Sublimation Paper or Heat Transfer Paper Printing – Which One Should You Use?

There are many ways to decorate clothing. The most common one is that we see the question of whether sublimation paper or heat transfer paper is better. We can’t necessarily tell you which is better, because it depends on your business and what you want to achieve or decorate. However, we can discuss the differences and compare the two processes to help you make decisions.

What is heat transfer paper?

Like sublimation, heat transfer requires a special type of paper (heat transfer paper). It also responds to heat. However, this process is simpler than sublimation.
Once the design is placed on paper or film, it can be transferred by direct heating. You can use a hot press or a hot iron (if you don’t have the equipment) to complete the task. You can then slowly peel the paper from the material and let the design cool down. Look! You already have customized clothing.

The best printers are those that use pigment ink, but regular inkjet printers will use it. Another type of printer is a laser printer. If there is already one, it means you are ready to start printing. You only need to buy heat transfer paper.

Note, however, that the final result depends on many factors. This includes whether you are using a heat press or an iron, and the quality or performance of the printer.

What is Sublimation Paper?

Simply put, it’s a way to produce a transfer that can be heat applied to a garment or an object.
A dye-sub printer uses special liquid ink and an inkjet process to apply that ink to an equally coated sublimation transfer paper.
The transfer is then applied to a polyester-coated surface or a polyester fabric using a heat press. The combination of the heat and the pressure causes the ink the transfer to the finished good.
In technical terms, that means that the ink turns into a gas, then is bonded molecularly to the material. It’s a very strong bond.  You can think of this as “melting” into the fibers or the polyester surface if that helps. Because it uses liquid ink you can convert some standard color inkjet printers into sublimation printers – though there are pitfalls to that.

Things you CAN and CANNOT print on with Sublimation printing
You only sublimate onto synthetic materials.

The difference between sublimation paper and heat transfer paper

In addition to the scientific knowledge of the transfer process, there are many differences between sublimation paper and thermal transfer paper. These differences depend on the type of substrate you can transfer, feeling, durability, weeding and start-up costs.

Clothing color: One of the biggest differences between the two methods is the colorful clothing that can be transferred to. When using thermal transfer printing, you are not limited to the color substrate to which you want to transfer the image. You can use any color (dark or light) for transfer.

Or, after sublimation, you can only print on light-colored clothes. This is due to the science behind the process. Since sublimation dyes the fabric during the transfer process, you cannot sublimate dark colors. Although there are some solutions, such as the use of thermal transfer vinyl that can be sublimated after pressing the hot-pressed vinyl onto the shirt, this is still the main limitation of thermal sublimation.

Substrate and fabric type: With Sublimation, you can only use polyester fabric or polyester coated hard surfaces. Sublimation does not apply to cotton or other fabrics. You can’t just go to the dollar store to get a regular cup or other items for sublimation, it must have a polymer coating that allows the sublimation process.

Heat transfer paper can be used for any fabric: polyester, cotton, blended, nylon, etc. You can also decorate hard surface items without polymer coating. There are practically no restrictions on what can be transferred using thermal transfer paper.

sublimation printing vs heat transfer printing
sublimation printing vs heat transfer printing

Image durability and feeling: Since sublimation occurs when polyester fabric is dyed, you cannot feel the image on the shirt. The hand of the garment is very light. It is also more durable than thermal transfer paper and will not break like the thermal transfer paper design.

Since the thermal transfer paper will leave an image on the top of the clothes, you can feel the design on the shirt. Depending on many factors, including the type or brand of thermal transfer paper used and whether RIP software has been used, the design feel or “feel” of the thermal transfer paper may vary.

You can wash the thermal transfer paper garment about 25 to 30 times before you notice fading or cracks in the design. You can extend the service life of shirts and designs by using RIP software to rasterize your design, thereby achieving higher washability and durability.

Weeding: Depending on the type of heat transfer paper you are using, you may need to weed or cut and trim the design before transferring it to the substrate. There is no inkjet self-weeding transfer paper on the market. However, laser thermal transfer paper has some self-weeding options. For heat transfer, there are two-step self-weeding transfer paper on the market.

Sublimation does not involve cutting or weeding. Since only the area of ​​the paper with sublimation ink on it is sublimated onto the clothing or substrate, no weeding or cutting is involved.

Sublimation paper or heat transfer paper: which one is right for your business?

Which one is right for your business depends on the type and color of the clothing and substrate you want to decorate. You must also consider the amount you are willing to invest. If your business is focused or mainly focused on white and light-colored polyester clothing, then sublimation is a good choice. Your prints will have the lightest feel, excellent durability and washability.

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