How to Sublimate on Dark Shirts

Direct sublimation printing is recommended for printing on light-colored shirts only. But if you want to sublimate on dark fabrics, you will learn the secret technique today. If you want to sublimate on dark shirts, press the heat transfer vinyl on the shirt first, then you can sublimate on it.

You never knew that technique until you read this post, did you? That’s a printing secret not many crafters in the t-shirt industry know, and you’re not one of them any more. In this post, you’ll learn the step-by-step process on how to sublimate on dark shirts plus several tips to remember while doing this process.

Sublimation Printing Definition

Before anything else, let us review what sublimation printing is in order to understand the next part of this post. Dye sublimation printing is a method of printing that uses heat and pressure. The solid ink from the sublimation sheet, when under heat and pressure of the heat press machine turns into gas and transfers to the sublimation blank or garment.

Here are three facts you need to know about sublimation inks

  • Sublimation inks do not print white color
  • Sublimation ink is not visible when directly applied to dark-colored sublimation blank or garment
  • You cannot sublimate on 100% cotton shirts

These are very important to remember so you can set you and your customer’s expectations when sublimation printing is used.

Let’s talk about the first fact. For instance, you want to print on a yellow-colored shirt, and your design has a white color on it, don’t expect the white part of the design to appear. Instead, expect it to come out as a ‘transparent color’.

Second fact, dye sublimation ink is only visible in light-colored garments and merchandise. When you directly sublimate on shirts with dark colors, let’s say, a black shirt, the print won’t be visible. It’s there, but it is not visible and vivid.

Thankfully, there’s a way around it. If you want to sublimate on dark color shirts, you can print the sublimation paper above a heat transfer vinyl. That means, press the heat transfer vinyl on the shirt first, followed by the sublimation paper. It’s like placing a base layer first to give way to your colored and vivid design.

Why sublimate on dark t-shirts?

The main reason why you want to sublimate dark t-shirts with a HTV base layer is the design has many colors and using heat transfer vinyl is a tedious work. If the design has only three to four colors, then you can easily press heat transfer vinyl alone.

However, if the design has too many colors and if you’re using a cotton shirt, the advisable printing method is by sublimation over an HTV. Additionally, this type of printing method is faster and at the end of the day, cost-efficient.

Step-By-Step Guide on How to Sublimate on Dark T-Shirts

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to sublimate on dark garments. You can follow this step-by-step guide if you want to sublimate even light shirts and add some additional flare into it by using glitter or holographic as a base vinyl.

Let’s start off by gathering the following materials.

Supplies Needed

  • Light-colored heat transfer vinyl of your choice (preferably Neon PU Heat Transfer Vinyl or Glitter White Heat Transfer Vinyl)
  • Cutting machine (Silhouette Cameo or Cricut)
  • Scissors
  • Weeding tool or pen
  • Heat press machine
  • Sublimation heat transfer paper from TeckWrap Craft
  • A garment you want to print on
  • Inkjet printer (sublimation printer) with dye sublimation ink
  • Heat-resistant tape
  • Parchment paper of Teflon sheet

Step 1: Cut the Vinyl

When preparing the design, you have to make sure the sublimation vinyl when cut in the cutting machine and the sublimation transfer paper has the same size. Use your cutting machine’s software to adjust the size of the vinyl and the sublimation print.

Depending on the final look of the project you envision, you can cut the vinyl in a square, round or the actual shape of the design. For more complicated designs with bigger spaces in between them, it is easier to cut the vinyl with the outline of the design as a whole rather than with cavities in between.

Make sure you only use light-colored heat transfer vinyl, preferably white. You can use white glitter HTV or white PU HTV. After cutting the vinyl, weed the excess parts of the design.

Step 2: Print and Cut the Sublimation Paper

In your cutting machine’s design studio, print the design on the sublimation paper. Remember that the vinyl and sublimation paper must be the same size. So make sure to make appropriate adjustments.

When printing the sublimation paper in your cutting machine’s design studio, print using the highest quality, slowest time for printing, and don’t forget to mirror the design. All of these settings are found on the printing preferences of the design software.

Print and Cut the Sublimation Paper

After printing the sublimation paper, set it aside and let it dry for a couple of minutes. The next step, using scissors, cut out the excess parts of the sublimation paper. The reason why you want to cut the excess part of the transfer paper is the tendency of waste ink to be printed on the sublimation paper.

Any excess ink may transfer on the garment or vinyl. You don’t need to use the cutting machine to cut the excess area of the sublimation paper. Using scissors will suffice. The cut doesn’t need to be perfect, but at least the right outline of the design.

