Wood is a very popular material in interior design and decor. Sublimation printing is a quick and easy process to transfer a design to a blank surface, and you can see sublimation printing very often in textiles production and papercrafts.
But can you sublimate on wood? Yes, sublimation can be done on various metals and materials, including wood. However, if you want to sublimate on wood, you will need to use wood that has a polymer coating that allows it to grasp the sublimation ink more effectively.
If you’re looking for the best way to sublimate a design onto your wood, read on to understand the factors you’ll need to consider for the best results.
What Is Sublimation?
Sublimation is a process that involves “printing” a design onto a surface, most commonly fabric, using heat and ink. This process allows materials to be printed with vibrant colors and designs, and the color quality and level of detail are superior to that of other printing methods.
How does this work, exactly? The sublimation printing process uses heat to bond ink and the material together.
When preparing the design, a special paper is used to print the design. Then, the paper and the surface are brought together under high heat, which essentially turns the special ink into gas and presses the design onto the surface. This produces a permanent and non-removable print.
When printing on porous surfaces such as fabric or paper, heat is used to open up the pores on the surface, allowing the ink to be absorbed. Then, pressure is applied to help cool and solidify the ink. This process produces a permanent, full-color design that won’t damage the printed surface.
As you can imagine, sublimation printing is a process that allows you to create designs quickly and easily with minimal effort. It is also known as all-over printing, and it allows you to cover the entire surface with a design of your choice.
This quick and effective digital print method is growing in popularity for smaller batch orders and those designs that rely on the details. Sublimation printing is also known as ‘all over printing’ as it allows you to choose a design that can literally go from seam to seam.
Sublimation printing is also relatively simple to do at home. You just need a sublimation printer (or a regular printer that you can use sublimation ink with), sublimation paper (which you can find in most craft stores or online), and a heat press, which is functional for not only sublimation but a host of other projects.
Sublimation printing is beloved by fashion designers and DIYers, as it allows them to create their own designs, print small batches, and go crazy with large garments without having to follow rigid frames and stencils.
The longevity of the color quality is a plus point, as they won’t fade or crack after some use. This is why this technique is not only popular in fashion design but in interior design as well.
Sublimating On Wood
Sublimation is mainly used for printing t-shirts on demand. However, it can also be used on various metals and materials, including wood. However, if you want to sublimate on wood, you will need to use wood that has a polymer coating that allows it to grasp the sublimation ink more effectively.
If you don’t have poly-coated wood, then you can use laminating paper to laminate the wood before sublimating on it. This layer will act as another layer of support to help the color grasp onto the wood surface.
The quality of the sublimation job also depends on the type of wood. If you have natural wood, some of the grain can show through the design of the sublimation. Some people love this look and want to incorporate the wood grain into the overall design, but keep that in mind when you want to sublimate on wood.
Certain types of wood are also not suitable for sublimation. Chipboard, for example, uses a lot of synthetic binders to glue wood particles together. Some of this binder can be melted when heat and pressure are applied during the sublimation process, so you will end up with a piece of chipboard that is a bit separated.
MDF, on the other hand, is a lot stronger because the wood particles are more packed together, and the process of making MDF also utilizes pressure. So, under the heat press process, the wood won’t be separated.
Sublimation on wood is very similar to sublimation on other surfaces.
Here’s how to sublimate on wood:
- The first step would be preparing the wood that you have for sublimation. If you have poly-coated wood, you can totally sublimate it directly, but if not, you will need a laminating machine and laminating paper. You’ll want to laminate the side of the wood that you will be sublimating, which means when you laminate it, the shiny side of the laminating paper should be on top of the side of the wood that you want to sublimate.
- Then, after laminating the wood, you can trim the excess laminating paper away. This is when it is ready for sublimation.
- Get your design ready by printing out your design using a sublimation printer and some sublimation paper. You don’t really have to use special ink for wood because the laminating paper will help the ink stick on the wood just fine.
- Lay the design face down on top of the side of the wood you are sublimating. If you have a cut-out piece of wood that has a design, you’ll want to cover the whole thing with some paper on the top and bottom of the wood and the sublimation paper. This way, when the design is transferred during the sublimation process, it won’t be transferred on your tabletop.
- With your heat-press, use the correct pressure and heat setting for your sublimation ink, and press it on top of the sublimation paper.
- After a few minutes, remove the heat press and wait for the wood to cool down a bit before removing the sublimation paper. The design should be successfully transferred to your wood surface.
This process produces an incredible lightfast design on your wood, and you don’t actually have to seal the wood or anything – the design won’t go anywhere.
Note that if you have a natural wood color, some of this color would still be visible through the sublimation design. If you want the design to look exactly as it does on the sublimation paper, you will want to sublimate it on a piece of wood that has been painted white.
Let’s find out how.
Can You Sublimate On Painted Wood?
Okay, as you have probably guessed, you can definitely sublimate on painted wood. But, not every type of wood is created equal.
For natural wood that has been painted, the heat and pressure caused during the heat press process will cause the pores of the wood to open and the natural wood grain to rise.
That means even after the wood has been painted, you will still see a little bit of the natural wood color shining through. This can create a rustic look for your overall design while still letting the design’s colors shine, so if you love this look, you can still experiment with this.
The best painted wood to sublimate is MDF since it is an engineered wood that doesn’t have any natural wood grain. After being painted white, MDF wood can allow the design’s colors to shine through, and you can get a colorfast result with beautiful vibrant colors. This one on Amazon is my favorite.
Don’t forget that even if the wood is painted, it still needs to be treated with a polymer coating that can allow the ink to grasp onto it. If not, you can follow the same steps above and laminate the painted wood with a clear layer to get a vibrant result.
There are a lot of ways to play around with sublimation and painted wood. Depending on the paint color, you can get totally different results for your design, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your material, paint color, and design to get the best results.
Can You Sublimate On Stained Wood?
Sublimation also works on stained wood, as long as you use polymer-coated wood or apply the same lamination process.
However, we have established that the natural wood grain will still shine through the sublimation design even after the heat press process, so you shouldn’t expect the design to have the same colors as when it is on the sublimation paper page.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. You can play around with the stain color and the design and incorporate the wood grain into the design elements to get the best result.
A general rule that you should use is to use lighter wood with lighter designs and darker wood with darker designs. That way, the colors won’t be distorted after the sublimation process, and the wood and the design can complement each other after the sublimation process.
Up Next: Painting Wet Wood – Is It Possible?