Sublimation on Canvas

Sublimation on Canvas

Canvas wall art can pull a room together. Sublimating on canvas is a fine way to create masterpieces for your home, and for your friends and family; and it is also a way to have a lucrative sublimation business.

Sublimation onto Canvas

Artists started to use canvas for paintings in the 14th century, and it is now the most common medium. Canvas was originally made from hemp, then linen. Beginning in the early 20th century, canvas made from cotton (also known as duck canvas) has become the most common.

Cotton, you say?

If you are familiar with dye sublimation printing, then you will know that you cannot sublimate directly on cotton. Dye sublimation requires a polyester and other polymer substrate. As a result, you have to use one of several workarounds when you are sublimating canvas.

In this article we will discuss various techniques for how to sublimate on canvas, and the pros and cons of each. We also talk about the ways that canvas is sold, and how to handle each format to get the best result.

Sublimating Canvas

Can you Sublimate on Canvas?

Canvas is relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and is an often used medium for artists, makers, and crafters. You will not get good results if you sublimate directly onto cotton canvas. Don’t be discouraged, however. Sublimating on canvas is possible with some additional surface preparation.

Below we present some of the most common methods for altering the surface of the canvas so that you can sublimate onto canvas.

Sublimation Canvas Tools and Supplies

In order to sublimate onto Canvas, here are equipment and materials that you will need:

Sublimation Printer

The first tool that you will need for sublimating on canvas is a printer. Once you have created your design, the first step of the sublimation process is to print the design. You can use printer designed specifically for sublimation, such as:

You can also use inkjet printers that have been converted to sublimation printers. Examples of these are:

Printing Tip for Sublimating Canvas

When you are printing a design for sublimating on canvas, size and print the design so that it is a little larger than the size of your canvas. Do this so that the design will fill all the way to edges.

Sublimation Paper

When you print the design on your sublimation printer, you must print it on sublimation paper. This is a specialty paper that accepts ink and then releases the ink onto the substrate when heat is applied. You can only use one side of the paper for printing, and the non-printable size is usually marked with a pattern.

Sublimation Ink

You must use specialty inks in the printer that are created for sublimation. Other types of inks will not work. It is the combination of the sublimation ink + sublimation paper + heat press + substrate that creates success when sublimating canvas.

Heat Press for Sublimating on Canvas

A heat press is another essential tool for dye sublimation. It is the tool where the magic happens. That is, the heat press generates the heat that causes the ink to sublimate. The ink starts as a solid on the paper, turns into a gas, and then moves and bonds to your substrate, and thus, the design is transferred.

You want a good quality heat press that heats evenly and is safe to use. At minimum, it should have a temperature set point and a timer. You can consider these heat presses:

Heat Press Tip for Sublimating on Canvas

When using a heat press, always use heat tape to secure your design to the substrate. This prevents ghosting, which can occur if the designs shifts slightly during the heat press step.

sublimation canvas

There are two types of canvas used for sublimation – Canvas Panels and Gallery Wrap. Canvas sublimation is popular because the canvas can be purchase relatively inexpensively, and the end result is appealing wall or table art. The finished pieces can decorate your own home, make great gifts, and can also be the foundation for or a component of your own sublimation business.

This section talks about how to handle different types of canvas. You will still need to read the section after this one to find out how to prepare the surface of the canvas for successful sublimation.

Canvas Panels aka Flat Canvas Boards

Canvas Panels are made from stretched canvas that is wrapped around panel board. The canvas is pulled tight and the edges are secured at the back with adhesive or tape. Canvas panels are also known as flat canvas boards.

Since canvas panels are flat, you can put them directly into your heat press, as long as you adjust your heat press to account for the thickness of the flat board.

If, in the course of sublimation, the canvas board bows, you can always press it in the heat press for 10 seconds to flatten it out.

You can use any of the techniques described in the next section to modify the surface of the canvas panel and then sublimate the canvas.

Once the sublimation is complete you have several options for displaying the artwork:

  • Use a stand. Some panels come with built in stands. Or you can purchase a stand to display your artwork on a table.
  • Frame the panel.
  • Use hardware to hang the panel directly on the wall.

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Gallery wrap canvas is canvas that is stretched around a wooden frame. The design on the canvas wraps around the sides of the frame as well as the front, which results is a stunning 3D display that doesn’t require framing.

Owing to the unique shape of a gallery wrap canvas, there are several ways to prepare the canvas in order to sublimate onto it.

