Sublimation on Aluminum – Metal print | Bummers & Secrets

To date, metal prints are so fine, they make it the most creative art, one can’t resist falling in love with. While sublimation is a new trend, I’m not the only thing thinking to make a Sublimation x Aluminum combo. Being obsessed with art and always tight on budget makes you do impressive stuff and doing sublimation on aluminum at home is a classic example. 

Sublimation On Aluminum

Whether you are in home doctor, selling customized sublimation items, or a small industry striving to make visible profits, you’ll have answers to everything regarding aluminum sublimation. The 11 failures in 4 months taught me a lot and I want you to learn all of that in just 5 minutes and make profits as you know printed metals are the most expensive customized items today. 

Can you sublimate aluminum?

Short answer “yes and no” both. Typically, success in aluminum sublimation depends on the type of aluminum you’re using. Here’s my story.

Well, it all started from Chromaluxe. Last month, I ordered a metal print, I got an extremely beautiful panel for the front wall of my bedroom. In fact, I wanted to gift 3 aluminum panels to my best friend and there I thought, why not make my own prints? Not to mention, I was really tight on my budget. 

Like everyone else, I went to google and searched “can you sublimate on aluminum” and the internet is full of surprises. I found out that you can sublimate on treated aluminum. There are aluminum panels, plates, cards, and disc blanks available with guidelines. However, not everything on the internet is true and I needed professional help. So, I drove to the industrial area after too much trial and error, set an appointment with the leading dye-sublimation industry experts, and here I’m…making monthly profits of $500+ only by selling aluminum panels. 

Besides Sublimation, metal printing can also be done through a digital printer, but the quality isn’t as great as sublimation. Plus, digital printing costs 60 times more than sublimation printing. Even if you compromise on the price, the quality is still a roadblock as the design is printed on the top of the screen in digital printing. In sublimation, the print becomes part of the aluminum as sublimation embeds the design in the material making it lasts forever. 

Aluminum Items to Print On:

Honestly, you can print anything made of aluminum from keychains to water bottles to panels. However, in the start, don’t be too overwhelmed and try sublimation on the hardest possible substrate–like the foil. Start with easy-to-print items, like: 

  • Aluminum Panels 
  • Aluminum sheets 
  • Keychains
  • Waterbottle 
  • Phone covers 
  • Photo frames 
  • Mirrors 

Here are a few things or “Bummers” to know about aluminum. Natural aluminum will never accept sublimation ink because the chemical bonds are so tightly packed, the heat won’t open them. This is what I learned after my first two failures as I tried sublimating my  So, we need polymer-coated aluminum. 

How to treat aluminum for sublimation:

If you already have aluminum-based materials, you need to treat them with a poly-coated spray before you print them. Back to my first experience, I tried sublimating my favorite aluminum water bottle–an ugly failure because, as I said, natural aluminum will never work with sublimation. In fact, I ruined my bottle pretty badly. 

How to treat aluminum for sublimation

So, here’s the aluminum treatment process: 

Get a quality sublimation coat spray. Bummer Alert: Cheap coating spray doesn’t hold the substrate and ink rigidly and the colors will fade away soon. Most importantly, coating sprays for aluminum are a whole different thing. Regular sprays for cotton and wood don’t work with aluminum. So far, the best spray for aluminum sublimation I ever used is the Samurai 2-Part Polyurethane Base Coat. It’s user-friendly and comes in a great quantity as well. 

Before applying the spray, clean the aluminum with a soft and dry cloth. Make sure there are no dust particles. Now, spray all over the aluminum evenly and let it dry for at least an hour. 

Aluminum Sublimation process:

Aluminum sublimation isn’t hard but also not like regular sublimation on a coffee mug or T-shirt.  I got the easiest recipe for metal print or aluminum sublimation after, of course, tiring efforts. The process is simple, but there are a few hacks to keep in mind, and whew… you’ll achieve your goal. And by “Goal” I mean, the highest quality results in vibrant colors that never fade. 

