Do you want to give your loved one a memorable gift? You can think of something made from stainless steel, like a tumbler, mug, or jewelry considering the material’s sustainability, durability, and shiny surface. Moreover, you have the option to customize it with a personalized image or text to enhance the gift’s emotional value. But can you sublimate on stainless steel?
This material isn’t as easy to sublimate as polyester because its non-porous surface can not hold sublimation ink effectively. Even if you manage to transfer a design, one wash would be enough to scrape it off. Fortunately, there’s a way to deal with this challenge and make stainless steel a sublimation-friendly material.
Let’s explore how it can be done so you can prepare customized stainless steel accessories.
As a hobbyist, you might have sublimated on various materials, and stainless steel could be your next target. But can you sublimate on stainless steel without any extraordinary hassles?
Certainly yes. Printing high-quality images on any item built with this material is possible. But it’s crucial to take a few key points into consideration before doing so. This is because sublimation ink can not adhere to the substrate if you try to sublimate bare stainless steel.
Therefore, you must first apply a polyester or epoxy powder coat, giving the ink a substantial medium to penetrate inside for stunning, clear, and lasting prints.
Stainless steel is one of the ideal materials for sublimation, but the substrate must first be coated with a suitable material to achieve perfect results. However, you can skip this if the steel item you want to sublimate is already covered with a polymer by the manufacturer.
For other items, a polyester or epoxy powder coat can be ideal, depending on certain factors.
You may refer to this table to better understand the functionalities of both materials.
|Polyester resin, a UV stabilizer, and a hardener
|Epoxy resin and a hardener
|Not as strong
|Best in terms of corrosion and chemical resistance
|Requires 1-2 coats
|Requires several coats
|Heat bearing capacity
|Up to 302 degrees Fahrenheit
|300 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit
It is possible to sublimate stainless steel, but the process involves a lot more than just transferring the image on the material. Let’s briefly overview what needs to be done to sublimate stainless steel smoothly.
The things you will require for steel sublimation are as follows:
- Sublimation printer and ink
- Stainless steel tumbler
- Sublimation paper
- Polyester or epoxy powder
- Roller or foam brush
Here are some steps that can help:
To start the sublimation process, you must first create a custom design that you want to be printed on the stainless steel tumbler. It can be done through any online editing software, or even Photoshop can work adequately.
However, you must ensure the image’s dimensions align with that of the substrate so it sits perfectly on it. Now print the design on sublimation paper using a sublimation printer. Even the ink has to be the one that’s specifically used for sublimation.
Note: If the image has any letters or personalized images, it’s important to mirror it. Many sublimation software has this option in-built.
Once your design is printed, it’s time for the actual drill. First, clean the tumbler using isopropyl alcohol or any suitable degreaser so it’s free of oil, dust, and debris. You can then easily coat a layer of polyester or epoxy using a roller or a foam brush. Make sure the layer is thin and give it sufficient time to dry before proceeding.
Use a scissor to get rid of excessive sides from the sublimation printer. But ensure there is enough space to tape the design upside down on the stainless steel surface without damaging the image. You can use heat-resistant tape for this purpose.
In the next step, you’d have to prepare the substrate for heat pressing. This can be done by wrapping butcher paper over the entire tumbler. Use heat-resistant tape again to ensure the sheet is fixed in place.
Now, place the stainless steel tumbler inside a heat press and secure it to the equipment’s plate with tape. Finally, adjust the temperature and timer to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and 1 minute, respectively.
Note: Heat press temperature and time vary according to the coating material. So remember to refer to the coating instructions for perfect results.
Once heat pressing is done, get the tumbler out of the device and let it cool. Ensure to wear gloves, or it can potentially burn your skin. Once it is cool, remove the tape and slowly peel off the sublimation paper. A vibrant, high-quality, and durable design is finally transferred onto your stainless steel tumbler.
If you want to sublimate a steel mug instead of a tumbler, a convection oven can help you with that. It’s a straightforward method and doesn’t even require a heat press. Here is a brief guide on how can you sublimate on stainless steel with a convection oven to get familiar with the process.
You will need the following things to proceed:
- Convection oven
- Sublimation printer, ink, and paper
- Shrink wrap
- Heat gun
- Polyester or epoxy coating
- Stainless steel mug
The steps to sublimate stainless steel using a convection oven are as follows:
Create a custom design and print it on sublimation paper using a sublimation printer. Also, make sure to mirror the image before you give the printing command. Once printed, cut the sides of the image just like you did in the above method while sublimating the tumbler.
Tape the design upside down on your steel mug and wrap it entirely with a shrink sheet to proceed. But before that, you must coat the substrate with polyester or epoxy material. Also, utilize a heat gun so the substrate is isolated and ready for the next step.
You must now preheat the convection oven for at least 5 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once adequately heated, place the mug inside for at least 5 minutes.
Take the mug from the oven and slowly scrape off the wrap sheet and sublimation printer to reveal a high-quality, bright design.
Although the above-mentioned processes are directed towards sublimation on stainless steel mugs and tumblers, it’s not limited. Instead, you can print vibrant designs on many more such items, including:
- Water bottles
- Wine glasses
- Phone cases
- Kitchen appliances
- Utensils like bowls, serving trays, plates, etc.
- Jewelry, including pendants, bracelets, earrings, etc.
Following the above-mentioned methods thoroughly is sufficient to get the desired stainless steel sublimation outcomes. However, here are a few additional tips that can further reduce the chances of any errors:
- Never use anything else than the sublimation printer and ink exclusively made for sublimating on stainless steel.
- If you fail to achieve a high-quality design even after following the right techniques, try adjusting the heat press settings. You can increase the temperature and timings depending on the coating’s properties.
- Never use a scrubber or chemicals-based cleaner when trying to remove the printed design from a stainless steel item. You can instead remove it with a soft fabric using mild soap and water.
A clear-cut answer to whether can you sublimate on stainless steel or not is yes, but only after you powder coat it with a polyester or epoxy powder. Although both materials may work fine for this purpose, their properties are different. Therefore, you must choose the one that best suits your needs.
Once the coating is done, sublimating any stainless steel item is as smooth as performing the process on a polyester surface.
The temperature that can potentially bring out the best results while sublimating stainless steel is around 400 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s when evaporation of the sublimation ink occurs, and it soaks inside the surface effectively to print a durable image.
If you are sublimating with a heat press, the process will take approximately 60 seconds. However, with a convection oven, the duration can increase up to 5 minutes or more.
Yes, you can heat press stainless steel, as this material’s thermal endurance is around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, the heat press requires a maximum temperature of up to 400F.