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The first method involves removing the canvas from the frame by extracting the staples, preparing the surface, then sublimating the design, and finally, stapling the canvas back into to the frame.

Pros

  • You will be able to sublimate over the whole canvas.
  • Your finished product will retain the beautiful and unique look of gallery wrap, having the sublimated canvas design extend around the edges of the frame.
  • Once the canvas is removed from the frame, you now have a flat canvas to work with for sublimation.

Cons

  • This method requires the extra steps of removing staples from the frame, and then reattaching the canvas when the sublimation is complete.
  • You will need a staple removal tools as well as a staple gun.
how to sublimate on canvas with gallery wrap canvas
Use a staple gun to attach the canvas back on the frame after sublimation

Sublimation Canvas Tips

  • Once the canvas is removed from the frame, press it for 30 seconds in the heat press to get rid of wrinkles.
  • Ensure that the canvas is pulled tight when you put in back in place after sublimation.

Reverse Canvas – Cut the Canvas Out of the Frame

In this method, you cut the canvas just at the outer edges of where the canvas is stapled. What you are left with is a canvas sheet that is slightly larger than the frame.

Now, you have flat piece of canvas to use. You can use any of the methods described in the next section to prepare the surface and then sublimate onto the canvas.

One you have transferred the artwork, this is where the “reverse” aspect comes into play. You can now use the wooden frame to frame your creation.

  1. Center the frame over the artwork.
  2. The design should be face up, and the staples should be face down. Working on one side at a time, use hot glue around the back of the frame, on top of the staples.
  3. Press the frame onto the canvas. When you are finished, you will have a framed print.

You could paint or stain the wooden frame before you glue to the sublimated canvas to it. However, the look of the unfinished wood is also appealing.

Pros

  • It is easier to cut the frame out the canvas than to remove the staples.
  • You will have a flat canvas to work with.

Cons

  • This method involves extra steps of centering the canvas in the frame and then carefully attaching it using hot glue.
  • Hot glue can be finicky, and requires an additional level of cleanliness and care.
  • You might also have the extra step of finishing the frame with paint, stain or lacquer.

Sublimating Canvas Tips

  • After the canvas is removed from the frame, press it for 30 seconds in the heat press to get rid of wrinkles.
  • If you choose to paint or stain the wooden frame, do so before you glue it to the sublimated canvas.
how to sublimate on canvas with laminate
For the reverse canvas method, cut the canvas out of the frame before your sublimate

Pack the Inside of the Frame with a Brick

The third method to use for gallery wrapped canvas enables you to keep the canvas attached to the wooden frame.

You simply need to fill the inside of the frame with cardboard, corrugated or other, with paper, wood, or heat resistant foam. This is called a “filler brick.” The inside is filled so that you have a flat surface to press against when you use the heat press.

The brick needs to be even to the frame. Thickness variations can cause uneven pressure which would results in uneven sublimation

This is a good solutions for small and medium sized stretched canvases. You will need to adjust the heat press to accommodate the thickness of the framed canvas and filler material.

Pros

  • No need to dissemble the canvas from the frame
  • The filler brick that you create can be resused multiple times

Cons

  • The sublimation will be on the main surface of the canvas, but the edges will not be sublimated. This may not be a con, as the white edges are an artistic effect on their own. You could even decide to paint them.
  • The brick that you make will be crushed over time and will have to be reexamined and repaired.

Wrap the Canvas Method

This method does not require you remove the canvas from the frame. It is discussed in detail in the section below called Sublimation Canvas – Canvas Wrapping with Polyester.

Methods for Sublimating Canvas

Since canvas is made from cotton, you cannot sublimate on canvas directly. You can change the surface of the canvas however, and then get excellent results. Below we will discuss how to sublimate on canvas.

How to Sublimate on Canvas with Laminate

One of the most common techniques for sublimation onto canvas is to use laminate on the canvas first. Lamination sheets are available for laminating machines that are used to preserve and protect documents such as ID cards and certificates. Because they are made of polymer, laminating sheets are able to accept sublimation ink. Bonding a laminating sheet to cotton canvas however, is a perfect match.

Laminating products are typically sold as pouches, but but you will only need one side of the pouch at a time to cover the canvas.

