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Blog / Beginner's handbook / The Best Design Software for Sublimation Printing

Beginner's handbook

The Best Design Software for Sublimation Printing

The Best Design Software for Sublimation Printing
Aesha Ansari

By Aesha Ansari

12 min read

You’re thinking of getting into the world of print-on-demand, and wanted to learn more about sublimation print design. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

In simple terms, sublimation printing uses a heat press to turn the ink from a design on paper into a gas. This then allows it to enter the fabric and change back into a solid, permanently transferring and imprinting the design onto the fabric.  

But if you’re interested in how to make sublimation designs, it’s simple: find the design software that fits you best. How can you do that? That’s what we’ll be sharing with you today. 

So, as we go through some of the best free and paid sublimation software, don’t forget to keep track of your favorites!

Guidelines for sublimation printing

To ensure your sublimation prints look amazing, let’s first review relevant Printful guidelines for your designs.

Each product has different sizes and placement options, so make sure to check the file guidelines for each item individually. 

A print file refers to a digital file that contains the design or artwork that will be printed onto the physical product, and meets the technical requirements for printing. 

Here’s an example of our All-Over Print Recycled Long Sleeve Crop Top:

a screenshot of a computer

General file requirements:

  • Submit files in PNG or JPG file formats. 

  • Files should be at least 150 DPI or higher for the best quality product.

  • Upload files in the sRGB color mode.

  • To get the best sublimation prints, make sure the design doesn’t have white borders.

  • If your design is only in one part of the print area, make sure to keep the background transparent.

  • To avoid any missing elements, keep all your important graphics close to the middle.

  • Make sure to delete the guides, if any, before saving your files.

  • Your design must fit in the product’s printable area, or it’ll be scaled down to fit.

Last but not least, be careful when resizing your designs as it may affect the quality of the sublimation print. So, now let’s get into the fun part!

The top 9 sublimation printing software options for creating excellent designs

1. Printful’s Design Maker

If you’re a beginner and don’t know where to start, Printful’s Design Maker is a quick and easy way to create beautiful designs. And since it was created specifically for Printful users, this design software was built keeping our design specifications in mind. So, you’ll be able to find everything you need to create the design of your dreams.

a white bottle with a silver cap

Printful also offers tutorials and guides to make the design process smoother. The best part? You can preview your sublimation design on your product before deciding to order it.

The Design Maker offers an array of features to help you create the perfect end product. One of them is the Text Tool, which gives life to your words with its various fonts, styles, and colors. You can also upload your own text as well.

Add a bit of splash by exploring our clip art collection, where you can search for that special something to include in your design. 

And if you want designs fast that involve less work, Quick Designs is at your service. It gives you both clip art and text in one go. You can also edit and adjust the text according to your liking.

Maybe you want to create a meme shirt or a fandom mug? Well, Printful’s extensive library of Getty images can help you get the job done. 

Remember that you get access to all of this for free. Plus, when your design is ready, Printful can help with production and fulfillment, which saves you time and money. 

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2. Adobe Photoshop

Just like how Kleenex is the new word for tissue, Photoshop has become synonymous with design software. Adobe Photoshop is the go-to design and photo editing software, even if all you know how to do is to adjust the brightness.

a screenshot of a computer

It offers a variety of design capabilities and features that can help you create the designs you want. They also have guides, and tons of relevant tutorials on YouTube.

Adobe Photoshop offers a huge collection of templates and elements for editing images, cloning patterns, creating logos, changing backgrounds, and incorporating filters. You can start from scratch or add a little flavor of your own. 

Some of the features that make creating sublimation designs more efficient with Adobe Photoshop are its movable Elements and Overlays. You can make changes in one layer without changing the original layer and later choose to blend using the Blend tool. This way, you get to try out all the features and tools without losing your original image or design.

And if you want to create a pattern of an element or something you uploaded, you can simply use the Pattern Stamp. It lets you copy and create a pattern of the image, by painting the pattern over your desired parts.

Adobe works with raster graphics files, so PNGs or JPEGs can be used for printing sublimation designs.

