If your craft space is full of Cricut and vinyl-cutting supplies, you may already have items that can come in handy for sublimation printing.
There are several Cricut tools and accessories that can be used in the pressing and finishing of sublimation projects, and their DesignSpace software can be used to create your designs, although you will still need to print or purchase the printed sublimation transfers.
The Cricut Explore and Maker are vinyl cutters, not printers, so they will not print sublimation designs. They can still be used in some sublimation projects, which we’ll get into below, but the designs themselves will need to be made with a sublimation printer, using sublimation ink and sublimation paper.
First off, you will want to have a design to print and press. You can purchase sublimation designs online, but if you are familiar and comfortable with Cricut’s DesignSpace software, you can upload or create your own images here.
Once your design is edited or sized to your liking, you can print it directly from DesignSpace to your sublimation printer – you will not send it to your Cricut machine, which could only cut the design, not print it.
The main drawback to using DesignSpace for creating or editing sublimation images is the sizing of your image – currently, you can only print to a maximum of 9.25 inches wide by 6.75 inches tall, because the software is intended for cutting designs on the Cricut machine. This may be fine for smaller projects, but if you need a larger size (to press onto a tumbler, for example), then you will need to use other software.
If you prefer to stick with vinyl-cutting software, the free version of Silhouette Studio will allow you to create designs that will fit all page sizes, including wide-format.
One of the product lines that Cricut offers is Infusible Ink.
Infusible Ink sheets: essentially using sublimation ink on transfer sheets, that you then cut, to press full-color designs onto fabric.
Infusible Ink pens and markers are also available, which opens up the possibilities for creating your own designs.
Using Infusible Ink products could be a great option if you don't want to invest in a sublimation printer, or think you'll only be making sublimation projects occasionally.
Cricut has several types of “blanks” that will work for sublimation, either using their Infusible Ink products or your own sublimation designs.
Ranging from clothing items and cosmetics bags to mugs and coasters, you may have some of these items in your craft stash, which can be used with either a Cricut heat press or your own heat press.
The fabric items that will work best for sublimation are those with a higher polyester thread count (the closer to 100% polyester, the better). The mugs or coasters will have a polymer coating.
Sublimation on Vinyl
There are a few types of vinyl that can be used in sublimation projects, including permanent adhesive vinyl in clear or white, and glitter or flocked vinyl. Different brands will have different results – experiment with what you have on hand!
To use them, you would cut and press the vinyl onto the item where you want your finished design to appear, then take a printed sublimation transfer and press it onto the vinyl.
Why would you want to add this extra step, rather than simply pressing the design onto the finished product?
Because there are a few cases where your experience with vinyl will give you an advantage in sublimation printing – pressing a design onto dark fabrics or onto cotton.
Sublimation ink will not show up on darker colors, and it can only dye polyester threads or a polymer surface.
So, in order to press a lighter-colored design onto a dark shirt, or to press onto a 100% cotton shirt, you would need to:
- First, cut the suitable type of vinyl into the shape you would like, or into the silhouette of the finished design.
- Then press the vinyl onto the shirt.
- Finally, you would press the sublimation design onto the vinyl.
The Cricut cutting machine itself can also be used in this situation, to cut the vinyl that will be applied to the shirt, by creating a silhouette of the design in DesignSpace.
Another solution for these situations is to print from DesignSpace (without mirroring) directly onto a special, thinner, vinyl product like Siser brand's EasySubli HTV, letting the ink dry, then using the Cricut to cut the design, before pressing it onto the finished product.
Speaking of pressing, Cricut offers a range of options in their line of heat presses:
Let’s start with the EasyPress. Ranging from the EasyPress Mini to the larger EasyPress 2 and 3, you can use these to press Infusible Ink products onto Cricut blanks.
For sublimation projects, one thing to consider with EasyPress can be the size.
The smallest press in this line, the EasyPress Mini, can be great for pressing tricky spots on smaller projects, especially on an item that has buttons or mixed fabrics where you want to avoid damaging anything else with the larger heat press.
In general, though, you will want to have a press with more surface area, to make sure you have consistent coverage. The largest size for EasyPress 2 and EasyPress 3 is 12 inches by 10 inches.
This size can work for many projects, but you may have to lift and press different areas for larger items like banners or garden flags, and you don't want to move the press around as you would with a home iron: if the design shifts during pressing, it can distort the finished print.
Another important issue is maintaining temperature and pressure.
Sublimation printing requires a consistent temperature at or close to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, usually for around 60 seconds. The EasyPress line can be set up to this temperature, but may not hold it consistently, or the surface of the press may have spots that aren't as hot.
Constant pressure is also required. The weight of the EasyPress alone may not give you the results you are after, but you'll want to be careful about adding pressure yourself; again, you don't want to bump or shift the design.
While you can definitely make it work, if you are going to be doing a lot of sublimation printing, it is better to work with a closing press with adjustable pressure. There are many options on the market, and you can find a great starter press for around $200.
Or, if you want to stick with the Cricut family of products, they now offer a closing press:
Cricut has now come out with a larger, closing heat press that they recommend for sublimation projects. It comes with a high price tag, but has several great features.
The temperature can be set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, the press is closed with a touch, and it opens automatically when the pressing time is done. It is meant to be used with HTV, Infusible Ink, or sublimation transfers.
Intended for use with Infusible Ink products and Cricut’s mug blanks, this is a great way to try out sublimation products and designs.
Cricut’s mug press is designed for use with their mug blanks, and you will want to follow their instructions and any warnings about alternative products, but some crafters have had luck using the mug press to also sublimate tumblers, by pressing one half of the cup, then flipping it upside down to press the other half.
Another new item in Cricut's lineup is their hat press, which is made with a curved platen for pressing the front or bill of a hat. This would also be great for hat patches. Again, the temperature can be set for up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is an interesting option for creating sublimated hats.
Put it All Together
There are three basic requirements for sublimation printing: a printed sublimation transfer, a source of heat and pressure, and the item you want to press.
Take a look at your stash of Cricut supplies, and maybe do a bit of creative repurposing. If you have any of these items, you have a head start on trying out an enjoyable new craft!
Have another Cricut tool that can be used in sublimation projects? Share it in the comments below!