How to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation: A Guide for Beginners

How to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation

A bleached shirt is fabulous.  A sublimated shirt rocks.  But when you know how to bleach a shirt for sublimation, that’s even more fantastic!   You can pull this off even if you are a beginner.  Here’s a guide that will help you understand bleach sublimation shirts.

What is Shirt Bleaching?

Shirt bleaching is a t-shirt design process that alters the color of shirts by applying a common household cleaning agent- bleach.  Yes, bleach is for cleaning and to help whiten clothes, and it can also design a shirt or highlight a design such as sublimation.

How to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation

Photo by jossie hu on Unsplash

What is Sublimation?

Sublimation is a process that turns sublimation ink into its gaseous state without becoming liquid. In the t-shirt printing industry, sublimation is a method of printing that transfers design into the fabric using ink and heat.  

What really happens in sublimation is there is a transition of the ink directly from being solid to the gaseous phase without passing through the intermediate liquid phase.

Why Bleach Shirts for Sublimation?

Bleached sublimation shirts have been around and trending for a while now. Bleaching shirts is all about design and emphasis. When you want a dark fabric with a highlighted design, bleach shirts before the sublimation process.  

A bleached shirt will not only have an emphasized sublimation but will have more vibrant design colors as well.

How to Get a Sublimation Design?

There are lots of websites offering free design templates.  Just search for them on the internet, and they will present themselves, just a click away.  But still the best option is to get creative and make your own designs.

You can use Canva or Photshop or other design apps that can help you put your imagination into your sublimation shirts.

What Fabric Type Can We Use as Bleach Sublimation Shirts?

The best shirts for sublimation are those that are made up of 100% polyester.  Why polyester?  The polymers of polyester open up when heated.  When the ink dye is subjected to heat and changes into its gaseous form, it enters the fabric.  Once it cools down, the dye has already bonded with the fabric.

The good thing about polyester is it does not wrinkle easily, and your design will be of high quality when sublimated onto it.

The downside is it’s not too comfortable to wear because polyester is not soft, and its smaller fibers contribute to its rough texture compared to cotton fabrics.

That’s why a poly-cotton blend is the best alternative.

The best shirts for bleaching are made from cotton fabric. A Gildan brand women’s soft- style cotton shirts in Dark Heather or the Augusta Sportswear in Navy Heather are great for this.  That is why a poly-cotton blend will be best for bleaching and sublimation.

Bleaching and Sublimation supplies

You will need these supplies to complete your bleaching and sublimation:

Sublimation Printer

sublimation printing

The leading actor in the sublimation of shirts is the sublimation printer.  That’s why this is the first thing you should make available.

You cannot just use any kind of printer for sublimation.  There are particular brands specifically made for sublimation.  They offer varying features and output sizes.  The largest printers can print up to 24” of paper.

Make sure that your printer meets all your printing requirements, from the size of the design you’ll need, which will dictate the size of the paper.

Computer and Software

 A powerful design software will help you through the design process.  From designing your sublimation shirts to printing them,  you’ll need a computer and software. Popular design software like CorelDRAW, Canva, Cricut, and Photoshop, can deliver great results for your sublimation design.

Many printers come with built-in sublimation printing programs. They vary in quality but are easy to use and can give you the designs you want.  The quality of your software will show in the quality of your sublimation transfers.

Sublimation Ink

You’ll need printer ink that is compatible with sublimation printers. Manufacturers mention this in the manual, so check the guidelines.  Make all ink colors available so you can enjoy the full benefits of your sublimation printer and the maximum effect of your designs. The ink’s quality has a total impact on your bleached shirt.

Sublimation Paper

sublimation paper


TeckWrapCraft Sublimation Paper


  • Size:8.3"x11.7" x 100 sheets
  • compatible with inkjet printer with sublimation ink
  • print on the white side
  • apply for white or light-colored polyester ( cotton less than ≤30% and coated objects
  • fast dry
  • transfer rate ≥98%

You’ll need a high-quality sublimation paper just as you need special ink for your sublimation design to reach its best look and the right fabric of shirts for sublimation.  

TeckWrap offers a sublimation transfer paper with a 98% sublimation transfer rate.  This means 98% of the design printed from a sublimation printer is transferred to the shirt, like the shirt with the bleached area.  It will display the bright and vivid colors of your sublimation designs. 

Heat Press

How to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation

For those just starting, trying to see how to sublimate bleached shirts, you can use a standard home iron to heat press your sublimation image from your sublimation paper onto your shirt.

Heat presses are hot enough to deliver consistent heat to your prints.  This will ensure high-quality prints and a full-color design because it can accommodate your large designs as it has a large surface enough to accommodate any designs.

Poly Blend Shirt

Bleaching a Shirt for Sublimation

As mentioned, you cannot just bleach any shirt, just as you cannot sublimate any fabric.

So, to meet these requirements for this shirt bleaching to sublimation project you need something that is best for both purposes.  

shirt material for sublimation

White shirts with 100% polyester count are best for sublimation.  So, if you’re not particular about the shirt color, you may start sublimating white shirts.  But is 100% polyester best for bleaching too?

The answer is NO.  The shirt that’s best for bleaching is 100% cotton.  So, you cannot have both requirements met simultaneously.

Heather colors are the easiest to bleach, but you must also consider the polyester count, as sublimation is best with 100 % polyester.  Heather colors refer to soft, muted colors from blending different colored fibers into one yarn.

With Heather, you usually see specks of white on a gray tee called Heather gray. Heather shirts usually have a higher polyester count with 65% polyester and 35% cotton, a great combination for sublimation. Although it is best to bleach a 50% polyester and 50% cotton shirt, it won’t look great after the sublimation.  


