What is Sublimation

Last Updated on April 1, 2022 by Andrew Chapman

Sublimation process started in ancient alchemy that derives from the concept of modern chemistry. Sublimate is a Latin word that means “to lift or raise”. Sublimation is performed to purify compounds with a controlled melting point.

Sublimation is a chemical process of transformation or conversion of a solid into a gaseous phase without changing into a liquid for example passage to gas from a solid substance. In daily life, we can see examples of sublimation in the form of naphthalene mothballs, air fresheners, and ice crystals on frozen foods, ice, and the purification of metals.


What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing is all about printing graphics on a special sheet and transferring that design or image onto the required material through a heat press. The sublimation material can be ranged from many types of products, glass products, drinkware, ornaments, metals, wood product, fabrics. Sublimation provides the ability to create full-color photographic designs with minimal inputs (resources) and at an economical cost.

Sublimation Printing Process

Sublimation printing has the simple four major steps:

1. Create design/graphic

In the first step design the desired graphics in software to be printed on special sublimation paper that is absolutely used in sublimation printing which is made up of substrate like normal paper.

2. Printing of design on sublimation paper through sublimation printer

The design is printed on special paper according to the specifications that may require a different printer as well.

3. Transfer design on product through heat press machine

After printing graphics, the next level is to know how sublimation design would be transferred to the product? In other typical daily use printers, the ink is sprayed directly onto the paper in liquid form then with external elements (air, heat) ink is converted into solid. Comparatively, in sublimation printing inks are applied to transfer paper where they are converted into solid form through heat.

In this step, solid ink is vaporized and transferred to the material. A special coating of the product absorbs the design within pre-defined temperature and time. A coated layer differentiates this paper from others that comprise Cilicia and binder according to a paperweight.

The type of heat transfer can vary according to the design and the product also e.g. printing on mugs, bottles, ceramics, etc. has all different heat presses. Hence you can get easily the permanent full-color graphics on your products through sublimation printing.

Now Peel off the transparent sheet, have finished product.

Sublimation Material

Designs for sublimation printing

Sublimation high quality designs can be created through different graphic design software. Images should be high quality with brilliant clarity and sharpness.


A sublimation printer with ultra-HD photo quality is required for sublimation printing. The printer must use Photo HD inks and high DPI for printing for high quality results. Design size variations give an extraordinary range of sizes for pro printing.  

Inkjet & Laser printers enhance productivity and provide versatility and high-volume printing. Two sides printing deliver quick printing ranges. Printers that consume less power printer will be helpful for you to reduce the cost. The following properties are considered for printers:

  • Printing speed
  • Resolution
  • Price
  • Memory card
  • Wireless connectivity
  • Weight
  • Special features

Heat transfer/sublimation paper

It is a special paper, that transfer printed design to shirts and other garments. These papers are designed to work for both dark and light-colored fabrics. Mostly, 110-120 gsm is the best choice for smooth sublimation printing.

Sublimation Ink

Sublimation ink is a dye-based ink that when heated, turns from a solid into a gas. Through heat press or sublimation heat, actually, this is ink that dyes the fibers of the garment. Sublimation ink should have the following qualities but is not limited:

  • High quality colors
  • Unprecedented stability
  • Good compatibility
  • 90% transfer rate
  • Water resistant

Heat Press Machine

The heat press performs a major role in the final step of sublimation which can reach the temperature and pressure levels needed for sublimation. However, different heat press machines may give slightly different print quality, even the same manufacturer’s different models with price variations also. The heat press has different factors for consideration:

  • Higher heat transfer capacity
  • Variant according to the type of product
    • Flatbed press
    • Calendar press
  • Important factors for considering heat press:
    • Temperature (385 – 400)
    • Time (30 to 60 seconds for shit printing) varies based on the type of product
    • Pressure

How does sublimation shirt printing work?

Step #1: Require T-shirt for sublimation printing

It is assumed that white shirts are preferred rather than colored ones, but printing on colored T-shirts also can be performed after following a few steps. Sublimation is ideal for polyester material, 65% polyester is the minimum range for good quality shirt printing, generally, fabric has a 60:40 ratio of polyester and cotton that works also for sublimation shirt printing.

Step #2: Print designed images

It is performed with the help of a special printer, ink, and sublimation paper. For printing, we require PNG files designed on graphics software, or designs can be acquired online also. The desired design is printed on the transparent sheet through a printer, slight variations can bring the fine product as result after changing the setting of the printer. We need good quality printers e.g., Epson 15000 which can be converted into sublimation printer after making some changes.

Step #3: Heat Transfer to print on shirt

During the step of heat transfer, the ideal temperature should be 400 degrees but somehow 385 also works. Before heat transfer, using butcher paper parchment paper is better to avoid any marks on the backside of the shirt. It’s good practice to use the roller to remove specs that may visible after printing which looks bad.

The butcher can be put between the shirt then the design can be printed on a shirt at the center, right, or left with a preferred angle. It’s better if you cut the extra paper other than the design to avoid shaded lines, moreover to avoid a change in the position of the paper you can fix the paper with one shirt. After putting butcher paper on the t-shirt set the temperature (385 to 400) and wait for 60 seconds then close the heat press. Open the heat press, then peel away the actual paper, here you go! Sublimated T-shirt is ready.

This process can be used on hard surfaces wood, aluminum, and metal also.

Which products can be printed with sublimation?

In the digital era majority of industries use sublimation to bring unlimited design In the digital era, the majority of industries use sublimation to bring unlimited design variations. Sublimation can Apparel and garment industry is one of the largest industries that use sublimation printing can be used on smartphone cases, ceramic plates, mugs, photo frames, sports products, buttons, mouse mats, coasters, photo blocks, tiles, cutting boards, glassware, fabrics and much more. Printing on fabrics is digital printing that transfers the design to fabric with heat-activated dyes.

Sublimation Water Cycle

The sublimation in the water cycle elaborates the process of snow and ice changing into water vapors without liquescent status. There are fours stages of the water cycle;

  1. Evaporation
  2. Condensation
  3. Precipitation
  4. collection

During the water cycle, evaporations and sublimation are among the process that matter undergoes to change from one state to another through temperature changes. Evaporation is a process that changes liquid into gas, comparatively, sublimation is the process that changes solid into gas.

Snow Sublimation

This is the process of converting snow into gas, this process is similar to sublimation. When dry air hits snow, the frozen ice changed into vapors without becoming in form of liquid, this is called snow sublimation.


Under the umbrella of sublimation printing, several products can be printed for a diverse market. The products can be ranged for different age groups targeted customers with unlimited verities and variations. Sublimation is in high demand and on-demand also, conclusively, sublimation shirts printing produce garments with vibrant colors, smooth edges, flourished, durability, and modern designs. 

Why you should choose sublimation printing on your T-shirt? Because you get a vibrant, soft, and durable print on your shirt. An integrated and embedded digital photographic design can be printed through this method.

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