Is Sublimation Toxic? Is Sublimation Printing Eco-Friendly?

Sublimation is one of the finest techniques available, but sometimes the smell and the high temperatures must have made you think, is sublimation toxic? You’re not alone in thinking about whether sublimation printing is eco-friendly. Even I had my doubts initially when I started doing sublimation. So, I started studying, and it took me 4 months to gather all those answers you’d be looking for. 

Is Sublimation Printing Eco-Friendly

Sublimation does have certain doubt-worthy chemicals. The ink dries instead of heating, which could drag any chemical enthusiasts to worry about if the atmosphere is inhaling harmful chemicals which are detrimental to society. So let me break down the social and scientific aspects of sublimation processes to help you determine if sublimation printing is eco-friendly or toxic. 

Is Sublimation Toxic or Eco-Friendly?

In short answer, sublimation isn’t toxic at all. It’s the most eco-friendly printing compared to embroidery, screen printing, DTG, and other dying tactics, because sublimation has a minor water usage ratio, the recycle rate of sublimation and butcher papers used in the process is higher, and it’s energy-efficient.

Is Sublimation Toxic or Eco-Friendly

This was the conclusion of my entire 4-month research and experiment. But of course, you’d need an explanation and reasons behind how I can say sublimation is eco-friendly and non-toxic. Get your snacks ready because it’s going to get a little interesting. 

How is sublimation printing Eco-Friendly and Non-Toxic?

To explain this, let me remind you what sublimation is. The process itself answers how and why sublimation is beneficial for the environment. 

Technically, sublimation uses a sublimation printer in which you’ve to install a particular type of sublimation ink. The printer doesn’t liquify the ink onto the paper. Instead, it vaporizes the solid ink into gas and prints the paper with dried ink. 

How is sublimation printing Eco-Friendly and Non-Toxic

Now the paper with sublimation ink will adhere to the substrate you want to sublimate. You’ll heat the paper with the substrate under a heat press with an average temperature between 350 C to 400 C. the substrate, under a high temperature, opens up its molecules, and the liquid ink goes into the molecule and embeds onto the substrate. And here you go! A beautifully sublimated design. 

Simply put, “Sublimation is a process that ‘vaporizes’ the ink on the paper to be transferred onto polymer or poly-coated materials under high temperatures.” Now the critical words out of this definition are: 

  • Vaporizing sublimation ink   
  • Transferring 
  • High temperature 
  • Sublimation paper 
  • Polymer or poly-coated materials

This sublimation phenomenon focuses on 5 critical things, requiring a scientific and social approach. 

Diving Deep Into Sublimation Process: Social And Scientific Approach:

I know you’d have heard about sublimation materials and how it works, but this section isn’t about the workings and definitions. Instead, I’ll reveal to you the chemical, scientific and environmental effects involved in these materials. 

Sublimation ink: 

sublimation ink 

Sublimation ink has the following chemicals: 

  • Vinyl chloride-vinyl acetate copolymer
  • polymeric amide
  • 2-methoxy-1-methyl ethyl acetate
  • N-butyl acetate
  • butane-2-OL
  • petroleum distillate
  • disperse and/or solvent dyes
  • propylene glycol 

See, nothing of it is toxic. You can see in the Sawgrass statement of 2020 below and read their ink guides too. Once the ink is non-toxic, you can rest assured the fumes and smoke coming out will have zero effects on the environment and your health when it burns. 

Water usage: 

I hardly remember any sublimation process listing “water” as the foremost essential. Because honestly, it’s not. Sublimation is totally based on the printer, paper, ink, heat press, and substrate. You don’t need to wash anything, like in screen printing, where the screen needs to be cleaned endlessly after each print. 

Sublimation Process

In addition, the process is neat too. Compared to DTG and dying, there’s no mess and drops of ink all around the place, and no extra cloth is needed for cleaning. Simply print on the paper, and the paper gets out-dried, which eliminates the ink contact with anything lying in the environment, and finally, the ink gets transferred on the substrate with no water required! 

As per my data, sublimation has 80% less water consumption compared to DTG, screen printing, and dying. This makes sublimation the best option for industrialists who reside in areas with a water shortage. 

Recycle rate of sublimation paper: 

One of the two papers that counts as trash is a sublimation paper. Although, I don’t actually consider it one. Sublimation uses papers coated with plastics and other chemicals, which may sound sketchy to you Eco-friendly freaks. 

recycle of paper

Plastic wastes are harmful, I agree, but when the paper is heated, entire coatings and chemicals are transferred to the substrate, making the paper ordinary. This paper can be used for various purposes, such as wrapping, drawing, and creative crafts. Plus, you can compile an entire pile of used sublimation sheets and make a lovely scrapbook with that. 

Recycle rate of butcher paper/ kraft paper: 

Another paper used in sublimation in bulk quantity is butcher paper. Well, many people tend to use the same butcher paper over one time. It’s not a good practice, though, because the butcher paper will have an illusion on the paper, and it’ll give the effects on the new print. 

