A Beginners’ Guide To Sublimation Printing

Melengo Team

Learn how the world of sublimation printing opens up colorful opportunities for your business.

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Seasons change, and fashion trends come and go. But one thing remains constant: printed t-shirts (and clothes) are always in demand. You get to shine by creating unique print designs, your customers love it–it’s a win-win. 

But, there’s a problem. If you’ve owned any printed clothes, you know that they start to flake and crack soon, and you don’t really want that, do you? The answer to this problem is… 🥁 sublimation printing! Let’s discover how you can use it to create vibrant, long-lasting prints. 

What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing (also known as all-over-print (AOP)  is a technique that uses heat and pressure to transfer your designs onto fabric (especially synthetic fabrics like polyester) and other materials. Here, the ink becomes a part of the fabric, which means the print won’t crack or fade

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

To understand how sublimation printing works, we must first understand the process of sublimation. Sublimation is when something is changed from the solid state directly to the gas state, meaning it bypasses the liquid state completely. This can only happen under specific pressures and temperatures. This is the science behind sublimation garment printing. 

To sublimate your designs onto clothes, you need the following:

  • The design that you want to transfer
  • A sublimation printer
  • Sublimation dyes
  • Special transfer/ sublimation paper coated with a heat-resistant layer. This holds the sublimation ink and allows it to transfer to the desired material.
  • A heat press
  • Protective paper or tissue, to blot out any excess moisture
  • The garment you want to transfer the design to (This has to be polyester or a polyester blend, since natural fabrics won’t absorb the prints well.)

Now, let’s look at a step-by-step of the sublimation printing process:

  1. Create a high-quality digital design using software like Adobe Illustrator.
  2. Once the design is ready, get out the special transfer paper. Using your sublimation printer (loaded with the special sublimation dyes), print the design onto the sublimation paper. Your object is now in the solid state.
  3. Now, take the paper with the design, place it on your garment, and apply heat and pressure using a heat press. In this step, the ink, when heated, turns into gas and settles into the pores of the fabric, becoming one with it.

-For polyester garments, the press time should be 35-45 seconds at a temperature of 400-410℉ (i.e. 204-210℃) and pressure of 40 psi. To avoid any moisture, you can also pre-press the garment for 3-5 seconds. 

  1. Lift the heat press and allow the design to cool. Your vibrantly designed garment is ready!

Throughout the process, you must take care to use the right heat, pressure, and time settings. Heat it for too long, and the designs may become blurred, lose their vibrancy, or even shrink the material. At the same time, insufficient heating means an incomplete transfer process, which means the dyes haven’t bonded with the garment properly, leading to an incomplete image, or peeling and cracking over time. 

Benefits of Sublimation Printing

All types of clothing businesses – from small ones to enterprises – benefit from sublimation printing. Let’s take a look at the pros of this printing method.

  • Vibrant and sharp images that don’t fade, crack, or peel away even after repeated washing. This is because the ink forms a permanent bond with the fibers.
  • The freedom to design your clothes all over. You don’t have to stick to a specific spot. 
  • Soft designs that make the clothes comfortable to wear. Unlike other types of printing methods, sublimated designs become one with the garments, so they remain soft to the touch. You can’t differentiate between the design and the garment. 
  • An unlimited color palette. Sublimation ink can produce an infinite number of colors, so sky’s the limit! The only caveat is that you have to print on light colored garments and you can’t print white. 
  • The ability to customize your designs according to your customers’ tastes. 
  • No minimum print order. Whether you want to print a single t-shirt or 100 t-shirts, you can do so with ease. This makes sublimation printing a great choice for small business owners who want to provide personalized designs. 
  • Efficient and can be completed quickly, which is great news for people who want to sublimate designs on large orders. 
  • Ec0-friendly. Traditional printing methods typically use water-based inks and solvents. But sublimation printing uses dry inks, which leaves behind no wastage, making it more environment-friendly. 

But this doesn’t mean that sublimation printing isn’t without its faults. Some of its cons are that the garment material has to be polyester or polyester-blend and it must be light-colored as you can’t sublimate on dark-colored garments. Moreover, the printing equipment can be expensive. 

Sublimation Printing vs. Screen Printing

The biggest contender to sublimation printing is screen printing. The latter is a garment printing process where ink is transferred to the fabrics using a stencil and mesh screen. Here’s how they differ from each other.

Sublimation Printing

Screen Printing

Garment Material

Works best on polyester and polyester-blended fabrics.

Works best on natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, and nylon.

Garment Colors

Can only be used on light-colored garments.

Can be used even on dark-colored garments.

Design Durability

Designs don’t crack or peel as they are fused in with the garments.

Designs will start to crack or peel after many washes.

Print Area

Seam-to-seam designs can be printed all over the garments.

You’re restricted to printing on a small area.


Can print multiple colors at once, increasing efficiency.

Can only print one color at once, and each color requires a separate screen.

Setup time

Requires very little setup time, making it ideal for one-off orders.

Requires more setup time, making it ideal only for bulk orders.

At Melengo, we help you scale your garment manufacturing process in just a few steps! [Get started now]

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