Heat Transfer vs. Sublimation Printing| T-Shirt Printing & More

Heat Transfer vs. Sublimation Printing| T-Shirt Printing & More

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Heat Transfer and Sublimation Printing ? which is best ?

You must have heard of different printing methods used in the garment decoration industry, are you having trouble deciding between heat transfer and sublimation printing? In this here, LinkedGo-Vinyl will be going over the differences between these types of printing methods and which one is the right choice for your business.

The truth is: both are great; each method comes with its benefits and drawbacks! However, the right method for you or your business depends on your needs and what you intend to create.

Heat Transfer vs. Sublimation Printing

First, let’s go over what they are.

What is Heat Transfer Printing?

It is a two-step method where you print a design onto a transfer paper, transfers printed designs to shirts and other garments when heat is applied. You then transfer the printed design onto an adhesive paper using a heat press. Finally, you peel away the adhesive sheet from the transfer sheet and then press the design onto the garment. After pressing the design onto the garment and peeling away the paper, you have a design that’s transferred onto the garment.

Heat Transfer vs. Sublimation Printing

Pattern design source: Free Sublimation Phoenix Bird Fire Flames Vector Design Files

  • EPS — 1 files
  • SVG — 1 files
  • AI — 1 files
  • JPG — black background, 1 files, High resolution 300 dpi

How About Sublimation Paper

Like heat transfer printing, you’re printing the design onto regular copy paper or sublimation paper and then using heat via the heat press to transfer the design onto a substrate.

Heat Transfer vs. Sublimation Printing

Pattern design source: Cartoon Fox with Feather Graphics Craft Design

  • EPS — 1 files
  • PNG — 1 files
  • JPG — black background, 1 files, High resolution 300 dpi

The difference lies in the science behind sublimation.

Sublimation not only works on polyester fabrics – it also works on a wide variety of hard surfaces with a poly-coating. This opens up an entirely new world of items you can customize – coasters, jewelry, mugs, puzzles and much more.

When you heat the printed design during sublimation, the toner on the transfer paper goes from a solid to a gas and then embeds itself into the fabric. When it cools, it goes back to being a solid and becomes a permanent part of the material. Sublimation doesn’t add an extra layer to the top of the fabric, unlike heat transfer printing. And you won’t feel the difference between the printed image and the rest of the material.

Now let’s discuss what to consider when choosing between sublimation and heat transfer printing.

Durability and Feel

Sublimation uses a process where the ink becomes part of the fabric rather than adding a layer on top. This results in a transfer that is unmatched in both durability and feel. Most sublimated designs will last as long as the actual fabric. You’re not going to see any cracking after washes, and the image is less likely to fade.

This printing process results in a garment decoration that is matchless in both feel and durability.

On the other hand, heat transfer paper adds a layer on top of the garment. This additional layer can be physically felt and is less durable than sublimation and can become faded and cracked over time with numerous wash cycles.


With sublimation printing, the types of substrates you can transfer images onto is limited. This is because sublimation can only adhere to polyester coated materials. Even if you use a polyester blend, you’re not going to get as much vibrancy in your design compared to 100% polyester. Because sublimation adds no extra layer on top of the fabric, the material also needs to be white or very light-colored for your transfer to show.

On the other hand, with heat transfer paper, you can decorate on light and dark-colored cotton, polyester and cotton-poly blends.

While heat transfer paper may be the clear winner on the types of fabrics (material and color) that you can decorate, remember that sublimation can also be used on a wide range of hard and soft surface substrates. For the most part, heat transfer paper cannot.

Color Quality

Sublimation allows you to print full colors. This can be very helpful when sublimating a photo or doing a job for a customer that requires a specific color, such as printing a company logo.

You can also achieve sharp, vibrant designs using the heat transfer method if you’re printing your design using a white toner transfer printer, so you can achieve full-color vibrant designs with either method.


Sublimation printing is naturally self-weeding. That is because only the ink is transferred to the garment, thus resulting in a printing, pressing, and peeling process that is easy and fast.

Apart from the use of “two-step” laser transfer papers, printing with heat transfer papers are not self-weeding. With heat transfer paper, a transfer layer carries the print to the garment, and unless you want a noticeable background the shape of the paper on your T-shirt, you will have to trim around the image with scissors or a cutting plotter.

On transfer papers for light-colored garments, the transfer layer is clear and mostly invisible, and trimming is optional. However, if you don’t trim it, you will be able physically feel the transfer layer even where the image is not present. On “one-step” transfer papers for darks, unprinted areas will show a white background, so trimming is essential.

LinkedGo-Vinyl Think:

Both sublimation and heat transfer printing is a great way to decorate apparel; both printing technologies are affordable and beneficial and can be used to decorate fabric with steps that are easy to follow.

The right method for you ultimately depends on your needs or what you’re looking to create, so the choice is absolutely yours.

Hopefully this blog has helped you further your path to T-shirt and garment decoration! If you still have questions, do not hesitate to reach out to our Customer Success Team who are more than happy to help you find the best solution.

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