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Sublimation for Beginners: The What, Why and How with Cricut

Sublimation projects are growing in popularity. The sublimation technique is a great way to add personalized and custom images, phrases and designs onto hundreds of different types of products. In our sublimation for beginners guide we’ll walk you through the what, why and how of sublimation crafts including the many ways that Cricut makes it super easy to do!

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What are Sublimation Crafts?

In the simplest form, sublimation crafts involve the transferring of special dyes directly onto a crafting surface of your choice.

Lifting a sublimation transfer sheet off of a tote bag surface to reveal a sublimated design: a green circle with the phrase hello beautiful inside.

The dye sublimation technique uses heat to transfer a special ink (the dye) from one surface, onto a second, specially-coated surface (the “blank”).

The trick with dye sublimation is that the ink goes from a solid to gas state, bypassing the liquid state completely. Thus, no drying is needed and the design is seamlessly infused into the blank’s coating.

The sublimation method is so versatile- it’s easy to see why crafters are interested in trying it more and more.

You can use the technique to create custom designs on a variety of hard and soft surfaces such as fabrics and ceramics. When you’re thinking of sublimation ideas think of t-shirts, tote bags, baby onesies, throw pillow covers, mugs, coasters, and more. Basically any surfaces you can think of that apply vinyl decals to, you can likely find a similar sublimation blank for.

Cricut Infusible Ink vs Sublimation

If you’re familiar with Cricut’s Infusible Ink, then you’re familiar with dye sublimation crafts. They’re actually the same thing!

The Infusible Ink line uses the sublimation technique and makes it super easy for even beginners to try sublimation crafts. We’ll give more examples and Cricut sublimation ideas below, but our Ultimate Guide to the Cricut Mug Press is also a great resource about sublimation for beginners to check out.

Close up image of a large mug with a green watercolor ink sublimation design and phrase reading Make Something you Love.

You can find a few simple sublimation projects we have using Infusible Ink such as these coasters, make-up bags and personalized Halloween totes.

How Does Sublimation Crafting Work?

For sublimation crafting you need three things: the dye, a blank and a heat source.

Sublimation Dyes

You can’t use any old ink for sublimation crafts. Sublimation ink is specially formulated to work with sublimation blanks.

There are basically two options for creating the sublimation transfer designs which you’d use for your sublimation craft:

  1. Print your own designs: You can buy a sublimation printer, or convert a regular printer into a sublimation one, then use that to print out your designs. Your designs can be any photo or image that you’ve created yourself, downloaded or purchased (you can find some great designs here). If you are a Cricut Access member, you can also find thousands of beautiful designs in Cricut Design Space.

2. Use pre-printed sublimation transfer sheets: You can purchase transfer sheets that have already been printed with the sublimation dye. Cricut has a growing collection of beautiful Infusible Ink transfer sheets which are ready to cut and add to your sublimation surface.

We used the Infusible Ink transfer sheets from the Sparkle Mermaid sampler pack for this adorable cosmetic bags project. Look how vibrant and rich those colors are!

And we used the plain black transfer sheets for this sublimated Awesome Sisters mugs project.

There is actually a third option as well! You can use Cricut’s Infusible Ink Markers to draw and create your own custom artwork and designs on regular copy paper. These designs can then be transferred onto the surface of your choice. Stay tuned for a few upcoming projects we have planned showing this simple technique!

Sublimation Blanks

The number of different types of sublimation surfaces available to use is constantly growing. Here are just some examples of hard and soft surfaces you can find such as:

  • Mugs, tumblers, coasters
  • Keychains, jewelry, ornaments, cell phone cases
  • Shirts, aprons, face masks
  • Throw pillow covers, dish towels, tote bags, wine bags

Cricut’s collection of sublimation blanks is also growing and currently includes apparel (baby bodysuits, t-shirts), accessories (pillow cases, totes and bags), coasters and mugs.

Heat Sources

Now that you’ve got your sublimation dye design and sublimation blank, it’s time to make the magic happen!

For our projects we’ve used the Cricut EasyPress and Cricut Mug Press to apply the heat for the transfers. You can check out this beginner tutorial using the EasyPress or this one using the Mug Press for all the details.

As alternatives to these presses, you can use a traditional heat press or even an oven. But note that for safety, this oven should only be used for sublimation crafts and not food.

Why Try Sublimation Crafts?

Sublimation crafts are great for anyone who loves to make unique, customized and/or personalized crafts for themselves or to give as gifts.

Unlike applying vinyl decals to your surfaces which leave a ridge and have a different texture, the sublimation dyes are essentially baked right into the surface. Thus they look completely professional and the designs won’t peel off over time.

Because of the professional, seamless results, the dye sublimation technique is also great to use in a creative small business. You can read more about the ways the Cricut Maker has supported our small business, as well as our journey as creative entrepreneurs.

Hello Beautiful Tote Bag

Are Sublimation Crafts Better than Heat Transfer Vinyl?

Overall, the sublimation technique has lots of benefits over the application of vinyl including the seamless finish and durability.

However, for optimal results you need to use sublimation blanks and sometimes you want to apply designs to non-coated blanks. In this case, HTV is the technique of choice. See our cute little wood bathroom sign or personalized women’s jumpsuit as examples of when sublimation wouldn’t work.

As a Beginner, What Other Supplies Do I Need for Sublimation Crafts?

In addition to the sublimation dyes, sublimation blanks and heat source, there are a few helpful supplies that will make the sublimation craft process easier:

What are Some Beginner Sublimation Crafts I Can Make?

We have a few sumblimation ideas which we’ve already mentioned using Cricut Infusible Ink, any of which make great beginner sublimation projects.

We hope you’ve found this guide to sublimation for beginners helpful. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments below!

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Collage of images showing the making of drink coasters as examples of sublimation projects for beginners.

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Doris Ryan

Sunday 10th of October 2021

I don't have a Cricut so need more instruction on what to do without one. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

Cass

Wednesday 10th of August 2022

@Doris Ryan, you can use a printer with sublimation ink and paper; or buy images ready to be transferred. I bought one of the printers that has refillable wells instead of cartridges and, instead of the ink that came with it, I filled it with sublimation ink and bought sublimation paper. Sublimation only works on clothing or other types of items with less than 30 per cent cotton content. Cricut, as well as many other sites, sells transfer images of a sublimation nature. Do an internet search for them.

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