The Complete Guide to Sublimation Printing for Sports Uniforms

Sublimation Printing for Custom Uniforms

Sublimation printing is a digital technique that uses heat and pressure to transfer images and designs onto fabric. This results in a permanent, high-quality print that is resistant to fading, cracking, and peeling.

In this article, learn why this relatively new method is quickly gaining popularity among custom sportswear brands compared to traditional procedures.

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How does sublimation printing work?

The first step in sublimation printing is to create a digital file of the design you want to print. This file can be created using a variety of software programs, such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Once the file is created, it is then transferred to a specialized sublimation printer.

The printer uses heat and pressure to transform the dye into a gas, which then penetrates the fabric fibers. This ensures a long-lasting design resistant to the common problems of fading, peeling, and cracking—critical attributes for sports uniforms that undergo frequent use and washing.

This feature makes sublimation printing distinct from traditional methods like heat transfer, embroidery, or screen printing, where the design is essentially applied on the surface of the garment.

Pros of sublimation printing for uniform brands

Although each printing technique has its own advantages and limitations, sublimation printing stands out as an exceptional choice for several compelling reasons:

1. Unmatched Design Versatility

Sublimation printing allows for unlimited design possibilities. You can create full-color, photorealistic prints with intricate details. There are no limits to the colors, patterns, or images that you can use.

  • Cost Structure: No additional setup costs for each color or logo added to the design. This makes sublimation particularly attractive for team uniforms that require personalized elements for each team member.
  • Full-Garment Design: Designs aren’t restricted to certain areas or ‘print zones’. With this printing method, you can design across seams, sleeves, collars, and even complicated garment pieces.
sublimation fabric categories

2. Wide Range of Performance Fabric Options

This method can be used on a wide range of sublimation fabrics, including polyester, nylon, and moisture-wicking fabrics. This makes it a great choice for uniforms that need to be durable and comfortable.

  • Comfort: The sublimation process embeds the dye directly into the fabric without altering its original texture or adding extra weight. This means the uniform retains the innate comfort and lightness of the chosen fabric.
  • Performance: The process doesn’t just preserve the feel and GSM in fabric, it also maintains its performance qualities. Fabrics with moisture-wicking, breathability, or stretch properties, all crucial for sports apparel, remain unaffected.

3. Greater Customization at Lower MOQ

Sublimation printing does not require a high minimum order quantity. This means that you can create custom uniforms for even small businesses or organizations.

  • On-apparel branding: This includes the company logo, tagline, and other branding elements.
  • Size charts and fit: Businesses can create custom size charts and fit options to ensure that their uniforms fit their target customers properly.
  • Garment Features: Businesses can customize the features of their apparel, such as the type of collar, the number of pockets, and the presence or absence of strings. Our hoodie customization options serve as a prime illustration of this capability.

4. Environmentally Friendly

This printing technique is a more environmentally friendly method than traditional ones, such as screen printing. This is because it does not require the use of water or harsh chemicals.

  • Sustainable materials: This printing method can be used on a variety of fabrics, including eco-friendly ones like REPREVE fabric, which is made from recycled plastic bottles.
  • Low waste: Sublimation printing does not require any water or chemicals, which can pollute the environment. The ink is printed on paper and then transferred to the fabric using heat and pressure. This means that there is no waste of ink, water, or chemicals.
Pros and Cons of sublimation printing for uniform brands

Cons of sublimation printing for uniform brands

Before making the leap into sublimation printing, it’s important to be aware of the potential drawbacks that come with this technique.

1. Limited to Polyester Fabrics

Sublimation only works on fabrics that contain a high percentage of polyester which is usually at least 65%. This is because the sublimation process requires the ink to bond with the polymers in the fabric. Other fabrics, such as cotton and silk, do not contain polymers, so they cannot be sublimated.

2. Color matching can be challenging

Sublimation printing can produce vibrant and lasting colors, but it can be difficult to achieve precise color matching. This is because the colors seen on a digital screen may not always match the colors on the final printed fabric.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • The colors on a digital screen are represented by RGB (red, green, and blue) values, while the colors on a printed fabric are represented by CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) values.
  • The way that light reflects off of a digital screen and a printed fabric is different.
  • The quality of the sublimation inks and paper can also affect the color reproduction.

