How To Do Sublimation Shirts: A Complete Guide

Table of Contents

With a sublimation printer, sublimation paper, and a heat press, you can print bright and vivid images on a shirt. Sounds simple, right? It is! But there’s more detailed information you need to know on how to do sublimation shirts.

When printing the perfect sublimated shirt, there’s a combination of must-do factors like the right temperature, time, pressure, and of course the printer settings.

You should also know that you can’t directly sublimate on a 100% cotton shirt. All of this you will find out as soon you read this helpful guide in sublimation printing on garments.

How to Do Sublimation Shirts:

Photo by Pixabay

What is sublimation?

Sublimation printing is a printing technique that involves transferring a design printed using a regular inkjet printer with sublimation ink, printed into a sublimation paper, and heat pressed into a fabric or a sublimation blank.

With dye sublimation printing, the heat brings the ink and fabric together as one where the ink turns to gas and permanently adheres to the fabric or sublimation blank. Unlike other printing methods like printable HTV or dark transfer paper wherein the paper media also transfers to the shirt.

Why is sublimation better than other printing methods?

Sublimation printing has plenty of benefits and although this printing technique differs from others, like using heat transfer vinyl or screen printing, it has its own benefits.

Furthermore, as a crafter or perhaps a future business owner of a printing shop, you’ll find sublimation printing an integral part of the printing services you’ll offer. Aside from that, sublimation printing is better than other printing methods because:

  • Sublimation transfers do not get transferred on the garment or any other sublimation projects, only the ink.
  • The cost of materials is cheaper from ink to sublimation paper.
  • You can print on garments, canvas tote bags, sublimation mugs, sublimation ref magnets, and many more sublimation blanks.
  • Printing time is faster and easier when printing multi-colored and bright designs. Unlike heat transfer vinyl and screen printing where you need to layer colors.
  • Since the ink is infused into the material, the print does not fade or crack over time.
  • Less clutter or garbage when sublimation printing because you’ll only need a few materials.
  • You can print actual photos and expect them to print on the garment as it is.

However, when sublimating on shirts, there are limitations. The cardinal rule is — you can only directly sublimate on a LIGHT-COLORED POLYESTER SHIRT (at least ⅔ made of polyester). Yes, traditionally, sublimation only works on light-colored garments and polyester shirts.

However, thanks to the creativity and resourcefulness of many crafters, alternative methods were proven effective if you want to print on dark shirts and 100% cotton garments. Which you will learn in the next section of this guide. For now, it’s time to list down the supplies needed when sublimating on shirts.

Supplies Needed

  • Sublimation ready printer
  • Heat press machine
  • Heat-resistant tape
  • Scissors or cutter
  • Sublimation paper from TeckWrap Craft
  • Your shirt of choice
  • Teflon sheet or parchment paper
  • Lint roller

Related Post: How to Bleach a Shirt for Sublimation

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Sublimate Shirts

For the step-by-step guide, we’ll divide this part into two sections. The first section is the preparation of the design. The second part is detailed instructions on how to print on polyester shirts, 100% cotton shirts, and dark-colored shirts.

  1. Print the Design

The first step is to find a digital image of your design. You can download free images or purchase SVGs, NFTs, or any other image you want to print. Remember to be careful of copyright laws. Some designs are free for download only for personal use, not for commercial use.

If you have graphic designing skills, you can always create your own design using Adobe Photoshop. When printing the design, there are a few reminders you need to remember in order to the best sublimation print outcome:

  • Print designs with the highest image resolution.
  • Don’t forget to mirror the image.
  • Printer settings: Slowest speed and highest quality.
  • Before printing the sublimation paper, make sure you have the correct measurement. The desired print size of the design should not be too small or too big against the garment.
  1. Cut Out the Edges

Once you’re done printing the sublimation paper, the next step is to cut out the edges around the design. Some printers skip this part, but this is a good practice that should be done at all times.

Although the paper media of a sublimation paper does not transfer to the garment, there are two problems you’ll probably encounter if you don’t cut out the excess edges.

The first problem is waste inks outside the actual design. Secondly, alignment problems during the actual printing process.

