Beginners Guide to Sublimation: What is It, and How Does it Work?

A clothes rack of different colored t-shirts.

There is a massive range of unique methods you can leverage to customize your shirts, bags, hats, tumblers, and other items with unique designs that help showcase your inner sense of style. If you’re a frequent DIY enthusiast who enjoys customizing clothing- whether for yourself, your friends, or even for customers- you’re likely on a constant hunt for fantastic new crafting methods to try! 

In the article below, our experts from Avance Vinyl will explore the basics of sublimation and how it works so that you can try out a sublimation project on your own! 

Please read on to learn more, and also consider reading through our wide selection of other expertly written resources for more information on awesome DIY customization projects. We offer essential know-how on everything from starting your own HTV t-shirt business to the basics of 3D puff embroidery

Related: Sawgrass Virtuoso SG400 or SG800 Sublimation System

The Basics of Sublimation: What You Need to Know

A man wearing a white t-shirt with a colorful sublimation decal.

To start, let’s cover the answer to one critical question; what exactly is sublimation?

In short, sublimation is a unique method of transferring a printed image onto a fabric material using ink, heat, and specialized sublimation paper. Unlike heat transfer vinyl (HTV), which uses heat to adhere a layer of vinyl onto an object in the shape of a design, sublimation leverages a chemical process to transfer dye or ink directly onto the product.

Because sublimation can transfer several colors of ink or dye at once, it’s widely considered the best method to transfer vibrant, high-quality images onto clothing items or other objects since there’s much less chance of losing the original image quality or resolution.

Related: Summer Shirt Ideas Using Heat Transfer Vinyl

More specifically, sublimation is a chemical process where a solid turns into a gas without going through a liquid state due to high heat. The process allows full-color artwork to be directly infused with polymer-coated substrates or polyester garments. One of the key benefits of this method is that it doesn’t leave behind any layers of visible plastic materials on the design. Also, because the image is literally embedded into the fabric, it won’t crack, peel, or fade over time. The design should remain as vibrant and intact as the day you first applied it, even after you put the clothing through the washing machine several times over.

Are you interested in trying out some sublimation or heat transfer vinyl DIY projects in the near future? Avance Vinyl has everything you need and more to get your future projects off the ground with a selection of top-quality supplies for all your clothing and tumbler decal needs!

How Does Sublimation Work?

A woman wearing a colorful t-shirt displaying the words “Choose Love.”

We explained how the chemical process of sublimation works above, but let’s get into a little more detail regarding the various steps involved.

The first significant sublimation step involves a printing process. A design is printed onto a particular type of paper using sublimation ink cartridges. Please note that not all printers can work with these specific types of paper or cartridges. Before attempting a sublimation printing job, be sure to research the device; otherwise, you may risk damaging your printer. Generally speaking, it’s usually better to rely specifically on a sublimation printer if you have access to one.

Some sublimation printers require either essential or specialized software to process sublimation designs. Not all printers require this, and other software can be bought separately. Just make sure that it’s compatible with your printer if you purchase one.

Next, you’ll also need a cutting device to help cut your materials. Depending on the application you use and how detailed the design is, you can leverage a knife or even a rotary blade. 

Aside from that, you’ll also need something to attach your sublimation design to and a heat press for the final stage of the sublimation process. Suppose you’re passionate about the sublimation process and intend to leverage it often, especially if you want to sell your custom products. In that case, we recommend investing in the Stahls’ Hotronix Fusion IQ 16” X 20” Heat Press. 

This fantastic device is the perfect heat press solution for your DIY clothing sublimation projects. However, it also works perfectly with heat transfer vinyl, so you can switch between the two customization methods whenever the mood strikes you! The Stahls’ Hotronix Fusion is currently available in our online shop for only $2,575.00. However, there are only a few left in stock, so be sure to add one to your cart soon if you’re ready to take your custom design game to the next level.

Related: T-shirt Printing Materials Checklist You Need

Final Factors to Keep in Mind

Our passionate team of DIY experts at Avance Vinyl sincerely hopes that the above article has answered all of your important questions regarding the essential elements of the sublimation process. If you’d like to give sublimation a try for yourself, check out the sublimation section of our shop to stock up on the materials you’ll need for your project! 

We offer packages of different sublimation paper, along with various white shirts, tumblers, and mugs that are ready to house all of your fantastic sublimation designs. Or, if you’d like to give other great DIY detailing methods a try, feel free to check out our section dedicated to heat transfer vinyl!

Are you eager to try your hand at some sublimation or heat transfer vinyl DIY projects to create some personally customized clothes, bags, and more? Check out our shop at Avance Vinyl today to see our wide range of top-quality products that can help get your future projects off to a great start!

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