If you've been searching for the best sublimation printer for beginners, take a look at the Epson EcoTank series of inkjet printers. They are not sold as sublimation printers (Epson does offer a line of sublimation printers), but the EcoTanks are more affordable, and are easy to convert to sublimation printing. This makes them a great option for beginners.
This post may contain affiliate links for products we recommend (this means that if you make a purchase through one of our links, we will earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you). Full disclosure policy.
Epson EcoTank Series
The thing that makes the Epson EcoTank series special is the fact that the printers have refillable ink tanks. Instead of having to buy expensive cartridges that always seem to run out when you're in the middle of printing something important, the The EcoTank's refillable tanks hold more ink, are easy to refill, and make it possible to easily convert from inkjet printing to sublimation printing.
Because of the larger tank size on the EcoTank, you won't need to refill the ink as often as you would with cartridges, which are typically smaller. You also won't have to worry about “tricking” the printer with refilled cartridges, or have to guess at how much ink you have left because of the monitoring chips installed by other printer brands. You can keep easily keep an eye on ink levels, by checking the windows on the front of the tanks.
Converting the Printer for Sublimation Printing
IMPORTANT: If you want to use an Epson EcoTank for sublimation printing, do NOT use the ink that comes with the printer. Don't even open it. In fact, find a new home for that ink right away, so you don't accidentally use it later! You can even offer it for sale in an online yard sale group for others who are using their printers for standard printing.
(If you do accidentally fill your sublimation printer with the original inkjet ink, you will need to empty the tanks and flush the lines before using the printer for sublimation.)
Instead, order sublimation ink.
Be aware that by using sublimation ink and converting the printer for something other than standard printing, you will be voiding Epson's warranty. If this is something that will keep you awake at night, consider looking at a printer intended for sublimation, like the Sawgrass SG500 or the Epson SureColor F170 Dye-Sublimation Printer.
Epson sublimation printers are more expensive than their inkjet line, but if you are looking ahead to building a sublimation business, this might be on your list of things to consider. We stuck with the EcoTank series, and will go into more details below.
Sublimation ink is specifically formulated for sublimation printing, and it will react to heat during the pressing of your finished product, revealing the vibrant colors of your design.
A reliable brand of sublimation ink is Hiipoo. Make sure you are buying the ink that works with your specific printer, and that the bottles you receive are marked as “sublimation ink” on the label. Unfortunately, mix-ups can happen, especially when a reseller has an error in the labelling of their inventory.
Buy directly from Hiipoo when possible. They do sell through Amazon, where you can take advantage of free shipping (and watch for one of their frequent coupon markdowns!).
Your ink will arrive in four bottles, one for each tank (black, magenta, cyan, and yellow). The newer Hiipoo bottles come with a top that fits the opening in the top of the Epson EcoTank's ink tank – you can pop this into place – being careful to match the correct color! – and let the ink run until it reaches the fill point, where it should stop automatically. (This saves you from the potential mess of using syringes to pull the ink from the bottles!)
Save any extra ink, and replace the top on the bottle.
The EcoTank series prints in high resolution, so you can print detailed images without losing quality. But you will want to purchase sublimation paper, made specifically for sublimation printing.
There are many great options for buying sublimation paper. We started with ASUB brand, in 125G weight. You'll print on the side that does not show the ASUB logo.
Sublimation paper is heavier than standard copy paper, and is made to release the ink of your printed design onto the item you are pressing. The ink on the paper will have duller colors than your design – the true colors will appear as they are heat-activated during the pressing of the final product.
You can buy sublimation paper in different weights, based on preference – we like to use the lighter 110G weight when pressing tumblers, because the paper is a bit easier to pull and wrap around the tumbler – it has a bit “give” and stretch to it.
The Epson EcoTank will have no trouble printing on different weights – just check your paper settings when printing – premium presentation matte is the setting we use most often.
So, Which Model EcoTank Printer Should You Choose?
