Alternatives to Sublimation Printing

Can’t get the “true colors” on your cotton bags and shirts? Doesn’t matter if sublimation doesn’t allow you to print something other than polymer. There are alternatives to everything, and sublimation is no different. Here you’ll find the best 6 alternatives to sublimation printing to customize stuff you previously couldn’t.

Alternatives to Sublimation Printing

The alternatives to sublimation come to the front when your printing substrate is a natural fiber because sublimation doesn’t work on anything unless the substrate is a polymer or has some of its counts. So, what we’ll do for the rest of the material? These are the hacks you can use as a replacement for sublimation printing.

  • DTG (direct to garment)
  • Heat Transfer
  • Screen Printing
  • Vinyl Cutting
  • Hand and Spray Printing
  • Embroidery

Top 6 Alternatives to sublimation printing:

Sublimation printing has many alternatives that the industry has been practicing for decades. But not each of them sits ideal to try as a replacement for sublimation printing since sublimation has set the bars a little high. So, after a considerable trial and error, we concluded these 6 printing methods as the best alternatives to sublimation printing.

1. DTG (Direct to Garment)

Direct to Garment is a simplified sublimation process in which the printer prints directly on the fabric. It eliminates the extra expense of sublimation paper and one added step, which collectively saves your time and effort. Plus, the designs are permanent and vibrant.

Required supplies and tools:

DTG doesn’t require a lot of equipment and supplies, and that’s one of its plus points. All it needs are the following 4:

  • Digital Inkjet Printer
  • Heat press
  • Blowers
  • Pre-treatment Liquid & Sprayer

However, a digital printer is expensive, but of course, it’s a one-time investment. You don’t need to buy ink and papers separately because the ink and cartridges already come with the printer, and the fabric goes straight under the printer, so no sublimation paper is required.

Method:

  • First, get the design ready from the design software. This is a typical first step in any printing method. 
  • Spray Pre-treatment liquid on the shirt to make it damp. 
  • Place the shirt inside the print and print it directly. 
  • After the print, heat it under the heat press for 30-60 seconds at 350 F. 
  • Let it cool down, and you’re done! 

Our verdict: 

The biggest problem that DTG solves is printing on any fabric type, unlike sublimation. The prints are fade-free and scratch resistant. However, this method is only for fabrics only. You can’t print rigid substrates. In addition, DTG is more eco-friendly since there’s no paper waste and room for cutting and trying. 

2. Heat Transfer

Heat Transfer is a twin brother of sublimation, having pretty much the same procedure; besides, it’s a bit more sensitive to heat. However, it caters to substrates beyond polymers, which gives heat transfer an upper hand over sublimation printing. The difference between heat transfer and sublimation is the addition of extra steps. Printing on transfer paper isn’t enough. You need to cut it, transfer it to another adhesive sheet, and finally, on the substrate.

Required supplies and tools:

  • Inkjet printer
  • Heat transfer sheets and ink
  • Adhesive sheet
  • Vinyl cutter
  • Heat press machine
  • Heat pads and tape

Method:

  • Print the design on a heat transfer sheet via a heat transfer printer
  • Cut the design with a vinyl cutter/Cricut. Please don’t use scissors, as it’ll make your design look unprofessional. 
  • In the third step, you’ll place the cropped design on the adhesive sheet and heat it.
  • Then, the adhesive sheet is placed on the fabric or substrate you want to print and heat it with a heat press for a required time period. 
  • After heating, remove the film over the substrate, and you’ll get your printed substrate. 

Our verdict: 

Heat transfer, undoubtedly, is the closest to sublimation and has a comprehensive application. Despite that, this method is expensive because you need a cutter, heat press, and heat pads to reach the desired results. Plus, the prints aren’t much long-lasting if you don’t protect them from ironing and excessive UV rays. Conclusively, the method serves as an ideal alternative, but it increases the safety measures on the other hand. And we don’t think it’s a big deal. Come on!  The safety measures were in sublimation too. 

3. Screen Printing

Screen printing is complicated at the start, but you’ll become an expert with time. It’s the cheapest and oldest form of printing garments that provides quality and long-lasting results. Screen printing is quite a manual printing process. That’s one of the reasons it’s cheap. However, the process is lengthy and effort-requiring. 

Required supplies and tools: 

  • Screen-printing press
  • Vinyl kit (squeegee, mesh, frame)
  • Plastisol or water-based inks 
  • Emulsion 
  • Spray tack
  • Inkjet film 
  • Scoop coder 

The vinyl kit is optional. You can purchase a complete package or make your own squeegee and mesh home. 

