A Step-By-Step Guide to Sublimation Printing on Products

Guide to sublimation printing

The popularity of sublimation crafts continues to rise. However, it can be scary to those who are just starting out on their sublimation journey.

From selecting the appropriate printer, paper, ink, and materials to making stunning finished goods, this comprehensive guide to sublimation will show you the ropes.

What Is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing is a printing technique where a design can be transferred onto a sublimation blank, such as a shirt, ornament, or tumbler, and permanently remain there. It opens up a world of possibilities for making one-of-a-kind items. You must understand how it functions and its limitations in order to achieve success.

It's been around for decades, but new tools have made it easier and cheaper than ever for anyone to try their hand at making custom pieces. The ability to design and manufacture one's own unique goods has led to 3D printing's meteoric rise in popularity in recent years.

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

Digital printing using sublimation ink is used to duplicate images on sublimation transfer paper. This specialized paper with the printed design is then combined with the components and heated in a press.

The item is then heated to well over three hundred and fifty to four hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

Both the transfer substance and the ink become gaseous at this moment. When they reach this stage, they are able to penetrate deep into the fabric.

Once the substrate and transfer paper have been heated and the ink has penetrated the fibers, the heat will be turned off. When heated, sublimation ink releases a gas and opens the pores of the substance being transferred into. The ink returns to its solid state and the pores of the fabric close once the heat and pressure are removed, trapping the ink within.

In a nutshell, the heat is utilized to fuse the ink to the fabric.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Sublimation Printing

What Are the Benefits of Sublimation Printing?

 Image Quality

The image quality that may be attained with this technology is perhaps the greatest benefit. It's one of the few options that maintains the same level of clarity as the original file, with no resolution degradation.


This is a genuine strength of the process and one which makes it a wonderful investment. Prints made using sublimation techniques are permanent and resistant to fading and cracking.

Freedom of Design

The flexibility of design is another major benefit of sublimation printing. It works for both simple and complex designs, large and small batch orders, and a wide range of design variants.

Full-Color Designs

When it comes to printing full-color artwork, sublimation printing has many advantages. To begin, the prints it produces are of excellent quality and endure a long time without fading. This makes it great for making eye-catching and professional-looking designs on various materials such as fabric, ceramics, and metal. Sublimation printing also permits flawless color gradations and mixing, producing prints that look incredibly lifelike.

What Are the Challenges of Sublimation Printing?


Limited materials

For sublimation printing, you can use only polyester, whether in the form of a polyester blend or pure polyester, as it is an essential fabric for most garments.

Here’s the list of fabrics that are usually used for sublimation printing:

Polyester: Polyester and polyester blends are the most suitable materials for sublimation printing. The ink used in sublimation printing works best when it can bond with the polyester fibers, resulting in vibrant and long-lasting prints.

Nylon: It offers durability and versatility, making it a popular choice for sublimation printing.

Rayon: Known for its soft and breathable nature, is also compatible with sublimation printing. It provides a smooth surface for vibrant ink transfer.

Spandex: Despite being a stretchy fabric, spandex can also be used for sublimation printing. However, it is important to ensure that the fabric has a high percentage of polyester for optimal results.

Acrylic: Can be used for sublimation printing, offering a wide range of possibilities for custom designs and vibrant colors.

Although it is technically possible to do it on other fabrics, such as cotton, it is strongly discouraged. This is because it can only be used on very light fabrics.


Sublimation printing might be more expensive per unit than other printing technologies, making it less attractive for bulk purchases. Sublimation printing is a great option if you need to order a large quantity of things, but you should always consult with a local sublimation printing company for advice and pricing before placing an order.

Wide Range of Products You Can Create With Sublimation

The essential first step is to know which product is best suited for sublimation printing. Sublimation printing utilizes ink with tiny bits of dye.

Sometimes it is also known as dye-sublimation printing. These dye particles form strong chemical bonds with polymers, such as those found in polyester. The better the dye bonds, the more defined, crisp, and colorful the print will be.

It's probable that this is why 100% cotton objects can't be printed using sublimation. In addition to paper and plastic, this printing technique can be used on glass, ceramic, and metal.

You can use sublimation to make anything your creative mind can imagine. Some examples of things you can sublimate are:

> T-shirts, sweatshirts, baby bodysuits, workout gear, slacks, socks, and even lingerie.

> Accessories for the kitchen such as pot holders, dish towels, tablecloths, and tiles.

> Sports uniforms created with sublimation printing offer a vibrant and durable solution for teams and athletes. This innovative printing method allows for intricate designs, logos, and personalized details to be infused into the fabric, resulting in a comfortable and long-lasting product that resists fading, cracking, or peeling during intense physical activities.

> Collars, ID badges, bandanas, bowls, carpets, and more are just some of the pet supplies available.

> Key holders, decorative pillows, decorative blankets, drink coasters, wall signs, plaques, door mats, and photo panels are all examples of home accessories.

> Keychains, luggage tags, ID badge reels, watch bands, phone cases, air fresheners, license plates.

> Office products such as clipboards, erasable boards, mouse pads, pencil holders, notebooks, and journals.

> Coffee cups, tea cups, tumblers, shot glasses, beer steins, and metal camp mugs are all examples of drinkware.

> Other items such as ornaments, face masks, tote bags, and makeup bags.

What Do You Need to Start Sublimation Printing

There are a few fundamental necessities for beginning sublimation printing. To begin, you'll need a sublimation printer made for this type of printing. In addition, you'll need sublimation ink, which is designed to give you prints that stand the test of time. Sublimation paper is also essential because it is what actually transfers the ink to the substrate. In order to activate the ink transfer process, you will also need a heat press. Last but not least, you'll need polyester or polyester-coated substrates for best results.

