Understanding how sublimation printing works

Sublimation Printing

“Sublimation?”  If you’ve ever wondered what this strange-looking word really means, wonder no more. No, it is not a submarine warship or screen translations that help you understand a foreign movie; is a high-tech printing process that is mainly used for print-on-demand garments. We’ve ask the Industrad store, and today we’re going to break it down – we’ll cover what it is, how it works, discuss the pros and cons, when to use it and when not to.

What is sublimation?

Let’s start with the general strokes. What exactly is sublimation? In simple terms, it is a printing method that transfers a design to a material or fabric using ink and heat.

In the world of clothing, it changes the rules of the game since it allows prints of whole garments, designs that go from sewing to sewing. The Sublimation Printing Process

So how does sublimation work? 

Well, sublimation printing in Pakistan uses heat to essentially bond ink and fabric together as one. First, a design is print on special paper. The inks that are use turn to gas when heat, then combine with the fabric and are permanently printed on the fabric. The effects are permanent and less prone to fading as the ink is embed in the fabric or substrate rather than just laying on top like a normal print.

As our friends at Teekila tell us , the process is almost like a tattoo, but instead of for your skin, it is for your chosen product. The heat opens the pores in the fabric, then with applied pressure the ink cools and returns to its solid form.

The result is a permanent, full-color image that won’t crack, peel, or wash off the substrate. The process allows the ink to go from a solid state to a gas without turning into a liquid, a bit like dry ice. The conversion is initiated by heat and is controlled by pressure.

This fast and efficient digital printing method is gaining popularity for smaller batch orders and those designs that depend on detail. Sublimation printing is also known as “full printing” as it allows you to choose a design that can literally go from one seam to another.

Sublimation process
Sublimation printing

Although it is mainly popular for on-demand printed T-shirts, the method is also available on ceramics, wood, and metals, etc., which have a special coating to receive the sublimation inks.

 pros and cons

The professionals The most exciting advantage when it comes to this method is simply the freedom you have with your designs, which other methods do not always offer. On one side of the spectrum, you can go as crazy as you want. Why not print an entire t-shirt that looks like a hamburger? Or a cat flying against a galaxy background (beautifully printed)?

Similarly, you may want to keep it stylish with a photo of a famous skyline or landscape. The possibilities are almost endless, which will keep you coming back for more. The longevity of the design is a plus, with a design that won’t crack, peel, or fade. Even after going through the washing machine countless times, your garment will never be degraded to the back of your wardrobe!

Sublimation printing is suitable for small batch orders, stitch-to-stitch designs, and garments with a large number of design variations and applications.

Sublimation t-shirt


The cons lie mainly in the choice of materials. Sublimation printing is only suitable for garments that include polyester (100% polyester or polyester blend). Although sublimation is possible on other materials such as cotton, the image will not be permanent as it is on a “man-made” fabric and is not recommended. If you wanted to go for the vintage / distressed look, which is all the rage right now, choosing a fabric with a lower percentage of polyester would give you that finish.

Another potential problem to watch out for is white wrinkles. Sublimation works by printing a design on white fabric, and if there are areas of the garment that the design does not reach, they will remain white. This can be caused by accidental folding or small amounts of moisture accumulating on the transfer paper.

Sublimation white wrinkle problem

Designs that work well with sublimation printing

Sublimation printing works particularly well on quirky, dramatic, and almost ridiculous designs – a massive trend in recent years, seen in high-end and low-end stores. For instance:

Great sublimation t-shirt design.

Now this shirt probably fits the quirky, dramatic AND ridiculous. And sublimation printing has allowed the full effect to be produced. The shirt is completely covered by a design and uses a range of vibrant colors. The repeated layout below works well too. Again, due to the full coverage aspect of the design, the pattern of the print is carried out around the shirt, only using the ends of the garment as natural finishing points.

Flamingo sublimation t-shirt

Another type of design that works particularly well with sublimation printing is photographic prints. The method allows you to fill the entire surface with the photograph, rather than simply placing it on the front of the garment in a rectangular shape.

Photo Sublimation T-shirt

The top shirt uses the flower image and a duller background (because if you can fill the entire shirt why not?) Photography has also been used in the design below, depicting an entire landscape on the shirt, which is particularly effective due to the angles used.

Sublimation beach t-shirt

Sublimation also works well when your garment requires several different logos or designs. With traditional printing, you may be charged for each logo application separately, while with sublimation, a large number can be incorporated and printed at one time.

Designs that don’t work with sublimation printing

Designs with block colors or designs that require extremely exact placement may not work as well with sublimation printing. With designs that involve slogans, direct-to-garment (DTG) printing may work better. DTG printing is essentially like using a normal printer, but only for T-shirts. The garment is then run through a special flatbed printer and the designs are applied. If you only need a logo in the center of your garment, sublimation may not be the ideal way to do it, simply because it is generally more expensive to ‘print all over’ than to apply a logo front and center.

One of the keys to using sublimation printing effectively is knowing the limitations of the methods and choosing a design wisely. Reading the pros and cons and looking at the examples above should help you decide if the design you have in mind would work with sublimation printing or if you’d better choose DTG.

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