How to Sublimate on Cotton – Step by Step Guide of 2022

Last Updated on April 1, 2022 by Andrew Chapman

As we know that cotton is ideal in winters, so who wouldn’t like to imprint an artsy design on the old-school cotton shirt. Sublimation on cotton has emerged to be a new trend since all the internet population is up for DIY products.

dye sublimation cotton

Sublimation is a well known printing technique that transfers heat sensitive ink to any fabric. These inks turn into gas under high temperatures that carry out the process. Meanwhile, you should know that it is almost impossible to sustain the sublimation on cotton shirts, if you don’t follow all the correct steps properly.

How to Sublimate on Cotton

Carrying out sublimation printing on cotton fabric is quite technical as there is a high chance of the design fading or washing out. The design on cotton reacts heavily to sunlight so it can be possible that your entire design will fade within just a few hours of wearing it. So, it is necessary to follow all the steps mentioned below in the correct order to increase the durability and sustainability of the process.

Gather your material

Before getting into the process of dye sublimation cotton, you should be prepared with all the materials needed to run the process smoothly. Start by picking out a clean cotton shirt along with a heat press or an easy press but not the iron that you use to press routine clothes.

After that, you should go for a run to the hardware store to grab the supplies including thermal tape, sublimation paper or sublimation fabric, lint roller, and parchment paper.

Creating your design

The process starts by selecting any online cutting software, Microsoft Word, or Paint on your computer and uploading your design in any of these softwares. After uploading the design just resize it according to your shirt. We will recommend resizing the design up to 6.75 inches by 9.25 inches dimensions for printing.

If you are using a cutting software it’ll just give you the proper version of the design that you can just stick to your fabric. However, if you have chosen Microsoft Word for it then you can just cut the design by hand and you’ll be good to go.

Creating an Offset

Some people like to leave some white space in the circumference of the design. If you’re a fan of it then just create the offset using any editing tool. The detailing and pattern of your offset can depend on your liking. But it should be noted that if the entire design isn’t covered with offset then it’ll just appear blank on the final outlook

Full Color Design

When it comes to the full-color design, mirroring is an essential part so be sure not to miss it.

Get your sublimation paper and insert them into the printer. Paper around  8.5” x 11” sheets works good but if your paper is bigger than the requirement, or isn’t compatible with your printer model, then you will need to trim the paper.

It’s preferred to go with the system dialog as it makes sure the process goes through smoothly, this becomes more important when using a sublimation printer. Once the printing is done, trim using your scissors or any other preferred cutter of choice.

Offset Design

Unlike the full color design, the offset shouldn’t be mirrored. Place the fabric on a flat surface with the shinier side towards the surface and then use your scissors to trim.

Preparing the design for pressing

Now comes the time to press your design. Your design will go face down on the fabric side of the sublimation fabric. If you are having trouble keeping the design in place then a heat resistant tape can help you in keeping it in place. Move all the pieces to the heat press and keep the sublimation piece at the top. Cover all the pieces with a Teflon sheet or parchment paper.

Pre-pressing the design

You need to press at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 seconds. After completion makes sure to care as the design will still be hot at this point. Remove the design from the press along with the top sheet of sublimation paper.

Pressing the design on the shirt

Around 300 degrees Fahrenheit will be needed for 12 seconds to iron, however, first make sure to press without the design for a few seconds to make sure the surface is smooth and flat. Now to make sure no lint ruins the final design, use a lint roller and make sure the shirt is clean. Once the shirt is free from wrinkles and dust, we can begin pressing.

Before ironing, remove the backliner from the design. For measurements, 3” is a good general rule for adults, 2” for children, and 2 finger widths for babies. Once you get your measurements down, cover the design with a parchment paper or Teflon sheet and then press for 12 seconds at 302 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the 12 seconds are complete, let the heat settle for a while, and then remove your shirt from the press.

After completely pressing the design on the shirt, you have to wait for a few minutes until you can press that again with any sort of finishing the paper. These papers can either be matte or shiny as per the aesthetics of your shirt. Leave it on for no longer than 30 seconds at a high temperature.

It is necessary to follow this step so that the sublimation material can stick to the cotton fabric that will automatically create a long lasting design with increased washability.

Sublimation on Cotton FAQs

If you will be following the sublimation processes from the past, it includes the chemical process that molecularly bonds the dye within the material of the fabric. In such cases, the design could crack, wash out, or even start to peel after a short period.

However, as per the advanced research and development, many products including sublimation fabric and papers have been designed. This helps in carrying out that molecular bond above the surface of your fabric which stops any cracking or peeling of your design.

Yes, sublimation tends to wash out from the cotton surface and even fades quite easily. However, many factors may depend on this fading process including ultraviolet rays from the sun, deep wash, or even not wearing it for a long time. Out of all these factors, sunlight tends to fade the print faster. You can’t blame the paper or ink used for the sublimation process.

It is important to know sublimation heat press settings for cotton for an effective press. For cotton shirts, the accurate setting would be 356°F for around 30 seconds. First, try to press the design by covering it with parchment paper for 30 seconds. After which you can place the design backward on the shirt and give it a press. When the design is completely transferred then, after giving it a rest for 2 minutes, you should repress it for durability.

It is relatively easy to bleach dye 100% cotton than any other material. The more pure cotton fabric you’ll be using the better it will react with bleach. Materials like polyester and rayon blends don’t bleach that well, instead of the fabric only gets a bit lighter than usual.

Yes, you can easily implement sublimation on dark cotton, especially black-colored fabric. However, it would be wise to choose the design that may be visible on that surface. You can choose between glitter vinyl or a silhouette with a white cameo also.

Yes, you can sublimate the fabric with a 90 cotton to 10 polyester ratio. If there’s some polyester present in your fabric, you can sublimate it without putting in much effort. However, you have to implement two methods i.e for polyester and cotton sublimation separately, so that the ink can stick better on both surfaces. If you couldn’t follow both the procedures then the ink would wash out as per the fabric ratio.


The technique of sublimation has been readily evolving and has reached the point when it is almost eliminating the surfaces that can’t be sublimated. When we look only a few years back, we won’t find any such phenomena as sublimation on cotton, as cotton is the toughest material to absorb the ink.

The purity of cotton was one of the primary factors that made the process tough. But, nowadays, many new ways, tools, and products have been discovered making it all a piece of cake. Sublimation has widened many business opportunities that won’t decrease the durability of fabric nor does it affect the concentration of design imprinted on it.

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