How to Bleach a Shirt

Chlorine bleach is used to whiten fabrics and remove stains, and it is the bleach mostly used to create unique designs and alter the color of fabrics.  Bleach sublimation shirts are again making waves.

You cannot apply bleach directly onto the garment. Make sure you dilute it with water.  The highly used and safe ratio is 1:1 water and bleach.

Some even use a design template that they put on the shirt so the spray will only reach the design area.  Using light mist from the spray bottle, spray along the outer edge.  This will give a splattered edge and ensures even application.

Spray Bottle

The spray bottle will contain your mixture of bleach and water (1:1) that you’ll lightly spray to bleach shirts.  

Hydrogen Peroxide

You’ll use hydrogen peroxide to stop the bleaching process. So, guard the bleached area with your eyes to know when to interfere.  This process will ensure that you capture the color intensity of the bleached shirts, which will affect your sublimation design transfer.

Other Supplies

Aside from the supplies mentioned above, you will also need the following to help your sublimation design succeed greatly.

Thermal Tape- to secure the paper while you print

Transfer gloves- wear gloves to protect your hands from bleaching shirts and from the ink and heat press

Butcher paper- this paper will be put inside the shirt during the bleaching and sublimation processes

Foam pillows- to help your shirts from direct heat during the heat press

Silicone cover sheets-to prevent ink from bleeding onto your heat press

Cardboard box- to protect your shirt so bleach won’t bleed through the back of the shirt

Ways to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation

There is more than one way to bleach a shirt for sublimation or heat transfer vinyl printing.  Let’s dive into the process. Remember, bleach spray shirts can be customized depending on the design you want on them.  Now, let’s learn more how to bleach shirts!

Bleaching with a Spray Bottle

1. Lay your shirt outdoors, exposing it to direct sunlight.  Put a piece of cardboard inside the shirt so the bleaching will not go through.

2. Mix together 50% water and 50% bleach; 1:1

3. Put the mixture in a spray bottle.

4. Spray onto the shirt.  If your shirt is thick, put a heavy amount.

5. Let the bleach work its way through the shirt by leaving it under the sun’s heat.  Sunlight will hasten the process.  And if you are satisfied with the extent of the bleach and want it that way, stop the bleaching process.

6.  To stop the bleaching, use hydrogen peroxide.

7.  Soak the shirt in water and hydrogen peroxide to stop the bleaching.

8.  Finally, wash and dry the bleach spray shirt as usual.

Bleaching with a Paint Brush

How to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation

1. Lay your shirt the usual way, with cardboard inside so the bleach won’t bleed through the back of the shirt.  Let it rest under direct sunlight.

2. Mix 50/50 water and bleach.

3. Apply the mixture onto your shirt according to your desired design, with a paint brush.  This is also another fun way of bleaching your shirt.

4. Let it bleach when it is exposed to the sun.  Plus you have more control over a paint brush.

5. Then, rinse the shirt with water and hydrogen peroxide.

6. Then wash it the usual way.

Bleaching  Process First Before Sublimation Printing

Some apply sublimation design after the bleaching process.  It is like preparing a blank shirt and then applying the sublimation print.  

Sublimation First Before Bleaching Process

Some want a vintage, off-color look, then this will be achieved by sublimation first then bleaching after it.  You will notice that the effect of the sublimation is less vivid.

The Complete  Bleaching and then Sublimation Process

Bleached Shirt for Sublimation Printing

1. The first step to bleach shirts is to lay your shirt outdoors, exposing it to direct sunlight.  Put a piece of a cardboard box inside the shirt so the bleaching will not go through.

2. Mix together 50% water and 50% bleach; 1:1

How to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation

3. Put the mixture in a bottle spray. Applying bleach to your shirt with a bottle spray will be a fun activity.

4. Apply light sprays onto the shirt.  If you want to bleach shirts that are thick, put a heavy amount.  Some prepare a stencil of the design to put over the shirt so the stencil template will act as a safety net for the excess bleach.  Plus, this will ensure your bleaching design will be achieved.

5. On a sunny day, let the bleach work through the shirt by leaving it under the sun’s heat.  Sunlight will hasten the bleaching process.  And if you are satisfied with the extent of the bleach and want it that way, stop the bleaching process.

6.  To stop the bleaching process, use hydrogen peroxide.

7.  Soak the shirt in water and hydrogen peroxide to stop the bleaching of the bleached areas.

8.  Finally, wash and dry the bleached spray shirt as usual. To ensure all the bleach  is flashed out, you may wash your shirt twice. Tip: do not use a fabric softener yet.

How to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation

9. Your dry shirt is now ready for the sublimation design that you have prepared.  At this point, you may prepare the design you made using your go-to design software on your computer. Happy Crafting!

10.  Insert the sublimation sheet on your printer. And press the PRINT button.

11.  Once the design has been printed on your sublimation sheet, you may prepare for transferring. Warning: Your design will look dull at this point. The heat press will do the magic.

12. Lay your shirt on a flat surface. Lint rolls the part of the shirt where you will put the design.  This will ensure the surface is clean.

13. Place the sublimation transfer sheet with the image facing down.  You may set the printer settings to Mirror images  Secure the edges with the transfer tape.  You wouldn’t want the image to move during the press and ruin the printing.  

14.  Place a Teflon sheet or another butcher paper on the sublimation sheet before using a heat press.

15. Heat Presses have their own prescribed time for how long the pressing will be, make sure to read about them.  Usually, it will take around 30 seconds to press the machine without moving the image.

16.  After the prescribed pressing time, lift the heat press without sliding things around.  Then, remove the Teflon and butcher paper.  

You’re done!  You have your bleached shirts ready in no time.

sublimation printing of a bleached shirt

Image from Loren Javier on flickr

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