Summary: Sublimation printing is a form of digital printing that uses a chemical process and specialized paper. As the opposite of deposition (or desublimation) printing, the term refers to the dye and how that dye changes shape in the printing process. For sublimination printing, the solid ink turns into a gas immediately, without becoming liquid. For desublimation, the ink transitions from gas to solid, such as chimney soot.
The Process of Sublimation Printing
When using sublimation printing, the design you choose to wear on a shirt or other types of apparel will be first printed on transfer paper that is made specifically for this process. Like most types of printing, it is made as a mirror image using inks. For this particular type of printing, the inks are water-based due to such inks having less environmental impact on the environment.
Following making the transfer, it is lined up to the fabric, then heat and pressure are used. Since the inks are water-based, the combination of this heat and pressure causes the inks to transform directly into a gas – a gas which then permanently bonds to the fabric’s fibers.
Why Use Sublimation Printing?
Besides the fact that the end result of sublimation printing, which offers a high-quality transfer with extraordinarily sharp detail, is colorful and vivid, did we mention it’s great for the environment? Another great benefit to this process is its longevity. Since other types of printing (for example, screen printing) sits on top of the material used to print it on, it doesn’t have nearly the level of penetration sublimation printing offers. This means that when you get apparel printed using sublimation printing, you can expect the print to be fade resistant and last longer than other types of printing.
Are There Downsides to Using Sublimation Printing?
Since we told you about the pros to using this printing process, we’ll look at some of the cons, as well. One particular con is this type of printing can’t be used well on cotton, silk, or other natural fabrics. But that doesn’t mean you can have your favorite t-shirt, hoodie, or pair of socks sublimation printed – just make sure that there is a high polyester count in the fabric (85% polyester is a good number to aim for).
However, keep in mind that if you wanted to go for the vintage or distressed look, which is certainly a trend right now, you can choose a fabric that is more natural and has a lower percentage of polyester. The resulting look after the sublimation printing process is completed will be that vintage look you’re going for.
How Much Does Sublimation Printing Cost?
If you want to print a small run of products, sublimation printing is your best bet (again, as long as you’re not using 100% cotton or other natural fibers). There are low set-up costs and the result looks vivid and professional.
What Types of Designs Can I Use?
The designs you use for your sublimation printed apparel are truly endless. A lot of people enjoy t-shirt, hoodie, or tank top designs that are quirky and fun. Since sublimation printing can cover the entire article, it’s easy to achieve this look through the printing process. Another great possibility is to use a repeated design that covers the entire piece of clothing (or iPhone case, or whatever it is you’re having printed).
You can also use a photograph or high-quality drawing to create something that is truly unique and eye-catching.
What Materials Work for Sublimation Printing?
Since sublimation printing allows for amazing, high-quality graphics, there are only a few limitations to what types of materials can be printed on. In addition to the already-discussed polyester blended fabrics, you can also use sublimation printing on glass, plastic, aluminum and metal, canvas, wood, acrylic, vinyl, and nylon. Obviously, with some of these materials, the printing process will have to be handled with much greater care, but a quality printer may offer many or all of them as possibilities when you want a design or photo printed using sublimation.