylic?
Sometimes, when you’re sublimating onto acrylic, you’ll find that the sublimation paper sticks to the surface instead of releasing. Fear not; this is incredibly normal.
The first thing to do is always ensure that your press is heated correctly – if it’s too hot, it can cause the paper to stick. If you’ve done a test pressing before printing your product and you can see that the paper is sticking, reduce your heat by 5-10°F (3-6°C) and try again.
What Else Can You Do?
If the issue persists, there are a few other things you can do:
- Increase pressure: This will help ensure all areas of the image adhere to the acrylic.
- Increase transfer time: You might need to leave it longer for the ink to imprint on the material thoroughly.
- Utilize heat tape/heat resistant tape: This prevents parts of your product from overheating and reducing ash buildup.
- Use release paper: Placing parchment paper between your transfer and substrate should help with any sticking issues.
Ultimately, don’t be afraid to experiment – trial and error is key. With these tips in mind, you should successfully sublimate on acrylic in no time.
Pro-Tips to Achieve the Perfect Sublimation Print on Acrylic
Sublimating on acrylic is a great way to achieve vibrant and unique prints, and I’m here to tell you all my pro tips to give you the perfect sublimation print every time.
Sand the Acrylic Surface
Before anything else, it’s essential to take the time to sand the acrylic surface. If you’re using a new sheet of acrylic for your project, use very fine-grain sandpaper so that it won’t damage or scratch the surface. This ensures that your sublimation designs will adhere correctly and look as crisp and sharp as can be.
Coat the acrylic surface
Next, you need to coat the acrylic surface properly for sublimation. If you don’t do, the print will not adhere correctly and will likely peel off over time. You can purchase pre-coated acrylic sheets or you can coat the surface yourself with a sublimation primer.
Prime Your Acrylic Sheet with Subli Block
Not all acrylic sheets are created equal—some may be more hydrophobic than others. And that can affect how well your sublimation ink adheres to the medium.
For the best results, I recommend priming your acrylic sheet with a coat of Subli Block before printing. This will create a layer for maximum adhesion of vibrant colors and sharp lines. Plus, it’s quick drying, so you can save on time too.
Apply Transparent Butting Tape for Fire Resistant Solutions
When printing onto an acrylic substrate, I always apply transparent butting tape around the edges before pressing to avoid fire risks and seal any open areas on the substrate. This helps prevent stray sublimation ink from bleeding out of the borders during transfer.
These are just some of my pro tips to help achieve the perfect sublimation print on acrylic every time.
More tips for a stunning print
There are a few other things you need to take into account to ensure you get the perfect sublimation print on acrylic. Here are our top tips:
- Make sure the surface of the acrylic is clean and free of any debris. This will ensure that the print adheres properly.
- Use a high quality sublimation paper. This will help to prevent any bleeding or smudging of the print.
- Make sure the print is properly aligned before you start the printing process. This will help to avoid any issues with the print being crooked or off-center.
- Use a heat press that is specifically designed for sublimation. This will ensure that the print comes out crisp and vibrant.
Is acrylic a natural fiber?
No. Acrylic is a synthetic fiber. It is not a natural fiber and has no fiber length and diameter, similar to the fibers found in animal skins. Though acrylic fibers can be spun, the spinning method creates a very different product than what we would expect from animal-based fibers.
How long does it take to sublimate on acrylic?
How long does it take to sublimate on acrylic? 60 secs if you set the heat press to 385 degrees Fahrenheit. The key is to be patient and wait for the acrylic to cool down before adding more color. If you add more than one layer of ink at a time, controlling how much sublimation is happening will be easier.
What are the best acrylics to sublimate onto acrylic?
There are a few different types of acrylic that work well for sublimation. We typically recommend cast acrylic, as it provides the best results. However, if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, use extruded acrylic. Remember that the results may not be as high-quality as with cast acrylic.
Can you sublimate onto resin?
Yes, you can sublimate onto resin with a standard heat press, but there are a few things to remember:
- The resin must be heated to a high temperature for the sublimation process to work.
- The dye must be applied under increased pressure to be properly transferred onto the resin.
- The substrate needs to be cooled quickly after pressing.
Can you heat press 100% acrylic?
The short answer is yes, you can heat press 100% acrylic. However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when heat pressing this type of fabric. Acrylic is a synthetic fiber that is known for being heat resistant. It can be tricky to heat press, as you need to find the right balance of heat and pressure to avoid damaging the fabric.
Last Words on Acrylic Sublimation
Sublimating on acrylic is a great way to give your designs an extra wow factor and make them stand out.
Luckily, this article has given you the confidence to try acrylic sublimation and equipped you with all the information you need to do so.
From stretching the acrylic to choosing the right transfer paper, the process is pretty straightforward and yields beautiful results.
Now it’s time to get creative and experiment with textures, colors, and designs. You might be surprised at how creative you can be once you begin. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get sublimating.