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Sublimation Printing: Fuller Colors, Lower Costs than Screen Printing until…

screen print close up
CMYK Pixelated graphic that has been screen printed

Sublimation Advantages: Traditional Screen printing has been around for years as the go to standard for printing graphics on to shirts and thousands of other objects. The method allows for tiny text and, precise lines and crisp graphics. that is did not excel at was full color imagery. With the advent of the desktop publishing age, graphics gave way to digital photography and increased sophistication of logos and corporate brand pieces have followed. It is not unusual to find logos with increased color depth and advanced fades and shading; these look awesome on letterhead but are nearly impossible screen printing. Full color screen printing is possible, it requires the pixelation and separation of a photo into 4 colors via CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and ‘Key’ base, which is most often to say Black). this can be a costly  process, separation setup is an art process, then the creation of each CMYK screen requires a separate screen setup cost, and finally a printer need to process the shirts with precision for the pixels to re-merge an optical illusion that recreates a near full color picture: an expensive process for small quantity runs.

The answer to small runs is Sublimation printing.

‘Dye-Sub’, ‘Dye sublimation Printing’, or simply ‘Sublimation’ are the hottest new ful color printing techniques in the apparel and promotional sphere. It is a digital printing method that allows a near perfect print similar to desktop printers, fast full color, great resolution and a fraction of the setup cost of screen printed apparel. Its great for shirts and a ton of hard goods as well, each decorated in full vivid color and with awesome precision.

A full color sample Sublimation made for fun

Sublimation mean to move state, solid to gas, without becoming a liquid. In short we boil the ink in a heat press and the gas clings to and bonds with polyesters molecules in the shirt/fabric/plastic layer of the apparel or item. We use a special inkjet style printer to print a mirror image,place that over the item and heat them a few hundred degrees, the image transfers flawlessly to the item, with photo realism.  Sublimation can only work with poly based items, polyester/polyurethane coated items, such as Polyester shirts or poly blend fabrics, coated mugs and other coated hard goods such as plaques. The coating is thin, and does not mean that the item is plastic, or cheep to the touch, it just mean that poly is needed for the bond to hold.

The result is vibrant durable prints. they don’t feel heavy like screen printed apparel, as the dye adds no weight or glue to the shirt. The dye is permanent, won’t fade or wash out easily, can even be bleached in some cases, and will last as long as the garment. For hard goods, there are thousands of imprint-able products available, from mugs, to plaques, poker chip sets, to oven mitts to license plates and keep sake jeweler: the possibilities are boundless and added to daily.

So, what does all of this mean to you, our customer? There are many benefits to the process:

  1. Full color on small runs. Unlike screen printing, there is no need for separate screens, films, or a great deal of setup for sublimation. Though we may need to refine your art work, the process is straightforward, and on small orders will be less expensive overall than screen printing.
  2. no minimum order size. We can do this because setup is easier and once the art file exists its a matter of heating or pressing your item.
  3. Individual customization. Though art charges may apply for this level of customization, seeing as each garment is printed from it’s own transfer rather than in large quantities on the same set of screens, this method makes it much easier to add individual customization to each printed item. If you need names put on the shirt, just give us the list and corresponding size.
  4. Lighter hand. The nature of sublimation means that prints are never heavy or thick. The garment is unchanged by the process, save for the addition of your art.
  5. Durability. There is no cracking or peeling in a sublimated print, they last as long as the garment.

What Sublimation Printing Cannot do:

Like all good processes, there are somethings that it can’t do: but the capabilities are expanding all the time.

  1. White/Light garments only!! Sublimation works like your computer printer does, imagine trying to print onto black paper, and you will immediately see the limitation. The lightest color is the based on the lightest part of the substrate/item/garment. So if you want a vivid full color white shirts are the way to go, although we can do cool vintage looks on light grays as well, but it won’t be as bright.  If you really must have a black garment or dark color, we can add sublimation printing to a white vinyl like material called flock or twill. we then contour cut this and heat press it like a decal on the garment, it makes the garment a bit stiffer/heavier similar to screen print, but you get a better more vibrant print and a dark colored shirt, so double win in that case!
  2. Polyester only. True, this process only works on polyester: but that doesn’t mean you’ll be sweating non stop  wearing the shirt. Gone are the impermeable garments of the past that usually come to mind. The largest amount of modern performance fabrics, moisture-wicking fabrics, and the like are made of polyester. Comfortable, even cotton-like textured garments are being made in sublimation-friendly polyester!
  3. Higher price per piece in large runs. Economics of scale are different for Sublimation in that one shirt has to be made at a time, so there comes a point when a large enough run of  sublimation will become more expensive than traditional screen printing. That said, even if the blanks are slightly more expensive, for small runs, the reduced setup fees often make sublimation more economical for full-color or photo-realistic designs.

If these restrictions will not work for you, then lets take a look at vinyl printing!



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