Printing unique designs in-house is vital for many small streetwear brands these days.
With casual wear becoming more widely accepted in places like the office, graphic tees and hoodies are must-have items that small businesses need to keep stocked to succeed.
Thankfully, it’s surprisingly easy to print your high-quality, professional designs onto wholesale apparel using sublimation printing.
Sublimation is an excellent printing method for small businesses because it is relatively inexpensive and easy to learn. In addition, it produces full-color, vibrant prints on wholesale apparel that your customers are bound to love.
If you’re new to sublimation printing, begin with this simple step-by-step guide.
Follow these tips and tricks, and you’ll create custom clothing designs for your brand in no time.
What is sublimation printing?
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Sublimation printing transfers a design from special sublimation paper onto a piece of material or fabric using pressure and heat.
This printing method has become popular in recent years. It’s easy to learn and creates excellent quality prints on hoodies, t-shirts, and more.
Unlike heat transfer paper, sublimation printing is higher quality and more vibrant. Also, the ink on the sublimation paper embeds itself into the fabric, making it a permanent part of the garment.
Best fabrics for sublimation printing
100% polyester is the best fabric for sublimation printing. Sublimation ink chemically bonds to polyester and polymers. The ink becomes a permanent part of the polyester fabric, making it a popular option for brands that want color-popping, quality prints.
While 100% polyester is the best material for sublimation printing, there are better options than this one for your brand. You can also use polyblend materials if you’re looking to sublimate on softer, higher-quality fabrics.
Polycotton blends with a 50/50 fabric ratio are great options for sublimation printing. For example, Bella + Canvas hoodies have a wonderful blend of Airlume cotton and poly fleece that can easily make your sublimation prints pop.
On the other hand, sublimation printing is not possible on 100% cotton because the sublimation ink doesn’t bond with the pores of cotton and other natural fibers. Therefore, trying to sublimate on 100% cotton fabric will result in white lines and color mismatching.
Materials & equipment needed for sublimation printing
Before diving in, ensure you have the appropriate equipment to sublimate. Every piece mentioned below is essential to get a perfect print.
- Sublimation printer: Unfortunately, regular inkjet printers are incompatible with sublimation ink. You need a specialty sublimation printer to print your design appropriately. There are a ton of sublimation printers available at various price points, so you can easily shop around for the best deal.
- Sublimation ink: This is the only type of ink that will work for this printing method. Sublimation ink transforms into a gas when heated and bonds with the polyester blank. Brand name inks will produce the best results.
- Sublimation paper: Sublimation requires a special paper so that the ink successfully transfers onto the fabric. Sublimation paper is unique because the ink sits on top instead of being absorbed. This specialty product ensures the ink transfers once the heat is applied.
- Heat press: You can’t sublimate without heat! We recommend a clamshell heat press for beginners because they are compact, cost-effective, and efficient. A swing-away heat press is sturdier, safer, and more flexible if you want larger-scale printing.
- Design software: You can use Canva, Adobe, or Cricut Design Space software to create stunning sublimation designs.
- A 100% polyester or poly blend hoodie: Remember to check your fabric type! If you use a poly blend fabric, keep in mind that the higher the percentage of polyester, the stronger the print.
- Parchment paper: Parchment or butcher paper ensures the sublimation ink won’t transfer to the surface of your heat press.
- Heat-resistant tape: This will keep your design in place when printing. If your design shifts during the heat press, it can cause ghosting and ruin the final product.
Once you have everything you need, it’s time to get started!
1. Create a design
Believe it or not, creating a stunning graphic design is the most critical part of the whole sublimation process. You want to make the best product possible for your brand, starting with an original design.
Sublimation printing gives you the freedom to print almost anything imaginable. In addition, you can print various colors, allowing you to create highly detailed designs.
When creating your design, keep size in mind. If you want to print on a hoodie or t-shirt, design something with more prominent elements that can be seen from a few feet away. If your sublimation design is too small or complicated, your final product will look less powerful.
2. Print your design
Once your design is ready, print it on sublimation transfer paper. The ink will look faded, but don’t worry. The sublimation will transfer the true colors onto your blank printing surface.
Also, remember that your design needs to be a mirror image when you print it. Most software can mirror image designs, so remember this crucial step.
When you print your design, leave an offset border. You need wiggle room to cut out your design without the risk of losing anything.
3. Heat press the design onto your garment
It’s time to make your finished product! Place the sublimation paper ink-side down onto your garment where you want to print. Make sure the design is centered and straight. Then secure it with heat-resistant tape. Finally, cover the attached sublimation print with parchment paper.
Next, preheat your heat press to the appropriate temperature. Most sublimation inks and surfaces require a temperature ranging from 375 to 400°F. You can double-check for the right temperature with the manufacturer of your wholesale hoodie.
Once your heat press reaches the right temperature, it’s time to print. Then, press down on the garment for about 45 to 60 seconds using medium pressure.
4. Admire your work
Lift your heat press and let things cool off for a few seconds. Then, carefully remove the parchment paper and slowly peel back the sublimation paper from the fabric. It will be hot, so be careful!
Once you carefully clear away the paper and supplies, admire your work!
Advantages of sublimation printing on garments
Sublimation printing has risen in popularity recently, alongside consumers’ demand for quality products. There are many reasons it’s one of the best options for printing on wholesale blank apparel.
Sublimation printing is an accessible way to personalize wholesale apparel for your brand. Printing various designs in different colors and sizes is easy, letting you quickly scale inventory.
Sublimation can print all colors and details, so let your creativity run wild and bring your brand’s vision to life.
High-quality prints that will last
Unlike other printing methods, sublimation makes the ink an integral part of the fabric instead of adding a shiny layer of color on top of your wholesale apparel.
Therefore, this method creates durable prints that won’t peel or fade. It also keeps the soft feel of the fabric intact, making it easy for your customers to fall in love with your products immediately.
The start-up cost of sublimation printing is relatively low, especially compared to direct-to-garment printing.
There are plenty of affordable, quality sublimation printers and heat presses on the market. However, starting with a basic printer and clamshell heat press will keep the bank intact.
Also, sublimation printing only takes up a little bit of space. Therefore, you can try this printing method in the comfort of your own home. No need to rent studio space!
Disadvantages of sublimation printing on garments
While sublimation printing is an easy, efficient option, there are some drawbacks to keep in mind.
Limitations on fabric type
Sublimation printing is limited to polyester fabrics and materials. While it’s easy to find 100% polyester and poly-coated products, they might differ from the look your brand seeks.
Sublimation printing is not best if your brand uses natural fibers like cotton or linen. Although there are polyester coatings and other hacks to try, the sublimation print still won’t be the best quality. DTG printing is the best alternative for printing on cotton.
White creasing is a pretty common printing mistake. If you miss a spot on your garment while printing, lines develop in your final design. In addition, the sublimation ink cannot bond with the fabric, ruining your print.
Folds in the garment or unintentional moisture on the sublimation paper usually cause white creasing. Common areas to look out for before you print are along seams and under the arms.