In this guide, I am going to show you how to skyrocket your sports jersey business through sublimation printing technology.

In fact, you’re going to learn what sublimation printing is all about – its pros, cons, how it works, and everything in between.

So, if you want to profit from sublimation printing sports jerseys, read this guide:

What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing is a digital printing technique.

In this, computer-aided design is directly imprinted onto a fabric using special transfer paper.

Designs are printed on this paper.

The transferable paper is then used to imprint the design onto the fabric with the help of a heat press.

These days, designers want to create elegant and durable designs.

It is for this purpose that they use computer software comprehensively to create impressive designs.

The software helps a lot in creating high quality and non-fading designs in a variety of colors.

How Sublimation Printing Works

By simple definition, sublimation printing is sublimating dye into the fabric.

The process uses CMYO (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black inkjet).

CMYO is similar to the typical CMYK only that it uses CMY-Overprint instead of the CMY-Black. So before printing, a CMYO cartridge is set for an overprint clear.

Once set, the CMYO printer prints dye onto a sublimation transfer paper, a specially treated dye accepting paper.

The next step involves transferring the print from paper to fabric. In this, the paper is “married” to a substrate, which in this case, is the fabric to be printed.

Polyester fabric is mostly preferred in this case due to its unbeaten compatibility with fabric dyes and the sublimation printing technique.

Note that although polyester is more preferred, you can use any other polymer-based fabric.

The fabric can be anything from sheer, satin, knit, etc.

Once you “marry” the paper and fabric, the next step requires that you place the combination onto a pressure unit.

This unit usually has rollers that heat to around 400ºF.

The paper and fabric are fed through the heated rollers at a slow rate of speed.

As it goes into the rollers, the heat and pressure expand the polymer fibers and transform the ink into a gas.

The ink gas then pours into the open cells of the fabric, and just as quickly, the fabric cools as the cells close again.

The heat, pressure, and cooling sublimates the dye into the pores of the material creating a continuous color tone.

Dye sublimation printing machine

 Dye sublimation printing machine

Why Sublimation Printing is best for Team Uniforms or Sports Jersey

Sublimation printing is popularly used in creating unique print designs for team uniforms and sports jerseys.

Sublimated sports uniform

 Sublimated sports uniform

This is because players and teams want their uniforms to feature unique print designs of attributes such as the team name, player names, logo, numbers, etc.

All these can only be achieved using high-quality computer-aided designs.

Quality fabric printing with excellent color reproduction is essential in this case.

It helps provide a perfect finish on garments.

So for this purpose, it is best to use sublimation printing as it is a far better technique as compared to traditional printing methods.

Sublimation printing offers flawless finishing to the designs.

It may be more costly than other printing methods, but it creates more vivid and durable designs that can last for years.

This printing technique also leaves you with more room for innovation when it comes to the logo, and team name designs.

If you’re looking for prints that can withstand long term vigorous use on your team uniforms or sports jerseys, then sublimation printing is your best bet.

Types of Materials you can print using Sublimation Printing Technology

Sublimation printing applies to a variety of polymers and polymer-coated materials.

It has a wide limitation on the type of fabric that can be used.

But for non-fabric materials, you can print a wide range of materials that include;

  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Aluminum
  • Nylon
  • Vinyl

How Sublimation Printing compare to Heat Transfer Technology

More often than not, clients tend to confuse sublimation printing with heat transfer due to the similarity of using heat presses.

Note, however, that despite the above similarity, these two processes are quite different in several ways.

And that each of them comes with its own set of pros and cons.

For starters, heat transfer technology piles the dye on top of the fabric, adding another layer onto it.

It doesn’t bind the dye with the fabric like in sublimation printing.

As such, the print is often prone to fading and cracking over time.

Another thing, heat transfer, unlike sublimation, is quite inexpensive, but this is because it doesn’t have the quality of sublimation printing paper.

That is why the quality of prints in heat transfer is not usually as vibrant and durable as in sublimated products.

Also, while heat transfer applies to a variety of fabrics and surfaces, it is not as good quality and durable.

The added prints will often leave the fabric heavier than usual and not natural looking.

So generally, heat transfer is cheaper but less durable.