This printer is at the lower end of the EcoTank price range, and will print standard letter size, up to legal size pages.
Several EcoTank models will print in this size, and they all sell at different price points, which may make you wonder if you are getting the right printer. No worries – any in this series will work; the price differences are due to the different print/scan/fax functions they have available for standard printer use.
These features won't be important to you for sublimation prints, so go for the lowest price point available, depending on what you can find in stock. The ET-2720 is often hard to find, because it is such a popular choice for beginners in sublimation printing.
The Ecotank ET-2760 is another great option. It may cost about $50 more than the ET-2720, but if it is a matter of getting it now versus waiting until an ET-2720 is back in stock, you might want to go for it.
Is Letter Size Printing Big Enough?
This depends on the size of your projects. An 8.5 by 11 inch standard page is plenty big enough to print a design for a 20oz straight sublimation tumbler (8.1 x 9.2 in), for example. If you are just getting started with sublimation printing, you may be working with smaller items.
When you need to print out something in a larger format, you can piece together multiple pages, but this can be time-consuming, and you'll need to line up your prints exactly.
The ideal solution would be to have a wide-format printer that can provide larger print sizes.
The Epson EcoTank series has you covered here, too, with the ET-15000 (or the more expensive ET-16600), which can print page sizes up to 11 x 17 or even 13 x 19 in. This printer is more expensive than the standard-size options, but it opens up creative possibilities, like prints sized for large shirts or banners. (The ET-8550 also prints up to 13″ x 19″, but is even more expensive, as it's intended for printing photos.)
The ET-15000 functions in the same way as the standard-format EcoTank printers, so you'll still have the handy refillable tanks, and again, you'll want to buy sublimation ink and paper before using it.
Should You Start with the ET-15000?
If you are planning to start a sublimation business, the wide-format printer will support a bigger variety of projects. If you are going to jump into making money from sublimation printing in the near future, then yes, you could consider the ET-15000.
At this price point, you might also be looking at dedicated sublimation printers, but the prices can range into the $1,000s. (The Sawgrass SG1000 prints up to 11 x 17 in. The Epson SureColor F570 Pro Dye-Sublimation Printer prints up to 24 in.)
There is a challenge to choosing to start with the Epson EcoTank 15000, though: like the ET-2720, the ET-15000 is difficult to find in stores. If you see it on Amazon, it is usually through a third-party seller, and the price will be even higher than normal. When shopping online on sites like OfficeDepot.com, the ET-15000 is often listed as “only available in stores”, and then there will be no stock listed in any store, anywhere.
If you've browsed through any sublimation groups online, you'll know that hunting for the ET-15000 is almost a rite of passage. People stalk their local office supply stores, checking on the mornings after common delivery dates, just to see if one is in stock. And those people sometimes get lucky. Refreshing the product page on the store's website and ordering it regardless of the “only in stores” status has also worked for some folks.
We were lucky to find an ET-15000 through Staples.com, by refreshing the website one afternoon. It happened to turn up, and we went for it.
Did we start with the ET-15000? No, we went with the cheapest EcoTank available in our local Office Depot, the ET-2760.
Would we do it differently, if we had to start over? Probably not. We were still learning about sublimation, and honestly, it was a better choice for us: it gave us time to research our options and decide what we might have the most use for in the future. It also meant we could start printing and learning about sublimation right away, instead of saving up money and waiting for the elusive ET-15000.
Your decision is going to depend on your plans – do you already have experience with sublimation printing? Are you planning to sell the products you make? Do you want to turn this into an incoming-producing business?
Take some time to weigh the pros and cons – the investment in a wide-format printer can definitely make sense if you already have a plan for making a profit.
We hope this has been helpful in your quest to find your first (or next) sublimation printer. We'll visit these printers again to talk about troubleshooting problems (they're printers, it's going to happen), and as we learn more about color profiles.
Have more questions about getting started with sublimation printing? Join our free facebook group, where we'll discuss all things sublimation.