Adobe Photoshop starts at $20.99/mo. But you can test out the software with their 7-day free trial

3. Adobe Illustrator

The sister of Adobe Photoshop, the main difference is that Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based design software. It offers an advanced space for developing your designs with its professional tools. But it’s a bit different from Adobe Photoshop. 

a screenshot of a computer

Credit: Julian Ball

As a beginner, it might be a bit difficult to dive into Adobe Illustrator because it’s pretty complex. That said, there are tutorials available online, and you can certainly learn how to use this design software with some effort.

One of the features that can help you with your sublimation designs is its Sketch to Vector tool. With this tool you can transform your hand-drawn idea into a digital design, which you can create graphics, your logo, or icons with. 

Adobe Illustrator also offers a Text tool, where you can experiment with a large library of fonts and styles. If your artistic side gets the best of you, you can also create your own using the Sketch to Vector tool.

There are also a variety of tools available within the Paint, Draw, Shapes and Lines, and Select features, just with more accuracy since it’s a vector graphic tool. The Modify feature is also great as it lets you manipulate your design in an easier and more precise way.

Adobe Illustrator starts at $20.99/mo and offers a 7-day free trial. If you want to try both Adobe products, you can opt for the Creative Cloud All Apps for a 7-day trial and see what you like best.

4. Canva

Canva is one of your best options if you’re stepping into the world of design with no prior experience. It’s beginner-friendly design software with an easy-to-use user interface. It’s also pretty popular design software nowadays. 

a screenshot of a computer

Canva has a variety of Templates to choose from, a collection of various themes and styles. Even if you work with the free version, you are able to use these templates, but they’re limited. 

Once you’ve chosen a template that you’d like to base your design on, you’re ready to explore the huge library of Elements Canva offers. These range from illustrated designs to 3D, and even more Shapes, Lines, and Graphics. . . basically everything you need for your sublimation design. 

And if you think that’s all, Canva’s Image library is gonna blow your mind. You can find almost anything you want. A squiggly pink cloud? You got it! With all these features, Canva is among the easiest design software for sublimation printing.

One thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t offer a drawing tool, so you’d have to create your ideas exclusively with the templates and other tools available.

All your work would be stored in the cloud, so if you want to work with Canva, make sure you have a stable internet connection.

Canva has a free version to use, but to access more features you’d have to opt for the pro version which costs $12.99/mo or $119.99 ($9.99/mo) for the annual plan. They do offer a 30-day free trial, which is a good way to test out all the features before committing to it.

5. GIMP

GIMP is one of the best photo editing software options out there, but it also offers excellent free design features. Plus, it only includes essential features, which makes the software easier to use. This is a blessing for beginners, as you’re not confused by a whole library of complex tools. 

a screenshot of a computer

One of the best features that GIMP offers is their wide variety of Brushes. With this, you can design your own elements to match your brand or product. And although GIMP is not vector graphic design software, using its Bezier Pen, you can achieve precise vector lines and shapes.

Later on, if you want to try more specific adjustments and improve your design skills, you can always add plug-ins to update your design tools, or even modify the current ones. GIMP actually wants you to do it! They are open source free design software, so they promote collective updating of the program.

And if you are someone who likes to organize your workspace, not only do they offer a customizable workspace, it also requires way less space than competitors. 

The best part? It’s completely free to use! 

6. CorelDRAW

Similar to Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW is vector-based design software to use for sublimation printing. However, with a simple user interface, beginners find it easy to navigate through the software. It’s one of the most popular design software options for creating logos, infographics, and even your own designs for sublimation printing.

a screenshot of a computer

Source: Corel Corporation

But simple doesn’t mean you have limited options. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. CorelDRAW offers you a variety of features and tools to help you create the sublimation designs of your dreams. 

Even with minimal experience, you can create high-quality designs with its advanced vector design tools like the Artistic Media Tool which lets you work with various brushes and strokes. Or, the Transparency and Blend tool, which lets you enhance your graphic design by having a smooth transition between elements and layers.

The PowerTRACE tool comes handy if you have any bitmap images or raster graphics that you want to include in your designs. This tool will convert it into a scalable vector art, which you can add or change to include in your project.

Some other features are the Pen and Shape tools, which are smooth and precise. With all its features, this vector software is one of the best sublimation design software options available.

If you want to try it out for your sublimation print designs, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2023 starts at €30.75/mo or €369.00/year. This pack suits both Windows and Mac.

Both CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2023 and CorelDRAW Standard 2021 have a 15-day free trial. So, you can check them both out and see which you like best.