Method:

Screen printing might seem effortless and fun, but it’s way more complicated and tiring than you think. It has a lot of steps in its processes. 

  • Prepare your emulsions and make the texture consistent. 
  • Pour a small amount of emulsion on the screen such that it creates a thin film. 
  • Keep the screen in the darkroom for over 2 hours to let it dry. 
  • Now print your design on a transparent sheet and place it on the screen’s backside. 
  • Set a bright light on top of it for 45 minutes since the emulsions are reactive to light. 
  • Wash the screen with a brush gently and cover the back with painter’s tape. 
  • Now lay the shirt on the surface and place the screen on top. 
  • Put a small amount of ink and spread it with the squeegee. 
  • Let the shirt dry. 

Our verdict: 

Screen printing is compatible with any fabric. However, it sits on the top of the fabric, which makes it more prone to cracks and scratches. It benefits those who print in bulk with similar logos or designs because you can change the colors and fabrics while the screen remains the same. And the best part? You don’t need any machinery! 

4. Vinyl Cutting

Vinyl cutting is a simplified heat transfer method, and it’s applicable for various substrates other than fabrics. However, it gets a bit longer because you need to print the vinyl separately. However, it is worth the extra effort.

Required supplies and tools:

  • Vinyl/ inkjet printer. (There are specialized printers for printing vinyl sheets, so make sure you have the right printer.)
  • Printable Vinyl sheets 
  • Vinyl cutter and laminate 
  • Heat press

Here’s a tip: buy a vinyl kit at once instead of buying the material separately. 

Method:

  • Print the design from an inkjet printer or vinyl printer. You need to print each color separately because the print will allow one color at a time. 
  • Using a Cricut, cut your design and combine all the pieces. 
  • Now place the design on your substrate and heat it under a heat press. 

Our verdict: 

Vinyl cutting is a durable method. Plus, you can start vinyl cutting from home with a low budget. The material and requirements aren’t hefty, and the process is more straightforward as well. Vinyl cutting is best for artisans who usually work with Cricut or Easy Subli. 

5. Hand and Spray Printing

Hand and spray printing is the most fun and exciting printing ways. It’s not as durable as other methods but definitely stays longer if taken care of. 

Required supplies and tools:

  • Spray paint or station 
  • Stencils 
  • Exacto 
  • Cut papers

Stencils are optional, though. You can use a simple design if you wish. The spray paint and station are of your choice as well. You can buy as many colors as you want, and the final thing is Exacto which serves as cutting. 

Method:

  • Spray the paint on the cut paper, get a simple paper, and have the same design sketched. 
  • Cut the design with Exacto or any cutting machine. 
  • Put the substrate on the spray station. Make sure it’s stretched and has no wrinkles and dust if it’s fabric. 
  • Place the design on the shirt. 
  • Spray through the design, so the spray gets embedded on the substrate. 

Our verdict: 

The only downside of spray painting is its poor durability. You can make kids’ outfits, jerseys, wooden chains, and trendy outfits or stuff that you’ll use for a temporary period. The learning curve is minimal, and you can start it side-by-side with sublimation. 

6. Embroidery

Embroidery is the oldest and the most durable technique for printing. Well, in technical terms, it’s not actually printing since you’re mainly doing artwork with threads on the fabric. The problem with embroidery is they’re primarily handmade, limiting the production unit.

There are many types of embroidery, i.e., stitch count, 3D embroidery, or digitized embroidery. It’s not compulsory to do embroidery by hand, but the embroidery machines are so expensive that you can’t buy them to start a sole-proprietorships or a small business.

Required supplies and tools: 

  • Embroidery screen and threads 
  • Embroidery machine 

Our verdict: 

If you’re planning a low-volume and less investment startup, embroidery can be your best alternative to sublimation printing. You can create multi-color designs and more durable ones. Plus, embroidery creates a class in the fabric, yielding greater profits if you sell at higher rates. 

Conclusion: 

Printed garments and apparel have a known place in the current global market, and it’s dramatically increasing with each passing day. Of course, sublimation printing sits on the top, but you don’t have to stay limited to polymer substrates. With the alternatives of sublimation printing, you can customize cotton, linen, nylon, and many other substrates. Remember, the pros and cons are everywhere. You just need to figure out what works best for you, and you’ll find your way around! Good luck.

Emily

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