Step 3: Heat Press the Vinyl First

Once the vinyl and sublimation transfer sheet, it’s time to heat press the vinyl. Of course the usual steps of printing shirts still apply. Don’t forget to align the design, pre-press the fabric for 5 to 10 seconds, and use parchment paper or Teflon sheet.

Follow the recommended time, temperature and pressure of the type of vinyl you’re using. If you're using PU HTV or gliiter HTV , press at 266 °F to 284 ℉ within 8-12 seconds of pressing time. If you used other types of vinyl, make sure to check out this Heat Press Temperature Guide for Vinyl.

Heat Press the Vinyl For Sublimation Printiing

Step 4: Press the Sublimation Paper

After pressing the HTV, let it cool for a while. Then prepare to press the sublimation paper over the HTV. Place the sublimation paper over the HTV, and align it correctly. Make sure to use a thermal tape to keep the sublimation paper from moving when heat pressing.

Do not use your mini heat press machine when pressing the sublimation paper. Using a mini heat press machine on the sublimation paper may cause the print to ghost or scatter. Thus ruining the whole project.

As for the time and temperature, use 190℃ for 50 seconds. There you have it! Is sublimation on dark garments easy or what? You can use this process if you want to use the sublimation process on 100% cotton shirts as well, whether it’s light or dark t-shirts.

Recommended Heat Transfer Vinyl for Sublimation Printing

So you may be curious, what kind of heat transfer vinyl can you use from the collection of TeckWrap Craft to sublimate on? Unfortunately, not all HTV from TeckWrap Craft can be sublimated on.

First of all, it is recommended to use light-colored vinyl only. Secondly, any patterned or colored vinyl may alter your print’s overall look. So if you want to maintain the overall print, it is better to use white HTV, preferably flock or PU. If you want an added special effect to it, you can always use the white glitter HTV.

Without further ado, here’s a list of recommended HTV at TeckWrap Craft you can sublimate on:

White Chameleon Heat Transfer Vinyl

White Chameleon Heat Transfer Vinyl

White Chameleon Heat Transfer Vinyl

White Flock Heat Transfer Vinyl

White Flock Heat Transfer Vinyl

White Flock Heat Transfer Vinyl

White PU Heat Transfer Vinyl

White PU Heat Transfer Vinyl

      White PU Heat Transfer Vinyl

Glitter Heat Transfer Vinyl

Glitter Heat Transfer Vinyl

Colorful white glitter heat transfer vinyl


White glitter heat transfer vinyl

White glitter heat transfer vinyl


If you’re curious on what the end product of this type of project looks like, check out these photos below. A white glitter HTV from TeckWrap Craft was used in this project. It’s looking awesome right? The colors are so vivid and the glitter-effect looks amazing!

How to Sublimate on Shirts

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you sublimate on a dark shirt?

Yes, you can sublimate on a dark shirt by using a white heat transfer vinyl as base layer and sublimate on top of it. Press the HTV first, then sublimate over it.

Can you sublimate on cotton shirts?

Yes, you can sublimate on cotton shirts by pressing the heat transfer vinyl on the shirt first, then print the sublimation paper over it. This printing method is best used if you have to work on a overly colorful design but don’t want to use dark transfer paper or printable heat transfer vinyl.

Can I use a regular printer for sublimation heat transfer paper?

Yes you can use a regular printer in sublimation printing. However, it must have a dye-sublimation ink. You can’t use a printer with regular ink because it won’t stick on the sublimation paper.

Is the sublimation business profitable?

Yes, sublimation business is profitable. First of all, the cost of the ink and sublimation sheets are relatively low. Secondly, you can sublimate in garments and many types of sublimation merchandise. You can sublimate on mugs, tumblers, caps, and many more. Which means you can offer more products to clients with a low overhead cost.

How long does sublimation printing last?

Sublimation print lasts for a long time when printed and cared for the right way. Sublimation print may last for upto 10 years. Just avoid washing a sublimate garment for the first 24 hours after washing. Also, using a high-quality sublimation sheet like TeckWrap Craft to ensure higher transfer rate.

Summing It All Up!

There you have it! Sublimating on dark shirts isn’t that hard, huh? As long as you follow the step-by-step instructions mentioned above, this task will be easy-peasy. If you need to purchase heat transfer vinyl and sublimation sheets, TeckWrap Craft got them for you.

Aside from sublimating on shirts, you can also sublimate on neoprene mouse pads, sublimated mugs, and many other sublimation blanks. You’ll love TeckWrap Craft’s sublimation paper. It's fast-drying and has a 98% transfer rate, which you'll surely love. Happy printing!


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