7. Inkscape

Inkscape is one of the best free software options for creating vector graphics. It can do almost everything that Adobe Illustrator can do, but has its limits. Since it’s available for free, it’s definitely worth a try.

a screenshot of a computer

For a beginner, this is a good start to your design journey. Inkscape offers a wide variety of tools that you can use to create standout designs. For sublimation designs, one notable feature is its Transform tool, which can be used for scaling, rotating, skewing or distorting designs. This lets you create patterns as well. 

The Clipping and Masking tool allows you to add interesting visual effects by hiding and revealing selected parts. Another visual editing feature is the Path Effects, which has various tools that let you manipulate your designs. 

And of course the Shape tools and Drawing tools are definitely going to help you out as well!

These are pretty cool tools for you to start on your sublimation designs. Just keep in mind they only offer RGB style so you’ll need to adjust the settings under Color Management. 

And although Inkscape doesn’t work with all file formats, it does work with JPG and PNG, which you’ll need to print your designs with Printful.

8. Affinity Designer

The next graphic design software option on our list is Affinity Designer. It’s known for its advanced features that enable both beginners and professionals alike to create and manipulate stunning graphic designs, vector images, and logos.

a cartoon of a mushroom sleeping on a log

Source: Katy McCabe

Affinity Designer has a collection of Drawing and Editing tools, as well as various other features that are both advanced and easy-to-use. 

One such feature is the Pressure Gravity tool. When using a tablet, you can make different strokes depending on how much pressure you’re putting on the stylus. Well, this feature lets you do that manually, even when using a desktop. Cool, right?

If you like your workspace to be organized, you’re in good hands! Affinity offers a customizable user interface and a Symbols and Assets Panel, which lets you create and manage design elements. This lets you keep your signature tone across all your sublimation projects as well.

Another feature that’s quite useful for sublimation designs is that Affinity lets you switch between raster and vector workspaces, letting you work with those quality vector graphic design tools.

Affinity Designer is a paid sublimation software, but you can get access for a 30-day free trial. And if you like it and want to continue, it’s available for a one time purchase of €179.99.

9. Procreate

If your device of choice for designing is an iPad, then this is the best graphic design software to opt for. It can be used as advanced photo editing software as well. Procreate is raster-based software, and it’s one of the best to create sublimation prints.

a screenshot of a computer

Source: Savage Interactive

A major advantage of Procreate is its ease-of-use as a beginner, while still having advanced graphic design features. Out of the design tools it offers, a basic-yet-powerful one is the Brush tool. With a wide variety of brushes to choose from, you can find the stroke that lights up your sublimation design. And even better, you can create your own brush as well!

Their collection of Filters and Effects are also a definite boost when creating your cool sublimation designs. 

One thing about Procreate is that since its raster graphics, you’ll need to set the DPI to a minimum of 300. Anything less than 300 DPI could mean a blurry or partial transfer of your design during the heat press.

Although it’s not a free sublimation software, Procreate is very affordable at €14.99 for lifetime access. 

Factors to consider when choosing sublimation software

Since everyone has their own styles and preferences, here are some basic factors to help you decide among these different sublimation software options:

  • What device do you prefer using, a desktop, tablet, or smartphone?

  • Know your operating system—is it Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, or ipadOS?

  • Are you interested in raster or vector graphics?

  • Is your required file format compatible with the sublimation software?

  • Do you want easy-to-use or professional graphic design programs?

These are some of the basic-yet crucial factors that will help you choose the best design software for your sublimation prints.

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Time to unleash your creativity

Creating sublimations designs is not as hard as it seems. Now that we’ve gone through the best sublimation design software, it’s time for you to find what would best help you create those stunning sublimation prints.

Explore the different capabilities each of these options offers to help you through the design process, and you’ll find the best sublimation printing software for you.

Read next: 21 Bestselling Sublimation Products You Don’t Want to Miss Out On

Get your creative engines going and let’s get designing!

author

By Aesha Ansari on Oct 24, 2023

Aesha Ansari

Guest author

Aesha is a freelance content writer. She is also getting her Bachelor’s in Intl. Communication Management. And not so surprisingly, reading is her favorite hobby.

Aesha is a freelance content writer. She is also getting her Bachelor’s in Intl. Communication Management. And not so surprisingly, reading is her favorite hobby.