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What Is Sublimation and Why Is It Important to Me?

Excellent question.  Sublimation is a process for decorating polyester fabrics and materials.  Is is accomplished by printing a special ink onto transfer paper, applying that paper to a substrate and then applying heat and pressure to the material.  The result is a soft-hand print and excellent color reproduction.  So how does it work?  Read on…

Art Prep

Award-winning design for USAFCOEFS on a medium template.

To begin your sublimation order our creative team creates your design on digital garment template.  The template is a representation of a garment laid out flat.  Since sublimation typically covers the entire shirt it is important for the design team to have an accurate template when they start out.  Once approved, these files are sized to each garment in the order and saved out for the printing department.

Printing the Paper

The production department prints out a sheet of paper that has the front and back print for your garment.  In the case of a unisex large this is a 41″ by 70″ sheet.  Since the paper isn’t reusable, each garment in the order has a separate sheet printed for it.

Under Pressure

Grey shirt spread out on sublimation paper.

Once the sheets are printed they are folded in half (so the front and back design match each other) with the garment in between.  The paper and garment then go under a heat press where they cook at 350 to 400 degrees for about a minute.  Under the heat and pressure the ink on the paper changes into a gas and bonds with the polyester fibers in the garment.  Garments with a higher percentage of polyester will result in a much better print.

After pressing the paper is removed from the garment leaving us with a vibrant print with a very soft hand.

Now, for some things to consider…


Sleeve wrinkle on a grey sublimated shirt.

Most garments will not lay perfectly flat when we prep them.  As a result, any wrinkles on the garment won’t have ink applied to them.  These areas will remain the original color of the garment.  This is a standard part of the sublimation process.  Think of your garments as being individually unique products.

Colored Garments

Colored garments can be sublimated.  However, there are a few things to consider here:

  • As of right now there is no way to apply white sublimated ink to a colored garment.  As a result, when you apply a print to a colored garment all the ink colors get altered by the garment’s base color.  For example: sublimated yellow ink onto a blue garment will result in a green print.
  • Some colored polyester garments react differently when heat is applied to them.  If you are requesting a colored shirt that we have not printed before, allow extra lead time on your order as we may have to experiment with the shirts to make sure they will work correctly.