Print-on-demand business is booming. While having your own unique designs and styles is essential if you’re using sublimation printing for your business, one often overlooked factor is the quality of the material you’re printing on. Sublimation printing gives you a full-color, clean image that will last for a long time, but if you don’t choose the right t-shirts, you might be in for a bad time. Here’s everything you need to choose the right t-shirts for sublimation printing!
Sublimation vs. Heat Transfer: Which One is Right for You?
Personalizing and printing t-shirts, whether with sublimation dye or heat transfer paper, is a fun adventure to embark on. You could even turn your new hobby into your own business with enough practice! Both the sublimation and heat transfer methods work great for transferring colors and designs to a t-shirt, but how do you choose which one to get started with?
Related: Buying the Right Heat Transfer Paper
The heat transfer paper method has a lower initial cost than sublimation printing. Besides purchasing the heat transfer paper and apparel, the only other things you’ll need to get started are a heat press and a printer (preferably inkjet).
Sublimation has a slightly higher startup cost but has gotten much more affordable over the years. You’ll need to invest in (or rent) a sublimation printer, paper, and software, along with a heat press and apparel to get started.
With sublimation, you can print a full range of colors, which is essential for things like company logos or photos. With heat transfer paper, it can be more of a challenge to get the same full-color quality as sublimation.
Feel & Durability
Sublimation comes out on top in the category; the ink becomes part of the t-shirt instead of adding a layer to the top of it like heat transfer paper. Sublimation printing gives you a smooth feel and a durable t-shirt that won’t fade or crack after multiple washes.
How Different Fabrics Affect Sublimation
Alt-text: a plain white polyester t-shirt perfect for sublimation
When you’re printing on a t-shirt, the main fabrics you’re going to choose from are polyester, cotton, or a blend of different materials. Here’s how they stack up against each other for sublimation printing:
Polyester t-shirts are the best option for sublimation printing. This man-made fabric is durable, strong, dries quickly, lightweight, and comfortable. It’s one of the most commonly used fabrics for fast fashion. While polyester isn’t the material of choice for direct-to-garment printing, it’s perfect for sublimation printing.
When you heat press a t-shirt with sublimation dye, you don’t get the same reaction using cotton that you will on polyester. The synthetic fabric is designed to work flawlessly with sublimation.
Cotton is a popular choice for many types of t-shirts. It does work for sublimation, but where cotton shines is during direct to garment printing; the higher the cotton blend, the more vivid your print will be. Cotton shirts made with natural fibers tend to hold up better and last through more washes than synthetic ones. There are different types of cotton t-shirts you can use for printing, like ring-spun and combed cotton.
Ring-spun cotton is a premium fabric for sublimation printing on t-shirts. It’s called ring-spun because the cotton fibers get twisted tightly throughout the process to get a stronger, thinner, and more comfortable finished product. It also smooths out the surface better to get a higher-quality, more vivid print.
When cotton gets “combed,” it means that all of the impurities have been removed from the fabric before getting spun. This process creates the strongest, softest, and best quality cotton for sublimation printing on t-shirts. For the most durable shirts, cotton can get combed and ring-spun.
Tri-blend fabrics are a mix of three different types. Typically a mixture of cotton, polyester, and rayon, these shirts are extremely soft and have a little stretch to them. While tri-blends aren’t the first choice for sublimation printing, you can get a good-quality print on them, and they are a slightly more cost-effective t-shirt option.
Taking a Look at T-Shirt Descriptions
Navigating through descriptions of different t-shirts can get confusing. Let’s look at some of the popular t-shirt terms that you’ll run into when looking for sublimation materials:
- Shoulder-to-shoulder taping -- this term means that the t-shirt was created to have higher durability at stress points, like in the shoulders. It’s a sewing process used to strengthen the front and back shoulder areas of the shirt to make the seams last longer under stress.
- Single count -- single count refers to two things: the diameter of the yarn used to create the shirt and how many times the fibers got twisted throughout the process. T-shirts with higher single counts are better quality and softer than ones with lower counts, but they are typically much more costly.
- Tubular vs. side-seam -- tubular t-shirts are usually made without using side seams and have more of a square shape. Side-seam shirts have seams that run down both sides; they are typically seen as having a more flattering, structured look. Tubular t-shirts give you a less fitted look but are less expensive than side-seam ones.
- Quarter-turned -- quarter-turned t-shirts have a smoother surface to print on. That’s because, during the creation process, the shirt is made to have its main crease under the arms rather than down the center, leading to a flatter, smoother surface for a high-quality print.
The Best Shirts for Sublimation
Check out these t-shirts from Avance Vinyl to get the best sublimation print! Our acid-applied apparel means that you get a t-shirt made for sublimation printing. Get the best sublimation shirts and start printing today, whether it’s for a hobby or your business!
Avance Vinyl carries only the highest-quality fabrics, sublimation paper, and everything else that you need to start printing. Ready to up your sublimation game? Stop by our shop for everything you need to get started!