How to do sublimation printing on t shirts?

What is sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing uses heat and pressure to transfer the specially designed sublimation ink from a digitally printed design onto a polyester or polyester-coated substrate, creating a vibrant and permanent image on the substrate. This type of printing is great if you need to print complicated multi-color arts, and although it sounds complicated, with the right devices and materials, the process from start to finish is actually quite simple.  

How to do sublimation printing on t shirts?

Before starting, you will need: 

  • A sublimation printer
  • Sublimation ink and paper
  • A laptop and an editing software with a printer profile to ensure best printing results
  • A design that you want to print on the t-shirt
  • A white polyester t-shirt. Note: you can use cotton t-shirts, but sublimation printing works best on polyester or polyester-coated products.
  • A heat press (for instruction on how to choose the best heat press, click here)

Step 1: Printing

Print the design on a sublimation paper using the sublimation printer you have. Choose the printer profile you want, and make sure that “mirror image” is selected. Remember that the printed image must be a mirror of the original design; this is so that when we press the design onto the shirt later, it will come out correctly. Note that at this stage, the image will look rather faded, but it is totally okay.  

Step 2: Pressing and Transferring 

  • Load the t-shirt onto your heat press machine. Set your heat press to the desired specs. It is recommended to set the temperature at 370˚F and time at 60 seconds.
  • Adjust the pressure knob according to the manufacturer’s setting. Press your tee for a few seconds to remove wrinkles and moisture.
  • Insert a teflon paper inside the shirt to make sure the ink won’t transfer to the other side of the shirt. Press the tee for a few seconds more.
  • Place the printed image face down on the t-shirt, position where you would like the design to be.
  • Put a teflon paper on top, then press for 50 seconds with medium pressure.

That’s it! Now you know how to do sublimation printing on t-shirts! 

You can see that sublimation needs even pressure for a long amount of time at high temperature, making it not the ideal solution if you have a large order to fulfil. Another limitation is that it works best on polyester products, so if you want to sell cotton shirts, you might want to consider vinyl or screen printing. However, the nice thing about sublimation printing is that it is essentially a dyeing process. The ink, after penetrating into the t-shirt, will solidify and stay on the shirt even after washing. You won’t need to weed out the edges like with vinyl, which means any floral elegant designs will work really well with sublimation. It is also a cheaper printing method comparing to others. Other ideas beside t-shirts include jigsaw puzzles, plates, hats, blankets…Click here to download our free designs for your new shirts! 

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