Use this guide to choose the best ink for your printer. Learn about the different types and which will work for your printer and your needs.
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What is Sublimation Ink?
Sublimation ink is a type of dye-based ink that is specifically designed for sublimation printing. It’s used in a sublimation printer to print any sort of design that you’d like transferred to a fabric such as shirts or other material. The ink is heat activated and transforms from a solid to a gas when exposed to high temperatures and pressure. Then when it cools, it penetrates into the material, actually dyeing it, so that you don’t feel anything on the material. Sublimation inks can be used on fabrics, wood, metals, glass, and more!
The advantage to using sublimation ink is not only that you can’t feel the print when transferred, but also you can print any design you want.
How Do You Use Sublimation Ink?
Sublimation ink is used in a sublimation printer. You can purchase stand-alone printer or you can convert an inkjet printer into a sublimation printer by filling it with sublimation ink. I have a full tutorial on how to do this with an Epson Ecotank 2800.
Once the ink is loaded into the printer, you simply need mirror your design and print as usual. It’s best to use sublimation paper (this is the kind I have) to ensure you have the best quality print.
After that, all you have to do is send the print job from your computer and let the sublimation paper and sublimation ink do their work! Finally, when it’s done printing, use a heat press machine to transfer it onto your desired material.
How to Choose the Right Sublimation Ink
When it comes to choosing the right sublimation ink for your printer, there are thankfully only a few questions to ask:
1. Do you plan to print a lot of black?
If you plan to print a lot of black, some sublimation ink sets (such as this one) come with extra bottles of sublimation black ink. This is great if you need more coverage or darker shades when printing or you have a lot of all-black projects in mind. It’s helpful to have the extra bottle on hand so that you don’t run out mid-project.
2. Does you printer have cartridges or can you fill the ink directly into the printer?
This is important because sublimation inks come either in cartridges or bottles to refill the printer directly. If you have a cartridge-based sublimation printer, look for sublimation inks that are made specifically for your printer model. Typically this will be Sawgrass printers or other stand-alone sublimation printers.
There are, however, printers that you can convert to sublimation printers that also use cartridges. You can still use refillable cartridges and purchase just the ink, but you want to make sure you get ones that fill via syringe.
If you can fill the ink directly into the printer, you can use either the syringe type inks or autofill inks.
3. Do you want to have more control or do prefer an easy solution?
If you want more control over the ink-filling process, select sublimation inks that use syringes. With the sets that come with syringes, you’ll have to fill each cartridge or printer yourself and monitor the levels as you go. This gives you a bit more control over the process and you can control precisely how much you add at a time.
On the other hand, sublimation inks that connect directly to the printer are much easier to use as you don’t have the extra step with the syringe. With these inks, you simply flip the ink bottles upside down and connect them to the printer, filling up the ink reservoir automatically. You don’t have to worry about it dripping ink and they should stop on their own when the reservoir is full. That being said, because you don’t have full control over the process, accidents can happen (*insert myself spilling black ink all over my printer).
4. Are you looking for the cheapest sublimation ink?
Additionally, stick to the types that require syringes, rather than than the autofill bottles. While the autofill bottles are more convenient, you’ll end up paying a little bit extra for that convenience.
Autofill vs Syringe Fill Sublimation Ink
There are two main types of sublimation ink – one requires a syringe and the other doesn’t, which is sometimes referred to as autofill. Syringe inks can be used with any type of printer, but autofill inks can only be used with printers that don’t require cartridges (these would be Epson Ecotanks, for example). Here’s a summary of when you can use each and the pros and cons:
Syringe Sublimation Ink
- Can be used with any printer
- Using the syringe allows for more control of how much ink you’re adding
- These inks tend to be cheaper
- The syringes need to be cleaned
- There are more steps required
Autofill Sublimation Ink
- Can only be used with autofill printers (cannot be used with printers that require cartridges)
- The bottles easily connect to the printer and fill the ink levels automatically
- These inks tend to be more expensive
- If something goes wrong, more ink will spill than using a syringe
In summary, if you have a printer that requires a cartridge, you must use a sublimation ink that comes with a syringe. If you have an autofill printer, then you can use either type of ink so it’s more down to preference and budget.
The Best Sublimation Inks
So now that you know what sublimation ink is, how to use it, and what to look for when purchasing, let’s dive into the list! You can read more about each below, but to keep it easy, I’ve highlighted my top pick for each type of printer:
Based on my own experience and Amazon reviews, the quality among the inks below are pretty similar so it’s really more down to preference, budget, and any necessary features.
A-Sub 600 ml Autofill Premium
This is the ink I currently have in my sublimation printer and is overall the best value. The bottles in this kit are huge at 600ml, which will fill my Epson Ecotank 2800 twice (normally kits only have ~100ml in each bottle).
I’m personally a big fan of the automatic fill bottles so I don’t have to worry about dealing with the syringes. That being said, in the first set I received, one of the bottles arrived bent and I ended up spilling black ink everywhere and had to clean the lines. But customer support was great and sent me replacement ink and the cleaning kit.
Hiipoo Sublimation Ink with Syringes 100ml
Hiipoo is a super popular brand in the sublimation world. They’re one of the most expensive brands, but they have all sorts of set combinations to choose from that fit your needs. This set in particular I think is the best one since comes with syringes and uses smaller 100ml bottles, making it easy to fill printers with cartridges.
As an added bonus this kit comes with some heat tape, which is a nice perk! Therefore if your printer requires a cartridge, you really can’t go wrong with this set.
Hiipoo Sublimation Ink with Extra Black for Ecotank Printers
Then to highlight another Hiipoo sublimation ink set – this one is designed specifically for Epson Ecotank printers (which is great if you plan to convert your own like I did). This ink set comes with a larger bottle of black ink at 127ml and smaller bottles in other colors at 70ml.
Therefore if you plan to print a lot of dark colors or all-black, this is a great option to choose. These bottles connect directly to the printer so you don’t need syringes – simply flip the bottle upside down and insert it into the reservoir and the ink will fill up. Easy peasy!
Printers Jack 400ml with Syringes
If you’re looking for sublimation ink for a printer with cartridges and are on a budget, then this 400ml set from Printers Jack with syringes is a great option. They’re an incredibly popular brand that’s more affordable than Hiipoo so if you need sublimation ink without breaking the bank, this one is perfect! It comes with 100ml of each color and a set of syringes.
Printers Jack Anti-UV Sublimation Ink
Printers Jack also has a line of anti-UV sublimation inks, which they claim are more resistant to fading. They have them in both auto-refill and syringe-fill bottles so if having an extremely durable print is important (for example for shirts that are worn frequently), then I recommend going with this one.
Koala Black Sublimation Ink
If you print a lot of black, you probably don’t want to have to buy a whole new set of ink with all the colors. This set from Koala comes with two bottles of 100ml each and it’s much cheaper than a normal set so you can save some money getting only the color you need.