Sublimation Cartridge

Helpful Production Tips

This section deals with specific sublimation production tips. If you just want general information right now, you can skip this part by going to the bottom of the page and "clicking" to continue your tour. However, this section does demonstrate that producing sublimated plates is easier than eating a bowl of "Corn Flakes".

As with most methods, there is more than one way to get good results. These tips are just some of them.

Light Kills Cartridges

In less than an hour, direct sunlight on a cartridge will almost destroy any drum. Because light exposure is cumulative, even several total hours of exposure to florescent lights can damage a drum. A drum damaged by light will have "dead spots" and won't pick up toner in those areas. It is most noticeable when printing heavy logos or thick long lines, like borders. Your will see a white or lighter area, going across the page. When removing a sublimation cartridge from your printer, even for a short time, store in a closed box.

Older Printers

If your older printer (like the HP III, Apple LaserWriter II, etc.) uses an EP-S cartridge, don't forget to change the cleaning wand every time you use a new cartridge (one is supplied with every EP-S cartridge we sell). If you forget, your transfers will start looking "trashy" very quickly.


Do not use inkjet or coated paper. Ordinary, inexpensive copier paper is best. We prefer 20lb bright white paper.

Artwork and Layouts

Make and save templates of your most common layouts. A lot of times you can just call it up, do a "save as" and use the "overstrike" feature to start entering immediately. Be sure and include crop marks or a .3 larger box, for plate alignment, on your templates.

The Printer

Like any other piece of equipment that generates "mess" it doesn't hurt to occasionally clean it. Don't take your machine apart. Just take the cartridge out and gently run a vacuum hose around the inside. It is amazing how much regular dust (even from the paper) accumulates inside. Taking care of your printer will give you better prints and save a lot of aggravation.

Print Density

Use the lowest print density setting possible that is consistent with the look you want. Anything more than that will waste your money. If you also use your laser printer for document printing don't forget to increase print density when you do regular printing.


If you get 1 bad print out of a 100, it will usually be the first print or two. Always check them. If you get multiple bad prints go to our "Trouble Shooting" page under transfers or printer problems.

The Cartridge

Although the cartridge is designed to "agitate" the toner, sublimation toner powder is a much coarser powder, than regular printing toner powder is. Every once in a while it doesn't hurt to gently rock the cartridge back and forth, especially when you first receive it. Never store it on the end. It is very important, while storing, to protect it from dust, sunlight and heat.

Heat Press Temperature, Time and Pressure

There is a direct ratio between time and temperature. The more you use of one, the less you need of the other. At 400 degrees F(never higher) you may not need more than 10 seconds. At 355° (never lower) you will need about 25 - 30 seconds. If the mat on the press is cold, we recommend running through one heating cycle before you start burning transfers. Pressure should be light to medium, never heavy. Burn metal plates face down and fabrics face up.

Direct Burn vs. Burning Through The Mask (with Black)

A good quality, polymer coated metal plate, will also have a thin, good quality plastic mask on the plate. You can remove the mask and burn directly on the plate, or burn through the mask and 90% of the toner gas will pass through and imprint the plate. A direct burn will be slightly brighter. Burning through the mask (indirect) means you don't have to clean the plate (with a citrus cleaner) and will probably at save at least 50% of production time. The reason for the big, time savings is because the cleaner itself must then also be cleaned off. Citric is slightly acidic and continues to clean until removed. Some companies only do one or the other; some do both. With black, print density does not have to change, no matter how you burn. For more efficiency, try higher temperatures, with less time, when direct burning (makes the cleaning job easier). Use lower temperatures, with more time, through the mask (you can profitably use the "down-time" to set up your next plate). The customer is the ultimate decision-maker. Just make sure they get as good as they saw. Note - Black toner powder (from laser printers) does not look good sublimated on white aluminum plates. On the other hand, black inks (from ink jet printers) look terrible, sublimated on gold, silver or bronze aluminum plates.

Sublimating Colors (Direct vs. Mask)

Black is the most opaque color. Any other color is much less opaque, so there will be more difference, when burning through the mask. The following is a test we ran, using our royal blue and a printer that has 15 print density settings (1 is the lowest and 15 is the highest)

  1. Setting 2, direct burn- everything crystal clear, with a deep royal blue color.

  2. Setting 2, through the mask- most letters and solids slightly fuzzy and overall light blue color.

  3. Setting 5, through the mask- letter and solids very clear, with a nice (but not royal) blue color.

  4. Setting 7, burning through the mask- too much toner on the transfer. It looked junky.

If we were setting a production job up, to burn through the mask, that had a blue logo and black text, we would probably run the blue logo on a 5 and then run the paper back through for the black text, set on 2. It's not that much trouble to change print density settings for colors and it will produce a nicer look.

