Help! My Sublimation System Has Been Sitting, and I Can’t Print Out!

by Tom Chambers

A not uncommon tech support question I get is “I bought a sublimation system  ___ years ago, and I never opened the box. What do I need to do?”  Another variation is, “I bought a sublimation system ___ years ago, and used it a couple times and then ___ happened and I never got back to it.  What do I need to do? Now it won’t print.”

OK, I know, it’s your money, and you can spend it however you want, but if you have that much money lying around to spend on something you aren’t ever going to use, send it to me instead, and I’ll go on vacation.  I’ll even send you pictures if you want.  Or you can go on vacation yourself, see the world, and enjoy life; donate to a charity or other worthy cause.

Unlike some out there, we don’t want to “just get the sale”.   We want to help you to be successful too. If you are uncertain, do more research until you aren’t. Ask us questions.  If you are still too intimidated, find someone who does sublimation, and if they will let you, work with them for a while for free to learn about it (preferably not a potential competitor in the same area or that could be awkward).  Or consider that maybe sublimation just isn’t for you.

A lot of system purchases are impulse buys.  I was told once several years ago that up to 80% of all sublimation systems purchased were never used, or only used once or twice.  I was recently told that the numbers have improved, but it’s still over 50%.

Look, we sell sublimation systems, and we will happily take your money if you want to spend it, but we’d much rather help you to do what’s right for YOU in YOUR situation for what YOU want to do.

If you have already spent your money on a system and you are still too intimidated to open up the box,  or maybe “life happened” and there are no plans to use the system, I recommend you just sell it on eBay,  Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, one of your local Facebook yard sale groups, or any of a thousand other venues before you lose your entire investment.  Getting something back is better than nothing.

You’re probably wondering why any of this matters, so to that end, here are some significant reasons not to buy a system and let it sit unopened or unused.

  1. The ink expires. Yes, that’s right, that expensive sublimation ink has an expiration date on the cartridge.  While it won’t magically stop working on that exact date, it is a fact that over time the ink will degrade, the sublimation dye will separate out, and the particles will clump together.  All that is a recipe for clogging up the print heads, lines, and ruining the printer.
  2. Ink dries up. Over time, the ink that is loaded into your printer will eventually dry out if it sits idle, especially if there’s any air in it. The Sawgrass Virtuoso printers are much more forgiving of sitting idle for periods of time – but even those can’t sit indefinitely for months and months or years without suffering consequences.  And other printers?  Good luck getting those working again after sitting unused like that.
  3. Hardware goes bad. Granted, a lower risk than the ink, but all those parts and electronics in the printer – capacitors in particular – age and can go bad after enough time, even if they aren’t being used.
  4. Hardware becomes obsolete. If enough time elapses, even if the printer is still in good condition and would work – it may not be possible to obtain sublimation ink for it any longer.  While Sawgrass does make ink for many models of printers long past their obsolescence date, that support does eventually end.

So what if you have already purchased a system and it is either still sitting in the box, or just hasn’t been used for a long time, and now you want to give it a go?  Regardless of your reasons, there’s no judgment here – we’re here to help.

If you have an unopened, unloaded system you bought some time ago and want to start using now, first check the expiration date on the ink.  If it’s well expired – throw it away and buy a new set of sublimation ink for your printer before you do anything else.  Otherwise, your printer becomes a slot machine in Las Vegas, and that long expired ink could ruin you.

On the other hand, if you have a system that has been sitting loaded but unused for a very long period of time, you have nothing to lose by trying to print again.  The ink is already in it, and either it is bad, or it isn’t.  If it does print correctly right away or after a few nozzle checks and cleanings, you should still check the expiration date on the ink.  If it is well past expiration, replace it immediately, and run a few cleanings to flush the old ink out.

If the print quality is still bad and your ink has expired, you have a couple of choices – either buy new ink and try to revive the printer, or just buy another system.

To help determine which choice to make, run a nozzle check followed by a head cleaning and another nozzle check.  Compare the nozzle checks, and note the position of any gaps.  Repeat the process a few times.  If the gaps are always in the same spot, your head is likely permanently clogged and you probably need a new system.   If the gaps change location, this is a good candidate for trying a new set of ink – but there are no guarantees, and a new system is always a safe bet.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Tom Chambers is EnMart’s sublimation guru,  the guide and mentor regarding all things sublimation.   Tom was instrumental in introducing inkjet sublimation to industrial laundries, and has been working with the process since the early days of thermal ribbon sublimation.