A good printer for heat transfers is always the first consideration when starting a business for printing t-shirts or even doing it 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 to 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 a 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 in high volumes. 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 will not have the same image quality as an inkjet printer. The benefit of a laserjet printer is the ability to print on image clip transfers which are self-weeding and will only transfer the printed graphics to the fabric.
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
For more information on additional methods of t-shirt printing, check out our detailed guide, How To Print On T-Shirts: Printing Methods for Home & Professionals, which details all of the various printing methods and which methods are best for given needs.
Best Sublimation Printers & Printers for Heat Transfer – Top 5 Reviews
Epson Expression XP-15000 Review
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
Epson WorkForce WF-7710 Review
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, but it will also 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 a 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 fewer 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)
Silhouette Cameo 3 Review
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+ Review
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
Canon MX492 Review
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
I am wondering what type of printer would be best for a personal business in printing. It will be for clothing, wood, and other materials but I don’t want to get a printer that won’t suit my needs. I obviously want the best quality and will be working with a cricut explore air 2 to cut. I’ll be working with heat transfer.
Hi Brittani, It is important to evaluate all of your needs when choosing a printer and if quality is you top priority and you are printing large format images. That said, any of the other printers also print beautiful images as well as offering additional functionality like scanning and other uses that a business may require. I hope that helps.
I have a cricut dye cutting machine, but I see that the cameo is better for heat transfer vinyl?
Hi Cheryl, thanks for reaching out to us. While we do list the Cameo as the best vinyl cutter, this list is not inclusive of all of the great vinyl die-cutters out there. We added only one of the plotters as an alternative option to actual printers for crafters looking to get into heat transferring. That said the Cricut Die-Cutter is a great machine and several of us have either a Cameo or the Cricut which are very comparable!
We are actually planning on putting together a guide on vinyl cutters real soon. Let us know if you have any other questions!
Quick Question, I was looking at getting the Expressions XP-15000 for sublimation. However I am not seeing any empty cartridges for it nor any CISS systems. Can you share where you got yours for testing?
Great question, we have not tested the Expression XP-1500 with any CISS system yet as there haven’t been any developed yet. We are aware of few companies that are working to develop a CISS system for this particular printer but Epson has been taking great measures to lock out 3rd party ink and cartridge vendors.
That said, the Epson Artisan 1430 is still a great option that does have CISS systems available. The only issue is that printer is increasingly rare and expensive tp purchase new due to it being discontinued. I hope this helps!
I just bought the expression 15000 and refillable cartridges. I can’t find bulk ink for red and gray!!! Help!!!!
Im just starting my clothing line business and intend on heat transfer printing, is the Epson Print Epson Workforce Wf-7710 Aio Printer best option for me?
It is absolutely a great printer for small business owners, especially those looking to create heat transferred graphics, but we think that it would best to evaluate your needs to make that ultimate determination. Everyone’s needs may be a little different and may require an all-in-one printer, others may require a large format. I hope that helps, good luck with you new business!
Just have quick question, Can I use heat transfer paper in Epson WF -7710 printer? also, do I have to use Epson color ink only?
Thanks for your response.
Hi Len, Yes, on both questions. You can use heat transfer paper and there are certainly third-party ink options available as well as CISS systems available.
I am wanting to purchase the Epson WF 7710 do make shirts. My question is can it to both sublimation and HTV transfers. I plan on buying the sublimation ink cartridges but do I need to do anything special in between print jobs?
Great question, yes you can do both with the Epson WF-7710. You will need to purchase a CISS system that utilizes sublimation ink or sublimation cartridges to print onto sublimation transfers as sublimation transfers only work with sublimation ink.
For regular inkjet heat transfer you can technically use the same sublimation ink for these transfers but it is not recommend due to the cost difference in sublimation ink and inkjet/laser printer ink. It would be better to have two sets of cartridges, one dye sublimation cartridge set and one inkjet/laser printer set and swap them out when printing on the respective transfer paper type.
I’ve heard that once you convert the 7710/7720 to CISS or other sublimation style cartridges it can’t be used for regular cartridges anymore…. your reply makes it seem like we they are interchangeable- is that true?
It all depends on the system you convert it to and its compatibility with other cartridges. While you won’t be able to use different styles of cartridges once you convert it, it’s possible to maintain two sets of cartridges that contain each type of ink. For example, if the CISS is compatible with both InkJet Ink and Sublimation Ink, you would have two sets of cartridges, one for inkjet ink and one for sublimation ink.
I hope that helps.
