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Sublimation Printing: What Is It?

By ShirtSpace | Aug 23, 2019 |  Updated Oct 23, 2020

Before becoming familiar with the blank t-shirt and screenprinting industries, I imagined that all printed t-shirts were created using a magical t-shirt making machine. You simply told the magical machine what you wanted, and voilà, there it was! It was as simple as that. 

But, after my foray into the industry and a lot of education later, I realized that not only is there no such thing as a magical t-shirt making machine, but there are many processes used to create the printed tees that you see on the market today. 

Among these is a process called dye sublimation printing. In this post, I’ll teach you what it is, how it’s done, and why it’s such a great option for t-shirt printing. Let’s dig in:

What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation is the process of printing sublimation ink onto sublimation transfer paper using a special sublimation printing machine. 

A dye sublimation transfer printer printing t-shirt designs on transfer paper

(Image Source)

This is an alternative to traditional inkjet transfers in that sublimation ink actually becomes a part of the substrate (or the t-shirt surface) you print on, whereas inkjet transfers use a carrier sheet to print the ink on top of the shirt or item.

How Does Sublimation Work?

When the ink from your special sublimation transfer paper is heat pressed onto your substrate (t-shirt, fabric, mug, mousepad, keychain) and reaches a certain high temperature, the ink is transformed into a gas. This occurs because the heat not only releases the gas from the sublimation ink, but it also opens up the pores of the polyester, polymer, or polymer-coated item you’re heat pressing onto. 

Once your sublimation printer presses the transfer paper onto your item and then releases your pressure, the temperature is allowed to cool, at which point the sublimation ink turns back into solid form and the pores permanently close — thus encapsulating the ink within the polymer coating of your substrate. 

Pretty cool, right? And it has some great advantages too.

Advantages to Sublimation Printing

One huge advantage to this process, if done correctly, is that the image you transfer onto your item won’t fade or disappear over time — so long as your substrate isn’t damaged. Not only that, you can look forward to an extremely smooth finish that’s quite soft to the touch given that the ink becomes one with the substrate. Science is so cool, right?!

A shirt printed with dye sublimation vs a shirt printed with screen printing.

(Image Source)

Another major advantage to opting for the dye sublimation process versus traditional screen printing is that you don’t immediately have to turn down a customer when they ask you to print 4 shirts that consist of 37 colors each. Using this process allows for you to print full-color transfers and heat press them onto 100% polyester shirts instead of making and setting up 37 screens for a measly 4 shirts.

Limitations of Sublimation Printing

Now that I’ve hyped up the sublimation process, I should mention some limitations that come along with it.

First, this process can only be used on 100% polyester apparel or substrates that have a special polymer coating. 

What does this mean for you? Unfortunately, you won’t be able to pick up closeout mouse pads from Office Depot or an adorable coffee mug from Target to use for your upcoming gift exchange. 

But don’t fret — there are plenty of substrates that are made for this exact process and have the polymer coating that is required to sublimate onto. One incredibly helpful and knowledgeable company that not only offers sublimation support but sells the equipment you need and the substrates you want, is Condé. They’re incredible!

One other limitation to keep in mind is that the sublimation inks used in this process are transparent. Because of this, you should plan on printing on white or light-colored substrates, as your image will not transfer properly onto dark garments. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!

Sublimation: Pros and Cons

As you can see, the dye sublimation process is a pretty cool one with lots of pros and a couple of cons. Here’s a quick summary:

Pros:

  • The image doesn’t fade or disappear
  • The final product is smooth and soft to touch
  • Full-color printing is fast and easy

Cons:

  • Sublimation only works on polyester fabric or special polymer coats
  • Not a great option for dark garments

ShirtSpace Has You Covered

If this is something that you think would elevate your current business and allow you to offer more to your customer base, I highly recommend sublimation printing. This process exists for a reason, it’s just a matter of if it’s a good fit for you and your business! 

The flexibility and accuracy of this method are why ShirtSpace offers sublimation apparel to businesses like yours. If you’re interested in finding wholesale prices to get your next project started, check out our selection of sublimation t-shirts!

Comments

Nicole Ni10/13/2022 07:10 am

Great article, as you wrote in your article: Dye sublimation printing is not recommended for dark clothes, but I don't know if you have any understanding of heat transfer technology, using special heat transfer paper can perfectly complement the heat Disadvantages of sublimation, if you want to know more about sublimation and heat transfer, you can click here:https://asub.com/product-category/t-shirt-transfer-paper

Reply

ShirtSpace10/13/2022 04:37 pm

Hi Nicole! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

Reply

Nicole Ni10/17/2022 03:19 am

You are Welcome

Reply

Ashleya03/31/2022 08:01 pm

Hey!I am a worker in printing industry from California. I was needing some important Information about printing. You are covering the information of sublimation printing. Nice and Easy to read your blog, thanks for sharing with us. Keep sharing good and informative post. https://www.printerflash.com/what-is-sublimation-printing/

Reply

ShirtSpace10/13/2022 04:28 pm

Hi Ashleya! We are so excited to hear you found important information in our blog. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

Reply

Jeorge02/24/2022 06:48 am

Sublimation printing has more pros than its cons.

Reply

ShirtSpace10/13/2022 04:28 pm

Hi Jeorge! Thank you for reading our blog and taking the time to comment!

Reply

Sublimation Printer12/18/2021 11:36 am

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Reply

ShirtSpace10/13/2022 04:36 pm

Hi! We are so excited to hear how much you appreciate and enjoyed our blog! Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

Reply

Motivatebox08/27/2021 11:31 am

Great article!!

Reply

ShirtSpace10/13/2022 04:35 pm

Hi! Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

Reply

ShirtSpace10/13/2022 04:21 pm

Hi Motivatebox! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

Reply

RIGHTEOUS 01/14/2020 12:40 am

hi im interested in getting a sample , what is the minimum requirement to place an order?

Reply

ShirtSpace10/13/2022 04:34 pm

Hi! We are happy to inform you that you that there is not an order minimum on our website https://www.shirtspace.com/. Thank you for reading!

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ShirtSpace10/13/2022 04:21 pm

Hi Righteous! There is no order minimum on our website! https://www.shirtspace.com/ Thank you for reading!

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