Can You Sublimate on Cotton? Sublimation Secret Revealed!
Sublimation on cotton garments? Yes, you can do that! You can sublimate on cotton in two ways — using heat transfer vinyl or a sublimation coating spray. You may have initially learned the basic rules of t-shirt printing that do not recommend sublimation on cotton shirts or dark-colored garments.
That is an outdated rule not unless you’ve discovered the secret mentioned above. Now that it’s revealed you are now confident to print colorful designs on a cotton shirt using sublimation printing. Read further to find out the step-by-step instructions.
How does sublimation printing work?
In order for you to understand why direct sublimation on cotton simply doesn’t work, you need to understand how sublimation printing works. Sublimation printing works this way — the sublimation dye ink turns into gas when under the direct heat and pressure of the heat press machine.
First of all, as mentioned, during the sublimation process, the ink on the sublimation paper, when exposed to heat and pressure, turns into gas. As it turns to gas, the sublimation ink transferred on the garment dries off and becomes solid.
As for synthetic fibers, like polyester, once exposed to heat, the synthetic fibers open up, allowing the gas to slip into the insides of the polyester, and lock the ink in once it becomes solid. In the end process — the dye and synthetic fabric permanently bond on a molecular level.
In the world of apparel, sublimation printing has become a popular method of printing. If you want to print vivid and colorful designs on a garment or any merchandise, sublimation printing is a special technique and a game changer.
What are the benefits of sublimation printing?
Sublimation printing has plenty of benefits — it’s fast, easy, and cost-efficient, and you can print any colorful designs you want.
- Sublimation prints are unnoticeable to touch when transferred to the garment or merchandise.
- The print won’t be scratched or cracked.
- Sublimation prints last for many years and are least likely to lose their vibrant colors.
- Cost-efficient: A set of sublimation ink (that includes 4 bottles of 400 mL inks) only costs less than $25 and will last for many projects (probably thousands of sublimation paper). As for 100 sheets of sublimation paper at TeckWrap Craft, it only costs less than $17. When you come to think of it, the overhead cost of printing 1 sublimation paper is less than 90￠(accounting for the sublimation paper and ink cost only).
- Sublimation printing is fast too! Print as you usually do on a regular printer, then heat press to the garment. For one garment, you can have your finished product in under 10 minutes.
How can you sublimate on cotton shirts?
Directly sublimation printing on a cotton shirt is not advised. But indirect printing by using heat transfer vinyl or sublimation spray coating makes it possible to sublimate on cotton shirts. Both these workarounds are proven effective and the end product is just magnificent.
In the next part of this post, you’ll learn the step-by-step instructions of the two options on how you can sublimate cotton. For best results, follow the step-by-step instructions as stated. You can follow these instructions on any cotton products. May it be cotton shirts, hoodies, or sweaters.
Instructions on How to Sublimate on Cotton Using Sublimation Coating Spray
The first option if you want to sublimate on cotton is by using a sublimation coating spray. To make it clear, this printing method is recommended for light-colored cotton shirts only. If you want to print on a dark-colored cotton garment, proceed to the other option.
As you may know, directly sublimating on a dark garment simply won’t work. Dye sublimation ink won’t appear on a dark garment, even on polyester, so it’s better to use heat transfer vinyl and sublimate over it.
So what is a sublimation coating spray? It is a liquid solution, usually, a white chemical, sprayed over the cotton shirt. When a sublimation coating is sprayed over the cotton garment, a layer of adhesive dries off the surface, mimicking the chemical properties of polyester. Thus, the dye sublimation, when pressed directly, will stick permanently.
Sublimation coating spray can be used on cotton shirts, mugs, ceramics, canvas, leather, and even acrylic. You can even spray it over light-colored polyester shirts for a more vibrant color. Without further ado, here are the step-by-step instructions on how to sublimate on cotton fabrics using a sublimation coating spray.
Step 1: Print the Design
- Print the design on your computer. Make sure you only use a sublimation printer with sublimation ink on it, printed on a sublimation paper.
- When printing, use the best quality printing setting of the printer.
- Don’t forget to MIRROR!
- Once done printing, let the ink dry for several minutes before working on the paper.
- Using your scissors, cut the excess portion of the sublimation paper (the ones without the print).
- Set it aside and prepare to print the sublimation coating spray.
Step 2: Spray the Sublimation Coating Spray
- Pre-press the cotton shirt for 5 to 10 seconds using your heat press machine. Let it cool.
- Once the garment has cooled off, spray the sublimation coating over the area where you intend to print the sublimation design.
- Spray the sublimation coating spray evenly.
- Continue spraying the coating until the print area feels damp to touch.
- Let the shirt dry for a few minutes then press it at 330℉ for 30 seconds. The purpose of this step is for the liquid coating to stick and adhere to the fabric.
- You can repeat this process twice.
- After the second process, you should feel a plastic-like surface on the printed area where you sprayed the coating. Much like the surface of a polyester shirt. That’s what it should be, then you’re ready to print the design.
Take note that sublimation coating instructions may vary depending on the product you purchased. The temperature and time may differ so make sure to check out the product instructions. But basically, the spraying and pressing process is somewhat similar.
Also, there’s one thing you need to know when working on sublimation coating. Once it’s sprayed over the garment, it easily attracts dust. Even just the little fleck of dust that will stick on the garment will create a mark on the design. It is best to work in a dust-free environment.
