UPATE 01/24/2018: A previous version of this article listed the Espon Workforce 7610 printer in a our list of best printers. We have replaced the WF-7610 with the updated version which is the Epson WF-7710 as it is now a better value with the same great features and more.
A good printer for heat transfers is always the first consideration when starting a business for printing t-shirts or even doing at as a hobby. The most common question that I see people ask is, “Can I use my basic home printer for my t-shirt printing venture?” The short answer has always been a resounding NO, especially for folks looking to use the printer for more than just a hobby!
Of course, some persistent DIY’ers have a way of making it work with these run-of-the-mill units. But believe me, the quality is never great. They also involve a stream of headaches that are not worth going through given their poor performance. In most instances, these printers offer poor color saturation, weak image quality, and durability that is prone to crack or start peeling off after one wash at best. Needless to say, this is not the quality that you want to sell to your clients or even produce for yourself. Even if you do heat transfer arts as a hobby, you’ll soon be tired of designs that don’t last more than a few days.
Luckily, there are several printers dedicated for heat transfers. Join us as we unravel 5 of the best printers for heat transfers that are tried and true choices by both professionals and hobbyists alike.
Best Printers for Heat Transfers and Dye Sublimation: Buyer’s Guide
As is the case with any other electronic gadget, you cannot grab any printer that comes your way. There are a couple of decisions involved before landing on the perfect tool for the job. As always, keep in mind your own intended use when reading through the guide. This will help you choose the most important attributes in a printer whether your intended use is t-shirts or mugs.
Heat Transfer Printer Types
There are many types of printers on the market today but 3 major types of printers one may use in heat transfer printing. Each having their own pros and cons.
Inkjet Printers have long been the consumer choice for printing needs. The affordability, versatility, and wide availability of these printers make it the best choice for heat transfer printing.
The technology behind inkjets along with the ink quality has made leaps and bounds over the past decade and consumers are able to print photographic quality prints at home that are both quality and durable. Not to mention these printers are extremely versatile.
Another important feature that makes them the best printers for heat transfers is that they work well with many different options of specialty papers and inks. You will not be limited in selection when choosing an inkjet printer.
One of the most ideal printers for heat transfers, dye-sublimation printer uses heat to transfer dye directly on the printing medium. Whether you need to print on plastic, card, paper, or fabric, this technology has the ability to print directly onto the material and usually delivers the best results. Consumer printers are usually capable of printing dye sublimation ink, you just need to ensure compatibility.
These printers are available in both consumer and professional models which can produce photograph quality results on material. Dye-sublimation does have its limitations, one of which is printing directly onto cotton. This can be mitigated by printing on an intermediate layer which is transferred to the cotton.
Simply put, laser printers are typically designed for office use. They are ideal for printing lots of black and white documents. The problem with these models is that they are not perfectly tailored for colored photos or graphics which are most common in heat transfers. Even units that print colored documents are not meant for sharp images.
This one comes first. Whether you are planning to print designs on t-shirts, mugs, pillows or anything else for business or hobby, you certainly want them in the best quality possible. Thinking of quality brings us back to a major consideration; the type of printer.
That said, inkjet printers are usually the recommended models when it comes to quality heat transfers.
Heat transfer ink is another important topic which normally creates lots of confusion. Heat transfer printers are best used with special ink, but you can certainly get by with other options. Look for dedicated inks tailored for printing on special papers, card-stock, fabric, plastics, and other materials. It is also advisable to check compatibility with third-party ink suppliers as there are many better alternatives to the first-party options.
It is also important that whatever ink type you use, you should calibrate the printer for the specific ink type you intend on using. This is especially the case for anyone switching between different types. Most printers will allow you to save different calibration profiles which comes in handy.
- Dye-based inks
- Pigment-based inks
- Sublimation inks
So which ink is best for heat transfer printers?
Sublimation inks are meant for use with sublimation printers and transfers, you need to check a printers compatibility. These inks are known for their bright colors. They also have good light fastness when printed on fabrics. Unfortunately, you can’t use them on inkjet printers without buying new cartridges that contain sublimation ink. You can use existing cartridges, however, it involves flushing out all the ink in the cartridges before pumping in new ink.
The best advice is maintaining two sets of cartridges. This due the cost difference in sublimation ink and other ink types. Sublimation ink can be used on regular heat transfers but it is more cost effective to have two different cartridge sets if you intend on printing both sublimation and heat transfers.
