Sublimation printing is a fun, rewarding printing technique that allows you to create expansive, vibrant designs on various materials, from fabrics to coffee cups and travel mugs.
Although sublimation printing is not a challenging technique by any means, knowing what type of material will work best will allow you to create nice, even, and beautiful results every single time.
What are the best shirts for sublimation printing? Polyester T-shirts, poly-blend T-shirts with at least 40% polyester content, or other types of synthetic fabric will take sublimation dye very well. You should avoid 100% cotton because it won’t absorb the dye, and your design will wash out easily.
To learn more about sublimation printing on T-shirts and how you can get the best result before you even start the printing process, read on to learn more about how to find the best shirts for sublimation printing.
What Is Sublimation Printing?
Sublimation printing is a process very commonly used when printing on materials like fabrics or mugs. The design is usually printed using a special type of ink on sublimation paper, and then a heat press is used to transfer the design onto the printed surface.
During this process, the sublimation ink is heated and then fused into the fabric, forming a permanent bond. Because of this specific process, designs printed using sublimation printing won’t peel or crack and won’t bleed or wash out over time.
Although this process requires some highly specific equipment – a sublimation printer and a heat press – the process can easily be done at home, and you don’t need a lot of expertise to successfully print a beautiful design on your shirt.
This process is fast and convenient, and quite fool-proof. Compared to other printing methods such as screen printing, sublimation printing is also more beginner-friendly. This is why sublimation printing is preferred by amateurs and professional printers alike.
However, the first step to achieving a successful print job is to use the correct material that will work well with the sublimation ink and this specific printing method. In the next section, let’s learn more about what type of fabric will work well with sublimation printing.
What Type Of Fabric Works Well With Sublimation Printing?
The first thing you need to know when working with sublimation printing is that it can be quite picky when it comes to printing on fabric.
This is because sublimation ink is a water-based dye that will turn into a gas when heat is applied. Here, the ink will fuse into the fabric to transfer your design. However, this process only works if the fabric is a synthetic material.
This is because synthetic materials will be able to form a strong bond with heat-activated dye, while natural fabrics won’t absorb this type of dye very well. Even if you successfully transfer the design, it can wash out quite easily due to the weak bond between the ink and the fabric.
Having explained the mechanism of the printing technique, let’s learn more about what type of fabrics will work with sublimation printing and what type of fabric won’t work well with this technique.
Avoid Using Cotton
Most DIYers know that cotton and other natural fabrics can absorb dye very well, but they don’t hold dye very well. This is the main reason why dyed cotton fabrics can bleed in the wash.
This is especially true with sublimation printing. The sublimation dye won’t be able to form a strong bond with the fibers in the fabric, resulting in a messy print job that will wash out almost immediately.
However, a lot of people love cotton apparel because it is super breathable and kind to the skin. As a natural fabric, it’s also biodegradable and eco-friendly, which is why a lot of people always opt for cotton shirts over others.
If you are keen on sublimation printing on cotton shirts, you should prime the cotton shirt first using a specialized coating such as Polyfog and use a specialized transfer paper designed for cotton fabric.
These products will first ‘prime’ the cotton fabric with a polymer, which will allow the ink to form a stronger bond with the fabric.
However, this technique will require some experimentation to perfect, and you still won’t get a comparable result to printing on Polyester or other synthetic fabrics. There is still a chance that the design will fade or wash out after a few washes.
Polyester fabric is the best option for sublimation printing because the dye can form a strong, permanent bond with this type of fabric. This allows the printed image to be transferred to the fabric with clear, crisp quality, and the result will stay on the fabric permanently without fading.
Unfortunately, Polyester is not everyone’s favorite material. It can get a bit itchy and uncomfortable, and it can pill easily after only a few washes. During the summertime, Polyester is not very breathable and can feel very stuffy to wear, which is why a lot of people don’t prefer wearing Polyester.
To counteract some of these negative effects, many people opt to use a polyester blend with cotton or other natural materials. A cotton-poly blend can be durable and highly breathable, making it more comfortable to wear.
Keep in mind that with sublimation ink, the ink will only be able to form a strong bond with the polyester fibers and not the cotton fibers in a poly blend, so if you use a poly blend shirt with a very low polyester content, the printed design can still turn out blotchy and uneven.
In this case, it’s best to use a fabric with at least 40% polyester content, which will allow the design to be printed evenly since the cotton content is less likely to interfere with the quality of the design.
Other Synthetic Fabrics
Other synthetic fabrics such as lycra, rayon, or nylon can also be used for sublimation printing. Synthetic fabrics, in general, work very well with heat-set dyes and sublimation ink, so you will get an even and crisp result when working with these types of synthetic fabrics.
Similar to polyester blends, if you are opting to use a blended fabric, make sure that the synthetic content is at least 50% of the overall fiber content. This will make sure that the sublimation ink can properly bond with the fabric and won’t bleed after a few washes.
Also, keep in mind that some synthetic fabrics can melt under high heat. Sublimation printing requires using a heat press at 400°F to melt the ink into the fabric, so you should make sure that your fabric should be able to handle this temperature before going ahead with printing.
Some types of fabric will become distorted when met with this high temperature, ruining the entire shirt altogether.
If you are unsure about whether it’s safe to heat press your fabric, it’s best to check with the manufacturer or test print on a scrap piece of fabric to prevent any issues with the print job later on.
Other Limitations Of Sublimation
Aside from the materials used for the process, one of the biggest limitations of sublimation is the colors of the fabrics. Since it’s a dye process, the best results are usually obtained by using white or light-colored fabrics.
