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What Is Sublimation Printing?

what-is-sublimation-printing?
What Is Sublimation Printing?

If you’ve been around the block, you’ve probably heard of the term sublimation printing or all-over-print (AOP). 

This article will tell you more about this sublime technique that helps create unique pieces of clothing, accessories, and even custom drinkware that you can add to your eCommerce store. 

Hint: customers love them!

What Is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing (sometimes called all-over print (AOP)) is a unique process that uses high heat and pressure to transfer your design from sublimation paper directly onto your chosen product (material or fabric). The combination of pressure and heat embeds your artwork for long-lasting and vibrant results.

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

A person using a heat press to sublimate a garment.

Dye sublimation printing requires sublimation inks, a special transfer paper, a heat press, a sublimation printer, and other essentials. It uses heat to fuse ink and surface material or fabric in a permanent design. 

Heat and pressure turn sublimation inks into gas, which penetrates the material, leaving a permanent imprint. Since it becomes one with the fabric instead of laying on top of it, the result is high-quality, vibrant, and significantly less prone to cracking or fading.

Here’s exactly how the sublimation printing process works:

  1. A dye-sublimation printer prints your custom design onto a special transfer paper using sublimation inks.
  2. Then, you place the paper onto a product (mug, t-shirt, or another) and heat it with a heat press, applying immense heat and pressure at once.
  3. The heat turns the inks into gas, and the material absorbs them.
  4. As a result, you get a permanent, vibrant print that doesn’t lay on the product; instead, it becomes one with it.

Fact

The sublimation printing method allows for long-lasting designs – the images won’t crack or wear even after dozens of uses.

Make It Happen Today!

Sublimation vs Screen Print

Sublimation and screen printing are two of the most popular printing techniques. Both have their pros and cons, but they serve different purposes for different products and expected results. Let’s look at a quick comparison. 

Dye sublimation or screen printing – which one is best for your business?