Sublimation printing, on the other hand, is relatively costlier.

It, however, offers incredible designs that are natural-looking, durable, and non-fading.

Benefits of Sublimation Printing

Without a doubt, sublimation technology is vast, becoming one of the most popular digital printing methods in the industry.

Its benefits include;

Figure 3 Sublimated wrestling jersey

Sublimated wrestling jersey

1. Allows Printing of Full-color Images

Unlike conventional printing methods, sublimation printing allows you to print texts and images in full color onto surfaces.

2.  Easy to Print

Other printing methods, like screen printing and embroidery, are quite complex.

They require a great mastery of skills to perform efficiently. In comparison, sublimation printing is easier and faster.

3. Allows the Use of Full-color Spectrum

With the assistance of special power drivers, sublimation printing allows for easy access to the full-color spectrum in manufacturing.

4. Cost-effective

In comparison to other alternatives, this printing method allows you to print 1000 shirts at the cost of 1.

Meaning, there is no need to worry about tough MOQs when ordering sublimated products-no matter if you are a small or large volume buyer.

5. Easy to Customize

The main advantage of sublimation printing is the easy customization of designs.

This process does not need screens or changing plates, which allows for easy customization of designs with different changing elements such as names, logos, numbers, etc.

6. Shortened Lead Times

Have an urgent order?

You don’t need to worry about delivery delays with sublimation printing.

This is because the process offers quick manufacturing, which allows suppliers to offer the same day or, in more urgent cases, same hour printing.

What you need during Sublimation Printing Process

For a successful and efficient sublimation printing process, the following tools are key;

1. Sublimation Printer

Dye sublimation printer

 Dye sublimation printer

A sublimation printer is an essential item of sublimation printing.

You need this specialized printer to be able to create durable and amazing designs on garments and other materials.

Luckily unlike in the past, sublimation printers are available in a variety of styles today.

You can find them in different sizes, designs, and configurations all priced differently to suit every client’s needs and budget.

2. Sublimation Paper

 Sublimation paper

 Sublimation paper

A sublimation paper, also known as a transfer paper allows you to transfer designs from a computer to fabric.

With this paper, all you need to do is customize design on the computer, then transfer it onto a transfer paper using a sublimation printer.

After that, you can then transfer the design from the paper to your fabric using heat and pressure applications.

3. Computer and Design Software

A computer and design software is the basis of sublimation printing.

As such, you have to have a quality and functioning computer with compatible design software.

Note that not all computers come equipped with this software.

In that case, you’ll have to buy the software separately.

The software must be compatible with the printer that you’re using.

4. Cutting Equipment

Textile laser cutting machine

 Textile laser cutting machine

A cutting mechanism is essential for sublimation, especially if creating custom sublimation products.

It could be a simple knife or rotary blade for small domestic runs.

Or, an X/Y table cutter or digital flatbed cutter for large commercial runs.

5. Heat Press Equipment

A heat pressing equipment produces heat of up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit during the sublimation process.

The press allows the ink and transferable paper to turn into gaseous form and seep through the fabric’s pores.

Note that it is the heat produced by the pressing machine which releases the ink gas and opens the polymer fibers for sublimation.

6. Transparent Ink

 KIAN INK

KIAN Ink

Specialized sublimation ink is a must for sublimation printing.

This ink can change from solid to gas without the help of a liquid phase.

It is important to use this kind of ink as only when it turns to gas will it be able to permeate the polymer fibers and permanently dye the fabric.

Disadvantages of Sublimation Printing

As with anything, there can be disadvantages, and sublimation printing is no exception.

Some of the disadvantages of sublimation printing are;

· High Cost

The machines and inks used in sublimation printing can be quite expensive to buy.

This cost is often factored into the pricing of sublimated products.

· Limitation of what Materials can be Printed

Sublimation printing cannot be done on any material.

The items to be printed must be made of polymer fabrics or poly-coated materials for the process to be most efficient.

· Color Limitation on Printables

With sublimation printing, print materials are required to be ideally white or lightly colored.

The reason for this is because sublimation uses dyes that are fused into the fabric.

As such, sublimation printing is not ideal for dark printables.

