I had no idea “sublime” was an adjective, a verb and a noun!
Just read this very well-written explainer by Prodigi. It explains the differences, the pros, the cons and the process(es). Check it out.
Generally speaking, sublimation describes the process wherein solid forms covert immediately to gas/vapor, by passing the liquid phase.
What is sublimation?
Let’s start with the broad strokes. What exactly is sublimation?
In simple terms, it’s a method of printing that transfers a design into a material or fabric using ink and heat.
In the world of apparel, it’s a game changer in that it allows whole garment prints — designs that go seam-to-seam.
The sublimation printing process
So how does sublimation work? Well, sublimation printing uses heat to essentially bring ink and fabric together as one.
First, a design is printed onto special paper. The inks that are used turn into gas when brought under heat, then combine with the fabric and permanently print onto the fabric. The effects are permanent and less prone to fading, as the ink is embedded in the fabric or substrate rather than simply laying on top like a normal print.
The process is almost like a tattoo, but instead of for your skin, it’s for your chosen product. The heat opens up the pores of the fabric, then with the applied pressure the ink cools and returns to a solid form.
The result is a permanent, full colour image that won’t crack, peel or wash away from the substrate. The process allows the ink to go from a solid to a gas without turning to liquid, a bit like dry ice. The conversion is initiated by heat and controlled by pressure.
This quick and effective digital print method is growing in popularity for smaller batch orders and those designs that rely on the details. Sublimation printing is also known as ‘all over printing’ as it allows you to choose a design that can literally go from seam to seam.
The longevity of the design is a plus point, with a design that won’t crack, peel or fade. Even after going through the washing machine countless times, your garment will never be demoted to the back of your wardrobe!
Sublimation printing is suitable for small batch orders, seam-to-seam designs and garments with a large number of design variations and applications.
The cons lay mostly with the choice of materials. Sublimation printing is only suitable for garments that include polyester (100% polyester or polyester blend). Although sublimation is possible on other materials such as cotton, the image will not be permanent as it is on ‘man made’ fabric and it isn’t recommended.
If you wanted to go for the vintage/distressed look, which is all the rage right now, choosing a fabric with a lower percentage of polyester in it would give you that finish.
Another potential problem to watch out for is white creasing. Sublimation works by printing a design into white fabric, and if there are areas of the garment that are unreached by the design, they’ll stay white. This can be caused by accidental folding or small amounts of moisture that accumulate on the transfer paper.