Hey ,i am starting a clothing line business and intend on heat transferring on cotton t shirt,polyester t shirts ,mugs ,hoodies, is Epson l805 a good choice as a printer? Thanks
Hi Franck, based on the the features of that printer model it does appear to be suitable but I cannot give you a definitive answer as this is a non-US international model and we are mostly familiar with the US models and features. That said, just refer back up to the guide and examine whether or not the printer is compatible with the recommended ink types.
Sorry I could not be of more help.
You say pigment based ink is better for durability then dye based ink, but your top pick is a dye based printer???
That is correct, pigment based ink is more durable and light fast than dye based ink but dye based ink will usually provide better visual results and color accuracy. It is best to evaluate your own needs to determine what will work best for you and we have listed several options for various needs. While we prefer not to “rank” products from best to worse we do feel our dye based printer pick is ideal for most home crafters. That said, you can usually use both types of ink in printers by purchasing additional cartridges.
I hope that clears up your question.
I have Epson artisan 1430 printer which I want to use to print heat transfer paper for both mugs and t-shirts. Please which paper option do I have to use. Is it plain paper or ultra premium photo paper glossy or premium photo paper glossy or photo paper glossy or premium photo semi gloss or premium presentation paper matte.
Thank you for your advice.
Hi Eric, There are several options of heat transfer paper and we have a full guide to help people like you choose, just read through this transfer paper guide and let us know if you have any other questions.
What type of transfer paper is needed
Hi Toi, check out our transfer paper guide which has a ton of great info!
I am looking at purchasing a printer for HTV and Sub….do either do both, By one of your points on this page it sounds like they do as long as they have the right kind of ink, is this correct?
This is a great question and we have recently received some feedback that our article is a little unclear in regards to standard heat transfers and sublimation transfers. The short answer is no, not every printer is compatible with sublimation ink. That said, we will be working to update our guide to be more clear in the distinction between the two ink types. If you are interested in have both capabilities just google search the model you are interested in like “xxx sublimation ink” and the results should let you know if there are any sublimation ink. cartridges.
The most common issue is printer manufacturers locking out third-party ink suppliers with firmware updates. For this reason, it is always best to check what the current status of availability is.
I hope that helps!
I am looking to purchase a printer just for printing heat transfer clothing labels. I only need to print in solid black and solid white options. Anyone have any suggestions? There are so many out there, its overwhelming.
Would the Epson Expression Home XP-255 work for sublimation?
I have the sublimation inks suitable for Epson and the paper
The printer reference should accommodate sublimation ink just fine. The issue if any may be finding a compatible cartridge to house the sublimation ink. I hope that helps.
Hi. I am just starting a T shirt brand up. i see the printers and vinyl cutters. Would i need both for designs that are not a perfect square? eg Text etc? as in would i need to print first and then cut the shapes after? im new to this, all info would be great on a starter kit eg Heat press, Printer and anything else needed for logo and text prints etc
There are two methods to achieving this. If you are using standard inkjet heat transfers, you would need to use a plotter or vinyl cutter to weed out any excess. The other option is using sublimation transfers which are self-weeding but you need to also print these using sublimation ink.
I hope this helps!
I’m looking to purchase a 24″ printer to do HTV along with sticker vinyl and banner material. Any suggestions? I’d like to use one type of ink for everything and I don’t know if that’s possible?
How do I print on color or black cloth? Is there white ink?
You will need heat transfers specifically made for dark color clothing. These transfers will be more opaque, allowing the color to show up on dark backgrounds.
I am looking for a printer to make iron on transfers for complex patterns for bead embroidery, such as celtic knotwork,or geometric backgrounds. One that does not fill the open spaces. I have a number of books to scan in and resize. adjust, and edit what I need (Dover publications is great). But I don’t want the spaces filled. I don’t need permanent ink either, It will be covered with beads, Lol, an old dot matrix, and cheap ribbon (or transfer ink) would work if I could find one that functioned. Any advice would be helpful.
HI, I’m very interested in the Stylus C88. How and what do i need to turn that into a sublimation printer? Is it true i can’t go back to pigment ink after making the change? Is this the way to save on ink? thanks!
hello im looking for a printer to do tshirts, wine glasses,cards etc. also would like to do sublimation whats the best printers?
I am looking for the best detailed printer to do heat transfers to T shirts etc. I want to be able to use lots of color. I have looked at so many online and getting confused on what I need. I don’t need it to do office work just print on heat transfer paper clearly and good quality and not cost fortunes in ink replacement. Also if dye is better?