Sublimation vs. Heat Transfer

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Are you looking to begin a side hustle that you hope grows into a full-fledged business? Then jumping into the world of T-shirt design and making clothes that have that personal touch and a flair of originality and creativity is a great choice.

But there is so much to think about besides what cool designs you are going to put out there, things like what technique to use are probably among them. So, you’ve done your research, and have it narrowed down to heat transfer and sublimation, but which one is the best?

In this guide, we will help you understand the differences between the two and walk you through some of the pros and cons of each. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you feel better equipped to decide which method is the right one for your needs. So, let’s look at both the sublimation vs. heat transfer process before diving into the pros and cons.

What is Sublimation?

Sublimation is a process that uses a graphic printed on a specific type of paper. This graphic is then laid on the fabric (or other products like mugs and such) and heated until the ink embeds itself in the material. This method allows the design to become one with whatever material you use, meaning that it has the same feel as whatever you used.

What is Heat Transfer?

The heat transfer process is done with a paper that has been adorned with a graphic and a heat press just like that used in sublimation. The design is printed on the specialized heat paper and then you apply it with heat to the garment of your choice. Once you have transferred the graphic your remove the paper and voila you have a new nifty graphic tee ready to sell.

Sublimation vs. Heat Transfer

Now that that’s out of the way and you have a good understanding of the process needed to complete each let’s look at some of the considerations you should think about when choosing your shirt crafting method.

Initial Cost

The very first thing to consider is the initial cost of setting your T-shirt business. This will exclusively come to form the equipment you need. No matter which method you choose you will need a heat press, a printer (inkjet or laser) and the material you are going to print on. Each method will require you to purchase the paper that is correspondent to the method. Typically, the cost of the sublimation paper is a little more expensive than the heat transfer paper. If you shop around you may be able to find a sublimation starter package and this could help with the bottom line.

In this category, we would have to say that the winner is heat transfer as it has a lower initial set up cost.

Types of Fabrics (Materials)

So, with heat transfer, you get a little more variety of fabrics you can use because with sublimation you can only use polyester. Now sublimation does give you the option to branch out and create mugs, puzzles, and many other poly-coated hard surfaces. With heat transfer you can print on pretty much any fabric common to T-shirts.

This one is a tie because it really depends on what fabric you want to use and if you plan on expanding into other revenue streams.

Color Production

You will get a wider spectrum of colors using the sublimation method for sure. You will also be able to be more precise with color delivery. Heat transfer, on the other hand, doesn’t have as wide a spectrum.

If you want a rich color and a wide range of choices in this category, we must give it to sublimation.

Life and Hand

So, heat transfer basically sticks an extra layer onto the fabric and that means that you lose the texture of the shirt at the application site. It also means that it is susceptible to fading and cracking. With sublimation, the ink is merged into the fabric — that means you keep the feel and the longevity as the print is in the shirt itself.

In this category, we must give it to sublimation for the continuation of the hand (feel) of the fabric and the graphics ability to stand the test of time and washing!

Final Thoughts

In the end, the choice between sublimation vs. heat transfer really comes down to what your end goals are. If you are looking for a method of T-shirt designing that offers a wide breadth of fabric choices, then you would want to go with heat transfer. If, however, you are looking for a method that will allow you to expand to other things besides T-shirts and offers a vibrant color selection, sublimation may be the right method for you. One thing for sure is that now you are armed with all this information you need so your decision should be easier to make. 

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