Eight FAQ about Sublimation Printing

Printing is a ubiquitous, seemingly traditional market that sounds a niche industry but is a huge market worthy of hundreds of billions. Now the traditional printing market is becoming saturated. Data shows that the traditional printing equipment shipments dropped 5.4% in the fourth quarter of 2019, about 25.3 million. Due to this situation, new texture sublimation printing has become one of the key directions of printer giants to develop incremental market outside traditional printers.  There is no doubt that sublimation printing has become the new trend, and this article will help you solve 8 FAQ about subliamtion printing. 

Images on your T-shirt, posters in the mall, high end customization at the exhibition, and parking signs. Have you ever thought about how these images are generated everywhere in life? Probably the rate comes from a large format sublimation printer. Unlike office or home printers, large format printers are industries far away from consumers, but have a profound impact on people’s life and production. If you want to start your business on sublimation printing, this article about 8 FAQ about sublimation printing can help you know sublimation industry better.

1.What products can I sublimate?

A few examples of substrates that have been treated for sublimation include hardboard (compressed wood cut into different shapes for different purposes), glass cutting boards, ceramic and aluminum Christmas ornaments, and cell phone cases made of a special plastic that can take the heat. You can also sublimate on polyester garments. I’ve had luck with polyester shirts from department stores, but your vendor will also supply these.

2. Is dye sublimation better than screen printing?

Sublimation vs Screen Printing

  • Print Runs –Sublimation printing does have high set up costs, initially. Whereas screen printing has high set-up costs every time. Once you’ve made the initial outlay, dye-sub is more cost-effective for small runs. It doesn’t struggle with bigger print runs either.
  • Details –Screenprint produces sharp edges but due to the digital methods that sublimation printing uses, the level of detail is so intricate. Not only can you print in photographic quality, but the detail is so outstanding you can even show brushstrokes.
  • Colors– Dye-sub can print any number of colors in one swoop, however, it is limited to the colors you can create on a computer. Fortunately, this is a LOT of colors. Screen printing limits you to one at a time and using multiple colors can cause bleeding or alignment issues, but you can mix up any color you like.
  • Longevity– Screen printing sits on the surface of the material it prints on, whereas dye-sub penetrates deep into the fibers. This means that sublimation printing is extremely fade-resistant. It will likely outlive most, if not all, other print methods.

3.Do the shirts have to be 100% polyester?

Shirts for sublimation need to be at the very least, 50% polyester. The higher percentage of polyester the better as the ink will only transfer to the poly fibers. In addition to 50/50 cotton poly shirts, there are other types that will work. One of my favorites is called tri-blend. Tri-blend shirts are 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon. This combination makes for a super soft shirt. Just remember, you can only use very light colored shirts and the design will appear slightly faded due to the other fibers in the shirt. I’m actually getting ready to make some tri-blend raglan (baseball sleeves) shirts with a fall design. I actually prefer the faded look for fall. Teens tend to like the faded look for their designs as well.

One of the main reasons sublimation is so coveted in the printing industry is the fact that it allows the colors to come out so well and that it doesn’t fade off in the wash.

If you want to maximize this benefit along with cost, sticking to white shirts is often a good idea. Not only do they typically come cheaper than the colored options of the same shirt, but you can print literally any color that you want on white… except white of course. Also, a common complaint of polyester shirts is that they can “shine” and reflect a lot of light off of them and this can take away from the design that you printed on it. This problem isn’t as common with white shirts since it is much harder to tell if the shirt is cotton or polyester if you are not the one wearing it.

Similar to this A4 model, Port & Company has an awesome budget sublimation tee but for youth.

4.Is it possible to sublimate on 100% cotton shirts?

The simple way to answer the question of “Is sublimation possible on cotton shirts?” is not really, with some exceptions. Since sublimation creates a chemical bond to polyester fibers embedded in the shirt, it obviously is not a good idea to use a shirt with 100% cotton material. Now there are some exceptions like the fact that there are some sublimation coating products for purchase out in the market, but some people say that the colors do not come out as well even when this coating is applied. Even though the worlds of cotton and sublimation seem like Tom versus Jerry, there are some ways to try to get around this.

A big priority of polyester t shirt makers is to make an extremely comfortable shirt with high performance that is related to the polyester content. A big part of what defines a polyester shirt is how it feels on someone’s skin and its related comfort levels.

5. What equipment will I need to go into the sublimation business?

If you are just starting out in sublimation the main equipment you will need is a good heat press, a sublimation printer, and a computer or tablet for designing.  If you plan to add mugs and hats to your business, you will also need a mug press and a hat press. Smaller items you must have are often bundled with your printer or heat press.  They include:

heat transfer tape

sublimation paper


adhesive spray for sublimation

butcher paper

Teflon sheets and pillows

parchment paper

6. Is a convection oven necessary for sublimation?

A convection oven is only necessary in the sublimation business if you plan to sublimate on items that require a wrap. For general health reasons, it is advised NOT to use your kitchen oven. I have never invested in a convection oven for sublimation.  There are enough substrates to sell that do not require wrapping a placing in an oven.  Some items that do require wraps include pet dishes, shot glasses, and other beverage glasses.  I have done a few shot glasses in my regular kitchen oven (before I was aware that is could be a health hazard–YIKES!) They turned out beautiful, but it was a very time consuming process as the wraps are not cheap so I only had one and had to bake the glasses one at a time.

My suggestion is to look through the hundreds of blanks available from your vendor.  If you really like the pet bowls  (or whatever) and that is going to be one of your main items, then go for it!

7. Do I need special paper for sublimation?

You will indeed need special paper formulated just for dye sublimation.  Regular printer paper is too absorbent. There are several brands from which to choose.

I’ve always gone with the cheapest and haven’t had a problem. When you load your paper into your Sawgrass, put the off white side up in the drawer.

8. Do I need to purchase heat gloves from my vendor?

You will definitely need some kind of gloves to protect you from burns, however it is not necessary to purchase them from your vendor.  As a matter of fact, I no longer use the gloves that came with my original bundle.  They had rubbery (probably plastic) tips that would end up melting onto my substrates!  I kept thinking I was doing something wrong with the press that was causing black splotches on my items.  It took me awhile to figure out what was happening. Now I just use some winter mittens.  Thick gloves would be better, but I haven’t been able to locate my gloves since we moved last year.  I think I’ll invest in some new “sublimation gloves” this winter.  Better yet, I’ll wait until winter apparel goes on clearance! You will not need gloves for all items–just the ones that conduct heat. Talk to your high school science teacher about that!

After reading this article about 8 FAQ about sublimation printing, I am sure you will know better about your sublimation business.

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