A Beginner’s Guide to Sublimation Printing

A beginner's guide to sublimation printing

Have you ever wondered which of all the printing methods is the best? There are numerous types to choose from after all, from ancient techniques to new methods using the latest technology.

The truth is that there isn’t a single answer to the question. Which type works best for you depends on numerous factors. These factors include

  • Your budget
  • Ease of use
  • The nature of your design
  • The material you’re printing on

However, despite so many options, some types of printing are still preferred over others. Among the most popular methods is sublimation printing, and we take a look at what it is.

What is Sublimation Printing?

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

How Does Sublimation Printing Work

Sublimation means a solid is taken to vapor form without passing through the liquid stage, which sublimation printing takes advantage of. When printing using this method, the ink is transferred onto the fabric in vapor form, helping it become a part of the material it’s being printed on.

Because the ink becomes a part of the fabric, sublimation printing designs can last longer than most other methods. The method also allows for complex designs using multiple colors.

How to do sublimation printing

The first step of sublimation printing is to use a sublimation printing machine to print the design onto transfer paper. Because a digital printer is used, designs can be easily uploaded, reducing setup time and costs.

The transfer paper is then placed directly onto the fabric, and heat is applied. The heat warms up the solid ink until it becomes a vapor, which infuses with the fibers of the material you’re using. Once the process is over, the ink is permanently bonded with the material, making for a long-lasting product.

Sublimation printing vs Other methods

To help you understand what sublimation printing is, it can help to compare with some of the most commonly used alternatives:

Sublimation Printing vs Screen Printing

Screen printing is one of the oldest printing methods there is. Despite being up against modern alternatives, screen printing still produces among the best results.

With screen printing, a screen is created with a stencil. The screen is placed on top of the fabric, and ink is transferred to the fabric through the screen. The stencil helps ensure only the desired ink makes its way through to the fabric, creating the design.

Screen printing is not the best option when it comes to printing colorful designs. The method is best used for mass orders of simple designs. Screen printing is also more time consuming and costlier to set up than sublimation printing.

Sublimation Printing vs Heat Transfer

Heat transfer printing is similar to sublimation printing in several ways. For example, both types require you to print a design onto transfer paper first. Heat is then used to transfer the ink from the paper to the fabric.

While the process is very similar, there is a key difference between the two: the type of ink used and how it acts. As mentioned, the ink used in sublimation printing becomes a part of the fabric it is printed on. However, the ink in heat transfer printing forms an additional layer on top of the substrate.

While sublimation printing creates longer-lasting results, heat transfer does have some advantages. Those advantages include the process being easier for beginners, while the heat transfer method can also be used on more fabrics than sublimation printing.

Sublimation Printing vs Direct to Garment Printing

Direct to garment (DTG) printing is one of the latest printing methods to have been developed. It is also among the most popular, especially for small runs.

DTG printing involves using a specialized printer that looks very much like a standard inkjet printer. In this instance, the fabric is placed into the printer, and the ink is printed directly onto the material. When using the DTG method, the ink sits on top of the fabric and is cured using heat.

DTG printing is one of the best options when you need complex designs with multiple colors. This method is also ideal for short runs or even single orders, although it’s not the best choice when it comes to large runs.

Sublimation printing works best on fabrics like polyester and on harder materials like ceramics and plastics. On the other hand, DTG printing works best with materials made from natural fibers like cotton or linen. Both can print complex designs such as photographs.

Pros and Cons of Sublimation Printing

Pros and Cons of Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing is the same as every other type in that it has its pros and cons. Here’s a look at what those pros and cons are:

Sublimation printing pros

  • Long-Lasting: As mentioned, sublimation printing is one of the best methods if you want a long-lasting print. Because the ink fuses with the fabric, the ink doesn’t wash out easily and won’t peel away. Colors will also remain looking as good as new for longer.
  • All Over Printing: While T-shirts and other clothing items are popular for printing on, other items are also often used. Sublimation printing is a good choice for All-Over Printing, which means printing on products not made from fabrics.
  • Mess-Free: A sublimation printing machine doesn’t use liquid inks. As a result, the method is mess-free when compared to some other methods.
  • No Smears: Some printing methods are prone to smearing if the ink isn’t given enough time to dry. However, sublimation printing has no drying time, meaning you can use the item straight away.
  • High Color Fidelity: The sublimation printing process can create complex designs with high color fidelity. This is because the ink is applied to the transfer paper drop by drop, and each drop can be a different color from the next.
  • No Water Needed: Some printing methods use up quite a lot of water. However, a sublimation printing machine requires no water at all. The method also uses less energy than some alternatives.
  • Suitable for Small Runs: The relatively quick and low-cost set-up makes sublimation printing suitable for small runs. It’s even cost-effective to produce single prints using this method.
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Sublimation printing cons

Despite the many pros of using sublimation printing, it is not without its drawbacks. Some of those drawbacks include the following:

  • Special Equipment Needed: Sublimation printing requires a special ink that can cause standard printers to become blocked. As such, a special sublimation printing machine is required, which can be costly.
  • Toxic Fume Risk: If you’re not careful, employees can be overcome by toxic fumes released by the process. One way to overcome the problem is to ensure you use only the best quality materials every time.
  • Slow: The sublimation printing process involves several steps, which slows the process down. This makes the method unsuitable for printing large batches.
  • Works on Limited Materials: Unfortunately, sublimation printing only works on a few types of material. For starters, light-colored materials only should be used for the best results. In addition, the method doesn’t work with natural fibers unless they have been treated.

Sublimation Printing and Print on Demand

As mentioned, sublimation printing is not the best solution for larger orders. However, it is ideal for testing new ideas because the method makes short runs cost-effective. Because sublimation print works well for short runs, the method is perfect for a printing service that has recently seen a surge in popularity: Print on demand.

Being able to offer print on demand services opens up new opportunities for many printing companies.

The rise in print on demand is largely thanks to the ecommerce industry’s arrival. The industry was already rising before the pandemic arrived, and lockdowns helped serve as a catalyst that caused the industry to boom.

Another reason for the rise of the print on demand industry is that the ecommerce market is highly accessible. This accessibility is due to several reasons:

Low Setup Fees for Online Stores

Numerous ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify let people build their websites for free. Of course, there are charges to use the more advanced tools and features, but entry costs are very low.

Novices Can Build Online Stores

While ecommerce platforms are low-cost, they are also easy to use. All it takes is some basic computer literacy, and you could build a store that looks as though it’s been built by a seasoned pro. The ease of use is thanks largely to drag and drop tools that help you shape your store.

Print on Demand

The print on demand model makes the ecommerce industry more accessible because it helps keep costs down. The printing company will process orders as they come in and take their share for each sale. This method means store owners don’t need to invest in inventory up-front.


Sublimation printing lets designers get creative thanks to its ability to print high-quality, complex designs. The process is also ideal for short runs, making it suitable for ecommerce store owners who want to sell their designs without investing in stock up-front.

To make the most of sublimation printing and the ecommerce industry, it pays to work with a print on demand partner you can count on. The right partner will ensure you deliver quality products to your customers.

If you’re looking for a print on demand partner you can count on, get in touch with the team at Printbest. You can also take a look through our catalog to see what we can do for you.

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