Want to customize products with sublimation printing? Easy breezy! We’re here to make it simple and to the point, plus give you a dash of inspiration.
Whether you’re a newbie or a pro in the world of printing, this blog is for you. You’ll learn how to create sublimation designs in 6 straightforward steps.
The best part? When you know how to make stunning sublimation designs, you can customize any product, from apparel to accessories and home decor. The sublimation technique has a level of customization that other printing methods don’t. With sublimation, you can print vibrant, detailed designs onto various materials, including polyester, ceramic, and metal.
And once you’ve learned the art of sublimation design, you can use it to order customized products for yourself or create a profitable business. If you already have one, then expand it with new products, customized with sublimation.
Ready to dive into the world of sublimation designs?
To get high-quality sublimation designs, it’s important to know all the steps. That’s why we’ll go through the whole process for sublimation projects, from design creation to the finished product.
Before we get going, here’s a quick reminder of how sublimation printing works: first, the image is printed onto sublimation paper. Then, the sublimation image is transferred to a product using heat and pressure. During this process the sublimation ink embeds into the material rather than sitting on top of it. This way you get a durable print that won’t wash out or crack over time.
Sublimation requires less water and manual labor compared to other dye transfer techniques like screen printing. Best of all, sublimation printing can be done in small and large quantities so it’s an excellent fit for print-on-demand.
If you want to learn more about sublimation prints and the process, check out this blog post: What Is Sublimation Printing and How Does It Work? Your Questions Answered.
Let’s start by drawing up some sublimation design ideas for your sublimation projects.
The design possibilities are almost endless because sublimation printing covers the whole product. That means you can create patterns, large-scale artwork, or tell a whole story with your design. When customizing products like hoodies, t-shirts, and duffle bags, you can play with color blocking or mixing patterns because these products have different parts to customize.
If you don’t know where to start and crave some inspiration, check out Etsy, Pinterest, or brands you like. Here are some great examples of sublimation designs to give you an idea of what to look out for.
These design ideas can be used on all sorts of sublimation blanks like t-shirts, backpacks, and enamel mugs. And don’t limit yourself to a specific product—you can use one sublimation design for many different products. Or, take your existing designs for embroidery or DTG and change them to a sublimation design. How? Turn your design into a pattern or make it larger in scale so it works for sublimation.
You can make your own sublimation designs using different graphic design tools. Alternatively, you can order a sublimation design from a professional. In that case, it’d be useful to send the designer guidelines for creating sublimation designs (mentioned later in this blog post).
But first, let’s explore how you can make sublimation designs in Canva, Photoshop, and Printful’s Design Maker.
Canva is a design platform that has more than 100 million users. In fact, it’s one of the most-used platforms for creators, freelancers, businesses, and individuals. And that’s no surprise since its user-friendly interface makes designing a breeze. Plus, you can find lots of stylish pre-designed templates for your sublimation projects.
Canva’s design capabilities are perfectly suited for creating sublimation designs. It has a wide range of tools to use and you can export your designs in the right format for sublimation printing.
Adobe Photoshop has long been the go-to software for professional graphic designers and photographers who need to create, edit, and enhance images. It has a wide selection of tools for manipulating sublimation designs to the max. In Photoshop you can experiment with gradients, photo editing, and make detailed graphics.
You can also create interesting sublimation projects because Photoshop supports complex designs and high-resolution images. Plus, you can use Printful’s design templates because it supports importing images in PSD file format.
Photoshop is now included in multiple plans of the subscription-based service Creative Cloud. However, Creative Cloud subscriptions can be costly, so depending on your circumstances, free alternatives might be a better option.
Printful Design Maker is our free graphic design tool. It has an easy-to-navigate interface and all the basic editing tools you need to create designs. You can upload your own artwork or use the design library of 712 fonts, 20400+ clipart graphics, 3100+ ready-made designs, and 550+ background graphics.
Source: Printful’s Design Maker
Best of all it has Printful’s design template built in, and gridlines to make the design process for sublimation projects much easier. What’s more, you can create sublimation designs right on the products. This way you’ll be able to see a preview of your products before selling or ordering them.
Source: Printful’s Design Maker
Printful Design Maker is for you if:
You’re not familiar with professional graphic design software
You want to use fonts, photos, graphics, or clipart from the Design Maker library
Your design needs a bit of editing
You want to design directly on the product and experiment along the way
If you choose Printful as your sublimation print-on-demand partner, the Design Maker will enable you to import and place your design on the products before listing them on your store.
For more graphic design software options, take a look at our blog post on 16 Free Photoshop Alternatives to Discover This Year.
To make sure your customized products look great, it’s important to check the sublimation design guidelines. When customizing something from Printful’s product catalog, you’ll find file guidelines under every product. Some guidelines are general and fit all products, but some are more specific. For example, regarding the placement options and sizes.