Screen Printing Sublimation Printing
Print Quality A fantastic print quality with a strong color saturation. Good for fluorescent colors and special effects. Sublimation prints are unmatched in quality. They’re vibrant, permanent, and detailed.
Durability Screen-printed designs are very durable, however, they will fade and crack after a while. Extremely durable prints. Sublimation ink becomes one with the material – it will not crack, peel, or fade.
Color Scope Best for simple designs with a few solid colors. Full-color scope for vibrant images, patterns, or creative designs.
Materials and Surfaces Best for cotton shirts and cotton blends, even with dark colors. Specialty inks are also suitable for printing on metal, plastic, paper (silk screening), wood, and other materials. Sublimation ink adheres well to light-colored polyester materials and other synthetic fabrics. As well as cork-based coasters and mugs (ceramic or enamel).
Costs A more expensive method for single orders. A cost-effective printing method for single and bulk orders.
Production Speed A lengthy process that takes time and preparation since each design element needs its own stencil. Relatively fast production time. Dye sublimation printers print out the same design that heat presses infuse into the product.
Design Complexity Screen printing works best with simple and bold designs consisting of only a few colors, as they need to be layered. You can create interesting textures, print digital photos, create patterns, and more. Sublimation printers can print close to anything.
Environmental Impact The screen printing technique works with non-biodegradable inks that are not eco-friendly. Bulk printing can also result in waste from leftover stock. Sublimation dyes are non-toxic, and this method reduces leftover waste with on-demand printing. Sublimation uses less water than other dye transfer techniques.
Limitations Screen print transfers the best results to cotton. It won’t work well with synthetic fibers, highly detailed or photographic designs. Sublimation is limited to a light polyester fabric for best results. It won’t work well with dark-colored natural materials.
Volume A cost-effective printing process only for bulk orders. The setup and overall process of traditional screen printing are not worth the hassle for one item. Sublimation is perfect for single and bulk orders due to its relatively simple printing process.
Washability A screen print will withstand many wears and washes until it starts to fade, crack, or peel. Highly washable and long-lasting. The design won’t crack, peel, or fade for a long time.
Print Quality
Screen Printing A fantastic print quality with a strong color saturation. Good for fluorescent colors and special effects.
Sublimation Printing Sublimation prints are unmatched in quality. They’re vibrant, permanent, and detailed.
Durability
Screen Printing Screen-printed designs are very durable, however, they will fade and crack after a while.
Sublimation Printing Extremely durable prints. Sublimation ink becomes one with the material – it will not crack, peel, or fade.
Color Scope
Screen Printing Best for simple designs with a few solid colors.
Sublimation Printing Full-color scope for vibrant images, patterns, or creative designs.
Materials and Surfaces
Screen Printing Best for cotton shirts and cotton blends, even with dark colors. Specialty inks are also suitable for printing on metal, plastic, paper (silk screening), wood, and other materials.
Sublimation Printing Sublimation ink adheres well to light-colored polyester materials and other synthetic fabrics. As well as cork-based coasters and mugs (ceramic or enamel).
Costs
Screen Printing A more expensive method for single orders.
Sublimation Printing A cost-effective printing method for single and bulk orders.
Production Speed
Screen Printing A lengthy process that takes time and preparation since each design element needs its own stencil.
Sublimation Printing Relatively fast production time. Dye sublimation printers print out the same design that heat presses infuse into the product.
Design Complexity
Screen Printing Screen printing works best with simple and bold designs consisting of only a few colors, as they need to be layered.
Sublimation Printing You can create interesting textures, print digital photos, create patterns, and more. Sublimation printers can print close to anything.
Environmental Impact
Screen Printing The screen printing technique works with non-biodegradable inks that are not eco-friendly. Bulk printing can also result in waste from leftover stock.
Sublimation Printing Sublimation dyes are non-toxic, and this method reduces leftover waste with on-demand printing. Sublimation uses less water than other dye transfer techniques.
Limitations
Screen Printing Screen print transfers the best results to cotton. It won’t work well with synthetic fibers, highly detailed or photographic designs.
Sublimation Printing Sublimation is limited to a light polyester fabric for best results. It won’t work well with dark-colored natural materials.
Volume
Screen Printing A cost-effective printing process only for bulk orders. The setup and overall process of traditional screen printing are not worth the hassle for one item.
Sublimation Printing Sublimation is perfect for single and bulk orders due to its relatively simple printing process.
Washability
Screen Printing A screen print will withstand many wears and washes until it starts to fade, crack, or peel.
Sublimation Printing Highly washable and long-lasting. The design won’t crack, peel, or fade for a long time.

Both sublimation and screen printing are excellent techniques, depending on your personal or business needs.

Screen printing is great for making t-shirts in bulk. Whether for events and charities or other occasions where you need more than one product. It works best for simple designs with a few base colors on soft cotton fabrics.

Sublimation is a more flexible printing process for creative designs, and it’s great for single as well as bulk orders. This digital printing technique is highly durable and eco-friendly for unique patterns and vibrant colors.

Where Is Screen Printing Used?

A person using screen printing equipment to make a custom t-shirt.

While we mostly think of screen-printed shirts, this printing process can be used for multiple products and occasions. Here are some examples.

  • Apparel. T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and more.
  • Promotional Products. Like mugs and tote bags.
  • Sports Gear. Team jerseys and uniforms in bulk are a hit.
  • Banners and Signs. Indoor and outdoor banners, posters, and signs.
  • Any Other Flat Surface.

Where Is Sublimation Printing Used?

Sublimation mug press machine.

This digital printing method is used on anything that can handle custom-print designs. Such as:

  • Apparel and Accessories. Tees, hoodies, sweatpants, dresses, socks, scarves, and more.
  • Gaming or Workplace Accessories. Like mousepads and desk mats.
  • Home Decor. From personalized curtains to rugs, pillows, blankets, and more.
  • Promotional Products. Like mugs, phone cases, and tote bags.
  • Sports Gear. Uniforms, fan merch, jerseys, and more.
  • Wall Art. Posters, canvases, sigils, banners, and other prints.

Benefits of Sublimation Printing

A woman wearing a colorful AOP tie-dyed t-shirt.

