Sublimation Printing vs Heat Transfer: What is the Difference


In general, Sublimation refers to the process that a solid material turns into a gas without going through a liquid stage.

The whole sublimation process is to transfer the artwork to an object in a gas state by using a high-temperature heat press. It does not pass through the usual liquid state, and only occurs at specific temperatures and pressures.

What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing is a process that first involves printing onto a special sheet of paper, then transferring that image onto another material. The most common material is Polyester or a polyester mix. Heating the ink until it disintegrates into the fabric.

Are Sublimation and heat transfer the same thing?

The main difference is that with Sublimation only the ink transfers onto the material, while with heat transfer both the transfer layer and ink to the material.

Can sublimation be used in anything?

A range of materials that have a specialist polymer coating can be used, including those found on mugs, mouse pads, coasters, and more. It is best used with polyester materials for the best results.

What is Heat Transfer?

Heat transfer is a process that uses specialty paper to transfer printed designs to shirts and other garments when heat is applied. It involves printing a design onto a sheet of heat transfer paper using an inkjet or laser printer.

After that, place the printed sheet on the fabric and press it using a heat press. In some cases, a home iron will work, but heat presses provide the best results. After you’ve pressed it, you peel away the paper, and your image adheres nicely to the fabric.

Heat transfer works on cotton and polyester fabrics, while sublimation only works on polyesters as we mentioned before.

Furthermore, heat transfer works for both dark and light-colored fabrics while sublimation is exclusive for white or light-colored fabrics.

Heat Transfer Paper vs. Sublimation

Let’s talk about the details and compare these two garment decoration methods in a few important areas.

Durability and Feel

The ink becomes part of the fabric by using Sublimation. This may cause an unmatched feel in both durability and feel. While heat transfer is just adding a layer on top of the fabric, you can feel the additional layer physically. And the printing is less durable than sublimation. It may become faded and cracked over time with numerous wash cycles.

Heat transfer is not created equally. Some parts have a softer feel and greater durability than another part.

Types of fabrics

Sublimation is more limited to the types of fabrics than heat transfer. Sublimation only works with polyester fabrics. It cannot be used on cotton. In some cases, Sublimation works with poly-cotton blends which contain at least 2/3 of polyester. But the result will not be as good as working with 100% polyester, usually, the color will be less bright and vibrant.

Because sublimation adds no extra layer on top of the fabric, the material also needs to be white or very light-colored for your transfer to show.

On the other hand, with heat transfer paper, you can decorate with light and dark-colored cotton, polyester, and cotton-poly blends.

The colors of the materials

The colors of any material are one of the core limitations of Sublimation. As Sublimation is essentially a dye process, the lighter the color is, the better result you get. So if you want to print onto a black shirt or darker materials, then you could be better off using a digital print solution instead.

Sublimation uses CMYK printing, which allows you to print onto white materials and any other lighter color for that matter.

There’s no combination of any base color ink which is able to produce the color white. If your design has white within it, this will not work with Sublimation.

Why choose Sublimation printing?

  1. Better and long-lasting quality.
    Using Sublimation printing can avoid the shirt from getting cracked or peeling over time, like other shirt printing methods.
  2. The printing gets integrated into the substrate. It becomes part of it after sublimation, the result is unnoticeable to the touch and anti-scratch. And most importantly, the fabric will not lose its color.
  3. Works with hard surfaces
    You can print full-colored images onto hard surfaces.
  4. Complete customization
    Sublimation printing doesn’t require plates. It is ideal for customizing designs with changing elements such as names, numbers, etc. Most of the MTB products are under sublimation. Click here to customize your bag!