How to Choose the Right Sublimation Paper

As the intermediary between the computer design and the finished result, sublimation paper deserves more credit than it gets. Knowing the different kinds of sublimation paper and how to use it properly is crucial for producing high-quality results.

Types of Sublimation Paper

> Fast-Dry Sublimation Paper: Ideal for high-speed printers, this type of paper dries quickly and prevents ink from spreading.

> Tacky Sublimation Paper: Designed for fabrics, tacky paper keeps the transfer in place, ensuring precision and preventing ghosting.

> Textile Sublimation Paper: Specially formulated for textiles, this paper optimizes color vibrancy and clarity on fabric surfaces.

Sublimation Inks

Sublimation inks are the heart and soul of the sublimation printing process, offering an array of color options and considerations for various applications. Choosing the right sublimation ink is paramount to achieving the desired results in your projects.

Types of Sublimation Inks

> Dye-Sublimation Ink: Known for its vibrant colors and long-lasting durability, dye-sublimation ink is ideal for apparel and soft goods

> Pigment Sublimation Ink: Suitable for hard substrates, this ink type delivers rich, opaque prints on materials like ceramics and glass

> Fluorescent Sublimation Ink: For eye-catching, neon-colored designs, fluorescent sublimation inks add a unique touch to your creations

Sublimation Blanks

Sublimation blanks, an often-overlooked part of the printing process, serve as the backdrop for your creations. These are blank things or products that are carefully coated to receive sublimation transfers, making them the perfect canvas for your creative creativity.

Sublimation blanks encompass a wide range of products, including but not limited to:

> Ceramic mugs and tiles

> Polyester fabrics and apparel

> Phone cases and mousepads

> Metal panels and keychains

Equipment for Sublimation Printing

In order to transfer designs accurately and vividly onto a wide variety of substrates, sublimation printing equipment is an essential part of the sublimation process. A sublimation printer, heat press, and a computer with design software are the standard components of this setup. 

Sublimation printers are built specifically for use with sublimation inks, and they come in a range of sizes to meet the needs of a wide variety of projects. In order to turn the ink into a gas and bond with the material, heat press machines are necessary. The artwork is also designed and edited on a computer using design tools before being sent to press. The success of making professional, long-lasting sublimation prints depends on the quality and compatibility of these instruments.

How to Prepare Designs for Sublimation Print

Step 1: Create a Design

Let's say you run a successful eCommerce shop. The idea of adding product customization options to your online shop has crossed your mind. 

With sublimation printing, images are crisp, clear, and vivid. However, the print file could not have the same image quality as the original file, especially in terms of color saturation and sharpness. If the print file's image quality is poor, the resulting print will be blurry and lackluster.

How to get high-quality print files?

Obtaining high-quality print files is crucial for achieving excellent results in sublimation printing. To ensure this, utilizing product designer software is recommended. This software provides high-resolution print files in various standard image formats, such as JPG, PNG, TIF, EPS, and more. Specifically, PNG files are generated at 300 dpi resolution, while SVG and PDF files are created in vector format. By using this software, you can guarantee that the print files produced will result in superior print quality on the desired product.

When it comes to product design, you have the option of using software, such as the cutting-edge product design software that we provide. This specialized software empowers users to create and customize designs with precision, ensuring that the sublimation process results in stunning, high-quality prints on a variety of substrates. Alongside a sublimation printer and heat press machine, our product is an invaluable tool for achieving exceptional sublimation printing outcomes.

In addition, you can substitute product design software for higher-end design tools such as Adobe Creative Suite, CorelDRAW, Silhouette, and so on. 

Step 2: Print Design on a Product

When it comes to sublimation printing, it is crucial to determine the most suitable product for optimal results. Extensive research and comparison of various brands and suppliers can help in making an informed decision. Sublimation ink, which contains tiny particles of dye, is specifically designed for this printing method. To achieve vibrant and long-lasting prints, it is important to use high-quality sublimation ink that is compatible with the chosen product. 

Step 3: Using Heat Press for Sublimation Printing

The type of heat press machine is merely one component of the heat press/transfer process. There may be some variation in print quality amongst heat press machines of the same manufacturer.

Substrate Preparation

Any substrate that will be used for printing must first have its surface thoroughly prepared for the sublimation transfer by being thoroughly cleaned and smoothed out. In order for the transfer to adhere properly to most fabrics and hard surfaces like metals or ceramic cups, a protective coating is applied. If there are any creases or dampness on the substrate, you can get rid of them by preheating the press machine and pressing the substrate for a few seconds.

Transfer Paper

The artwork or file must first be printed on the transfer paper using sublimation ink before it can be transferred to the substrate through pressing. Using the correct transfer paper and paying close attention to the required time and temperature will yield the greatest results from your sublimation printer.

Pressing the Substrate

It is time to press the transfer paper and the substrate together after the artwork has been printed on the paper. Before pressing, check that the artwork and substrate are properly aligned for the best results. Determine the needed heat and time for your substrate and transfer paper. It's important to press your transfer at just the right amount of pressure and for the right amount of time to prevent it from coming out too wrinkled or too flat.

In Conclusion

Sublimation printing is an excellent method for having high-quality graphics printed on cloth from seam to seam with virtually little resolution degradation. The final product does not peel, break, or fade. Although there are certain limitations to the color and type of fabric that can be used, it gives longevity and remarkable freedom of design choice.

Dive into the world of sublimation printing – contact us to transform your ideas into vivid reality!

Author Info

Volodymyr Yatsevsky
As CEO of LiveArt, I am passionate about leading a software company and providing expert consultation on solution design. With 15+ years of C-level experience, I specialize in leading the development of web-to-print solutions. When I'm not navigating the software world, I enjoy making music!
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