How to make Sublimation Keychains | Acrylic | Metal | Plastic

Keychains can be a great option to start sublimation with. Many beginners are recommended to start their “trial and error” phase with keychain blanks. While they think keychain sublimation is easy, it’s really not. The process can be hectic, but there are learning curves and you can keep up your budget with inexpensive supplies and blanks. All you need is a comprehensive keychain sublimation guide loaded with hacks and secrets, which of course, this article is all about. 

How to make Sublimation Keychains

We picked 5 keychain types and sublimated each of them and here are a few spoilers. Every keychain type has different requirements for pressing, i.e., plastic keychains can’t be heated at the same temperature as acrylic, it’ll melt down. The colors of each type will turn out differently, so you must know the best design type to use across each. Last, the durability of each keychain differs as well.  

Which type of key chains can be sublimated?

There are many types of keychains. To give you an idea of your available options, here are the most common sublimation keychain blanks available on the market: 

  • Aluminum 
  • Plastic 
  • Acrylic 
  • Neoprene 
  • Wooden 
  • Faux leather 
types of sublimated keychains

Honestly, all can be sublimated if they have a polymer coating. If you buy plain blanks, you’ll already get sublimation-friendly keychains with a specific guide to sublimate directly. Etsy has an incredible collection of sublimation keychain blanks in every material. Go check them out. The keychains in your possession may not have a polymer coating. If your want to use your home keychains, get a poly-coated spray, treat the keychains with the spray and leave it for an hour before pressing.  

We already covered wooden sublimation in our previous blogs, so here we’ll explain the rest of the 5 only, i.e., aluminum, plastic, neoprene, and faux leather. 

Keychain sublimation requirements:

You got the keychains, now you need a few supplies for sublimation; starting from the printing. You can’t print the design from any inkjet printer. There are specialized printers made for this purpose, plus they’re limited. Only Sawgrass or Epson have a sublimation printer lineup. However, if you’ve got a thermal-based inkjet printer, you can convert it with a sublimation kit. And yes, only sublimation ink and paperwork with a sublimation printer. Lastly, you need a laptop/PC with design software to create the sublimation design you’re going to print. Also, if the image has text, mirror it before printing. You can avoid all the editing and designing if you already have the design. 

In a nutshell, you need the following supplies for printing: 

  • Sublimation printer
  • Sublimation ink
  • Transfer/Sublimation paper
  • Design software 
supplies you"ll need for printing

A bit too much for just keychain printing? Forget getting all these supplies. Head to Etsy and order a printed transfer paper. You can choose the design they’ve on their lineup or send them your own. It just costs $2-$3. 

The second part is pressing for which you need a press. It’s more of a personal choice for the type of press you’re using. It can be a regular heat press machine, Cricut, EasyPress, or just anything you have that provides temperatures up to 400 Fahrenheit. This eliminates iron and heat guns. Also, the shape also matters. If your keychain is square, you can’t press it in the mug press. Similarly, for rounded keychains, you need the hat-press side to apply adequate pressure. 

Besides the press machine, make sure you have all these accessories on the table: 

  • Heat-resistant tape 
  • Foam pad 
  • Butcher paper/ Teflon sheet 
  • Heat-resistant gloves 
  • Lint roller 
needed accessories on the table

Pressing keychains:

Getting things ready, let’s move to the process. 

Step 1: Adhering sublimation paper to keychains 

Get 5 prints ready for each of the keychains. You can print 5 designs on the same paper since the keychains are minimal. You can print as many designs on the same paper as the paper allows.  Be careful, you need a design of the same size and shape as the keychain. You can adjust the size of the printer. 

Now cut the design from the paper and separate 5 designs. No need of precision and accuracy, you can roughly cut them to sit on the keychain finely. Before, placing the sheet on the keychain, clean it with the lint roller removing any dust particles. After cleaning, place the sheet and secure the design firmly with heat-resistant tape. Press the tape against the sheet to remove any air and wrinkles. 

Step 2. Get the press ready 

Preheat the press for a minute. Place a Teflon sheet on the bottom of the press and then put a foam pad over it. Unlike in T-shirt and mug sublimation, a foam pad in keychain sublimation is necessary because the keychain is thin and requires added pressure for an adequate transfer. 

Get the press ready

Place another butcher paper on the pad and then put your keychain–attached to the sheet–very carefully. Again, place the 3rd Teflon paper on the top, so everything is well-covered.

Here comes the twist. The pressing and post-pressing processes for each material type are different. 