Step 1. Decide the Aluminum Substrate type

Decide the Aluminum Substrate type

The first step is all about deciding what you want to print and getting everything ready accordingly. The tools and techniques for each substrate are different. For example, if you’re sublimating an aluminum water bottle, you need a tumbler press or mug press. Whereas, for plan substrates like sheets or panels, only Cricut or heat press will work. 

In this method, I’m taking a sublimation panel for walls that I bought from amazon. Here’s the link. I recommended using the sheet first, as the process is the same as acrylic or canvas sublimation. You’ll need the following tools:

  • Printed sublimation transfer 
  • Heat press/ Cricut press 
  • Teflon paper 
  • Heat-resistant tape and gloves 

Step 2. Getting the print ready print it

The biggest bummer in aluminum sublimation is printing. No, you can’t go to Etsy and buy a design for a few backs and heat it on your substrate. Why? The reasons are very limited and you probably don’t want a random design on your wall. Mostly, metal prints have family photos or artistic portraits, so you need manual sublimation. 

Getting the print ready print it 

If you don’t have a sublimation setup, you can customize a design on the paper. However, that’s cliche. I mean, if you’re already customizing, why paper then? Customize the entire aluminum and chill at home. 

So, long story short, you’re going to print the paper at home with a sublimation printer, paper, and ink. Here are a few bummers. You need a quality sublimation printer. If you can’t afford it, buy a cheap Epson Inkjet printer and convert it to sublimation

  • Bummer 1: Ink type: oil-based ink won’t work on aluminum. You need water-based ink and for that, I recommend using Hiipoo ink. 
  • Bummer 2: Being a third-party ink, Hiipoo work doesn’t work with any printer, specially Sawgrass. You need an Epson printer from the EcoTank series to obtain true results.
  • Bummer 3: Synchronize printing settings. There are printing settings for sublimation in dedicated sublimation printers i.e., Sawgrass. Mostly, you’re printing shirts and mugs, so it doesn’t even cross your head to change the settings. Resultantly, your prints will have faded colors.

Busting all the bummers, you’ll print the design on paper as per printing instructions and move to the next and final step. 

  • Secret Tip 1: If your image is bigger, don’t crop or compress it. Divide it into sections or use an extension tray in your printer. The former is much more affordable and you can adjust the settings in one click. However, in sections, make sure you’ve printer borderless, marked the sequence, and adhere it correctly onto the substrate. 
  • Secret Tips 2: Mirror the design if it has text-based graphics.

Step 3. Transferring

Take the aluminum sheets and peel the blue film. Place your printed paper upside down and secure it with heat-resistant tape. While you were doing this, your press must be pre-heated for 3-4 minutes and its highest temperature. 

Transferring

Now take two Teflon sheets. Place one on the press and then put the aluminum blank adhered with transfer paper, and cover it with the second Teflon sheet. The aluminum sheet must be entirely covered with Teflon; otherwise, it’ll stick to the press machine. 

For heating, set the temperature between 380 to 400, and cook the aluminum for over one and a half minutes. While the heating is going on, wear heat-resistant gloves and once the timer says “0 seconds”. Take out the aluminum and NO, don’t peel the tape immediately. From the corner, wrap just about an inch of paper and see if the colors are vibrant and transfer is 100%. If not, keep the aluminum back and heat it for another half minute. Aluminum usually requires higher temperatures than pure polyester. 

After heating, let it dry and then place it over your walls or side tables. 

So, what did you learn?

I hope you enjoyed the article and took notes of some valuable information that’ll help you sublimate aluminum. If you already stock aluminum, just use the treatment method, and boom, your home will speak art. Or else, get a blank of your favorite aluminum piece and try sublimation on aluminum. I bet you’re gonna love it. And hey, don’t forget to share your results with me through the comment box. Also, count me your guardian angel if anything goes wrong, I’d love to sort things out for you.

Emily

Leave a Comment