What Is Sublimation Printing and How It Works?

sublimation inks
Sublimation printing is becoming more and more popular. It is a form of digital printing that uses a specialized paper. There are many pros and cons of sublimation printing, but overall it is clear to see why it’s gaining so much traction. So, what is sublimation printing?

The Sublimation Process

Sublimation is a chemical process. In simple(r) terms, it is where a solid turns into a gas, immediately, without passing through the liquid stage in between. When questioning what is sublimation printing, it helps to realize that it refers to the dye itself. We also call this dye-sublimation, as it is the dye that changes state. So what is the opposite of sublimation? Well, it’s called deposition, although is sometimes known as desublimation. A deposition is when something transitions from gas to solid, not to be confused with condensation where it transitions to liquid form. The best example of deposition would be the formation of frost; air transitioning directly to a solid form and bypassing water. Another would be soot in chimneys.


Sublimation: it should be noted that the origin of sublimation is in the development of photography, so this technique achieves an unlimited range of colors, using CMYK sublimation ink which are transparent and add to the background / support color.

In this sense and as we know it, the printing of photographs is done on white photographic paper and not on one of color, so, by sublimating on a white support, colors faithful to the original image will be obtained.

Screen printing: allows the use of denser colors, offering a wide variety of color and solidity when exposed to light. This uniqueness allows very concrete and attractive effects to be achieved, which cannot be done with the other systems. It should be noted that if the original design consists of several colors, a screen for each color should be prepared.

Is screen printing or sublimation better? The truth is that there is no option that is better than the other, each of these stamping techniques has great advantages for specific purposes so it all depends on the work to be done, that is, the type of order, design, fabric, color, material etc.

How Is Sublimation Printing Done?

So, what is sublimation printing actually all about then? We’re here to explain the actual nitty-gritty details, the how it makes a thing colorful, the process.

Firstly, the design is printed onto a specialist transfer paper. It is printed as a mirror image, using specialist dye-sub inks. These are water-based inks that have less of an environmental impact than harsher chemical inks. After that, the transfer is lined up with the fabric, and a combination of heat and pressure are applied. This causes the inks to transition from their current solid form, directly into a gas.

The inks then penetrate into the fibers of the material and are permanently bonded to the fibers. The end result is a high-definition print with an extremely intricate level of detail.

How Is Sublimation Printing Used?

Okay, so we’re aware that there are a lot of questions that we have already answered; what is sublimation printing? How is it done? What does it mean? So far there have been very few disadvantages. There is, however, a catch. Thanks to advances in the technology of sublimation printing on cotton not only possible, but very practical. Or silk, or most natural fabrics. It’s ideal for t-shirts, great for hoodies, ideal for socks, providing they have a high polyester content as well as 100% cotton and other blends.

Another benefit of this type of printing is that you’re not limited to fabrics. Sublimation printing is great for hard media too: think mugs, pens, clocks, Christmas ornaments, tins, the list could go on.

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 – Screen print 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 is printed 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.

Direct to Garment (DTG) vs Sublimation

  • Print Runs – DTG is also suited to smaller print runs, similar to sublimation printing. You’ll find however that the print area needs to be much smaller. You can use dye-sub to entirely cover a garment in print, whereas DTG limits you. Half a meter square would be a push, it is advisable to stick to around 11.8″ to 15.7″.
  • Detail – With DTG the ink disperses, so graphics and images with details will appear more pixelated than they do on your computer screen. Sublimation printing will give sharp and intricate detailing.
  • Colors – Fades, glows and gradients cannot be reproduced with DTG printing, especially on colored garments. Also due to the color palettes being used, such as bright greens and pinks, and metallic colors, This can become an issue. Sublimation printing leaves white areas unprinted, whereas DTG uses white inks, which is handy when you don’t want to print on white material.
  • Longevity – DTG literally applies the ink directly to the garment, whereas with sublimation printing the ink permanently becomes part of the garment. This means that with DTG printing you might find that your design will wear, crack, peel, or rub off over time.
As you can see, there are definite advantages and disadvantages for each of the printing types discussed above. Based on several defining factors including quality of the final results, general wearability  and equipment costs,  we at JustCustomPrinting.com decided that sublimation printing was the best choice based on our requirements. Sublimation printing simply offers the best quality and wearability for the money.

Here at JustCustomPrinting.com we are passionate about creating unique designs for not only our t-shirts, but all of our products. These include the kind of t-shirts that your mama tried to warn you about as well as the rest of our products.

We are dedicated to ensuring that your visit here is a delightful one that you will happily share with others. We want nothing more than for you to be completely satisfied with your visit.

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