The ink won’t be able to show up very well when you want to transfer a design onto a dark-colored fabric. In this case, you should opt for another printing method, such as screen printing, for the best result.
Best Shirts For Sublimation
What are the best shirts for sublimation? Below is a list of best shirts for sublimation, ranging from the best options, which are 100% polyester shirts, to more comfortable poly-blend options that would still work with sublimation printing.
|1.||Sublivie Men's Unisex Sublimation T-Shirt||100% polyester|
|2.||Hanes Women's Sport Cool Dri Short Sleeve T-Shirt||100% polyester|
|3.||SATINIOR White Polyester Toddler T-Shirts||100% polyester|
|4.||Cricut Women's T-Shirt Blank, V-Neck||95% polyester, 5% spandex|
|5.||C9 Champion Men's Short Sleeve Tech Tee||94% polyester, 6% spandex|
|6.||Bella Canvas Unisex Sueded T-Shirt||52% combed and ring-spun cotton, 48% polyester|
|7.||Gildan Men's DryBlend T-Shirt||50% cotton, 50% polyester|
1, Sublivie Men’s Unisex Sublimation T-Shirt
These 100% polyester T-shirts are the first step to achieving an accurate image transfer for vivid, bright, and long-lasting sublimation designs.
Soft and lightweight, this moisture-wicking polyester t-shirt is built to keep you cool and dry. The side seam construction creates a better fit, while the crew neck ribbed collar provides comfort.
Although this is a synthetic fabric, it still feels quite soft against the skin and can keep you dry and airy, even during warm summer days.
The 100% polyester fabric is machine washable and easy to care for, even after sublimation printing, because the fabric will be able to form a permanent bond with the ink, creating a long-lasting result.
These T-shirts can run a little bit small, according to reviews, so you should opt for a bigger size if you want the shirts to fit comfortably.
2. Hanes Women’s Sport Cool Dri Short Sleeve T-Shirt
The Hanes T-Shirts are the perfect shirts for sublimation printing.
These sports t-shirts are made from 100% polyester and provide a smooth, soft feel. The fabric is quick-drying and wicks away moisture, keeping you cool and comfortable no matter what activities you’re doing.
The material feels light and drapes well. They fit true to size and feel quite luxurious compared to the price point.
Thanks to the 100% polyester fiber content, these T-shirts will be able to take sublimation dye very well. The material is also quite low maintenance – you can safely machine wash these T-shirts without worrying about washing out the design.
3. SATINIOR White Polyester Toddler T-Shirts
Children’s T-shirts are the perfect way to experiment with your sublimation design. You can create a fun, beautiful design in just a few minutes.
Since children grow out of their clothes so quickly, this is also a great way to follow the newest trend without breaking the bank.
Made of 100% polyester, these T-Shirts are very moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, and feel comfortable against sensitive skin. These are huge advantages if you are making clothes for a hyperactive toddler.
These toddler T-shirts work perfectly with sublimation printing to create custom children’s t-shirts that they will enjoy wearing. The print will be long-lasting and will be quite easy to care for.
4. Cricut Women’s T-Shirt Blank, V-Neck
Cricut is a very prominent brand in the DIY world, and this product is just what you need to get a beautiful sublimation printed T-shirt.
The T-shirt is made from 95% polyester and 5% spandex. Both materials are strong, durable synthetic fibers that can feel lightweight and very comfortable to wear. The spandex content makes the material slightly stretchy, which is suitable for everyday wear.
Since 100% of the fiber content is synthetic, you can be assured that it will work really well with sublimation printing.
According to reviews, these T-shirts run a bit small, so you can opt for a slightly larger size if you want the T-shirts to fit more comfortably.
5. C9 Champion Men’s Short Sleeve Tech Tee
These men’s T-shirts are made from 94% polyester, 6% spandex, and a great base for sublimation.
This moisture-wicking fabric is quick-drying and ultra-soft. Since these are athletic T-shirts, they are super comfortable to wear and fit well. The spandex content adds a bit of stretch, making the T-shirt really comfortable to wear and can make you feel fresh all day long.
This synthetic fabric is designed for optimal printing success. The sublimation printing process transfers ink directly into clothing, resulting in bold, high-quality designs that won’t fade quickly after washing.
6. Bella Canvas Unisex Sueded T-Shirt
If you enjoy the softness and breathability of ring-spun cotton but still want it to work with sublimation printing, then this poly-blend T-shirt will do the trick.
The fiber content is 52% ring-spun cotton and 48% polyester, so you’ll get the best of both worlds. The polyester content will hold the sublimation ink well, while the cotton content can make you feel light and airy thanks to the fabric’s breathability.
These T-shirts have a highly comfortable fit, and the unisex design is always trendy.
Because cotton tends to shrink in the wash, these T-shirts have been pre-shrunk, which means you can print on the shirt right away without having to worry about the shirt shrinking and distorting the design later on.
7. Gildan Men’s DryBlend T-Shirt
Made from 50% cotton and 50% polyester, this shirt is soft and breathable to keep you cool, dry, and comfortable.
This combination is just right for sublimation printing, and you can enjoy the breathability of cotton without worrying about the design washing out.
Thanks to the fiber content, these T-shirts are quite durable and easy to care for. Since there’s some cotton content, you should wash the shirt first to get rid of any shrinkage before printing so that your design won’t become distorted after the first wash.
According to reviews, the neck can fit a bit tight, especially for larger sizes. In that case, you should opt for a bigger size which will give you a better fit around the neck area.
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