Heat Transfer vs Sublimation Printing
So, want to enter the wonderful world of T-shirt making and personalized garments—that’s exciting!
You may be asking yourself which garment decoration method is better: Heat Transfer or Sublimation Printing?
The answer is that both are great! However, the method you go with, depends on your needs and what you’re looking to do.
Plus, each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s dig into the details to help you decide which is the right fit for you and your business.
The Basics of Heat Transfer Paper - A very Thin vinyl film is transferred to the garment
So, what is heat transfer paper exactly?
Heat transfer paper is a specialty paper that transfers printed designs to shirts and other garments when heat is applied.
The process involves printing a design onto a sheet of heat transfer paper using a Standard Inkjet Printer - Not a Sublimation Printer.
Then, you place the printed sheet on your T-shirt and press it using a heat press (in certain 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 onto the fabric. Great – you now have a custom T-shirt! That was easy, right?
Garment decoration via heat transfer paper is super easy. Many decorators get their start using nothing more than the printer they already have at home!
A few other important notes about heat transfer paper is that most papers work on both cotton and polyester fabrics - whereas sublimation only works on polyesters. In addition, heat transfer papers are designed to work for either dark or light-colored garments while sublimation is exclusively for white or light-coloured garments.
The standard "Dye Inks" supplied with Ink Tank Printers are good enough for Heat Transfer Printer, howver, if you want to go the extra step, consider a good quality Pigment Ink for your Ink Tank printer, as thewes will last longer on your Heat Transfers.
The downside of Heat transfer, is the high cost per page, and it can only be used on Material.
Ok now, How About Sublimation- It is almost like "colour dye-ing" the material, Sublimation Ink Adheres to the polyester fibres
The sublimation process is quite similar to that of heat transfer paper.
The process involves printing a design onto a sheet of sublimation paper, and pressing it onto a garment with a heat press.
Sublimation ink, when heated, turns from a solid, to a gas, that embeds itself into the polyester fabric.
When it cools, it goes back to a solid and becomes a permanent part of the fabric. This means that your transferred design adds no additional layer on top, so there’s no difference in the "feel" of the printer material, and the rest of the fabric. This also means that the transfer is incredibly durable, and under normal conditions, the images you produce will last as long as the product itself.
Sublimation Printing can be Trial and Error
Sublimation Inks appears very different to normal Dye or Pigment inks.
For example Black Sublimation ink has a "brownish" appearance, and the yellow seems "mustardy"
Therefore the correct .ICC Colour Profiles for your brand of Sublimation Ink, must be be installed on your PC, to ensure that the CMYK is correctly transferred from screen to print.
It is worth bearing in mind, that the avg. PC screen, displays in 16milj. Colours, and to correctly output that to a 4x Colour Printer, is not a simple task
ONLY once the printed sublimation page is heated, will you see the true colour of the Sublimation transfer.
The correct .icc profile, will ensure that your transfers will be close to colour correct, however, the type of media being used (Garments-Mugs-Mousepads) etc, will also have an impact on the final result.
Therefore a reasonlable knowledge of a graphics nature, will assist you in manipulating a problematic image, to print correctly
Sublimation Only works on White to medium Light polyester fabrics, the Ink will not be visible on dark fabrics
It also works on a wide variety of hard surfaces with a polymer-coating.
This opens up an entirely new world of items you can customize - coasters, jewelery, mugs, puzzles and much more.
There are various products that claim, when cotton is treated with a "special spray, or powder", that the ink will adhere to the cotton fabric.
Don't waste your money....that is snake oil...You do not put petrol in a diesel vehicle.
Look, the chemical composition of Sublimation Ink is such, that it adheres to Polyester Fibre, and any Polymer coated surface.
Polyster is an artificial fibre, Cotton is a natural fibre.
Durability and Feel
Sublimation uses a process where the ink becomes part of the fabric rather than adding a layer on top.
This results in a transfer that is unmatched in both durability and feel.
Heat transfer paper adds a layer on top of the garment. This additional layer can be physically felt and is less durable than sublimation and can become faded and cracked over time with numerous wash cycles.
It is important to note that heat transfer papers are not created equally, and you will find some that offer a softer feel and greater durability than other transfer papers.
Types of Garments You Can Decorate
With sublimation, you’re more limited in the types of fabrics you can decorate compared to heat transfer paper.
First, sublimation only works with polyester fabrics. Not cotton! This is because sublimation ink only binds to polyester material. You can get away with sublimating on some poly-cotton blends, but the transfer will not be as bright and vibrant as when you use 100% polyester.
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 on light and dark-colored cotton, polyester and cotton-poly blends.
What is the Difference between Light and Dark Transfer Paper
Inkjet transfer paper is used to transfer images or text onto a wide range of suitable fabrics.
Often used on t-shirts, it is commonly referred to as t-shirt paper.
The product is available for light or dark fabrics and so it is not always clear whether your fabric falls under the dark or light categories and which one will suit your project better.
The Difference Between The Two ( Is my garment light or dark colour)
Ink relies on a white background to be visible and produce accurate colour reproduction.
If you replace the white background with something dark, ink becomes translucent and on black backgrounds, it is totally invisible.
So if you are going to print a white t-shirt you clearly require the light transfer paper.
If the colour of the shirt is other than white, but not too dark (pink,yellow, light blue etc) the light transfer paper can still be used with some images.
Black text and dark graphics will still work well. If however the image is also light in colour and contains pastel coloured images, the colour of the shirt will start mixing with the colour of the image producing results different than what appears on the paper.
The decision of which paper to use on garments other than white lies in the combination of the colour of the shirt, and the colour of the image.
In general terms, a dark image works on light coloured shirts but a light image will only work well on white.
When using coloured garments, in order to guarantee the image appearing on the garment exactly in the same colours as appears on the paper, you need to use the dark transfer paper when printing dark garments.
It works by transferring the white background together with the image.When transferring an image printed on the dark transfer paper,the image on the garment will look EXACTLY as it appears on the paper, INCLUDING all the white edges and spaces in between the image.
As a result of this, images which are suitable for use with the dark transfer paper on dark garments are limited by design and should be either block images or ones that can be cut around to remove the unnecessary white areas.
You could also design an image with a solid background or try to match the background of the image with the colour of the shirt to solve the limitation of the dark transfer paper.
Heat Transfer Papers
A4 Transfer Paper for Inkjet LIGHT Fabrics 10 pack = R119
A3 Transfer Paper for Inkjet LIGHT Fabrics 10 pack = R249
A4 Transfer Paper for Inkjet DARK Fabrics 10 pack = R199
A3 Transfer Paper for Dark Fabrics 10 pack = R279