Aluminum

Aluminum metal is hard and thus requires high pressure and excessive heat for transferring. You need at least 2 minutes at 400 Fahrenheit to make the design completely embossed on aluminum. 

After heating, wear your heat-resistant gloves, and don’t peel off the paper at one time. Remove slightly from the corner and see if the design is transferred completely. If not, the keychain needs another 30 seconds. However, don’t overheat the design. The metal will burn out. 

For metal keychains, you need to remove the paper instantly after heating with your heat-resistant gloves on. After the design is cooled down, it’ll be hard to remove it. The aluminum keychain needs 20 minutes minimum for a cooldown, so after the keychain reaches normal temperature, you can attach the ring and hang the keychain with purses, bags, and bottles—wherever you want! 

The colors are the most vibrant and sharp in metal sublimation. You can adjust the tones and use one lighter shade if you want true colors with aluminum keychains. However, aluminum keychains hold sublimation the longest and are the most durable ones. 

Plastic

Contrary to aluminum, plastic will melt away if the temperature is even 1 degree beyond 350 F. So, 350 F is the maximum temperature, but again, check the manufacturer’s instructions. Every heat press has different temperature settings and requirements. So, it’d be better if you just stick to that. However, we heat plastic for 50-60 seconds during which the design is completely passed on from the paper to the plastic. 

Plastic

After heating, don’t peel off the sheet when it’s hot. The design will be all messed up and the plastic looks warped when it’s hot. Place the hot design in a cool and dry place. Wait for 10 minutes so the plastic is cooled now. Now, remove the sheet and use the keychain. 

Plastic colors are vivid and bright, but the durability depends on the upkeep. This is because plastics naturally don’t last long when dyed and if–by chance, the sublimated keychains get in contact with the sun, the color will quickly fade away. 

Acrylic

Acrylic keychains are the most commonly sublimated ones. They’re also the hardest ones with the most complicated process. In acrylic keychain sublimation, you won’t mirror the design and also, won’t print directly on the acrylic. This is where many people fail. They print the design on the front and acrylic never accepts the ink, and the keychain turns out the same transparent even after turns of heating. So, turn the acrylic and secure the design on the frosted/rough side. Acrylic is clear so the print must be visible through the front which makes it easy for locating and adjusting the print. 

Acrylic

Like aluminum, acrylic also requires higher temperatures and pressures. The degree and timing will be the same, i.e., 400 Fahrenheit for 2 minutes. After heating, peel off the paper immediately or when the acrylic is cool. The design will be shown on the front through the frosted side. The coated acrylic look on the top makes them look professional, that’s why acrylic keychains are the most-sellings ones in the entire keychain sublimation blanks lineup. 

Neoprene

Familiar with double-sided keychain printing? That’s neoprene and faux leather printing (explained below). Most commonly, however, neoprene is a more widely used dual-side keychain printing because of its versatility. Yet, it’s another harder-to-print material. 

The red flag is, you need to wrap the paper around the keychain and you don’t want any air, wrinkle, or empty space in between. Commonly, neoprene keychains are long-rectangular in shape, so you need the page 2.5 times longer than that. 

Neoprene

You can press one by one on both sides or wrap the paper one time to do the shifts. The latter is much mess free and saves time. You need to be skilled enough the wrap the paper around the key chain, then heat one side for 50-60 seconds at 400 Fahrenheit. The sublimation sheet must be wrapped off instantly after pressing. However, let it cool first before you use it. Neoprene keychains are best to use for powder colors and floral designs in lighter shades. 

Faux leather

Faux leather

Leather and plastic have pretty much the same properties when it comes to pressing them. If you’ve glittered leather chains, the plain side will adhere to the sheet and the glitter side will be left empty. If you want the design on a double side, get a blank with a plain front on both sides. Press the leather keychain at 350 F for the same time duration as the plastic, i.e., 50-60 seconds. After pressing let them cool before you peel off the sublimation paper to make sure the design is perfectly engraved in the leather and the leather isn’t dripping with the colors away.  

Last Advice:

Sublimation is a bug that’s affecting every entrepreneur and crafting hobbyist alike and using keychains is a great way to channel this craze. Here we explained all the types of keychain sublimation, whether it’s acrylic, metal, or leather. You can even start your small business selling cute keychains or customize them for your friends and family to save some valuable moments together and cherish them. The last piece of advice is, to start with one material and practice with it and recommend going with aluminum and then moving to acrylic. Once you know how to sublimate acrylic keychains, you’ll master the rest of them in no time. Be consistent, have room for errors, and embrace your failure till your success speaks in true colors through your sublimation design.

Emily

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