  • Design limitations are close to none, from colors to complexity.
  • Works with different products (from t-shirts and curtains to coffee mugs and posters).
  • No minimum units. Perfect for printing one or a hundred products.
  • Sublimation is one of the rare printing methods that allows for complete customization.
  • Permanent, long-lasting, and durable design that will not fade, crack, or peel for a very long time.
  • Unique and vibrant print, unnoticeable to the touch, covering the product seam to seam or side to side.
  • Environmentally friendly printing process compared to other printing methods.

Disadvantages of Sublimation Printing

A man wearing a colorful sublimation shirt in pastel tones.

  • Limited choice of materials. Sublimation print is mostly available for polyester and polyester blends.
  • Sublimation blanks have to be white for the best and brightest result. Dark-colored products can’t be sublimated.
  • White creasing is a thing. If areas of the garment are left uncovered or simply out of reach, they’ll remain white.

Make It Happen Today!

Is There White Ink in Sublimation Printing?

Unfortunately, no. And this would add to the cons list. Sublimation employs a CMYK color scheme; thus, no combination of any base color ink can create the color white. You can print onto lighter color or ideally white materials, but this will not work with sublimation if any of your designs have white within them.

What Are the Best-Selling AOP Products?

AOP t-shirt from Printify's Catalog with a pattern of orange pumpkins printed all over.

AOP sublimation socks from Printify's Catalog with a pattern of red symbols on a blue background.

A man wearing an AOP jacket with a pattern of light green fern leaves.

Designs That Work Well With Sublimation Printing

A man wearing a sublimated Hawaiian shirt with a pattern of red and white palm trees.

Sublimation printing works especially well with dramatic, whimsical, and almost, dare we say it – ridiculous designs. I can neither confirm nor deny that the author of these lines owns leggings with dozens of bratwursts printed on ’em.

What Sublimation Products Does Printify Offer?

In the Printify Catalog, you’ll find blank all-over-print goodies for every need: we offer leggings, t-shirts, hoodies and jackets, socks, custom underwear, custom swimsuits, bags, and even countless home decor items – mugs, cushion covers, and so much more – you’ll simply have to visit the Catalog and see for yourself.

If you’re looking for long-lasting POD products that feature distinct colors and high-resolution quality, keep an eye out for AOP clothing in the Printify Catalog. The process is applied to achieve that vibrant, all-over, everlasting graphics on apparel and home décor.

What Makes Printify the Best Sublimation Printing Provider?

A woman wearing a colorful orange AOP shirt with a pattern of leaves and flowers.

It’s simple – working with us is a walk in the park. Printify is free, foolproof, and oh-so lucrative. Besides the vast Catalog of more than 900 printable items and a network of over 80 highly-rated Print Providers from all around the globe, Printify ensures tools that help you sell more:

Streamlined Fulfillment

Printify’s Print Providers handle order fulfillment so you, the merchant, can focus on marketing and growing your brand. Design your products, publish them to your online storefront, and Printify handles the rest without you needing to lift a finger when you make a sale.

Production Network

Printify lets you easily choose among the more than 80 global printing facilities and partners you wish to work with. Take a pick based on what’s essential to your business – product, location, and price. By choosing Print Providers closer to your audience, you can substantially save on shipping costs and fulfillment time.

Save More With Printify Premium

Printify is and always will be free to use for everyone. Integrate your sales channels with ease and publish as many products to your stores as you want. But with their Premium subscription, you get an additional 20% off on all products, drawing more profit.

Easy Integrations

The Printify platform offers automatic integrations with some of the world’s most popular online marketplaces and eCommerce platforms: Shopify, Etsy, Wix, WooCommerce, eBay, BigCommerce, and more.

Summary

Now that you know a little bit more about this sublime printing technique, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Figuratively, of course, since Printify does everything after you’ve come up with some designs to offer to customers. 

So, if you haven’t already, set up your online store, connect it to Printify, and let there be fun. Fun, you might ask? Yes, because Printify’s Mockup Generator is super easy and fun to use, especially with all-over-print products. So, go ahead, start creating beautiful continuous designs that cover your high-quality blanks from edge to edge and seam to shining seam.

Start Your Business Today!

This originally appeared on Printify and is available here for wider discovery.
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