· Difficulty Managing Colors on Sublimation Printers

The sublimation process allows you to access the whole color spectrum.

However, it can be quite difficult to manage these colors on the printers.

You need advanced machines (with power drivers) and skills to be able to do this.

· White Creasing

If not done correctly, sublimation printing may leave white creases on the fabric.

It is, therefore, essential to ensure that the design reaches all points of the garment that you need to print.

Also, ensure that no part of the garment is folded during printing.

To avoid white creasing on garments, you also need to ensure that there is zero moisture on the transfer paper.

How Sublimation Printing Compares to Screen Printing Technology

The main difference between sublimation printing and screen printing is the working principle.

Screen printing technology

Screen printing technology

 Sublimation printing technology

Sublimation printing technology

Screen printing uses plates to push dye onto the fabric.

There is no heat and pressure combination involved in this process.

Meaning, the dye simply deposits on top of the fabric like in heat transfer.

This process also requires a change of plates for each run.

This isn’t the case with sublimation printing.

And because of this requirement, it is not easy to customize colors and designs with screen printing as it is with sublimation.

Another notable difference is the fact that screen printing can be done on any material as long as it’s on a flat surface.

It does not limit the use of materials like sublimation printing.

Note, however, that while this opens doors for more fabric materials such as cotton, there are limitations.

Textured surfaces and rounded surfaces cannot be screen printed as the designs may come out distorted.

The process generally requires materials and surfaces to be flat for greater efficiency.

In other words, sublimation printing is still superior over screen printing.

It produces high-quality printing in various colors and designs.

Also, sublimated designs merge with the fabric.

It is nearly impossible to tell that design elements have been printed.

Due to this, prints are often non-fading and long-lasting.

So if you require quick, simplistic designs at a cheaper cost, screen printing might be viable.

Otherwise, go for sublimation printing.

How to Choose Best Sublimation Printing Machine

Sublimation printing machine

 Sublimation printing machine

There are different types of sublimation printing machines on the market.

These vary according to type, brand, model size, shape, color, price, and other things.

So choosing the best printer for sublimation printing will require extensive research.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to buy your first sublimation printer or want to add another one to an existing line.

Either way, you need to first do due diligence before making any decisions and purchases.

Remember, there is a wide range of options on the market.

Meaning, you need to compare specs and prices as well as look at past user reviews to be able to make a decision.

To help make your decision making a little easier, follow these simple steps;

  • Start by outlining your requirements. What features are a must-have?

Many of the newer sublimation printer models come with a variety of advanced features- if you can get these, the better.

  • Once you have the requirements laid out, go to the top 5 brands, and find the printer models that fit your criteria.

Don’t rush for the cheapest unit, or the most expensive.

Look for something right in the middle.

  • After picking a model from each of the top brands, check if there are any ratings/reviews from past users.

Expert reviews may also be helpful.

But sometimes, these may not be authentic as a lot of the experts are often paid to write positive reviews on products.

Also, experts tend to get caught in the technical issues that are not necessary for a regular user.

So look for reviews from everyday users-they are the best.

  • On the chosen models, check the ink cartridges prices and yields.

Remember that you can’t always depend on print yields, but these are a factor.

What is stated by the manufacturer is usually under perfect conditions and low coverage.

So take it with a huge grain of salt.

Generally, let the price of the cartridge and print yields be the deal closer to which printer you choose to buy.

The features, recommendations, and models should help you get what you need.

If you’re a heavy user and intend to use the printer for large runs, consider the ongoing ink cartridge cost more than the actual buying price of the printer.

What to Look for in Heat Transfer Paper

 Use of heat transfer paper in sublimation printing

Use of heat transfer paper in sublimation printing

Printing with a heat transfer paper (HTP) is very straightforward, unlike with sublimation printing, which can be a little complex.

Because of this, it can be very tempting to want to buy a heat transfer paper instead of going the sublimation way.

But before you go ahead and buy an HTP for fabric and surface printing, first consider these critical elements;

· Type of Printer

Which type of printer are you going to use with the HTP?

Is it an inkjet or laser printer?

It is essential to buy a compatible transfer paper for your printing processes.

Otherwise, the results won’t be efficient enough.