Of course, if you print multiple small designs on sublimation paper, you really have to cut them piece by piece. Let’s talk about the waste ink problem first.

If you’ve been neglecting the cleaning and maintenance of your sublimation printer lately, there could be waste or clogged inks that’ll show as you print on the sublimation paper. In some cases, the design prints perfectly, however, there is waste ink outside the design or on the corners of the paper.

If you miss out on cutting these, the waste ink will also transfer to the garment after you’ve heat-pressed it. Then you’ll end up with a faulty print and have to start all over again.

The second issue is alignment problems. Say, for example, you have a small design, maybe 4x4 inches in size printed in the middle of an A4 sublimation paper. You did not cut out the extra edges.

Later on, when you’re about to heat press the design into the garment, you may find it hard to align the design properly into the garment. You’ll most likely end up having a crooked or misaligned print on the shirt.

Make sure to not miss out on this step to avoid future errors. It’s better to be safe rather than waste a whole shirt due to these mistakes. Many seasoned printers recommend these steps, and if I were you, just follow!  

How to Do Sublimation Shirts:

Photo by RODNAE Productions by Pexels

  1. Use a Lint Roller on The Garment

The next step is to use your lint roller to run over the print surface of the garment. It is important to remove lint or dust on the garment before sublimating. Why? Two things might happen:

  • Specks of dust will also be permanently heat pressed onto the garment and will look like light blue streaks of print. It could not be seen from afar. But when you look closely, it can be seen clearly.
  • If you sublimate over the lint (loose fibers of the cloth), the sublimation ink will transfer on the lint, and not to the garment. So as you remove the lint, it will leave a white line (an unprinted part). This will be visible even from afar.

Just like the previous step above, it’s always a good practice to use a lint roller to remove lint or dust. Some printers may skip out on this step, but you mustn't!

Make it a habit to print techniques by the book, because they’re there for a reason. Informative guides like this are based on years of sublimation printing experience.

How to Do Sublimation Shirts:

Photo by cottonbro studio from Pexels

  1. Follow the Recommended Heat Press Settings

At this point, you already have a sublimation with print ready to be heat pressed on the garment. Just put it aside first and prepare your heat press machine. When sublimating shirts, it is crucial to follow the recommended heat and time settings on your heat press machine, as well as the pressure.

If you print less than the recommended heat press instructions, the sublimation print may not be vivid and bright as it should be. On the other hand, if you overpress, the garment will most likely scorch and leave yellowish marks in it.

So what are the recommended heat press settings when sublimating on shirts? This will depend on the type of fabric you’ll use.

Heat press settings differ for 100% polyester shirts, cotton-poly blends, 100% cotton shirts, and dark-colored garments. Which will be explained further in the next section as you read along.

  1. Pre-press the Shirt

After all the lint and dust are removed, the next step is to remove the wrinkles and moisture on the shirt. You do that by pre-pressing the shirt for 5 to 10 seconds with light pressure.

Garments, especially 100% cotton shirts can naturally hold moisture on the fabric, regardless of where you store the shirt. That's why you have to pre-press the shirt to wick away any moisture before sublimating onto it.

You don't want the moisture to be trapped underneath the sublimation transfer. Or worse, the sublimation image won't adhere well to the fabric. Plus, wrinkles on the garment will distort the printed image.

  1. Secure The Sublimation Paper with Heat-resistant Tape

After proper alignment and you’re confident about where the placement is, the next step is to secure the sublimation transfer with heat-resistant tape. Place the heat resistant-tape on all corners to make sure it doesn’t move when heat pressed.

Because yes, the sublimation paper has the tendency to move around when the heat press machine is closed and opened. And the result?

There might be ghosting around the image. It looks like a shadow of the image, which you don’t want to see in a sublimation design.

The next section is detailed instructions on how to sublimate a shirt, depending on the t-shirt you use. The preparation process of the sublimation image is the same, it’s the printing process that will differ. Read along to find out more.