Differences between dye and pigment inks
Dye-based inks are stronger compared to pigment inks. Unfortunately, they are also more water soluble. As such, they become mobile when the humidity is high. They also have poor UV stability. On the other hand, pigment inks are insoluble in water and are immune to humidity. They also don’t fade fast due to UV rays. Pigment-based Inks with usually give the best results in terms of durability.
Number of ink colors
The number of ink colors also matters a big deal. Most prints for heat transfer do just fine with 4 colors usually C, M, Y, and K (Cyan/Magenta/Yellow, and Black). However, if you want to explore wider color palettes, consider a printer with either 6 or 8 colors. You’ll love what you’ll get.
Most heat transfer printers print on transfer papers, including sublimation transfers and heat transfers, before transferring the design on the substrate. It’s also worth noting whether the printer can print onto compatible with other mediums including fabric, card-stock, and vinyl. Typically this will depend on the ink being used in the printer.
Size of the paper/medium
If your grand printing plan involves large images, you’ll definitely require a printer with a large printing field. Vice versa is true. For a business, an important consideration is to get an inkjet printer with easily changeable printing-field specs. This allows you to print on different size transfer papers and other media while minimizing wastage.
Sad to say, printers don’t last forever especially if you’re to use it non-stop. Dye-based printers tend to last longer than pigment ink printers.
How to ensure that your inkjet printer serves you for long
- Consider the manufacturer’s warranty period- the longer it is, the better for you
- Do maintenance services regularly. Pay attention to the manufacturer’s recommendation on how often you should do it. You may consider bringing a Technician on board if you are not so sure or you own a commercial grade printer. It’ll cost you less in the long run and prolong your printer’s life.
Of course, we all need a printer that can get the work done in the shortest time possible. Speed in printers is measured in papers-per-minute. When checking out the speeds, pay attention to colored printing rather than black printing.
Most inkjets output color photos much slower than black-and-white texts. The best printers for heat transfers take anywhere between 1.5 and 10 minutes to print a high-quality photo. Needless to say, larger photos will take longer than smaller ones so check out the speed for different sizes in the printer’s specs.
If you are printing directly from a computer, check out whether your desired inkjet printer is compatible with your mac’s or window’s operating system. You shouldn’t worry so much about this, though. Most of the latest printers for heat transfers support both Windows and Mac operating systems.
Price of the printer Vs. Your Budget
Spending within your budget is good. However, don’t let price stand in the way of getting the best model for your business or hobby. It’s advisable to save just a little more and invest in a high-quality printer that will serve you for longer than purchasing a low-end unit that will cause you constant headaches and fail within months of use. Fortunately, several above-average printers won’t break your bank. Several models can be purchased for under $300 and will work great.
Choosing A Heat Transfer/Sublimation Printer: Other Considerations
- Ease of use
- Ease of refilling or changing the cartridges
- Size of the cartridges (big cartridges reduce the need for constant refills or replacement)
- Size of the heat transfer printer in regard to available space
Best Sublimation Printers & Printers for Heat Transfer – Top 5 Reviews
Epson Expression is for people who want to take their businesses to whole new levels. Are you looking for a dedicated heat transfer printer for large border-less images? Do you want a printer that you won’t have to take for maintenance now and then? Look no further.
Epson’s Expression XP-15000 offers ultra high definition prints that can be transferred to different artifacts including pillows, mugs, plates, t-shirts, CDs, and DVDs. A great feature with this printer is that it has advanced color correction capability that ensures that your prints are of the highest quality possible. Couple this feature with its Claria Hi-Definition ink, you get stunning fade, water, and scratch resistant images that last longer wherever they are transferred to.
The Expression can print large prints of up to 13″ by 19″. What’s more, this printer uses 6 colors for extreme printing versatility. It also prints via wireless.
Epson Expression XP-15000 Key Features
- Prints up to 13” x 19”
- 6-color Claria Hi-Definition Ink
- 5760 x 1440 dpi resolution
- Dye Based Ink
If you are looking to get into heat transfer printing as a business, this model is gonna be the best heat transfer printers for you. Not only will it handle all of your printing for heat transfer, it will be integral in handling all of your business printing and scanning as well. Epson has cemented itself as the best brand when it comes to heat transfer printers. Amazingly, it has a way of bringing these models at great prices without compromising their performance and functionality.
The WorkForce WF-7710 will also print large format paper as well which is pretty much a must have feature for those having a go at printing heat transfers as business. Print photo quality, wide format border-less prints up to 13” x 19” and scan extra large 11” x 17” media on the scan bed. The DURABrite® Ultra Ink Cartridges are also worth mention as they are pigment based which will provide the most durable print compared to dye. It is also compatible with dye based ink cartridges as well.