So if you have an inkjet printer, buy an inkjet HTP, and if you have a laser printer, choose a laser HTP.

· Fabric Color

Consider the color of fabrics/ surfaces that you are going to print on.

Whether you’ll be printing on light or dark surfaces or both is entirely up to you.

However, you need to get to a different type of transfer for each of these types of fabrics.

Understand that ink and toner for heat pressing often rely on a white background to create visible prints.

Dark surfaces hardly result in quality color reproduction.

As such, you need to get a heat transfer paper with a white backing or coating underneath to be able to get desirable print results on dark garments.

For white garments, the normal HTP with a clear transfer layer is appropriate.

· Design Complexity

If you’re looking to print simplistic artwork with minimal detail, any kind of HTP can do the work.

Be it laser or inkjet and dark or clear.

However, if you’re looking to print photographic style prints with a high level of detail, then you aren’t in luck as options are limited.

For this, you’ll need to choose an inkjet HTP for lights, as this can print high-quality images in a broad range of colors.

For dark garments, an inkjet HTP for darks can work but not so well.

Remember that this type of heat transfer paper has a thick white coating underneath whose effect you’ll only feel after printing.

Laser HTP, on the other hand, are often limited to printing very bold colors.

Nonetheless, if you can get your hand on a highly advanced laser HTP that uses white toner, then you might be lucky.

With this, you can easily and effectively print full colors on garments without the limitations of standard laser HTP’s.

Determining the Cost of Sublimation Printing Technology

Most people only factor in the cost of substrate, ink, paper, and shipping.

Thus, they end up making the wrong calculations that don’t account for the total cost of sublimation printing.

With that in mind, it is also important to consider overhead and labor costs when determining the cost of sublimation.

This will give you a holistic view of the total cost and help you price products properly or budget properly for purchases.

Note that the overhead costs in sublimating comprise of all operational expenses.

This includes costs on rent, phone bills, energy, water, insurance, advertising, legal fees, accounting, etc.

The overhead costs should also include computer software, artwork, paper, ink, and substrate prices.

On top of the overhead costs, add in the labor costs.

It doesn’t matter if you’re sublimating at home as a solo operator.

You need to pay yourself.

The price goes up for factory runs as there are several personnel that needs to be paid.

So basically, material costs have very little to play in the overall cost of sublimation printing technology.

It only makes up for a percentage of the overhead/operational cost, which has to be accounted for in the ultimate cost.

Factors Affecting Quality of Dye Sublimation Printing

 Sublimated rugby jersey

Sublimated rugby jersey

Some common elements that can affect sublimation print quality include;

· Quality of Transfer Paper

The quality of the transfer is one of the critical factors affecting the quality of dye sublimation printing.

Remember that you can achieve high-quality images and texts on any fabric.

However, the quality of the print will be determined by the quality of the transfer paper.

In this case, the paper has to be a special type of sublimation transfer paper that can hold ink firmly and transfer it to fabric effectively.

· Ink

High-quality color reproduction is highly dependent on the quality of the ink used.

For this, you need a specialized type of sublimation ink that dries faster, has a large color gamut, and is environmentally friendly.

The ink should also have a good transfer rate and permeability.

· Substrate

Results indicate that substrates with rough surfaces tend to produce better quality prints than those with smooth surfaces.

Rough substrates usually have large surface energy.

This allows for ink on the transfer paper to be transferred to the substrate well.

It also provides for the desired level and color tone to be obtained.

However, note that substrates don’t need to be too rough as this may affect the thermal transfer quality.

· Temperature and Time

The sublimation printing process needs to be done at a controlled temperature and time.

You need a temperature of between 180℃-230℃ in about 10s-30s.

Always allocate the right temperature and time for the sublimation printing process.

Otherwise, the quality of the prints may be compromised.

·  Pressure of the Heat Press

Low pressure during heat pressing can leave gaps between the sublimation transfer paper and the fabric.

This will lead to poor printing results.

Too much pressure can also compromise print quality.

How Customers Can Benefit from Sublimation Printing

Customers get to enjoy garments with longer-lasting prints that don’t fade nor crack with extended use.

Also, the fact that sublimation dyes merge with the fabric creates a much lighter garment.

