What do apparel decorators need to know about sublimation transfers?
For those that don't know, sublimation as a transfer is the process of turning a liquid into a gas with heat, then using pressure to transfer that gas from one surface to another.
What's so great about sublimation transfers is the soft hand and the fact that the decoration is permanently bonded to the garment. The reason for the soft hand and the permanent color is that the ink dyes the garment and becomes part of the fibers.
Sublimation gives you a vibrant recreation of color and is versatile enough to go on specially-coated hard goods and polyester items like mousepads. One caveat—it requires polyester and will not bond with natural fibers like cotton.
The magic of this process is the ink, so unlike laser and inkjet transfers, the paper is just a carrier for the ink. It is best to use sublimation paper, so the ink releases properly, but again, it is just the carrier. When creating designs that have white, those white areas are just a void of the color. White ink is not available for this process. To decorate dark garments with this process, producers need to find an all-over garment contractor or invest in wide-format printers and heat presses. It is a worthwhile investment but can reach the $30,000 range.
- Low startup cost
- Permanent decoration and no loss of color
- Opportunity to decorate products besides garments
- Polyester only; cannot decorate 100% cotton shirts
- No white ink, so you must create all-over transfers for dark garments
- High ink costs, especially in the small-format world
Sublimation transfers are ideal for fashion/boutique garments, outdoor garments, and team jerseys.
When getting into this process, take a good hard look at the wide-format printer options on the market. This will ultimately save you in ink costs.