What Is Sublimation? Sublimation Printing Explained

You may have heard of a sublimation printer, but what does it do, and how can you use one to make your custom t-shirts at home?

We find out what sublimation printing is, and how it compares to heat transfer and screen printing. 

What Is Sublimation? Sublimation Printing Explained

What’s Sublimation Printing?

The term sublimation comes from science. It simply means changing a substance from a solid to a gas state. 

Typically, when you change a solid substance to a gas, it will become liquid first. However, during sublimation, the liquid state is skipped, and the solid becomes a gas directly.

This process only happens when the pressure and temperatures are right.

Now, what’s sublimation shirt printing?

Sublimation printing is the process of printing onto a specific piece of paper first, and then transferring the image from the paper onto the fabric of the t-shirt.

Then, the ink needs to be warmed up (usually with an iron) to seal it in the fabric.

Sublimation printers are used for printing on fabric or other materials that don’t easily accept heat transfer.

As this process is much more complex, it is typically also more expensive than other t-shirt printing methods.

However, sublimation printing lasts a lot longer and it doesn’t crack as quickly as other shirt printing options.

What’s The Difference Between Heat Transfer And Sublimation?

The main difference between sublimation and heat transfer is the way how the transfer works.

With heat transfer, you use a transfer layer that is transferred through heat onto the shirt. 

However, with sublimation, you only transfer the ink. This makes the end result of sublimation printing look much more professional, and it lasts much longer.

What Materials Should You Use For Shirt Sublimation Printing?

There are many different types of fabrics that you can use for sublimation printing. The best results you can achieve with traditional polyester or cotton materials.

However, you can also use other fabrics which have a polymer coating. This is usually found in mouse pads, coasters, mugs, and other household items.

You may also be able to use dye sublimation printing on glass. However, this needs to be normal glass that has been prepared and treated with a spray to ensure the ink sticks properly.

Pros And Cons Of Sublimation Printing

There are pros and cons to using sublimation printing. Here are some things to consider before deciding whether to go ahead and get a sublimation printer.

Pros Of Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing produces very high-quality results on a range of fabrics and other materials.

Compared to heat transfer, sublimation printing requires less time and effort to produce a finished product.

Cons Of Sublimation Printing

Like all forms of printing, there are limitations to sublimation printing.

Inks aren’t always available for every type of material. Sublimation printing doesn’t print white.

In addition, sublimation printing is very similar to dyeing, which means that colors can look faded depending on the base material used.

For this reason, you will get the best printing results when you use a material that is white or has a light color.

Also, some materials are not suitable for sublimation printing because they don’t allow for proper adhesion.

For example, if you want to print on glass, you need to make sure your glass is clean and that it has been treated with a special spray.

What’s The Difference Between Screen Printing And Sublimation Printing?

There are several differences between sublimation printing and screen printing.

Depending on your setup and needs, you may find either of these shirt printing methods better.


One of the biggest differences in these printing methods is how the printing is done.

While the sublimation process uses heat to transfer the ink, screen printing requires an actual screen to do so.

This allows you to create images that are far more detailed than what you could achieve with sublimation printing. You can even print text on a screen!

Printing Materials

With screen printing, you have the best range of what you can print onto. You can use the screen printing method for nearly anything you want.

In comparison, for the best results, sublimation printing is typically limited to light polyester fabrics. 

Printing Size And Printing Amount

If you are a print shop, then the printing size and the number of orders you can print is important. The more you can print, the more you can save.

As sublimation printing usually takes more time to set up and print, it isn’t ideal when printing larger quantities.

In comparison, screen printing is perfect for larger runs. However, printers usually do have a minimum order quantity for both sublimation printing, as well as screen printing.


One of the greatest disadvantages of screen printing is that you can apply only one color at a time. This can make your print result look more customized.

However, it does take a lot of time to bring the individual color layers together.

Another issue with screen printing is the alignment of these color layers. If you’re working with multiple colors, it can be difficult to align them properly.

The setup for sublimation printing is much simpler. You simply set up your machine and start printing.

You can also choose from a variety of different sizes and shapes.


Sublimation printing tends to cost more than screen printing. Several factors contribute to this.


Sublimation printing is a great option for smaller printing jobs that require a high degree of accuracy.

It’s also a good choice for those looking to produce custom products.

Michael Moore

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