Sublimation printing is a heat printing process that allows you to seamlessly transfer a design from sublimation paper onto fabric. Since sublimation uses heat to fuse ink with the fabric, it works well with fabrics that can handle high heat, such as cotton and polyester.
Can you sublimate on rayon? Yes, but only if you use a polyester coating on the fabric first. If you try to sublimate directly on rayon without this step, the heat-sensitive fabric will easily melt under the high heat of sublimation.
If you want to experiment with sublimation printing on rayon, this article will tell you exactly how to do it without damaging the fabric.
What Is Sublimation?
In the world of textile printing, sublimation printing is a highly regarded technique. Since the process uses heat to superimpose the ink deep into the fabric fibers, the prints are less likely to fade compared to other printing techniques.
Learning about the sublimation process will make it a lot clearer why it doesn’t work directly on rayon fabric.
First, the design needs to be printed on sublimation paper using sublimation ink. Then, you will need to use a heat press to vaporize the sublimation ink and turn it into gas so that it will bond permanently to the fabric fibers.
As the ink cools down, the design will form a permanent bond with the fabric. As a result, the image will be super crisp and clean, and it won’t fade even after washing.
Thanks to this quick and effective method, sublimation printing is also known as ‘seam-to-seam printing’ because it’s not limited by the size of the printer or the fabric. If you want to print an entire piece of fabric, the design can cover the entire surface without any borders.
But here’s the catch: Sublimation printing only works with a heat setting of 385° to 400°F. The heat is necessary for the ink to turn into vapors and bond with the fabric.
That’s why sublimation printing works best on cotton or polyester fabrics because these types of fibers can handle the high heat.
Cotton fabrics are highly breathable and soft, but it doesn’t hold dye very well (which is why your cotton shirts tend to bleed in the wash). The sublimation printing process can fix this issue since the ink will form a strong bond with the fabric.
Similarly, synthetic fabrics like polyester don’t hold regular dye well, so most types of dye need to be heat-activated to work well with polyester. Since sublimation printing uses heat to fuse the ink to the fabric, this printing method is often the first choice when printing on polyester fabrics.
Characteristics Of Rayon
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric that has a smooth and comfortable texture, similar to natural fibers such as cotton and linen. It’s super drapey and highly breathable, and it’s often considered a more affordable alternative to silk.
Rayon is also super absorbent. This material is ideal for humid climates and active lifestyles, as it can absorb moisture from the skin and keep you dry.
However, rayon can be quite difficult to launder, as it can become significantly weaker when it’s wet and even shrink, which is why most people recommend hand washing when caring for rayon.
Additionally, you should know that rayon doesn’t work very well with sublimation printing. The first reason is that it can be sensitive to high heat, so using a heat press on rayon will likely damage it.
The other issue with sublimating on rayon may stem from this fabric’s super smooth nature. The fabric may shift around when you try to heat press, and the print may not stick properly to the fabric and will fade after the first few trips through the washing machine.
Can You Sublimate On Rayon?
If you would still like to experiment with sublimating on rayon, fortunately, there’s a way to do this. The first thing you should do is check the fabric’s fiber content.
If the fabric has more than 70% polyester content, you should be able to safely sublimate on it, even if the remaining 30% is entirely rayon. Fabric blends with more than 70% polyester content will behave similarly to 100% polyester, so sublimating with this fabric should be safe.
If your fabric has more than 50% rayon, you should use a polyester coating to prepare the fabric before sublimation printing.
Polyester coatings are useful for sublimating many surfaces, not just rayon fabric. This coating will cover your entire substrate with a thin sheet of polyester, allowing the material to work well with sublimation ink.
This means you can turn any material into a sublimation surface – ceramics, glass, and of course, rayon fabric.
Polyester coatings are also easy to use, as most of them can be applied using a spray bottle. By coating the rayon fabric using a polyester coating, the material will be instantly transformed into one that can work well with sublimation printing.
How To Sublimate On Rayon
Here’s what you will need to sublimate on rayon:
- A polyester coating (choose a spray version or grab a spray bottle to put it in)
- Parchment paper
- Sublimation printer with sublimation ink and the design of your choice
- Your rayon fabric
Preheat your heat press to 350°F.
Print your design using sublimation ink on a sublimation paper. You can use a plain print setting to get the best resolution for printing.
Mix your polyester coating according to the product’s instructions. Most polyester coatings will require you to mix it with water, and the ratio depends on the product that you use.
After mixing the polyester coating, you can pour it into the spray bottle to get it ready for application.
Lay your rayon fabric on a flat surface. You will only need to coat the area that you’ll be printing, so it’s best to measure the design against the fabric, so you don’t waste any polyester coating solution.
If you are sublimating a shirt, you can insert a piece of cardboard inside the shirt to separate the front and back of the shirt. This step will prevent the polyester coating from seeping through the first layer and into the back of the shirt.
You can also use cotton batting or any heavy fabrics to separate the layers.
Spray the polyester coating liberally all over the area of the fabric that you would like to print. Make sure to cover the entire printed area with the coating solution, but you don’t have to spray over areas that won’t be printed.
Cover the sprayed area with parchment paper. The parchment paper will prevent the heat from scorching the fabric.
Note that you can’t use any alternative to parchment paper because it will stick to the fabric.
Then, heat press the entire area that has been sprayed with the polyester coating at 350°F for 45 seconds.
Then, you’ll want to repeat steps 4 and step 5 again so that the polyester coating is thoroughly applied across the entire area that will be printed.
The polyester coating will help the sublimation ink to stick to your fabric without damaging it, so applying the coating well will really pay off!
After the polyester coating is applied and pressed into the fabric, make sure that the fabric is thoroughly dry before sublimation.
You won’t be able to sublimate wet fabrics, so if the fabric is still wet, you can press the fabric again at 350°F for 20-30 seconds to allow all the moisture residue to evaporate.
Adjust the temperature of your heat press to 385°F and adjust the pressure to Medium.
Then, place the design (face down) to the area of fabric that you would like to print.
If you’re printing a shirt, make sure that the front and back layers are separated so that the ink doesn’t soak through to the back layer of the shirt.
Then, place parchment paper over the entire design, and then press for 70 seconds. After this step, your entire design will be transferred to the rayon fabric. The image will be crisp with vibrant colors, and your rayon fabric won’t be damaged at all!
How To Care For Rayon Fabrics
After sublimation printing your rayon fabrics, it’s best that you care for the fabric properly so that the print will stay fresh for longer.
You should check the clothing or fabric label for the care instructions. Rayon fabrics are super delicate when wet. Although the sublimation ink won’t wash out, the fabric can shrink, lose its shape, or even be damaged in the wash, especially if you use hot water.
Some rayons are dry clean only, so you should always take them to the dry cleaner.
If your rayon can be laundered at home, always hand wash them using cold water with a mild detergent. If you use a washing machine, make sure to wash them separately using the delicate setting and cold water.
Don’t twist the fabric to remove excess water. Instead, you can press down on the fabric to make sure that it retains its shape. Then, lay the fabric flat to dry, and the fabric and your print should stay fresh as new!
If you’ve never hand washed clothing before and don’t know where to start, take a look at this video from Cleanipedia on YouTube.