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Benefits of Sublimation for Apparel

Sublimation is one of those words that you would think means something completely different if you haven’t heard it before.

Sublimation refers to a high-tech printing process used for apparel and other items like ceramic and metal items.

You have no doubt seen the superb results it can produce because it’s the most popular method used by the print-on-demand industry.

At Arcus Apparel Group we use dye sublimation to offer our customers an easy and cost effective option to decorate their styles.

Let’s dive in to learn more about what sublimation is, how it gets those fantastic results, when you would use it, and a few scenarios where you wouldn’t.


What is Sublimation?

Sublimation refers to a process used to imprint an image onto a product. It’s a fantastic option for printing on fabrics for various reasons, but you can also use dye sublimation on ceramic, wood, and metals.

Sublimation instantly heats the ink to around 392 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) to convert it into gas. The gaseous ink is then pressed against the material to be printed, where it immediately returns to a solid state and bonds with the fibers.

Printing methods, like screen printing, apply ink at a surface level only and heat it until it sticks. Sublimated ink embeds into the materials to produce a more permanent result. The ink essentially becomes a part of the material.

Unlike heat transfer printing methods, you won’t be seeing dye sublimation t-shirts getting made at home any time soon. The ink is specialized, and the printers are high-tech. In contrast, all you need to do heat printing at home is the transfer and a hot iron.

Friends at the beach in swimwear

Dye Sublimation Advantages

We have all seen how screen printing eventually turns out. The garment soon shows its age, with cracks appearing in the design and parts falling off. It’s not an attractive look, especially when the apparel will generally last much longer than the printed design.

Sublimation gets rid of most of the drawbacks of screen printing. The ink is essentially made a part of the fabric,  so your design will last as long as the garment does.

The other main advantage of dye-sublimation printing is its freedom. Traditional garment printing methods often stretch and blur the design. In sublimation printing, you add the images to the whole garment at once, which gives you crisp, clean designs every time.

How Dye Sublimation Works with Cut and Sew

The fashion industry makes heavy use of the “cut and sew” method to make a garment from raw fabric. Screen printing transfers a design to an already finished garment. However, with cut and sew, the design is applied to the raw material before the garment is made.

Fabric pieces are laid flat on the heat press, where the custom fabric absorbs the ink using dye sublimation. The pieces are then cut out and sewn together to make a complete garment.

You will see dye sublimation used a lot with sportswear, swimwear, custom hoodies, and uniforms.

As we said earlier, dye sublimation works well because it eliminates the stretching and blurring often seen on printed pre-made apparel.

Sublimation t-shirts or any garment treated with dye sublimation will handle repeated washings without peeling, fading, or cracking.

When Not to Use Dye Sublimation

Given that dye sublimation works on heaps of materials, you would think you could use it for just about anything. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Sublimation printing needs special inks and hardware, which adds to the cost. Another relative con is that the process is not as fast as other printing methods.

It also does not play well with all types of fabrics. Your fabric needs to be made from 100% polyester or polyester blend to work. You can print on other fabrics like cotton, but the design will not be permanent.

It is possible to use other materials, but you need to coat them with a core material to accept the dye.

It’s not all bad news though. A lower percentage of polyester still gives you some freedom in garment design, such as the vintage/distressed look that is gaining in popularity.

The sublimation process is also prone to white creasing. If the fabric is not laid completely flat, the creases will stop the ink from penetrating and will stay white. Moisture on the transfer paper can also cause white spots or creases.

Designs That Won’t Work Well with Sublimation Printing

Precision placement of design elements may not work well with dye sublimation printing. Nor will designs with a lot of blocky elements. Direct to garment (DTG) is a better option if you need slogans or logos, or anything small that does not use the entire piece of fabric.


Printing direct to garment works a lot like your printer at home because it uses a flatbed printer. DTG for logos and slogans will be cheaper because you are using small amounts of ink.




Three swimwear briefs on a wood background

Best Uses for Dye Sublimation

The best uses for dye sublimation are why it’s so popular for short-run orders like print-on-demand.

The process essentially removes any limitations other printing processes introduce. Your imagination is the only limit, which is why we now see weird and wonderful designs on dye sublimation t-shirts, hoodies, and sweaters.

Other printing methods may be cheaper, but only when the items are mass-produced. For short-run items that are still affordable, dye sublimation cannot be beaten. Nothing else on the market makes it possible to outfit your family or office with a fun t-shirt or uniform without breaking the bank.

Photoshop designers love dye sublimation. The process makes it possible to get any photoshop creation onto sublimation t-shirts and to market quickly without a huge investment.

As you can see, dye sublimation is a versatile printing method that gives you design freedom. It’s perfect for small run prints, such as sublimation t-shirts, hoodies, and other fashion garments.

No other process can match the permanence of dye sublimation. Despite its limitations, it has a wide range of applications. If you are creating quality garments with unique designs, dye sublimation will ensure your creative work lasts as long as the garment. However, knowing its limitations will help you make the best choice according to your needs.

If you have any questions please reach out to us on our contact form and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Two girls embracing in swimwear bodysuits on a wood background