Well, I’ve used many of my butcher papers in craft, plus I’ve also got an eco-friendly package from Amazon. Many butcher’s papers come aligned with eco-friendly requirements, so you shouldn’t have any problem with paper dumping issues. 

Energy consumption: 

Heat press + printer, dang! That’s a lot of energy consumption. But hey, I haven’t even started the calculations. Sublimation seems like it uses a lot of energy, but when I compared both the appliances with other electrical equipment, I found drastic changes in consumption. 

Energy consumption 

Let’s take an example of a fan. You’d be surprised to know that a ceiling fan and a heat press have the same energy consumption, i.e., varying between 0.75 kWh to 2 kWh, having 20-80 watts. Now your ceiling fan runs continuously, but your heat press will hardly have 12 hours running for an entire month. See? That’s just for the press. 

The printer has just 1-5 watts, and it won’t even count in your bills if you’ve minimal use. Plus, many new printers, the current line of Epson, are built with Energy-efficient technology, which takes down 70% of your overall energy usage. So yeah, sublimation also passes in the energy consumption area for eco-friendliness with flying colors. 

Sublimation substrates: 

Sublimation substrates 

Finally, sublimation substrates. I don’t have much of a say in this because you can literally sublimate anything from a mouse pad to a blanket. It depends on the material you’re using. Unless you’re using eco-friendly material and not sublimating on cheap polyester, you’ll be 100% ensure to keep up the eco-friendliness. 

Does sublimation produce fumes?

Yes, sublimation produces fumes, but since the ink isn’t toxic and the material which is been sublimated doesn’t contain any harmful material, the fumes contain only water vapors, which aren’t hazardous to health and nature. Plus, the heat press always provides instructions and guidelines, so unless you’re stuck with those prescriptions, there’s nothing sketching and injurious. 

Does sublimation produce fumes

Related to fumes, I also heard people talking about sublimation smell, so here’s the last question to our debate about whether sublimation is toxic or not. 

Does Sublimation Printing Smell? 

Yes, sublimation may have a minor or strong smell depending on your environment and substrate. If you’re sublimating on neoprene-like substrates, like rubber, you’re going to have a highly smelly environment, which will be uncomfortable. Sublimation smell isn’t toxic and harmful, but obviously, it doesn’t smell good. However, you can have good ventilation or duck in your heat-press area to avoid the smell. 

It is because the high temperatures affect the material, and with the heat, their molecules start reshaping, causing a weird chemical smell around the environment. The scent, again, isn’t too much if your substrates are ceramics or polymers. If you smell burns, probably you’re heating too much. In this case, you need to check the time and temperature allowed by the manufacturer. 

Case study: 

So, I was roaming around the internet, and here’s what I found interesting on the forum. I guess many of you have been through this issue, which says something like: 

I sublimated a few things but with coasters and mugs, and I always feel smoke and a smell after lifting up the heat press. Since I’ve health issues and don’t get a good vibe, may I know How harmful the fumes are if I inhale them? 

If you’re sublimating in an open area, sublimation usually will have no toxic smell, and it only smokes once the temperature is so high. With mugs and coasters, the temperature has to be set very carefully. The smoke starts when you’ve heated the material too much, just like how the smoke comes out of the fabric when you iron it too much. 

About the smell, it’s of the cork because the heat alters the wood, and when combined with the smell of neoprene, it starts smelling worse. The similar happens with resin, vinyl, and other neoprene-like substrates, which start smelling because their chemicals heat up, causing an uncomfortable aroma. However, they aren’t harmful. Not that you’d die from that. It feels uncomfortable, though, just like how a burning smell feels like. 

The solution is to have a well-ventilated area and use the right temperature. Don’t overheat anything. It’ll keep your press, material, and smelling sense safe and healthy. If you’re too sensitive to the smell of burnt or have chronic headaches, install a cooking range extractor over the heat press. 

Back to our main question: is sublimation toxic, or is sublimation printing eco-friendly? 

sublimation toxic, or is sublimation printing eco-friendly 

I guess you now know the answers scientifically. Sublimation is the most eco-friendly printing technique available out there. It doesn’t use any hazardous product or anything listed as banned in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act Of 2008. In fact, if you’re doing sublimation rather than any other printing technique, you’re actually doing a favor to the environment since you’re wasting tons of water, not producing plastics, and/or consuming many units of energy. 

What makes sublimation so eco-friendly? The conclusion: 

It may sound funny, but sublimation itself makes sublimation eco-friendly. It has the most harmless and risk-free procedures that I think every printing industry should adopt this technique. If I’m not wrong, at least 64% of printing industries have already moved toward it for accurate results, cheaper investments, and easy processes. I don’t think there’s any reason left for you not to switch to sublimation yet, so get your hands on sublimation material and start sublimating today! 


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