Step 3: Press the Printed Design
- Once the spray has completely dried off, it’s time to press the design.
- Make sure proper alignment and placement of the design on the shirt.
- Place the sublimation paper, with the print side face down to the garment.
- Use thermal tape to secure the design in place.
- Place a parchment paper or Teflon sheet over the sublimation paper before pressing.
- Do not use a mini heat press machine when printing sublimation designs as this may cause ghosting.
- Make sure to place butcher paper beneath the shirt to serve as a barrier so the ink does not bleed through to the other side of the shirt.
- Set the heat press at 385℉ and press for 70 seconds.
There you have it! You have now sublimated on cotton fabric. Just remember that this process will only work for light-colored cotton shirts. If you intend to sublimate on a dark-colored cotton shirt, follow these next steps.
Instructions on How to Sublimate over a Heat Transfer Vinyl
This other printing option is best used for dark-colored shirts, whether be it polyester or cotton. In a nutshell, all you have to do is press the heat transfer vinyl first. Right after, press the sublimation print over the HTV. That's it!
In this printing method, the heat transfer vinyl serves as the base layer that sticks to the cotton shirt, and you can sublimate on the HTV itself. So what kind of heat transfer vinyl can you use? It is best to use white PU HTV or white glitter HTV from TeckWrap Craft. Here’s the step-by-step instruction:
Step 1: Cut the Vinyl
- Prepare the design at your cutting machine’s design studio.
- Cut the exact shape and size of the design. If you want, allow a small offset of the design of less than 1cm. If the sublimation print is bigger than the heat transfer vinyl, that will mess up the project.
- Don’t forget to mirror the design before pressing send on the cutting machine
- Test cut, test weed and you’re good to go for cutting!
- Weed the excess vinyl and set it aside.
Step 2: Print the Design on the Sublimation Paper
- Print the design on your sublimation printer.
- Use the best quality print settings with the slowest speed.
- Don’t forget to mirror the design before printing it!
- Let the ink completely dry on the sublimation paper. Wait for several minutes before touching the sublimation paper.
- Cut the excess portion of the sublimation paper using scissors. It will be easier for you to layer the sublimation paper above the HTV later on if both HTV and sublimation paper have the same size.
Step 3: Press the Heat Transfer Vinyl
- Pre-press the garment for 5 to 10 seconds to wick away the moisture and ensure the print area is flat.
- Make sure the proper alignment of the print before pressing the HTV.
- Press the HTV onto the garment. Use the recommended settings of the heat transfer vinyl you used. Check out this Heat Press Temperature Guide for Vinyl.
- Let the cotton shirt and HTV cool off before sublimating.
Step 4: Sublimate over the Heat Transfer Vinyl
- Place the sublimation paper with the printed side facing down the heat transfer vinyl.
- Make sure it aligns perfectly and use thermal tape to keep the design in place.
- Press the sublimation paper at 190℃ for 50 seconds.
- Never use a mini heat press machine when sublimating because this may cause ghosting.
There you have it! You now have a beautifully sublimated cotton shirt. The same process is followed if you intend to use sublimation fabric sheets. A sublimation fabric sheet serves the same purpose as an HTV. Check out these photos below! These are sublimated cotton shirts with a white glitter HTV. It’s something, isn’t it?
Will sublimation print wash out of cotton shirts?
If you directly sublimate on a cotton surface, the print will fade away after several wash cycles. Dye sublimation ink does not stick for long on all-natural cotton fibers. But with the sublimation options mentioned above, the indirect sublimation print will last for a long time.
Not only does the sublimation process offer vibrant designs, but long-lasting prints as well. So the next time you’re even thinking of directly sublimating on a cotton shirt, think again and better grab that sublimation spray coating or heat transfer vinyl.
Can you sublimate on poly-cotton blend shirts?
Yes, you can sublimate on poly-cotton blend shirts. The ideal recommendation is 60% polyester and 40% cotton. Although, there may be a chance that the direct sublimation print may not be as vibrant-looking.
Also, the ink would not last that much longer and may fade after several washes. Although you can directly sublimate on poly-cotton blend shirts, it’s recommended to use sublimation spray coating or heat transfer vinyl to see the best results.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if you sublimate on 100% cotton?
If you directly sublimate on 100% cotton shirts, the ink will fade right away after washing. If you want to sublimate print on 100% cotton shirts, use sublimation coating spray or heat transfer vinyl as a layered barrier.
What fabrics can you sublimate on?
The best fabric to sublimate are synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, spandex, rayon, and acrylic. Dye sublimation ink chemically bonds to synthetic fibers, not natural fibers like cotton.
What kind of printer is best for sublimation?
The best type of printer for sublimation are inkjet printers. Epson and Sawgrass sublimation printers make great sublimation printers. They’re affordable, have low maintenance cost, and print vibrantly.
Now that you’ve learned how to sublimate on cotton, what are you waiting for? It’s time to create plenty of cotton tees projects. The last piece of advice, use the best sublimation transfer paper! A transfer paper that dries easily with a high transfer rate.
TeckWrap Craft got it for you! The sublimation sheets from TeckWrap Craft are affordable plus of excellent quality. As you purchase the sublimation paper, you can add to your cart the PU white HTV and white glitter vinyl as well. Share this printing secret with your crafting friends!