Sublimation on Light-Colored 100% Polyester Shirts

  • Heat press time: 45-60 seconds
  • Heat press temperature: 385°-400°F
  • Heat press pressure: Medium pressure

Granting your sublimation images are ready, and done with all the steps above, get your polyester shirt ready. If you directly sublimate onto a light-colored 100% polyester shirt, heat press the design, and that’s it.

Don’t forget to place a Teflon sheet over the sublimation paper before pressing. Just a tip, the higher the polyester count on a shirt, the better sublimation print quality will show up. No fizz and fuss.

sublimation prinitng chart

Sublimation on Light-Colored 100% Cotton Shirts or Poly-Blend T-Shirts

  • Heat press time: 40 to 50 seconds
  • Heat press temperature: 400°F
  • Heat press Pressure: Medium Pressure
  • Must-have supply: Sublimation coating spray

A traditional belief with sublimation prints is that you can’t directly print on 100% cotton shirts or poly-blend. That was way before sublimation coating spray was innovated. A sublimation coating spray coats cotton fibers with a polyester resin.

In short, the cotton shirt is sprayed with polyester coating on top of it, so it can be directly sublimated. A sublimation coating spray can also be used on light-colored 100% polyester shirts to produce a vibrant and bright print.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to sublimate on light-colored 100% cotton and poly-blend shirts:

  • After the first pre-press, spray the sublimation coating spray over the print surface.
  • You don’t need to spray the whole t-shirt, just the print surface.
  • Spray over the print surface two to three times.
  • Pre-press again for 5 to 10 seconds
  • Make sure the garment is dry before pressing the sublimate transfer into it.
  • Then you’re done!

Just a tip when choosing a sublimation coating spray, purchase a quick dry, high-gloss finished, and ready-to-use formula. No more mixing and is designed for easy application.

How to Do Sublimation Shirts:

Sublimation on Dark-colored Shirts

Must-have supply: Glitter White HTV and cutting machine. 

Heat Transfer Vinyl

  • Heat press time: 10 to 15 seconds
  • Heat press temperature: 260 ℉ to 315 ℉
  • Heat press pressure: Medium pressure
  • Or follow the manufacturer’s recommendation

Sublimation Paper

  • Heat press time: 45-60 seconds
  • Heat press temperature: 385°-400°F
  • Heat press pressure: Medium pressure

Now, this sublimation process is a bit tricky. Before you even try it, you can’t directly sublimate on dark shirts, whether it be 100% polyester, 100% cotton, or a poly-blend shirt. But there’s a work for this, and that’s by printing a direct heat transfer vinyl first, then sublimating over it.

Yes, that is possible and it has been done successfully. Here’s the step-by-step guide:

  • Using your cutting machine, cut the heat transfer vinyl first.
  • When cutting the vinyl, it should be the same size as the sublimation design, like a trace or outline.
  • Press the heat transfer vinyl
  • Peel off the plastic carrier sheet above the HTV
  • Place the sublimation design over the HTV and secure it with heat-resistant tape
  • Press!
  • You’re done!

Just a tip, you can also try this process when printing on 100% colored shirts instead of using sublimation coating spray. Especially if you want to print on light-colored 100% cotton shirts like gray or yellow. Or perhaps you want that extra flare by using a holographic heat transfer vinyl and then sublimating over it.

How to Do Sublimation Shirts:

Holographic Vinyl | Sublimation | Cotton T-shirt | Tutorial by DIY With Kenny

Alternative Option

If you don’t have a cutting machine, there is an alternative option if you want to print on dark-colored shirts. Instead of using heat transfer vinyl and sublimation paper, you can instead use an inkjet heat transfer paper, specifically a dark transfer paper, which is also available in TeckWrap Craft.


dark inkjet transfer paper

Inkjet Heat Transfer Paper from TeckWrap Craft

Full Sublimation Shirts

  • Heat press time: 45-60 seconds
  • Heat press temperature: 385°-400°F
  • Heat press pressure: Medium pressure


Must-have supplies:

  • Large format heat press machine
  • Large format sublimation printer
  • Sewing machine

Are you wondering how full sublimation shirts are made? This one’s a little tricky because this is considered as large format printing. Also, you have to acquire impeccable sewing skills to pull this off. Which means you have to learn how to sew a t-shirt from scratch.

