Beginner’s Guide to Sublimation Printing

The Final Result: A Completed T-Shirt

In a nutshell, sublimation printing, also known as dye sublimation or dye sub for short, is a popular printing process for transferring images and graphics onto fabrics and other polymer-based materials.

How Does Sublimation Work?

With sublimation printing, printers equipped with unique sublimation dyes print onto specially coated sheets of paper. This paper is then placed under a heat press, aligned over the substrate to be sublimated. Using a combination of time and temperature, the image from the paper will transfer at the molecular level into the substrate.

The end result of the sublimation process is a nearly permanent, high resolution, full color print. Because the dyes are infused into the substrate at the molecular level, rather than applied at a topical level (such as with screen printing and direct to garment printing), the prints will not crack, fade or peel from the substrate under normal conditions.

Sublimation Printing Process

In pictures, let’s take a look at the sublimation printing process from the first step until the completion of the product.

Digital Graphic Designer
Digital Graphic Designer

STEP 1: Layout and Editing of Design

Everything starts with the graphic designer. The graphic designer takes the customer’s sketched ideas or pictures and transforms them into digital artwork by using graphics software such as Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo.  This artwork is placed inside a template that is patterned from the product itself.  For example if the product is a t-shirt, the template will contain all the parts of the shirt such as the body, sleeves, and neck ribbing.

Dye Sublimation Printer
Dye Sublimation Printer

STEP 2: Printing

The digital artwork is then sent to our sublimation printer. If the product is apparel such as a t-shirt, each of the individual parts of the shirt are printed out and cut by hand. Rolls of specially coated paper (called transfer paper) is used to print the design onto.

Heat Press Operation
Heat Press Operation

STEP 3: Heat Press

The printed sheets of paper are then transferred to a heat press, where they are laid on top of the substrate (such as fabric). All substrates must been made from polyester or a polymer-based material in order for the sublimation to work properly. Acting at a specific temperature and length of time, the items are pushed under the heat press where a giant heating plate compresses the pieces together. This combination of high heat and time is where the magic happens. The dyes in the transfer paper transform from a solid into a gas, then immediately permeate the substrate. The end result is a nearly permanent, high resolution, full color print.

Cutting of Fabric
Cutting of Fabric

STEP 4: Cutting of Material

If the material that was sublimated is fabric, it is then taken to the cutting table where an expert cutter would then cut the fabric into the exact shape of the individual parts.

Sewing Line
Sewing Line

STEP 5: Sewing

Once the cutting is finished, the cut parts are bundled together, then handed over to a team of sewers. Each sewer handles a single operation on the garment, allowing items to be manufactured quickly along an assembly line.

The Final Result: A Completed Sublimation T-Shirt

STEP 6: Packaging and Delivery

The last step of the process is doing quality assurance on the garment, making sure it is in perfect condition for delivery. Usually there are small threads sticking out of the finished garment, so a quality assurance person needs to trim off these extra threads.  If imperfections are found, the item is sent back to the sewing line for repair.  Otherwise, the approved item is then packaged and prepared to be sent to the customer.

Future of Sublimation

Sublimation printing has many applications, from printed apparel and pillows to mugs and canvas prints. Here at FaceCoverGear.com, we are experts in the field of sublimation printing, with years of experience behind our belt.  Based on our expertise in sublimation printing, the onset of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has pushed us to develop new products to help combat the virus. 

Sublimation face masks are now trending.  We’ve spent a long time perfecting our sublimation facemasks, sourcing all the materials needed to create the perfect cloth mask and creating multiple styles to appeal to a wider audience.  The advantage of sublimation face masks is that you can put any design you want on the front of the face mask, giving your face mask a unique look that lets you stand out from the rest.  

So now that you know what sublimation printing is all about, you can order a sublimated face mask and know the story behind how it’s made.