Dye Sublimation Printing on Polyester Fabric

As we all know, dye sublimation printing can be done on various materials, but here we will focus on sublimation digital printing on polyester fabric. This article is intended to give you a comprehensive overview to learn more about sublimation printing on polyester.


What is polyester?

Polyester is a synthetic, man-made polymer often referenced as polyethylene terephthalate. While this synthetic fiber is most commonly used in industries like fashion and sportswear, it’s becoming a popular request for custom print jobs (the fabric is durable, doesn’t wrinkle, and can handle vibrant designs).

What is dye sublimation printing?

Dye sublimation printing is still relatively new, but is quickly becoming one of the most popular methods for printing in the custom apparel industry. Sublimation can only be done on polyester or poly blends with at least 50% polyester because only the poly yarns will retain the ink (poly blends will create a vintage look).

Why dye sublimation printing only works on polyester fabric?

Basically, polyester is a kind of plastic, so when enough heat is applied, it begins to melt, allowing the pores to open up. When heated, the sublimation inks change from a solid to gas, and this gas can then enter into the open polyester fibers. After the removal of heat sublimation dye and polyester fibers resolidify, and act as one. This is not possible for materials such as cotton, paper, wood, or wool which scorch and burn when exposed to temperatures required to activate sublimation inks (typically 180-200°C). So it will be a bad idea to use cotton or other natural fabrics.

How to sublimate?

Firstly, the image is printed onto special dye sublimation transfer paper as a mirror of the original design. Secondly, we need to put the transfer paper on the heat press with the garment for about 20-30 seconds, anywhere between 380°F-400°F (depending on the poly blend garment used). During the sublimation process, the fabric is dyed by using heat-sensitive ink(sublimation ink), that when exposed to extreme temperatures, turns from a solid to a gas – permeating the fabric. As it cools, the dye resolidifies becoming a part of the fabric itself, rather than sitting on top.

Applications of sublimation printing on polyester

Experienced and knowledgeable business owners have explored the versatility of sublimation digital printing method since long back.
Doesn’t matter what you business’ main focus is, sublimation digital printing allows for a wide version of product solutions across wide-spectrum of market segments.


From Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, and Ice Hockey t-shirts, to Lycra based fabrics for swimming, athletics, and cycling, if they have graphics on them they have almost certainly been applied by sublimation digital printing. Most performance fabrics today are polyesters, and the sublimation digital printing process does the best job to maintain the polyester fabric’s feel and integrity. In fact, many art patterns can only be produced by sublimation printing because of the accuracy and use of unlimited colors, creating a completely new market for digital only sports clothing producers. Digital sublimation printing can just as easily produce a one-of-a-kind or a short run of items for a team, or use the same overall print pattern but customize each individual t-shirt.

Home Textile

Sublimation has been used for several decades to apply images to upholstery, curtains, lampshades, carpets, cushions, furniture, window blinds, and much more.

dye sublimation printing on fashion industryFashion

Because of the wide colour spectrum available for digital sublimation printing is certainly of great importance to the fashion industry where there is often less room for compromise, and digital print processes are being pushed to the limits of what colors are achievable. The accuracy, sharpness, clarity of prints and mouth-watering beautiful artistic designs make digital sublimation printing the only choice for many types of apparel, from performance sports to designer dresses.

Advantages of dye sublimation printing on polyester

(1. Easy: It has a relatively low learning curve compared with screen printing.
(2. Quick: Sublimation is quick and easy to produce, allowing for same day or same hour printing because of the fewer processes needs to achieve the desired outcome.
(3. Eco-friendly: No water is needed in the process whatsoever, hence no water pollution.
(4. Sublimation printing method dyes the polyester fabric directly, so the fabric itself still holds its drape and feel.
(5. Photorealistic images require no additional set up, and can be printed with high-resolution detail
(6. Same raw material cost per unit to print one item or 1000 items. So no need for minimum orders, and perfect for 1-up items and promotional items for anyone!
(7. Complete customization! The advantage of digital sublimation printing is that no plates are required, so it is ideal for customizing designs with changing elements such as names, numbers, etc. It’s really easy to do one of a kind, sampling or limited edition designs on polyester fabrics.
(8. Compared to the traditional printing process, by using the sublimation digital printing method we can reduce infrastructure set up time.
(9. The process uses the CMYK color model and can reproduce any amount or combination of colors (and can even print all colors at once!)
(10. The resulting fabric after the fusing process do not require additional curing or wet washing, finishing, cleaning, and drying after them, as there are no chemicals to be added on the polyester fabric.
(11. No need to coat fabric (No pre-treatment needed), so savings in chemical, labor and time.
(12. All over seam-to-seam printing

Disadvantages of digital sublimation printing on polyester

(1. Not cost efficient for large orders
(2. Can only be used with light fabrics
(3. Areas around seams and arm pits may not transfer 100 percent
(4. Can only create flat prints
( Note: If the order involves a dark garment, you’ll have to go with screenprinting. If the customer wants a small volume order including a design with a variety of colors, sublimation is probably the better route.)

This article hopefully explains what sublimation is, what polyester is, how to sublimate, pros and cons of sublimation printing and applications. Sublimation transfer printing has established itself as the preferred technique for printing polyester fabrics in the markets like apparel and home textiles. With such dynamic technology your imagination is really your limit. The market is still emerging. Consumer likes sublimation printed fabric over the traditional printed fabric. Does your business often print on polyester? Let us know which method you use in the comments!

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