Learn all about sublimation on shirts from what kind of shirts you need to how to apply the sublimation images! Full written and video tutorial!
This tutorial has been a long time coming! But I hope you think it’s worth it!
I have been playing more with my sublimation printer and have been testing it out on sublimating shirts. It is such a quick and easy way to make custom permanent apparel, but I have learned quite a bit in all my testing so I wanted to share it with you.
This is going to be another long post because I have a lot of fun comparisons and I wanted to make it full of everything you need to know about sublimation on shirts.
Here is what we will be going over!
Sublimation is the process of transferring a certain type of dyes (sublimation dyes) to a transfer paper. Then that is transferred to a compatible material using heat so the sublimation ink actually infuses on sublimates into the material and they become one!
It really is a cool technique to watch and use! I’m not going to go to in-depth into all about sublimation and how to set up a sublimation printer since I have a post all about sublimation printing for beginners with all that info and also one on how to sublimate on tumblers and sublimation ornaments.
Sublimation dye interacts with a poly coating to make the color permanent. The heat opens up the pores of the fabric and turns the ink into gas which then turns back into solid form once inside the material. At least that’s how I understand it, lol! You can read more technical stuff about the chemistry of sublimation here.
As mentioned above, the sublimation works with polyester which is why the best shirts to use for sublimation are 100% polyester or shirts with a high poly/cotton ratio. The higher the polyester the more vibrant and permanent the colors will be.
But if you are wanting the distressed or the vintage look, then a lower poly ratio might be perfect for your needs!
In this tutorial on sublimation on shirts, I will be showing you how sublimation works on a few different ratios of fabric plus a 100% cotton shirt. I wasn’t sure if you could put sublimation on cotton shirts so I tried and I’ll show you the answer below (spoiler: it transfers but is it permanent??)
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There are a few pieces of equipment you’ll need to sublimate on shirts.
- Sublimation Printer or Converted EcoTank Printer (I show you how to convert here)
- Sublimation Ink
- Sublimation Paper – I’m trying out two different ones –A-sub and HiiPoo brand
- Tshirt- I’m using George brand from Walmart that is 65% polyester and also pillowcases that are 100% polyester from Amazon
- lint roller
- butcher paper
- EasyPress 2 and mat or heat press
- heat resistant tape
I have a full YouTube video showing all of these steps in a link at the bottom of the post in case you want to see everything in live action!
The sublimation process is the same for any fabrics, whether shirts or pillowcases, so we are going to do both since I had 100% polyester pillowcases on hand.
I wanted to be able to show you the difference between 100% polyester and a blend and also the difference between two different sublimation transfer sheets.
The first thing you’ll want to do is pick an image. You can design your own, use a photograph, or find one online like I found this elephant at pixabay.com.
Note: If your image has words or needs to be in a certain direction, make sure you print it on MIRROR SETTING.
I didn’t care which way the elephant was facing so I printed it our normal, using Paper setting and as an 8×10 photo size shrunk to fit the paper. Print the image on a sublimation printer.
The printed image will look dull, and that is what it’s supposed to look like! The heat is what activates the dye to make the color vibrant!
I placed my EasyPress mat on a hard table and then put a piece of butcher paper on top of it. Then you’ll need to put butcher paper inside your shirt or pillowcase so the ink doesn’t bleed through the back. If it’s wrinkled, press it to get the wrinkles out. If there are any folds, the sublimation dye will be uneven.
I am going to sublimate a 65%poly/35% cotton shirt first.
Then you are going to want to lint roll the shirt where the image will go, very well. Any dust or pet hair that gets caught under the image will cause a spot in the design.
Place the sublimation transfer sheet so the image is facing down. I like to tape it down with heat resistant tape so that it doesn’t move during the press and cause ghost images.
As mentioned above you can use and EasyPress 2 or heat press to sublimate a shirt (an iron won’t work!). You need constant high heat. Make sure the EasyPress is larger than the image so you can press it all at once if possible.
Follow the directions for the sublimation paper you have. The two I am using said to use two different temperatures so I adjusted my EasyPress 2 settings accordingly.
Place a teflon sheet or another piece of butcher paper on top of the sublimation paper (to protect your press!) and place the press right over the image without moving the paper around. Press with medium to heavy pressure (depending on what the instructions for the brand you are using say) for 30 seconds.
After 30 seconds, remove your press by pulling it straight up (so you don’t slide things around), remove the butcher paper, and then the transfer sheet. That’s really all there is to sublimating a t-shirt!
But we are definitely going to dive in deeper to check the differences between sublimation paper brands and poly blends.
