What is a sublimation printer?

What is a sublimation printer?

The sublimation printer once enjoyed more popular status before the photo inkjet printer took over the color printing market in the late 1990s. Some photo printing experts still prefer the sublimation printer on the inkjet, claiming the print quality is superior to the ink quality of photojet prints. The thermal sublimation printer uses a different printing process which creates a diffusion of color in a print, compared to the pixels or dots that make up an inkjet print. Ink

The sublimation printer does not use liquid ink like an inkjet printer or powder ink like a laser printer. The sublimation printer uses a dye that is incorporated into a cellophane tape. The ribbon spans the width of the printed page, and is divided into four sections. One section contains a cyan dye, one magenta, the other yellow and the fourth a clear coating that the printer applies as a finishing touch.

Dye Transfer

The printhead of a sublimation printer contains many heating elements that heat different parts of the ribbon to different temperatures. The higher the element’s temperature, the more of a particular color is transferred to a particular part of the page. When the dye on the ribbon is heated, it turns into a gas and passes over the paper in the printer. When the gas contacts the paper, it turns into a liquid and bonds with the paper.

Supplies and accessories

The sublimation printer uses the same amount of ribbon dye per printed page, no matter how many colors are printed on a page. If a user does not print much one color per page, the cost of using a sublimation printer as compared to an inkjet or laser printer is high. The sublimation printer can not use the same type of paper as for other printers, requiring specially coated paper that can absorb the dye. It costs special papers, more than ordinary printer paper.

Printing speed

The sublimation printer does not employ a single-pass printing process like the modern inkjet printer. The sublimation printer must pass a piece of paper through the printhead and dye ribbon several times. Since the printhead heats the dye in a gas, two colors cannot be transferred to the paper at a time, otherwise, the colors will mix before contacting the page, resulting in poor print quality. The sublimation printer is not able to print as fast as an inkjet and laser printer.


The sublimation printer was favored by consumers in the 1990s than some of the earlier retail photo printers. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the photo inkjet printer gained popularity with consumers and took over the home photo printing market. Consumers found the inkjet printer to be easier to use than the sublimation printer plus the initial cost of the printer was less.


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