Can You Sublimate on Stainless Steel

Sublimation is a popular printing method used to transfer vibrant, high-quality images onto various surfaces, such as textiles, ceramics, and metals. While sublimation is well-suited for materials like polyester and ceramics, the question arises: Can you sublimate on stainless steel? In this article, we will explore the possibilities and considerations of sublimating on stainless steel.

Understanding Sublimation


Stainless steel, by itself, is not receptive to sublimation because it lacks the porous surface needed for the dye gas to penetrate and bond with the material. However, it is possible to sublimate on stainless steel with the help of a specialized coating.

2. Coating Types:

Several coatings are available in the market designed to make stainless steel suitable for sublimation. These coatings create a porous surface on the metal, allowing the sublimation ink to adhere effectively. Common coating types include polyester-based coatings and polymer coatings.

3. Sublimation Process:

To sublimate on stainless steel, follow these general steps:

a. Prepare the Stainless Steel: Ensure the stainless steel surface is clean and free from contaminants, oils, or residues.

b. Apply the Coating: Use a compatible coating for stainless steel and apply it evenly to the surface. Allow it to dry thoroughly.

c. Printing: Print your desired image onto sublimation transfer paper using sublimation ink.

d. Transfer: Place the printed transfer paper onto the coated stainless steel, securing it with heat-resistant tape.

e. Heat Press: Use a heat press machine to apply heat and pressure. The heat will turn the sublimation ink into gas, which will then penetrate the coated surface and bond with the stainless steel.

f. Cooling and Removal: Allow the stainless steel to cool, and then remove the transfer paper. You should now have a sublimated image on the surface.

4. Durability:

One of the advantages of sublimating on stainless steel is the durability of the print. The image is embedded into the surface, making it resistant to fading, scratching, and wear. This makes it suitable for applications like signage, personalized gifts, and promotional items.

Sublimation on Stainless Steel – Equipment

Equipment TypeRequired Temperature (°C)Required Pressure (psi)Sublimation Time (minutes)Additional Notes
Heat Press200-22040-605-7Use sublimation paper
Oven200-230N/A15-20Requires special coating
Laser EngraverN/AN/AVariesCreates permanent marks
Sublimation Printer200-220N/AVariesIdeal for high-resolution images
SandblastingN/AN/AN/ARequires abrasive materials

Stainless Steel Types for Sublimation

Stainless Steel GradeSublimation FeasibilitySurface Finish OptionsRecommended Applications
304 Stainless SteelYesBrushed, PolishedCustomized kitchenware, jewelry
316 Stainless SteelYesSatin, MirrorMedical instruments, marine parts
430 Stainless SteelLimitedBrushedOutdoor signs, decorative items
201 Stainless SteelNoMatteNot recommended for sublimation
410 Stainless SteelLimitedSatinEngraving, small metal tags

Sublimation Inks Compatibility

Sublimation Ink TypeCompatible Stainless SteelTemperature SensitivityColor OptionsCommon Uses
Dye-Sublimation InkYesModerateFull-color spectrumApparel, promotional items
UV Sublimation InkYesLowLimited colorsPhone cases, small items
Oil-Based Sublimation InkNoHighLimited colorsNot suitable for stainless steel
Water-Based Sublimation InkYesModerateFull-color spectrumMugs, coasters
Solvent-Based Sublimation InkNoModerateLimited colorsNot suitable for stainless steel

Preparing Stainless Steel for Sublimation

Preparation StepDescriptionRecommended Tools
CleaningRemove dust, oil, and contaminants with isopropyl alcoholClean cloth, alcohol
Surface EtchingCreate a micro-rough surface for better ink adhesionSandpaper, etching cream
Applying CoatingUse sublimation coatings or sprays for better resultsSpray gun, coating solution
Printing/SublimatingApply design and heat to transfer ink into the steelSublimation printer, heat press
Sealing/ProtectingApply a clear protective coat to preserve the imageClear varnish, epoxy resin

Sublimation Tips and Troubleshooting

Common IssuePossible CausesSolutions
Uneven color transferUneven pressure during sublimationAdjust pressure on the heat press
Fading or dull colorsIncorrect temperature or time settingsEnsure correct sublimation parameters
Blurred images or smudgingLow-quality sublimation paperUse high-quality sublimation paper
Ink not adhering to the surfaceInsufficient surface preparationProperly clean and prepare the stainless steel
Color bleeding or ghostingOverheating or excessive pressureAdjust temperature and pressure settings



In summary, sublimating on stainless steel is possible with the use of specialized coatings designed for this purpose. By following the correct process and using the appropriate equipment, you can achieve high-quality, long-lasting sublimated images on stainless steel surfaces. This opens up opportunities for creative and durable applications in various industries, including customization, signage, and branding.

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