In my last article, I alluded to a future blog post relating to unacceptable sublimation image quality that was caused by “simple issues”. Well, here are several simple things that can cause hair pulling moments, sleepless nights, and cost you a lot of money – but are easily checked and corrected.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of everything that can happen or go wrong. It IS however a basic guide to most of the simpler issues that can arise, especially when a user is relatively new to sublimation.
While the list below is written with the Sawgrass Virtuoso series of inkjet sublimation systems in mind, it will apply to many others as well. It does not, however, specifically address additional issues that can arise with bulk ink systems, aftermarket systems, or generic inks.
Some of the following may seem a bit obvious or even silly, but you’d be surprised at how many times these occur in real life – sometimes even to people who know better.
Issue: The sublimated image is faint / faded looking / invisible, even though it looks ok on paper.
- Are you using sublimation paper? Yes, sometimes people will get the idea to save some money and try regular inkjet paper or even copy paper. Results will vary, but in general you will never achieve good quality results with any paper other than one designed for sublimation.
- Are you printing on the correct side of the sublimation paper? Most sublimation paper has a printable, coated side which is typically a brighter, whiter color, and a non-printable side that is off white, duller, or even watermarked. Depending on your printer and its printing path, the paper could need placing either face up or face down.
- Are you using sublimation ink? Believe it or not, this happens. Simply put, sublimation requires specific sublimation ink designed for the printer that you are using. Regular ink will not work.
- Is your heat press on / fully heated up / actually at the displayed temperature? Always give your press time to warm up to the correct temperature first, and you should also be using a pyrometer to keep tabs on the actual vs. displayed temperature. Read this article for more in-depth information on that subject.
Issue: The images printed on paper don’t look like what is on the computer screen.
As long as there are no defects showing in the print, this is usually not a problem. It is normal for the printed image to look duller, darker, or even have different colors from the image on the screen. Unlike printing a photo onto regular photo paper for example, during the sublimation process the color also changes and becomes more like what you see on your monitor. The best thing to do is to sublimate the image first, then compare. If you have doubts, use a piece of polyester fabric to test on first.
Issue: The sublimated image has a double image / faint outline or shadow, but the printed image is fine.
This is called “ghosting” and is caused when the paper shifts sideways during sublimation while everything is hot. Most often, it happens when the press head comes up too fast creating a vacuum that sucks in air, causing the paper to move. It can also happen when you are removing the paper if you pull it sideways instead of quickly pulling it straight up. Another possibility is on a draw press, when drawing the platen out too fast. Be a bit more careful, use heat tape to affix the paper to your sublimation blank, use a tiny amount of a temporary spray adhesive on the paper, or use an adhesive type sublimation paper.
Issue: The printed image and / or sublimated image has light or dark horizontal lines in it.
Light lines are most often caused by one or more clogged print nozzles, where there is no ink being printed of a particular color. The first thing you should do is print a nozzle check, and look for any gaps in the lines. You may see only one, or it could be several. If you do, run a head cleaning, followed by another nozzle check. You should see fewer or no gaps. If there are still gaps, repeat the process and check again. As long as the number of gaps decrease or change locations, continue this process around 5 times, and by then you shouldn’t have any gaps remaining. If some gaps remain and are always in the same place after a few cleanings, you may have more serious issues that require a call to tech support.
Dark lines are usually caused by the print head being out of alignment, and to a lesser extent, light lines can point to this as well. To correct this, follow the procedures for your printer to print and adjust the print head alignment. This is typically a straightforward process that gives you step by step instructions to follow.
Both nozzle check and print head alignment procedures are usually accessed in your printer driver maintenance area.
Issue: The sublimated colors don’t closely match what it shows on the screen.
This one is a bit trickier to explain as there are a variety of possible causes and troubleshooting is considerably more involved, and there will always be some slight differences between what you see and what you sublimate, but I will address the most common, easiest to fix issues here. Where more specific instructions are needed, always refer to the information provided with your particular printer and sublimation system.
- Are you printing to the correct printer driver? With many printers that use Sawgrass ink, there are two printer drivers for your printer – a virtual printer driver that does the color correction for sublimation, and the actual OEM printer driver for printing. Frequently, I see cases where the OEM printer driver has been incorrectly set as the default, so the color correction is being bypassed. Always make sure you are printing to the virtual printer driver instead.
- Are your printer driver settings correct? A very common issue that is easy to overlook is the settings within your printer driver. If you’ve customized it for a particular product, and then go to print something else, you may receive surprising results.
- Are you using the correct color management settings in your graphics software? Another common issue is not following the correct procedure for a particular sublimation system when configuring graphics software. Be sure to read any instructions about color management settings for your system, graphics software version, and operating system. Failing to set up your graphics program properly for sublimation can cause unpredictable results with color, since you essentially wind up with multiple programs fighting for control of the color output.
- Are you using the correct color profile? If color profiles are a part of your system, they must be set up specifically as recommended by whoever provided the profile. Color profiles are a complex topic outside the scope of this basic article, but suffice it to say that not having them set up correctly or using the wrong one will definitely affect your color output.
If the above doesn’t solve your issue, or if you have questions about anything, feel free to contact us. We’re always here to help.