How to Sublimate on Wood: What is the Best Method?

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Sublimating your designs on wood is a low-cost way to create tasteful home decor. So, in this article, we’ll walk you through the process step by step. Along the way, we’ll talk about the types of wood to work with and also what you could use to prep your wood for sublimation. Let’s get into it!

Short Answer

In summary, to sublimate on wood, do the following:

  • Prepare the wood for sublimation by sanding it.
  • Apply a thin layer of polycrylic to the surface.
  • Print your design, trim it, and attach it to the wood using heat-resistant tape.
  • Place the wood under the heat press sandwiched between two sheets of parchment paper.
  • Press at 385 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 seconds using medium pressure.
  • Remove the transfer paper and sponge off any remnants stuck to the wood.

We’ll go over the steps in more detail below.

Tools and Supplies You’ll Need

You’ll need the following tools and supplies when sublimating on wood:

  • Wood blank
  • Polycrylic
  • White Paint (optional)
  • Foam Brush
  • Sublimation Paper
  • Heat Resistant Gloves
  • Scissors
  • Sandpaper
  • Heat Resistant Tape
  • Heat Press
  • Parchment Paper

Choosing Wood to Sublimate On

Before we get into the steps, you should know that not all kinds of wood are suitable for sublimation.

For example, Chipboard contains synthetic binders used to hold the wood’s particles together. However, the heat and pressure can melt this binder during the sublimation process, separating the particles and leaving you with a messy end product. 

In contrast, MDF has more tightly packed particles and is more suitable for sublimation. Moreover, Birch, maple, bamboo, and other light-colored, sap-free wood make great choices for your sublimation projects.

Another thing to consider is how refined the wood you’re sublimating on is. Using natural wood means that some of the wood’s grain may show through, which may or may not be what you’re going for.

Sublimating on Wood – Step by Step

Below are the steps you’ll need to take to sublimate on wood successfully.

Step One – Prepare the Wood

Using sandpaper, sand the wood blank to give it a smooth finish so that you’ll have good heat distribution when sublimating. Once done, wipe off the sawdust and apply a thin coat of polycrylic to the wood using the foam brush.

If you plan to sublimate on painted wood, apply a coat as needed to the side you’ll be printing your image on and leave it to dry for a couple of minutes. Then, sand the wood blank down again to eliminate any grain marks on the wood.

Step Two – Prepare and Print the Design

Open your image in your image editing software (Inkscape, Photoshop, etc.) and ensure it’s sized appropriately for printing on the wood blank. Then, go to your print settings and set the print quality to “high.” Finally, mirror the image so that it’ll be facing the right way when printed.

Once you’ve finished preparing the image, load a sheet of sublimation paper into your printer and print your design. Initially, it’ll come out looking a little dull. However, that’s perfectly normal, and the heat-pressed version will be sharper.

Step Three – Trim the Design and Stick It on the Wood

Trim the printed-out design to fit the wood blank using a pair of scissors. Next, position the image over the wood and fasten it using heat-resistant tape. As a general rule, use more tape than you think you need to prevent any gaps or wrinkles from showing up.

Step Four – Sublimate the Design

Preheat the heat press to 385 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the wood blank under the heat-press, sandwiching it between two sheets of parchment paper, then press it using medium pressure for about a minute. 

Afterward, remove the transfer paper. If some of it sticks to the wood, sponge it off with water. Once that’s done, your design is ready to be displayed as home decor.

Alternative Coatings You Can Use to Prep Your Wood for Sublimation

Preparing your wood for sublimation using polycrylic is just one way to go about doing things. Here are a bunch of alternatives you could use.

Laminating Pouches

You can use a thermal laminating pouch to prep wood instead of polycrylic. The sheets have two sides, one glossy and the other matte. The matte side has an adhesive, so place it over the wood.

Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)

Using HTV when sublimating will give the design a beautiful painted-on look. First, however, you’ll need to let it cool for a sufficient amount of time so that it adheres to the wood well. Then, if any parts of the design didn’t take properly, you could fix the problem by placing it under the heat press again.

Sanding Sealer

Similar to using polycrylic, you can apply some sanding sealer to the wood. The difference is that sanding sealer is much thinner, and a light coat will suffice. It’s also the less expensive alternative to polycrylic and dries much quicker.

Is It Possible to Sublimate on Bare Wood?

It is. However, we don’t recommend doing that because it won’t come out looking great and may fade with time. If you insist on trying this out, ensure that you remove all moisture from your wood blanks by pre-pressing them.

Final Thoughts

Sublimation on wood is easy to do. It works the same way as sublimation on other surfaces with the extra step of sanding the wood down for a smooth surface. To get a high-quality end product, you’ll need to use wood that’s appropriate for sublimation like MDF. 

Also, avoid using Chipboard, as the binder that holds its particles together can’t withstand heat and pressure.

Now you know how to go about sublimating on wood. Enjoy creating beautiful wooden decor for your home.

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