Sublimation Printing for Apparel

Have you ever wondered how those vibrant and detailed designs on t-shirts or sportswear are made? Enter the world of sublimation printing—a method that has revolutionized the apparel industry.

In this post, we’ll delve deep into how does sublimation printing work, discussing its process and why you should consider it for your apparel printing needs.

What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing, often known as dye sublimation, is a unique printing technique that transfers designs onto fabrics, especially those made of polyester. Unlike traditional methods where the ink sits on top of the fabric, sublimation embeds the design into the fabric itself.

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

Sublimation printing has emerged as a game-changer in the world of apparel and design, offering unparalleled vibrancy and precision. But what exactly is this process, and what sets it apart from traditional printing methods?

Let’s dive into how does sublimation printing work:

Design creation for sublimation printing

1. Design Creation: In this printing method, sublimation design is the heart of the process. Graphic designers use advanced software to craft detailed and vibrant designs. Once ready, this design is printed onto a specific type of paper known as sublimation transfer paper. The inks used for this printing are not your typical ink, instead, they’re specially formulated for the sublimation process.

fabric preparation for sublimation printing

2. Fabric Preparation: To ensure a flawless design transfer, the apparel must be prepped meticulously. The fabric, usually polyester or a high-polyester blend, is laid out flat. Every wrinkle or fold can affect the final print, so ensuring a smooth surface is crucial. Some professionals even pre-press the garment to remove any moisture and wrinkles.

Ink transfer for sublimation printing

3. Ink Transfer: In this stage, the printer transfer the ink directly to the sublimation paper. What sets sublimation apart is the behavior of its inks. Instead of transitioning from solid to liquid to gas like most substances, sublimation inks skip the liquid phase. When heated, they transform directly from a solid to a gaseous state. This unique characteristic is pivotal for the process to work effectively.

sublimation printing transfer process

4. Transfer Process: The printed sublimation paper, bearing the design, is aligned perfectly onto the fabric sheet. The design faces down, ready to be transferred onto the fabric.

heat press process

5. Heat Press: With everything in place, the apparel and paper are introduced to the heat press—a machine designed to provide consistent heat and pressure. As the temperature rises, the sublimation inks on the paper begin their unique transition into a gas.

bonding process

6. Bonding: As the inks turn gaseous, they permeate the very fibers of the polyester fabric. Unlike traditional printing where the ink sits atop the material, here, the ink fuses with the fabric at a molecular level. Once inside, the gas cools down and reverts to its solid state. The design is now permanently embedded, making it resistant to external wear and tear.

Cooling and Setting stage

7. Cooling and Setting: Post the intense heat press session, the apparel is carefully removed and allowed to cool. As it cools, the design sets, ensuring its longevity and vibrancy. It’s a waiting game, but patience pays off with a high-quality print.

Cutting & Sewing stage for sublimation printing

8. Cutting & Sewing: The various parts of the apparel are now cut out of the fabric sheet and sewn into the final garment. Cutting can be done by hand with scissors for small orders or using industrial cutters or even lasers for large orders.

Why Choose Sublimation Printing?

In the realm of apparel printing, various techniques offer unique benefits. But what sets sublimation printing apart, and why has it gained such popularity in recent years?

1. Unparalleled Durability: One of the foremost reasons to opt for sublimation printing is its durability. Traditional printing methods often result in designs that crack, fade, or peel over time, especially after numerous washes.

With sublimation, the design is embedded into the fabric itself, ensuring it remains vibrant and intact for a much longer period.

2. High-Quality and Detailed Designs: If you’re looking to reproduce intricate patterns, gradients, or photographs on apparel, sublimation is the way to go. This method allows for full-color, high-resolution prints that capture even the minutest details. The result? Apparel that looks professional and premium.

Learn more about our sublimation design services.

3. Smooth Finish for Comfort: No one likes the rough texture of a print against their skin. Sublimation printing offers a solution. Since the design becomes a part of the fabric itself, there’s no ‘raised’ ink feel. The printed area remains as smooth and comfortable as the rest of the garment.

4. Eco-Friendly Options: Sublimation is known for producing less waste and can use sustainable REPREVE fabric for apparel printing. There are no inks, pastes, or additional treatments to dispose of. Moreover, the inks used in the process are water-based, making them less harmful to the environment.

5. Cost-Effective for Small Batches: Unlike other methods that require large setups or minimum quantities for cost-effectiveness, sublimation is suitable for small batch orders.

Whether you’re a budding designer testing out a few pieces or a business looking for limited-edition apparel, sublimation offers a cost-friendly solution.

Points to Consider

When exploring how does sublimation printing work, there are essential factors to keep in mind. Each affects the final outcome of your printed product.

  • Fabric Matters: Best results are on polyester or high-polyester blends. Natural fibers like cotton might not give the desired effect.
  • Color Limitations: Vibrant designs on dark fabrics can be challenging.


Sublimation printing has reshaped the way we look at apparel designs. Its ability to produce high-quality, long-lasting prints makes it a favorite in the industry. While it has its limitations, the results often speak for themselves—a blend of art and science that results in wearable masterpieces.

Sphere Sport is a sportswear & sports uniform manufacturer based in China. We specialize in serving teamwear brands in the US, Australia, and the UK. 

Contact us today about any of your manufacturing needs for sublimation apparel.

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