3. Design transfer can be complex

Sublimation printing requires the transfer of designs from artwork to print files. This can be a complex process that requires careful attention to detail. The design must be converted into a format that can be read by the sublimation printer. The design must also be scaled and positioned correctly.

The high heat required for sublimation printing can damage embroidery threads. If you plan to embroider your uniforms, you should do so before sublimation printing.

Sublimation printing vs. traditional methods

Traditional printing methods, such as heat transfer and screen printing, offer a classic, time-tested aesthetic. They are also compatible with a wider variety of materials. However, they may not provide the same level of design versatility or cost-effectiveness as sublimation printing.

Consider the comparison of sublimation printing and traditional methods:

FeatureSublimation PrintingScreen PrintingHeat Transfer
Design versatilityExcellentGoodLimited
Cost-effectiveness for small ordersGoodPoorGood
Environmental impactLowHighMedium
Compatibility with materialsPoly-based fabrics onlyCotton and other natural fibersCotton and other natural fibers
Desired aestheticModern, contemporaryClassic, traditionalClassic, traditional
Initial setup costLowHighLow
Minimum order quantityLowHighLow
Time to produceFastSlowFast
Learn more about which is better between heat transfer and screen printing to make informed decisions.

Ultimately, the best method for printing uniforms will depend on the specific needs of the brand or organization. If design versatility and cost-effectiveness are important factors, then sublimation printing is a good option.

However, if a classic, time-tested aesthetic is desired, or if the uniforms need to be made from natural fibers, then traditional methods may be a better choice.

What apparel is suitable for sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing is a versatile process that can be used to customize a wide range of apparel. However, it is most effective on polyester and poly-blend fabrics. These materials have properties that allow the dye to absorb into the fabric, resulting in vibrant, long-lasting prints.

Some common apparel items that can be sublimated include jerseys, shorts, t-shirts, leggings, jackets, and even accessories like hats and socks. Check our sublimation apparel line for reference.

With sublimation printing, you can create unique, eye-catching designs on a variety of sports apparel. This gives your brand the opportunity to showcase its creativity and stand out from the competition.

sublimation graphic designer

Do I need to hire a graphic designer?

Whether or not you need to hire a graphic designer to offer sublimation apparel to your clients depends on your budget and needs. If you have the budget, hiring a professional graphic designer can be a great way to ensure that your designs are high-quality and meet your brand standards.

A graphic designer with experience in sublimation printing can help you with the following:

  • Choosing the right colors and images for your designs
  • Ensuring that your designs are the correct size and resolution
  • Placing your designs in a way that looks good and is functional

If you don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer, there are other options available. You can use online tools or collaborate with a freelance graphic designer from platforms like Fiverr.

At Sphere Sport, we offer low-cost in-house graphic design services to our clients. Our experienced team can help you create stunning sublimation designs that will meet your needs and budget.

No matter which option you choose, it is important to have a well-executed design when sublimating apparel. This will ensure that your designs look their best and last for a long time.

Is sublimation apparel right for your brand?

Deciding whether sublimation printing is suitable for your brand involves multiple considerations:

  • Technical Expertise: The design process offers great versatility but can be complex. Brands should be prepared to invest in technical expertise.
  • Market Preferences: Different sports have unique needs. Some may prefer the comfort of sublimated apparel, while others opt for traditional materials.
  • Consumer Insight: Understand your target market’s preferences before committing to a sublimation strategy.
  • Technological Advancements: The field is continually evolving, and sublimation printing is becoming the go-to method for modern, sustainable, and customizable sports apparel.

By considering these factors, you can assess if sublimation printing aligns with your brand’s objectives and your consumers’ needs.

Partner with Sphere Sport

Sphere Sport is a leading B2B uniform manufacturer that specializes in sublimation sports apparel. We use the latest sublimation printing technology to produce vibrant, long-lasting prints that will enhance your teamwear offerings.

We prioritize quality and customization for long-term partnership. We have a catalogue of ready-to-go designs along with over 50 sublimation fabrics for you to choose from.

Contact us here or reach out at

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