What is Sublimation Printing? | Sublimation vs Screen Printing

When browsing custom workwear and uniforms for your staff members, you may have come across the term sublimation. Here’s everything you need to know about sublimation printing and whether it’s the right fit for you and your team!

What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing or dye sublimation is a printing process that uses heat transfer to print a design onto a garment. The term ‘sublimation’ refers to the chemical process in which a solid is turned into a gas without going through the liquid phase. This process can be applied to garment design as the ink becomes a gas when heated, which causes the dye molecules to bond to the fabric. Sublimation printing is a widely used technology in t-shirts for sports teams, bands, companies, or educational institutions. It can even be used for certain promotional products

How does Sublimation Printing Work?

The sublimation printing process involves the transfer of dye directly from a solid thin transfer paper media to fabric. The process of dye sublimation printing works at high temperatures and pressures. First, the colour dyes are applied to the transfer media, and then heat and pressure are applied to allow for the heat transfer to occur. This causes the dye molecules to penetrate deep into the fibres of the fabric leaving an unnoticeable residue behind. This also leaves a seamless high-quality design on the garment.

Sublimation Printing Equipment

The equipment used in sublimation printing includes:

  • Sublimation printing machine
  • Heat press
  • Transfer paper
  • Special sublimation ink
  • Dryer
  • Cleaning supplies

Dye Sublimation vs Printing Ink

The process of dye sublimation printing involves dye pigment penetrating the fibres of the material. Therefore, the print effectively becomes part of the material. In contrast, ink is printed on the surface of the material leaving a print that can peel off over time with regular washing.

Sublimation vs Screen printing

The main difference between sublimation printing and screen printing is in the process. Sublimation doesn't require ink or paint. Instead, it uses heat to transfer dye directly into the fabric. This means that sublimated products can be washed without any colour fading.

Screen printing is the process of transferring ink through a screen mesh that has been stretched over an aluminium or wooden frame. Ink is then forced through the mesh onto fabric with either air pressure, water pressure, or in special cases where the image needs to be extremely precise; by hand using a squeegee. 

Pros of Sublimation

Sublimation is a very popular printing method for polyester garments. Here are some benefits of sublimation printing to consider.

Sublimation Can Be Used For a Variety of Garment Types

With sublimation, the option for different types of garments is almost endless. Sublimation printed fabrics are often used in uniforms, workwear, sportswear, dance costumes, fashion, and much more.

Sublimation Can Print Full Colour

Sublimation printing is all done using CMYK colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) which allows for that 4-colour process we all know and love! This means, unlike embroidery, there are no restrictions on the number of colours used in a design.

Sublimation Has Virtually No Design Restrictions

Having the freedom to choose pretty much any colour you like means that you can use sublimation to print any design you fancy!

Sublimation Offers Durability

Sublimation printing is a heat-based process which means that your design is embedded into the fibres of the fabric. This makes it incredibly durable and resistant to cracks or fading caused by washing or constant exposure to sunlight!

Cons of Sublimation

Although sublimation has many benefits, there are some things to consider before deciding whether it is the right process for you. Cons associated with sublimation include:

Sublimation Limits Your Choice in Fabric

Sublimation does not work well on natural fibres. It works best on fabrics that have a high percentage of polyester. The sublimation ink does not adhere well to natural fibres such as cotton and silk. Therefore, the lower the content of polyester in the fabric, the lower the quality of the print. Sublimation printing also works best on white or light coloured fabrics. Darker coloured fabrics may not show the vibrancy of the print.

Sublimation Production Time is Longer

With sublimation, it takes much longer to produce each garment than with traditional methods. This is because sublimation uses up a new sheet for each shirt meaning the process takes much longer than alternative methods such as screen printing.

Sublimation Often Has Higher Costs

Due to the complex printing process and time required, sublimation printing is generally much more expensive than traditional methods. This can make garments more expensive to produce. It's also less cost-effective for bulk orders.

Sublimation Design is Limited to the Size of the Artwork

The size of the sublimation print is limited by the resolution of the artwork. Usually, this is fine for smaller designs such as artwork for custom t-shirts, but once you get into anything larger it becomes much more difficult to control the quality. 

What Sort of Designs Are Suitable For Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation is perfect for unique design concepts that may involve multiple designs and colours. It also works really well with bold graphics and artwork. One advantage is that you can print a lot of different colours all from one image. This means that if you have a design that involves multiple elements or shades of colour, this type of printing will work well for it. Photography also works well as it is possible to capture a wide range of colours and accurately reproduce them.

Chat to the Team at JP Promotions for Branded Garments

Looking for new custom uniforms for your team? The team at JP Promotions are experts in all things uniforms and branding. To find out how we can best assist you, get in touch today either online or by calling (08) 9248 6300.