What Is Sublimation Paper: Comprehensive Guide

Personalizing your garments, designing logos, images and text for your T-shirts, or printing fabrics for interior design, can be fun, but also challenging. With various options for heat printing on the market, you may ask yourself what is sublimation paper, and is there a difference to heat transfer paper? The simple answer is, yes. They both have their own advantages and disadvantages, but sublimation paper offers a permanent result that may better suit your needs.

What Is Sublimation Paper?

It's not a transfer, it's a reaction. Unlike heat transfer paper, which is self-explanatory, sublimation paper does not transfer an image onto fabric or an item, it integrates the image into the fabric or item. Sublimation paper is a specialty paper that supports the chemical reaction that occurs between sublimation inks and the polyester fabric or item, when heat and pressure are applied.

When heated, sublimation ink turns to a gas that embeds itself into the polyester fabric, protected by the paper lining. After the ink cools, it solidifies as a permanent part of the fabric. This integration, ensures "all-over" brighter, more durable, seam-to-seam printing, which allows for long-lasting, intricate details in your design. Sublimation paper is an attractive printing option for personal and professional printing jobs, because of the diversity of its application. Its durability, light resistance and color vibrancy, offers a perfect solution to designing garmentsand redecorating your home.

Its printing uses include:

  • 100% Polyester Garments - Tops, T-shirts, Dresses, Skirts, Shirts, Jerseys, Hoodies, etc
  • Poly-Blend Garments - As listed above.
  • Curtains and Sofas for Interior Decoration
  • Polymer Coated Objects - Mugs, Mouse Pad, Banners, Water Bottles, Coasters, Metals, Plaques, Name Badges, License Plates, Ceramic Tiles, Glass tiles, etc.
With many versatile applications, the next thing you may ask is how to get started?

Getting Started

There are various video tutorials online that can walk you through sublimation printing, but this is a quick overview to get you started!

You Will Need:

  • An Inkjet Printer (like an Epson)
  • Adhesive Spray (To keep design from moving around on fabric)
  • Sublimation Inks
  • White or Light Colored Polyester Fabric (or an object with a poly-coated substrate)
  • Sublimation Paper
  • Heat Press (A hand iron is an alternative option, but not recommended - see below)
  • Lint Roller
  • Foam for Under Fabric in Heat Press (Optional)
  • Polymer Coated Objects - Mugs, Mouse Pad, Banners, Water Bottles, Coasters, Metals, Plaques, Name Badges, License Plates, Ceramic Tiles, Glass tiles, etc.

If this is your first time using sublimation paper to print, we recommend that you purchase these items as a package deal, as it is more economical than buying each component separately.

It is also worth noting, that while you can use a conventional hand iron for some fabrics, the most reliable choice for printing is a quality heat press. A heat press ensures consistent results when printing on either heat transfer paper and sublimation paper.

Printing in 8 Easy Steps:

When it comes tosublimation printing, the six-step process is easy and quick to replicate.

  • Purchase Sublimation Paper & Sublimation Ink
  •  Design and Print Your Image to Paper
  • Select Your Polyester Garment or Poly-coated Item (Place foam under garment in heat press, if desired for stability)
  • Spray Your Design with Adhesive Spray (You want a fine mist coating the design, no drip marks)
  • Place Paper (facedown) on Fabric inside of a Heat Press
  • Apply Heat and Pressure (375 - 400° Fahrenheit for 60 seconds approximately)
  • Gently Peel Back Paper (Lift a corner of the sublimation paper and peel it free from the fabric in one clean move)
  • Remove Garment from Heat Press & Use a Lint Roller (Lifts excess fibers while fabric is still hot - ensures the image is extra smooth to touch)

Which Paper Is Better?

Sublimation (digital printing) and heat transfers (screen printing) offer great printing opportunities for you, but being aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each option, will save you money and a headache.

What Is Sublimation Paper - The Pros & Cons

Digital printing does not require printing plates, so customization has never been easier. The benefits include:

  • Durability of Design - If done correctly, the image you transfer won't fade or disappear.
  • Smooth, High Quality Finish to Garment.
  • More Cost Effective than Heat Transfers as Less Wastage of Paper.
  • Paper can be used on both textiles and hard surfaces.
  • Produces Vibrant Colors.
  • Low start-up costs.
  • User friendly and faster to learn than screen printing.
  • Unlimited colors to choose from.
  • Easy to produce, allowing for same day or same hour.

There are also some disadvantages to consider when deciding if sublimation printing is right for you:

  • It's not biodegradable or 100% recyclable.
  • The inks contaminate the air when heated, so to avoid inhaling any hazardous fumes, please wear an appropriate safety mask.
  • Printers clog easily if not used for extended periods of time.
  • Limited application to polyester fabric and poly-coated surfaces.
  • Sublimation inks are relatively expensive compared with OEM inks.
  • Sublimation inks are transparent, so your image will not transfer properly onto dark garments. Use white or light colour polyester.

The main limitations to this kind of printing, are the costs associated with large or bulk orders, and the restrictions around its application on polyester fabrics and items with a polymer coating. Polyester fabrics are cheaper than natural fibers like cotton and silk, but my not be what you are looking for. Do not worry, there is a solution! Sublimation paper will print on poly-blend fabrics, it just won't have the same color vibrancy as 100% polyester. For example: If your fabric is 65% polyester, 35% viscose, the colors of the print will appear slightly muted and the design will have a vintage or distressed aesthetic.

The alternative to sublimation paper, is heat transfer paper, but it has its own pros and cons too.

What Is Heat Transfer Paper - The Pros & Cons

When placed in the heat press, the transfer paper's plastic lining melts, embedding the ink on the fabric. The benefits of using this specific transfer paper are:

  • Flexibility - you can use this paper in a laser or inkjet printer.
  • Ability to decorate cotton and polyester fabrics.
  • Garments can be dark or light colored.
  • Low start-up costs.
  • Cost effective for bulk orders.

Whilst heat transfer paper can be applied to a wider variety of fabrics, it has a few disadvantages that outweigh the limitations of sublimation paper:

  • A thin layer of the paper will transfer with your design, leaving a raised texture to your fabric and a translucent background on the image.
  • Transfers successfully to textiles only, so it has restricted use to garments and small interior decorating jobs.
  • Larger or intricate designs are more susceptible to cracking.

What Is Sublimation Paper?: Conclusion

Person holding a Sublimation paper

Image via pexels

Overall, sublimation paper provides a smooth, high-quality finish to your colors, without the risk of fading or cracking. You can apply it to customize your garments, revitalize your interior decorating or even elevate your business with stationary and promotional materials. We hope this article has given you the insight and confidence to select the right paper for your job and be ready to start! However, if you want to know more about fabric printing or just want to explore the question "what is sublimation paper" further, reach out to the heat press specialists.

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