Digital textile printing is growing at a staggering rate, but only one printing technique is projected to be the most profitable—sublimation printing.
Sublimation printing is used to print on all sorts of products, from apparel to household decor and accessories. Because this technique is so versatile, sublimation printing is in high demand. In fact, the total value of the sublimation market for apparel alone is expected to reach $10.67 billion by 2030.
So, what is sublimation printing, and how does it work? Let’s take a closer look at its advantages, and its use at Printful.
Sublimation printing is a technique that embeds your design into the material of your chosen product rather than printing on top of it. It’s used to print on various items, ranging from hard-surfaced mugs to various textile products.
Sublimation is suited for printing on light-colored fabrics that are either 100% polyester, polymer-coated, or polyester blends. Some of the many products that can be sublimation printed include shirts, sweaters, leggings, socks, laptop sleeves, bags, and even home decor. The results are magnificent! Just take a look at the vibrant print on our all-over print hoodies:
Sublimation printing starts with your design being printed on a sheet of paper. The sublimation paper is infused with sublimation ink that is then transferred to the material using a heat press.
Heat is vital to the process. It opens up the material of the printed item and activates the sublimation ink. For the ink to become part of the material, it’s put under immense pressure and exposed to high temperatures of 350–400 ºF (176–205 ºC).
Here’s a demonstration of how we print custom socks using the sublimation technique:
In the textile industry, products printed using sublimation can be divided into two groups: ready-made products and cut & sew products. We sublimate ready-made socks, towels, blankets, and laptop sleeves, but create the rest of our sublimation products using the cut & sew technique. Most of our cut & sew items are clothes, but we also have accessories and home decor.
To better understand the difference between the two product types, let’s look at some sublimation examples and compare ready-made shirts to hand-sewn all-over print shirts.
In the case of ready-made sublimation shirts, design prints are transferred directly onto the shirts. When sublimation paper is aligned with the shirts, areas around the seams might be folded and not get sublimated, and the shirts could end up with white streaks. Here’s what it looks like:
|White streak along the shoulder seam of a sublimation shirt||White streak along the side seam of a sublimation shirt||White streak under the armpits of a sublimation shirt|
To avoid this from happening to our all-over print shirts, we sew them from scratch using the cut & sew technique.
First, our in-house team of experts prints the design on a sheet of fabric, rather than a ready-made tee. We then cut the fabric into multiple sections—front, back, and both sleeves—and sew them together. This way there are no white streaks in sight.
The following suggestions are our top products. If you want to see all of our sublimation items, head to our product catalog, pick your category, and then filter your search by cut & sew.
We use the cut & sew technique for all kinds of products, like custom all-over print shirts. Our shirts come in different fits for men, women, kids, and youth, and in various styles, including crew necks, tank tops, crop tees, sport jerseys, and rash guards.
Currently, we offer two sublimation options under this category. Our sublimated hoodies and sweatshirts are made from a polyester and cotton blend and have a brushed fleece lining. These products are soft to the touch, extremely comfortable, and great for showcasing the pop of sublimation-printed colors.
Swimwear is perfect for sublimation. People love to wear joyful, vibrant colors to the beach, and as we already mentioned, the sublimation technique holds onto color very well.
Our bags are made of 100% polyester. This material is water-resistant and very durable. It’s also difficult to stain permanently because polyester is less absorbent than most fabrics.
For backpacks, fanny packs, bean bags, and other products that are made of thicker fabrics, designs tend to look darker when printed. Colors that are too close to each other in value can end up blending together. So we recommend increasing the contrast for better exposure.
All-Over Print Tote
If your target audience is customers with kids, check out the kids & youth category for cut & sew products. Kids love vibrant colors, and there are no better products to match the joyfulness of little ones than all-over print staples.
We have four types of mugs to choose from, all made with the sublimation technique. For mugs, the design is inkjet-printed using dye-sublimation inks and transfer paper. The image on the paper is printed and the paper is wrapped around the mug, then the ink is mixed with the coating, so when heat and pressure are applied to transfer the image, it becomes part of the mug.
Learn more: 37 Mug Design Ideas to Sell and Gift
The towels are made from cozy cotton terry and soft poly, and the throw blanket is made from polyester that’s soft and silky to the touch. We also offer custom flags, beanbags, pillows, and pillowcases that can make any room feel a little more dressed up.
When you choose sublimation print-on-demand products, you choose products on which your designs will be perfectly aligned and long-lasting.
Since sublimation ink seeps into the very fabric of the product, sublimation prints don’t crack, peel, or fade away. Even after multiple washes, the print will look as good as new. It’s a great selling point to assure customers that your product will serve them for years to come.
Plus, all-over print graphics are all the rage now. At Printful, they’re selling like hotcakes. Hoodies, yoga pants, backpacks, towels, mugs, and other sublimation products have been a huge hit this year, and we predict they’ll be just as popular in the foreseeable future. Also, our findings from Black Friday Cyber Monday indicate that customers are really loving our All-Over Print Basic Pillows, Throw Blankets, and White Ceramic Mugs With Color Inside.
What are other trendy sublimation products? Well the gaming industry is expected to grow to $268.8B by 2025. You can take advantage of its popularity by selling the highly-demanded All-Over Print Recycled Unisex Sports Jersey. It’s a fan favorite for individuals and teams alike.
Here are some more perks to choosing sublimation printing with Printful.
Although muted colors are making a comeback, love for vivid, lively colors won’t fade any time soon. Sublimation printing is perfect for bringing out the vibrant colors of photos, true-to-life images, as well as designs that don’t rely on perfect, fixed alignment from seam to seam. When picturing your all-over print product, keep those seams in mind and give your design some wiggle room!
Learn more: Sublimation vs. Screen Printing
With Printful, you can use sublimation printing to make the whole product your canvas. And we have an intuitive Design Maker you can use to do just that.
Play around with our free-to-use sample graphics and 50+ clipart collections to create original designs for free. You can also use customizable ready-made graphics, and 230+ background colors. Even though creating all-over print designs doesn’t require design skills, we still suggest that you follow the design guidelines. You can find them on each product page under the File guidelines tab.
It might seem like all-over prints take quite a while to create but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Have a go at our Design Maker’s built-in pattern tool, and get your design ready in no time. Here’s a tutorial to get you started:
All of your product orders go through our 3-step quality check before we ship them out.
Our automated software checks graphics for quality before fulfillment, and our AI tool evaluates if the image needs any adjustments before printing
Fulfillment specialists check quality while orders are being fulfilled
We run a final quality check after the blank product is customized
Sublimation products are hand-sewn by our team and our professionals make sure there are no white lines and your design is perfectly aligned from seam to seam.
We also ensure our color quality is up to a high standard for sublimation products by using specialized Mimaki inkjet printers. Watch this video to learn more about how our products are printed, and how we control the quality.
With its vibrant, long-lasting colors, and trendy all-over print design possibilities, sublimation printing is at the forefront of both everyday and niche fashions. On top of that, it can be done on-demand, without any upfront investments.
Now that you’ve learned what sublimation printing is and how it can grow your store, all that’s left for you to do is create your own sublimated products. If you already have a design you’re eager to print on a product, just hop on our product catalog, choose your favorite, and add your design or create one from scratch using our Design Maker.
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Lilija is an SEO content writer at Printful. She's passionate about ecommerce, and in her spare time, she's an avid reader of various book genres.