There’s been a lot of confusion about Cricut’s big announcement last week and I’m hoping I can help clear some of that up. As someone who has followed crafter level customization techniques since the 90’s I want to offer my observations.
What are Cricut Infusible Ink Transfer sheets? From everything we have been told and shown so far, they are preprinted sublimation transfers in solids and patterns. Since the pattern and color choices are fixed, you customize by cutting designs from them, weeding them, then ironing on to your project. (Like toner sheets let you get a laser foiled result without a laser printer, Infusible Ink transfer sheets let you get a sublimation result without a sublimation printer.)
Sublimation is a great technology for customization and Cricut’s new line brings some of its benefits to the crafter market in an accessible way. I should note that officially Cricut is not calling this sublimation, so lets just say it shares the following traits with sublimation: it has to be used on white polyester substrates, it has to be transferred in the 375-400 F temperature range for best results, and the dye chemically infuses into the fabric for permanent, vibrant color with no hand (no change to the feel of the fabric).
Sublimation dye sheets aren’t new, but Cricut has added a backing for easier cutting and placement, and has patterns in addition to solids. They have strung together a complete line including the EasyPress2 and compatible blanks in a way I would call clever, but not necessarily “game changing.”
Likewise sublimation pens are not new, but Cricut has made them machine-friendly, which is especially helpful because you usually want your design to be mirrored, and that’s difficult by hand, even if you trust your own drawing skills. As someone who lacks any hand drawing skill, I’m looking forward to giving the Cricut Infusion Ink pens a try. I’m also happy that Cricut has been adding a lot more draw art to Access lately, most likely in anticipation of this.
I find it odd that Cricut’s emphasis seems to be on t-shirts, because as shirt pros already know, this is not sublimation’s strong suit. Oh, there’s nothing wrong from a technology standpoint, but from the people standpoint. Most people dislike polyester t-shirts and many people dislike white t-shirts. Those opinions tend to be even stronger when it comes to baby/child wear. (A notable exception to this is microfiber dri-fit type of athletic wear, which people don’t seem to mind wearing.)
Sublimation is amazing, however, for hard goods like coasters, tiles, license plates, ID cards and keytags; as well as plates, mugs and the like (with the proper pressing apparatus). I would expect Cricut to exploit this more in the future than what we see in the initial release (round and square coasters only).
Though Cricut’s new line has given us access to a sublimation result, it has done so by pairing it with cutting, which infuses some disadvantages (see what I did there?), namely limits on detail and the need to weed. If it turns out you like the result you get from Cricut’s Infusion Ink Transfers and aren’t put off by the substrate limitations, there is another way to get those results without investing in your own sublimation printer, and without adding the limitations of cutting.
That alternative is to have someone else print sublimation transfers from your custom design. If you don’t have someone local who offers this service, Etsy is full of listings (search custom sublimation transfers). Not only are custom sublimation prints generally cheaper than Cricut’s Infusible Ink Transfers, you get exactly the design you want in the colors you want including detailed text and intricate images as well as full color photos if you like. You can design in whatever program you like since there is no cutting involved (and did I mention, no weeding) and you can still use your Easy Press 2 to do the transferring to any of the thousands of sublimation blanks that are available, including Cricut’s.
I do expect Cricut Infusible Ink to be a gateway drug to sublimation for some of us but how does sublimation compare to the methods we are already familiar with? If you are doing t-shirts, don’t need them to last forever, and want to be able to use your own custom full color design on 100% cotton or poly/cotton in any color you want, then the inkjet heat transfers (Avery, Jolees, Jet Pro, etc) we’ve been using for a couple of decades now still fill the bill quite nicely.
Heat transfer vinyl (HTV) in solids, prints, and specialty finishes allows the same design freedom as the Cricut Infusible Ink sheets without the substrate color and fabric limitations. I know its confusing, so I put together a chart to help you evaluate which kind of heat transfer is best for your particular project.
|Infusible Ink||self print sub||custom sub xfers||solid/pattern HTV||printable xfers|
|permanence||full||full||full||high (50+ washings)||moderate|
|customization||by cutting||by printing||by printing||by cutting||by print/cut|
|substrate material||poly or poly coated||poly or poly coated||poly or poly coated||many fabrics, etc||cotton, cotton/poly|
|printer needed||none||dedicated sub||none||none||consumer inkjet|
|best press temp||high (EP2/heat press)||high (EP2/heat press)||high (EP2/heat press)||moderate (EP, iron)||moderate (EP, iron)|
|cost per letter size page||~$3-4||under $1||~$1-4||~$2-5||~$1-2|
|color brightness||high||high||high||high to moderate||moderate to low|
|convenience||on hand or local||on hand||local or online w varying lead time||on hand or local||on hand or local|
It should be noted that anyone with a diecutter and press can use the new Cricut transfer sheets and the pens can also be used in any machine with appropriate adapters so this has implications beyond just Cricut owners. Thanks for indulging me in some armchair analysis. I am not sponsored by Cricut or its competitors and have not received free product.