Therefore, customers don’t have to ensure the burden of wearing clothing that feels heavy, thick, or generally uncomfortable.

Another benefit that customers will appreciate from sublimation printing is the fact that they can customize.

Customers can add individual elements to their designs to make them more attractive and personalized.

With sublimation printing, manufacturers can accommodate smaller orders.

You can even re-order previous designs as the process doesn’t require changing plates or any complicated setups.

Due to the simple set up required, sublimation printing offers full-color printing in small runs.

This makes it more affordable for small orders and cost-effective for large runs.

Effects of Sublimation Printing to the Environment

The greatest advantage of sublimation printing for environmentally conscious is that it is sustainable.

This process doesn’t use water; neither does it emit any waste as it relies on the direct conversion of solid ink to gas.

Dyes used in this process are also proven to be very safe to the environment and operators as well.

This makes sublimation printing the safest method of printing over other traditional techniques.

Recommended Temperature for Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing requires the heat press to be around 375-400 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal color.

This temperature range is adequate to properly turn solid ink particle to gas as well as initiate the opening of the polymer fibers for sublimation.

How to Check Quality of Dye Sublimated Fabric

Quality control is essential for dye-sublimated fabric.

It helps ensure that you get what you ordered in terms of fabric, print, and stitch quality.

So while you can monitor the manufacturing process of dye-sublimated fabric to ensure quality, you still need to QC the final product.

In this case, you can do any or all of the following;

 Sublimated dirt shirt

Sublimated dirt shirt

  • Request for test reports regarding the quality of transfer paper and ink used in the sublimation printing process
  • Conduct a quality inspection. For this, check all parameters of the sublimated fabric to ensure they match the quality you require.

The things to look at in this case are the quality of graphics, fabric, and stitching

You should ascertain that the images and texts printed cannot fade nor crack under any conditions.

Also, fabric quality and stitching should be hardy and long-lasting.

How to Choose Sublimation Heat Press

Sublimation heat presses are available in different sizes that are suited for various applications.

However, note that despite the variation in size, all heat presses work the same.

At 400 degrees Fahrenheit to heat sublimation dyes on transfer paper and open the pores of the fabric for sublimation to take place.

Some may find the process of sublimation printing daunting, but with a quality printer and the right heat press to match, the results are incomparable.

In this regard, you have to match the quality of your heat press machine to that of your sublimation printer.

If, for instance, you spend $25000 on a dye sublimation printer, then consider matching this price for your heat press.

This will help you achieve high-quality digital prints with full color for the long term.

Note that a reliable heat pressing machine should be durable.

The machine should also be able to meet increasing production needs as your business and machinery grow.

The best way to choose a sublimation heat is to invest in reliable quality and long term durability.

How does Direct to Garment Printing compare to Sublimation Printing?

Direct to garment (DTG) printing is a digital printing technique that uses an inkjet printer to print on fabrics directly.

There is no use of a transfer paper or heat press application in DTG processes like it is with sublimation printing.

With DTG, the printing machines feature a platen system that holds down garments for printing.

In this process, garments are directly sprayed with dyes by the print head until all the elements of the design are fully printed.

Similar to sublimation printing, DTG also has a limitation as to what materials it can print.

In this case, fabrics must be pre-treated before printing.

A special type of machine is used for this process, called a pre-treatment machine.

Pre-treatment of garments in DTG printing allows for stronger bonding of inks and fabric and faster drying and curing.

It also helps lay down loose fabric fibers for a smoother substrate.

Like sublimation printing, direct-to-garment printing does not require long and complicated setups nor cleanups.

The process is straightforward and allows for easy customization of designs.

Also, the printing cost for DTG is not far off from sublimation printing costs.

DTG allows for cost-effective printing where you can print one garment at a very minimal price.

Please note that while sublimation printing uses solid dyes for printing, DTG uses water-based inks with a unique curing process.

Due to this, the printing process is mostly recommended for natural fibers such as cotton, wool, linen, bamboo, and hemp.

How to Start Sublimation Shirts Printing Business

The sublimation shirt printing business has various streams and values.

It can be started and run by any person whether they have knowledge of business techniques or not.

You can start this business as a small scale enterprise, or if you have the funding, go big to cater to large volume printing.