Also, with full sublimation, you can only use light-colored polyester garments, preferably white. You cannot use cotton or poly-blend shirts when creating full sublimation shirts. Full sublimation shirts are usually used for sportswear and office wear. To give you an idea, here are the steps when printing full sublimation shirts:

  • Cut out the shirt pattern including the neckline, sleeves, and shoulder seam (front and back)
  • Print on a large format sublimation paper (usually sold in yard or roll)
  • You’ll also be needing a large-format sublimation printer
  • Press the sublimation paper on the shirt pattern (front and back)
  • Sew together the back and front

This may sound like a straightforward process, but it takes sewing skills, which can be learned over time. You’ll be surprised at how profitable full sublimation shirts can be. Aside from plain old shirts, you can print fully sublimated polo shirts as well.


How to make clothing with sublimation | The sublimation process by Titan-Jet

Alternate Option for Full Sublimation Shirts

If you’re not confident about your sewing skills or do not have enough funds to purchase on large format printers, there’s an alternative option to the one mentioned above. This is what you do if you have a regular 15x15” heat press machine.

It may not be a conventional process, but it may work. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Print on a readily-available polyester shirt.
  • Using a cardboard box, lay the shirt flat.
  • Print the sublimation paper that covers the whole shirt.
  • Tape the sublimation paper together in pieces using heat-resistant tape like a puzzle.
  • Tape the sublimation over the shirt.
  • Press part by part.
  • Press the back and the sleeves.

This process may not be the recommended full sublimation printing technique and may cause streaked lines on the shirt. Also, there may be faded parts because of an uneven surface print on the heat press machine. Although this alternative method may work, the conventional method is still preferred.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I wash a shirt after sublimation?

No, you cannot wash newly sublimated shirts, at least 24 hours after pressing. Also, it’s not recommended to fold and use newly sublimated t-shirts. Wait at least 24 hours before washing, pressing, folding, or wearing a newly sublimated t-shirt.

Can you use any printer for sublimation?

No, you cannot use any regular inkjet ink printer for sublimation printing. You cannot use inkjet printers with thermal printing heads for sublimation printers.

In other words, printers manufactured by HP, Canon, Dell, and Lexmark are not suitable for sublimation printing. Usually, Sawgrass printers and Epson printers with six ink tanks make the best sublimation printer.

Is sublimation permanent on shirts?

Yes, sublimation prints on shirts are permanent. Sublimation inks that turn to gas when brought under the heat and combine with the fabric are permanently embedded. Sublimation transfers are less prone to fading especially if you use a special sublimation ink and use high-quality sublimation paper.

Can you sublimate on 100% cotton shirts?

Yes, you can sublimate on 100% cotton shirts using a sublimation coating spray or by pressing heat transfer vinyl first. When you sublimate on a 100% cotton shirt, you can still expect the colors to come out as vibrant, bright, and vivid just like you’re printing on a 100% polyester shirt.

Do you let sublimation cool before removing it?

This depends on the peeling instruction on the sublimation paper and sublimation product you used. If you use TeckWrap Craft’s sublimation paper, you can remove the sublimation either cool or hot.

Can you sublimate on canvas?

Yes, you can sublimate on canvas garments like tote bags or canvas wallets. Follow the same process when printing on cotton shirts because the canvas is not polyester so you’ll be needing a sublimation polyester coating.

That’s It!

To cap it all off, just a list tip when it comes to printing a sublimation shirt is to use the best sublimation paper from TeckWrap Craft. TeckWrap Craft’s sublimation paper comes in A4 sizes, is fast-dry, and comes with a 98% transfer rate. This means you can expect bright and vivid colors when printed whether be it on a garment or any other sublimation blank.

Other than sublimating on a cotton or polyester shirt, you can also sublimate on canvas tote bags or pouches. For this process, spray a sublimation coating over the canvas garment. Easy is it? Now that you’ve had all these learnings, you can print as many sublimation shirts as you want, may it be for personal use, a gift for loved ones, or perhaps a future business idea.

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