General guidelines for customizing products
Submit files in PNG or JPEG format with at least 150 DPI.
Create files in an sRGB color profile.
Use full-bleed images for maximum coverage.
Keep all-important graphics within the safe print area to avoid missing design elements.
For designs that only cover a part of the print area, add a transparent background.
If you use our downloadable templates, delete the guide layers before saving your files.
Sublimation designs are printed on one side of the product (the other side remains white).
Due to the peculiarities of the sublimation process, graphics may shift up to 2 inches when printed. Because of this, we don't recommend using designs that require precise placement.
Cut & sew disclaimers for all-over print products
We can’t guarantee a totally exact placement.
It’s not possible to perfectly align patterns or images from front to back.
Elements outside the safe print area are not guaranteed to appear fully on the finished product.
In case of low fabric stock, we might use a comparable fabric to fulfill an order. The substitute will be as close to the original as possible.
The color white can’t be printed on all-over print products. Any white or transparent elements of your designs will end up being the color of the fabric if the product has other darker color layers. We suggest not using white or transparent elements in your all-over print designs.
Note that sublimation designs use a Raster Image. PNG is the most popular format for sublimation designs because it has a transparent background. The PNG image format uses pixels and saves designs using pixels instead of as sets of points and lines like SVG files. Be careful when resizing your design because it affects the quality of the final product.
Here are some useful video tutorials for the best print results:
Sublimation can be used to customize a variety of different products. We have many sublimation blanks you can choose from including t-shirts, swimwear, mugs, socks, towels, and duffle bags. Every textile product you can customize with sublimation printing has 100% polyester, polymer-coated, or polyester-blend fabric. Also, sublimation can only be done on white or light-colored surfaces.
Printing on textile products like hoodies, swimwear, and leggings with sublimation can leave white creases. That’s why we have all-over print products where we print the fabric and then sew it.
It’s different with our ready-made products like towels, bags, and socks. Here we print directly on the product.
A major plus for this technique? Unlike traditional screen printing, there are no setup fees or minimum order quantities with sublimation printing.
But remember that sublimation is used for customizing products from seam to seam. If you have a smaller-scale design or it’s just in certain places, it may be smarter to customize your products with DTG printing.
If you’re still testing the printing waters, check out this blog on Sublimation vs Screen Printing.
Customizing apparel and certain accessories with sublimation printing requires some prep since these products have different parts, (like a hood, collar, or sleeves). That’s why we include easy-to-follow guidelines for preparing your own design for printing.
Next to the product description, you'll find a zipped folder with the guidelines and design templates. If that product has branding customization options, it’ll include a template for inside or outside labels.
To open the template, you’ll need graphic design software that supports a PSD file format. Fortunately, there are many paid or free alternatives you can use, like Krita, Gimp, Photoshop, and others.
Here’s how Printful’s design templates work: you open the design template in graphic design software. Then, you’ll have a pre-made workspace to create your sublimation design on. This way you’ll be able to see all the different parts that you need to design.
Source: Printful’s Design Maker
If you’re designing in Printful’s Design Maker, the templates will already be in your workspace. You can place design elements directly on them. Take a look at this All-Over Print Unisex Hoodie as an example.
Source: Printful’s Design Maker
Try out color blocking or change the design on certain parts. For this hoodie, you can separately design the front and back, the right and left sleeves, the pocket, hood, and inside label. There are so many options to play around with and create the best sublimation designs for your customers or yourself.
If you use our downloadable templates, remember to delete the guide layers before saving your files.
Ordering samples is a crucial step when creating sublimation designs—especially for those who sell customized products online. Not only does ordering samples give you the opportunity to check the quality of different products yourself, but you can also share photos to get feedback from your community.
Essentially, samples are useful to see the colors and designs before printing and selling to customers. Also, it’s a way to test your images and see if they’ve been pixelated. If this happens, you need to improve the quality of your design or make it smaller in scale.
With Printful, you can order samples of your sublimation designs on various products with a 20% discount to test out the result before putting it up for sale.
Now that you’ve learned how to create sublimation designs in 6 steps, you’re well on your way to turning your creativity into an awesome product for yourself or a thriving business.
When developing sublimation designs, keep in mind the importance of following guidelines like file formats, color profiles, and print areas for the best results. If you plan to sell sublimated products online, order product samples to check the quality, colors, and design overall. By testing your sublimation designs and receiving feedback from customers, you can continue to improve your products and grow your business.
Start creating today and see where it takes you! With the right tools, guidelines, and inspiration, the possibilities for sublimation designs are endless.
Content Writer Intern
Katrīna is a content writer with a background in Material Technology and Design. She loves the digital world and creating content in visual and written form.