To get a start, you’ll need first to understand how the printing process work, or better yet, hire someone who does.

Next, find the essential tools and supplies, assuming you already have the space for conducting this business.

As we had already mentioned in this guide, sublimation printing requires the following items;

  • A good quality sublimation printer
  • A matching quality heat press machine
  • Substrate
  • Sublimation ink or dyes
  • Suitable sublimation dye paper or transfer paper

For the above tools, you need to purchase them from reputable suppliers.

It would be better if you can select manufacturers to work with long term.

Remember, customers will always remember you by what you sell them.

So purchase only the best quality materials for your sublimation printing business.

In the initial stages, you can start by buying small quantities of supplies such as the fabric and dyes to test their quality and suitability.

 Sublimated shirt

Sublimated shirt

You can find manufacturers who are willing to send you sample materials to test out, but you’ll have to pay for shipping.

If you’re purchasing materials from abroad, it is often a good idea to learn as much about how your substrate is manufactured.

Consider things such as certifications, materials, and processes involved in manufacturing.

Keep in mind that the shirt sublimation printing business has a high level of competition both on a small scale and large scale.

Therefore, you should keep a hawk’s eye on your competitors’ production and quality.

Ensure that you provide customers with the same or better quality services and products.

To keep an edge in the industry, consider building a website for your shirt sublimation printing business.

This will allow you to take online orders as well as save on the costs of marketing and advertisements.

Online shopping also gives flexibility to customers.

You can even go ahead and provide customers with samples to choose from.

But also, allow them room to present their quotes and designs to be printed to the shirts that they choose.

Most importantly, as you start your shirt sublimation printing business, do not forget to get licensing and authorization to operate.

This is very important to avoid any legal confrontations with local authorities and industry regulators.

Sublimation Transfer Tips you Should Know

Some of the tips you should know for an efficient sublimation printing process are as follows;

  • Allocate the right temperature and time for each run
  • Use the correct dye/ink to ensure excellent color reproduction of designs
  • Only apply the right amount of pressure on the heat press. You don’t want to under or overdo it as this can compromise the transfer quality
  • Before heat pressing, always ensure that the substrate and transfer paper are close enough
  • Also, make sure that the substrate lays flat and smooth to avoid white creasing
  • Use good quality sublimation transfer paper
  • Note that the sublimation transfer paper cannot be reused after transfer printing. It is only used once
  • Use a transfer paper that is larger than the surface you’re printing into to avoid “double image” transfer

Can you Use Regular Printer for Sublimation

No.

Sublimation printing uses specially designed inkjet printing machines to complete the process of sublimation.

Dye sublimation printer

 Dye sublimation printer

These machines are available in a comprehensive range to meet the exact requirements of the industry.

The working principle of these machines is quite simple.

First, computer-aided design is printed directly on a transferable paper.

From this paper, the machine prints the designs on the fabric.

The entire process, as we had already explained, involves heat and pressure applications that aid in the printing of designs onto the fabric.

The main advantage of a specialized sublimation printer is that it offers long-lasting designs. Apart from this, the machine provides high-definition designs.

The main flexibility associated with the sublimation printer is that they can easily offer customization in designs.

Due to the above benefits, sublimation printers have found tremendous usage in the sportswear industry.

They are widely used for the simple reason that they can easily provide amazing designs on team uniforms and jerseys.

Currently, sports teams and clubs want their uniforms to have various attributes like team name, logo, player name, number, etc.

This cannot be achieved with regular printers.

It needs the help of a sublimation printer to transfer well-crafted and durable designs from the machine to fabric.

Please note that sublimation printing machines are available in several configurations.

Also, they are made using high-quality materials along with state of the art technology to ensure their durability and reliability.

A dye-sublimation printer is undoubtedly integral in the quality production of sportswear and other garments.

They can offer digital and high-definition designs for your team uniforms and jerseys.

These machines will also help a lot in reducing production time as well as the overall cost of printing.

There you have it – a complete guide to sublimation printing.

Now, we would like to hear from you.

Whether you have questions or inquiries about sublimation printing technology, Goal Sportswear team are here to help.

Also, feel free to share your experience on sublimation printing technology.