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How to Sublimate on Canvas with Laminate Step by Step :

  1. Place the laminate on the canvas with the dull side to the canvas and the shiny side up
  2. press it for about 20 seconds at about 385°F so that it adheres to the canvas.
  3. Check for wrinkles. You may need to increase the pressure of your heat press
  4. Sublimate your design for 60 seconds at 400°F and it will be transferred onto the coated canvas

Tips for using Laminating Sheet with Canvas

  • This method works with both Canvas Panels and gallery wrapped canvas, whether you have removed it from the frame or not.
  • Be certain to use sacrificial butcher paper between the canvas and heat press and between the lamination sheet and the heat press.
  • If you have removed the canvas from the frame then you can use a sheet of laminate that is slightly larger than or slightly smaller than the canvas.
  • If you are using a filler brick and keeping the canvas in the frame, then be sure to cut the sheet of laminate to a size that is slightly smaller than the canvas. This way, there won’t be any rough edges, and you won’t have to trim any laminate.
  • Use a lint roller on the canvas prior to pressing the laminate

Summary for How to Sublimate on Canvas with Laminate

Why should you use laminate for sublimating canvas? Lamination sheets are easy to get, not very expensive, and simple to use. The end result is a glossy surface canvas with your gorgeous sublimation design.

Sublimation on Canvas without Laminate

Sublimation on Canvas with Clear Sub HTV

This method is similar to the lamination method above. In this case however, instead of a laminating sheet, you use Clear Heat Transfer Vinyl. You won’t necessarily need to use a vinyl cutter for this.

  1. Simply cut out a rectangle from the HTV that is slightly smaller than the canvas.
  2. Use the heat press setting recommended by the HTV manufacturer to adhere the HTV to the canvas
  3. Sublimate directly onto the HTV-coated canvas.

Tips for Sublimating on Canvas using Clear Sub HTV

  • You will want the HTV to be just under the size of the canvas so that there are no rough edges to trim.
  • If you prefer a matte surface, then HTV will give you that. The end result is quite nice.
  • One downside of using Clear Sub Heat Transfer vinyl that the sublimation paper may stick to the HTV. However, this is not a problem! Simply use cloth and water to remove paper residue. The design will have transferred to the HTV and look great once the paper is removed.

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Prepare Canvas for Sublimation with Polyspray

You can also use Polyspray for sublimation. Polyspray was developed for cotton sublimation and we have a whole article about it here. Since canvas is 100% Cotton, polyspray is a good solution for surface prep.

The advantage to this method is that you can use Polyspray all the way to the edge of the canvas, which means your design can sublimate all the way to the edge of the canvas.

The disadvantage of Polyspray is that you have to spray an even coat and then let the spray dry before you sublimate.

Sublimate onto Canvas with Polycrylic

Another option that some people use for sublimating onto canvas is to first coat the canvas with polycrylic (Minwax / Furniture Polish). Like Polyspray, you can get the coating to go all the way to the edges of the canvas which will allow for an edge to edge design.

Keep in mind that sublimation paper sticks to polycrylic and will need to be scrubbed off with a cloth and water.

However, we do not recommend this method for sublimating canvas. Polycrylic was created for use at room temperature. Heating polycrylic can release solvents which can be harmful, and it may be flammable as well.

Sublimation Canvas – Canvas Wrapping with Polyester

A hack that can be used to make a gallery wrap canvas is to first sublimate on polyester cloth. Then, wrap the cloth around a gallery wrap canvas, and staple the polyester cloth to the frame.

Your end result won’t have the canvas texture, but you will be able to have the gallery wrap effect.

You will have to take care to keep the fabric smooth and stretch it evenly and tightly around the frame.

This is a good solution for 3 dimensional artwork that is easy to sublimate.

Sublimation Canvas – Beware of Ink Jet Canvas

When you search for canvas, don’t be tempted by canvas that is advertised as Polyester canvas for ink jet printing. This type of canvas is used for Giclée printing, and cannot be used for sublimation printing.

Poly Duck canvas sold by Condé can be printed on directly using sublimation. When you use this, you will need purchase the wooden frame separately. The advantage is that you don’t need to use any of the above hacks, and you have many more options for size, because the canvas and frames are sold separately.

This method will require you to staple your finished artwork over the frame.

Tips for working with Poly Duck Canvas:

  • Make sure the sublimation ink is dry on your paper before your proceed to the heat press step
  • Print the image to be a little larger than the canvas so that the image fills the edge
  • Pull the image tight over the frame for the best look

Summary for Sublimating Canvas

Sublimating on canvas opens up a world of possibilities for new and beautiful sublimation projects. We have reviewed several methods of how to sublimate on canvas. With some planning and preparation, you are now able to craft your own masterpiece.

Last update on 2022-09-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API