Another great feature with this heat transfer printer is that you can print directly from your iPhone, iPad, and Android tablets wirelessly even without a network. Even better, it’s compatible with Windows and Macintosh systems. It’s also lightweight, easy to use, and has less maintenance costs. The ratings of the WF-7710 are mixed on several sites but I can say first hand that this is a proven printer among those in the heat transfer community.
Epson WorkForce WF-7710 Key Features
- Pigment or Dye Based Ink
- ISO Print Speed: 18/10
- Prints up to 13” x 19”
- Multi-Function (Print/Scan/Copy)
If you are a DIYer who wants something more fun and quite different from the rest, consider Silhouette Cameo 3. This isn’t a printer but it is an excellent device for creating heat-transfers. It connects to your PC or mac via a USB cable. However, rather than printing, Cameo 3 cuts the images using a built-in blade. Amazingly, you can replace the blade with a pen instead if you want the machine to sketch rather than cut. You control all the drawing or cutting from your computer.
The great thing about the Cameo 3 is the fact that you don’t have to deal with any inks and cartridges. You will be somewhat limited in the type of graphics you can transfer but the ease of use and durability of the transfers are great. This is an absolutely fun machine also and very easy to use.
Another great thing is the built in fonts and graphics that come pre-loaded on the Cameo 3. You will also find loads of help around the net ranging from tutorials to templates from other users. Finally, if you go with a Cameo, vinyl transfer work just fine with a regular iron but if you plan on doing high volumes or want the best transfer results I recommend checking out this guide for the best heat press machines as it will provide the best result.
Why you should go for the Silhouette Cameo 3
First, this model makes your creations unique from the rest. Second, this printer can sketch or draw on over 100 materials including vinyl, fabric, cardstock, and paper measuring up to 12 inches (w) and 10 (l). It also has USB ports so you can print your arts from USB or mobile devices and it’s also PixScan compatible.
Silhouette Cameo 3 Key Features
- Cuts 100+ Materials
- Easy To Use Software
- Heat Transfer Starter Bundle
- No Need For Ink
Epson Stylus C88+ is, one of the best affordable options for heat transfer on the market today. If you are strapped for money, but you still require a high-quality printer to start your printing business with, go for this one and don’t look back.
One thing, this printer is pretty affordable. It retails at way below $300 on Amazon, and you can also get a used one below this price. Again, it has less operating costs when compared to other high-end heat transfer printers. Mind you, this printer isn’t all about saving your money. It also prints high-quality designs either on paper, fabric, ceramic, and other mediums.
Importantly, the C88+ is compatible with both Window and Mac operating systems. It prints via its USB and parallel ports. Again, this printer uses Epson’s Durabrite ink. Like most inks from this manufacturer, this ink is pigment-based. It’s smudge-resistant (you can handle the print immediately after printing), fade-resistant, and water-resistant.
Epson Stylus C88+ Key Features
- 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi
- Individual Color Ink Cartridges
- DURABrite Ultra pigment ink
- Border-Free photo printing
Ask people who own a professional heat transfer printing business, they’ll tell you to steer clear from cheap heat transfer printers. However, for a hobbyist who only requires a simple printer with only the basic functions for heat transfers, a pricey high-end model won’t be necessary. If you’re learning the ropes and don’t want to risk lots of dollars on these units, you are well off with a cheap heat transfer printer like Canon’s MX492.
The MX492 is a compact printer for heat transfer. It measures 11.7 x 17.2 x 7.5 inches and weighs around 13 pounds. It’s, therefore, a great option for small dorms and compartments. Among other features that make this printer worth the shot include an automatic feeder (so you don’t babysit it) and XL ink cartridges, so you print more and refill less. This printer also prints photos with above-average print qualities, and that can be transferred to any other material.
It’s also compatible with a variety of downloadable apps; Google Cloud Print, AirPrint, and Canon Print App. This makes it easy to print directly from your mobile device even without connecting a Wi-Fi. To sum it up, it’s covered by a 1-year warranty to cater for your fears.
Canon MX492 Key Features
- Extremely Affordable
- Print and Scan
- Dye Based Ink
Getting the best printer for heat transfer is tricky if you don’t know what you need. Luckily, whether you need a basic heat transfer printer for printing gifts at home or an advanced model for business, you should be able to find a model that will serve you well in our list above.
Do you have any question regarding the units above or any other heat transfer heater? Drop it in our comments section. We’ll be glad to help you out.
Image Source:Rachel Teodoro