Sublimation on Plastic: Is it possible? Plastic Sublimation Process

Being in the sublimation arena, it’s impossible that you never thought of sublimating raw plastics. In fact, in the last 2 months, the top question we received is: can you sublimate on plastic? Well, sublimation primarily works for polymer fabrics or polyester substrates and plastic is one of the polyesters, so technically the answer should be yes. At the same time, plastic melts at higher temperatures which makes sublimation on plastic nearly impossible.

Sublimation on Plastic

However, there are hacks for everything and plastic sublimation ain’t different. There are certain “midways” that make it possible to sublimate plastic. Just as we treat cotton to accept sublimation, we’ll reinforce plastic with fiberglass so it doesn’t melt. The difference is, other treated substance provides unpredictable results while plastic with sublimation turns out bright and vivid, similar to how it works on polymers.

Which plastic material works with sublimation?

Which plastic material works with sublimation

As much as sublimation is exclusive to polyester and polymer-coated substance, it only works for certain types of plastics. Formed plastic, i.e., Three D plastic can never be sublimated for its custom fabrication. Dark plastics also never adopt sublimation ink because they already had a color. This is because some plastic has low melting points.

Take an example of a plastic bag. It melts at 266 °F while the minimum temperature you need in sublimation is 300 °F. Contrarily, the melting point of polyester (treated plastic) is 500°F. Now, when you treat the plastic with fiber, you can make it accept sublimation ink. 

There are printable plastics available on Etsy, Amazon, and Walmart. You may consider buying them. Microfiber plastics are another sublimation-worthy option. On rigid plastic items, you can use a white base coat or polymer spray–as in wood sublimation or linen sublimation. Treat your plastic with a coat or spray and then follow the sublimation process.

Other than that, there’s no restriction on the type of substrate. You can sublimate plastic mugs, chains, jewelry, bags, etc. 

Plastic Sublimation Process: 2 ways

Sublimation on plastic requires only two steps: printing and heating. 

Step 1. Printing

Taking the appropriate plastic and heat press machine, there are two ways you can sublimate plastic. 

Using your own sublimation setup

This is the most sought-out method many people use and even make a profit from. For this, you need the following: 

  • Sublimation printer with sublimation ink
  • Transfer paper
  • Design software 

Get a sublimation printer from Sawgrass or convert any Epson inkjet printer with sublimation ink. Now, with your PC/Laptop, install any design software you’re good at and make an image. Make sure, you’ve synchronized CMYK colors with the printer to obtain optimum vibrancy. Now, set your printer, send the design and print it on the sublimation/transfer paper. 

Using Sublimation Transfer Paper

In the second step, you don’t need manual printing. Just browse some sublimation transfers on Etsy and get printer sublimation paper delivered to your doorstep. This isn’t profitable in the long run, however, we’ve covered this topic in a separate article, under the title, how you can make profits with sublimation printing. Now, let’s move to heat. 

Step 2. Heating

The second step is heating the printer sublimation paper with plastic to transfer the design. Here are the few essentials you need: 

First, lint roll the substrate you’re printing. Make sure there’s no dust, wrinkles, or cat hair on the substrate. Place sublimation paper on the substrate and secure it with heat-resistant tape. In the meantime, preheat your press at 400 Fahrenheit for 3 minutes. Now place your substrate with the printed paper sandwiched between two butcher papers and heat it till the suggested time mentioned in the heat-press guide. After heating, remove the plastic substrate, let it cool down and then wrap off the sheet over it. 

Plastic Sublimation: Yay or Nay?

As long as the chemicals in plastic are rigid enough to withstand high temperatures, sublimation on plastic will be successful. The plastic also needs to be clear and lighter in the shade so the colors are bright and vibrant. However, if you use formed plastic or previously dyed one with a dark shade, that will be an ugly failure. So, know your options and use them at best!

Emily

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