Transfer & Plate Prep

It is seldom necessary to tape transfers to the plate, if you add registration marks to your layout. You can use the little double crop marks, in all four corners, that printers use or even a simple "L" registration mark, running along two side edges of your layout. After aligning, many fold all four sides of the paper down over the plate. There is another way. Hold the plate down with one hand and hold any corner of the paper with the other. Pull that corner towards the same corner of the metal plate. Keep pulling the paper and let the corner of the plate actually make a 2 sided tear in the paper of about 3/4". Fold that corner down over the plate. Go to the opposite diagonal corner and do the same thing. The plate is now locked in. Lift paper and plate together, by the unfolded sides, to put on the heat press. Note: - if you use your press to burn plates and textiles it is a good idea to put a full sized Teflon sheet under and over the textile. The reason is, it is very easy for sublimation residue to get on the heat press head or bottom platen, when sublimating textiles. The Teflon will create a barrier and can be cleaned.

Transferring Through The Plastic Cover On The Plate

The transfer always goes into your press face-up and the metal is face down. If you are burning through the plastic, lift the head of your heat press after the timer goes off and immediately remove paper and metal. Keep the metal face down and put everything to one side, to cool (don't worry, the paper and plate won't separate). After the plate gets cold, hold the plate with the fingers of one hand, while you pull the paper with the other. Paper and the plastic film on the plate will come off together, almost as easy as peeling a banana.

Transferring Directly On The Metal

The black toner in an Alpha sublimation cartridge is very powerful. Even burning through the plastic cover produces a black that is near screen-print black. There is no denying however, that there is about a 5% loss of resolution around the edges of the letters because of the slight diffusion effect of the plastic. If you want to "direct burn", this is the procedure. Remove the plastic from the plate. Try not to touch the face of the plate with your fingers. Still place the transfer in your press face up, with the plate face down. When the timer goes off, you must take the paper off while the plate is still on the press, and then put it to one side, face up to get cool. How to do this is in the next paragraph.

The Egg Turner Solution

If you are burning directly on the metal, the paper should be removed while the plate is on the press. That means burned fingers or gloves, unless you have the "magic" Teflon Egg Turner. We like ones with rounded sides and the handle embedded in the turner. After lifting the heat press head, hold a corner of the paper and turn the plate over, face up. Hold the plate down, with the edge of the turner (through the paper) as you start peeling the paper off the plate. With a little practice you will find that you can easily pull the paper back as you simultaneously slide the egg turner down the plate, to continue holding it down.

Cleaning A Direct Burned Plate

After the plate cools you will see a whitish residue on the black letters. A wax binder that is in toner, and must be cleaned off, causes this. Lighter fluid can be used in an emergency. A citrus cleaner is what should be used. We will supply you with the brand name, and a source, if you can't find it locally. Procedure: Spray the cleaner on the plate, to wet the letters. Wait 5 seconds to let it penetrate and then gently spread it around with the smooth side of a paper towel or unscented Kleenex. Then rub (not scrub) the plate in the grain direction of the metal. This will remove the wax binder. Important! You must use some type of metal polisher after using the citrus cleaner (Windex is not good). If you don't, the citrus will eventually penetrate into the polymer coating on sublimation metal and turn the lettering brown. We can also supply a source for the polisher.

Sublimation Metal

Sublimation metal is ordinary engraver's aluminum (gold, silver, copper and bronze toned) that has a polymer coating on it. You are sublimating the polymer coating, not the metal itself. The metal is inexpensive ($2.50 to $3.25 per 12"x 24" sheet) and sturdy. It does, however, scratch easily. When you are doing a lot of plates make sure that you don't drag a corner of one plate, across another.

Plate Protection

Nothing is more aggravating than having to redo a plate because of a scratch. Eliminate this problem by keeping magazines around your press. As your plates cool just slip them between the pages of a magazine. Makes them handy to carry too.

Attaching Plates With Tape

Plaque pins, tacks and screws may be needed to produce a specific look, but tape is much faster. Sophisticated adhesive tapes can be purchased that hold like super glue. Several tapes even do well, up to 400 degrees F ( which means what you make won't come apart in a car trunk). These tapes are expensive but you will easily save five times their cost, in faster production time. A specialty tape company can advise you. We have an excellent source on our materials resource page. To start, we suggest at least two rolls of Hi-tack 1/2" and 3/4" tape and two rolls of ordinary 1/2" "trophy" tape which is not as sticky and can come in handy, from time to time.

Our sublimation business newsletter, "Alphabits", also has a lot of "helpful hints". Click Here to receive your free subscription, back issues and free samples.

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