I pressed the exact same image on the same shirt so we can tell the difference. This was the result of the two different brands of sublimation paper – A-sub brand vs Hiipoo when put on a 65%poly/35%cotton shirt.
You can see that the A-sub brand is quite a bit more vibrant on the poly blend shirt. The Hiipoo brand did recommend using on at least a 70%poly shirt and you can see here why.
I also wanted to see what the image would look like on the same brand, but a colored shirt. So I tried this light purplish color. The image still sublimated pretty well!
Now let’s test them both on 100% polyester fabric. The colors are much more vibrant and really not a difference between the two brands of transfer paper!
So using 100% polyester really makes a difference if you want a super vibrant color that doesn’t fade! Cricut has a great line of 100% polyester shirts that I love using when working with their version of sublimation – Infusible Ink.
Here’s another fun image I was playing with on 100% polyester.
So does the setting for image quality matter?
Let’s check it out!
I printed one image at High Quality and one at Regular Quality and…
Honestly, there wasn’t a huge difference.
And does the type of file matter when sublimating???
All of the images above were PNG files.
So I converted this cute Shop Local image (found here!) to a PDF to check. And the PDF did sublimate a little bit darker!
Note: Sometimes the color you see on an image on your computer screen will differ than what is printed and sublimated. This is due to some images being saved as RGB or CMYK (technical stuff!) and your printer being different.
I usually will print out pictures in PDF because I feel like they are a little bit more vibrant like when I made a pillowcase for my son with all his friend’s pics on it.
I hinted at this one above. I, of course, wanted to see what happened if I sublimated on a 100% cotton shirt. I was actually surprised that it even transferred!
It definitely was faded but it worked! Where the trouble comes in is the permanency of it.
I washed all the shirts and pillowcases three times to see what would happen.
Here is the 100% cotton… it faded quite a bit more after three washes but it’s still there if you want a really faded look!
Take a look at the other sublimation shirts after being washed.
The 65% poly faded some.
But when compared to the 100% cotton, it’s definitely much more vibrant!
And how did the 100% polyester hold up?? Beautifully! It didn’t fade at all, the colors are still nice and vibrant.
You can see the difference between the 100% poly and 65% poly below.
So as I said, it really depends on the look you are going more. If you like the style of distressed/vintage wear, then the lower poly count would suit your preferences better!
Unfortunately, sublimation on black shirts does not work well. The sublimation ink will just be darker on the shirt so it will be really hard to see. If you had a print with blue, then it would be very dark blue on a black shirt.
Here is a picture of a dark shirt I sublimated on. It’s pretty hard to see the colors.
But there are a lot of different “sublimation on dark shirt hacks” floating around out there. These almost all use a different type of material.
I tried out a dark tshirt transfer paper to give you an option of using something other than iron-on vinyl on a dark shirt. Before I had my Cricut machines, I used to make all of our Father’s Day shirts using my printer and transfer paper.
Use any inkjet printer to print out a design and let it dry. Trim all of the white paper excess off. (Simple images or photos work best!).
Remove the image from the back of the paper and press it onto a shirt following the instructions for that specific brand.
You can see that any part of the paper that was still white that I didn’t cut, transferred on to the shirt.
Dark transfer papers are a good alternative to sublimation on dark shirts, but they do not infuse into the shirt. You will still feel the paper like you feel a thick vinyl. Plus they don’t hold up as well after many washings.
To see all of these steps in action, hop on over to my YouTube video where I will walk you through the entire process.
If you’d like to save this sublimation on shirts tutorial for later, simply hover over the top left of the image below and PIN It now!
Here are some printable sublimation instructions.
- Sublimation Paper
- Polyester Shirt
- Butcher Paper
- Lint Roller
- Sublimation Converted Printer
- EasyPress or Heat Press
- Find a photo or image you would like to sublimate onto a tshirt. (The higher the polyester count the more vibrant and permanent the color will be!)
- Print with a sublimation printer on sublimation paper. Paper setting. If words or direction in image, make sure to MIRROR THE IMAGE before printing.
- Preheat EasyPress or heat press to the recommended temperature of the sublimation paper you are using.
- Place cardstock or butcher paper inside the shirt. Press to get wrinkles out. Lint roll the shirt where the image will go.
- Place the image, ink side down, where you want it to go on the shirt. I like to tape it in place with heat-resistant tape to reduce the possibility of ghosting.
- Place a piece of butcher paper or Teflon sheet over the image and press the image on the shirt for the specified time of sublimation paper used.
- When the time is up, pick up EasyPress straight up. Remove the butcher paper and transfer sheets.
- Wow at how cool your sublimation on shirt is!!
See post for full detailed tutorial and comparison of sublimation sheets and material blend shirts.
Thanks for stopping by and have a creative day!