How To Sublimate On Cotton | 4 surprising methods

Well yeah! You can now sublimate on cotton ONLY if you know the secret recipe. Previously, Cotton is a thing one should never sublimate. Of course, the theory still applies (sublimation doesn’t work on cotton). However, a few methods evolved that made the impossible possible. So today, we’ll learn how to sublimate on cotton with 100% vibrant colors.

How To Sublimate On Cotton

Although there are four methods I’ve used and explained in this article, I’ll show the results of each too. These are Easysubli, glitter HTV, cotton transfer papers/sublimation fabric sheets, and poly spray. So far, these are the only four methods that exist up till now.

I have included the tips and techniques too. Besides, I have mentioned the right products and materials I’ll be using here so you don’t end up disappointed (since there is a lot of spam and getting you to ruin your cotton sublimation just because of poor products is the least I want). So, let’s get to the business!

How to Sublimate on Cotton:

To sublimate on cotton, the first step is to make it sublimation-ink friendly by bringing any polymer substance in between. By either of the four methods you can sublimate on cotton;

  • Easysubli
  • glitter Htv
  • sublimation fabric sheet/cotton transfer papers
  • Polymer coating spray

Well, the cotton is still rigid and the sublimation ink can’t stand it. That doesn’t mean we artists should step back to screen printing only. Though, I personally love hacks and shortcuts (don’t hate me) and did the same to sublimate on cotton. I’m into commercial sublimation having this small factory where I sublimate different materials, most notably hats, T-shirts, mugs, tumblers, bags, and more.

I was a believer that cotton is a thing to NEVER try with sublimation. Of course, it couldn’t stop me try it out but every time I messed it up until I tried a few hacks and methods. These are;

  • Glitter HTV
  • easysubli
  • Cotton transfer papers/sublimation transfer sheets
  • Poly coating spray

My personal favorite is the sublimation transfer sheet method. Although, that doesn’t make the rest of the methods non-applicable. For this, I’ll leave the final decision to you as we carry out the sublimation process by trying all four methods. With the results of each, you can choose by yourself what works the best.

Methods for how to sublimate on cotton shirts:

Before we get to the methods, let me clear out a few things. For sublimation, first, you need sublimation essentials i.e

Cotton Fabric:

Cotton Fabric

The first thing is to identify what cotton fabric you are sublimating. If it is composite with some percentage of polymer, you can use a simple sublimation process, it’ll work fine. However, if it is 100% cotton, then you need to follow through with this article.

In addition, the colors matter as well. Glitter HTV or easy-subli are good ones to go with darker shirts while you can stick to the rest of the methods for light-colored cotton apparel. I’m using both light and darker colors of cotton shirts I bought from JOANN. They also have special discounts throughout the season.

Above all, the shirt should be made of 100% cotton. 50/50 shirts have less effective results compared to 100% poly shirts or 100% cotton shirts.

sublimation printer:

sublimation printer

A sublimation printer is worthy addition instead of using pre-ready sublimation designs. Though I’m not a hater of sublimation-ready designs, in fact, they make work simplified. However, they are not versatile in the longer run, that is why I find it comfortable having a sublimation printer and carrying out this thing by myself.

As in the sublimation business, I currently own five sublimation printers 3 from Epson and two from sawgrass. With these methods of sublimation printing on cotton, I’m using sawgrass virtuoso SG500. It is compatible with vinyl and also gives vibrant colors to sublimation paper prints.

sublimation paper:

To transfer the design, you need sublimation paper that fits your printer as well as complements your fabric in terms of color and clarity. I have this bundle of A-sub sublimation papers that works best with my sawgrass printer.

Design:

Many people have their designs pre-ready before they even start the process. If not, you can try out sublimation design software and let your creativity be in a fabric you wear. Here I’m using this one I bought from So Fontsy.

Heat press or easy press:

Transferring is the most crucial step in sublimation so make sure you are using an efficient heat press machine or easy press. Irons are not recommended since they don’t provide high temperatures and thus you’ll get no design in your apparel. Well, TUSHY Heat Press Machine and VEVOR Heat Press are some of the good heat presses to go with. Otherwise, Cricut easy press is all in all the best option.

Heat resistant tape

Heat resistant tape:

Heat-resistant tapes are essential to get the design fixed so it stays in the right position during transfer. I got these two rolls of Equty Baymers from amazon and they work great plus they are way too inexpensive.

Teflon sheet:

Teflon sheet

When heating up the fabric, Teflon sheets help prevent the design adheres to the machine or at the back of the fabric. So make sure to use these minor accessories to save you from bigger damages.

Lint roller:

Lint roller

It may sound exaggerating, but successful sublimation pretty much depends on lint rolling before you get them pressed. Because believe it or not, there are always some particles of dust or lint that mess up with the design when transferring so be a little wise and lint roll your fabrics. I have this Polardo lint roller I’m using since last year.

These are some basic sublimation essentials that you need at your end. Though, we are INDIRECTLY sublimating on the cotton so the “third-party material” is yet to look into. So let us dive into the methods to see how each of the methods works and what extra tools you might need across each of them.

Method#1 Siser Easysubli 

Siser Easysubli

Siser Easysubli is a breakthrough in the sublimation industry. They eliminate the two of the biggest drawbacks of using glitter HTV.

  1. You can finally get rid of the shiny glitters on the design that are not appealing to so many people including me. Second, the shine gets fades away after a while resulting in a wear-out ugly design. 
  2. You’ll be saved from the extended process of doing sublimation on the paper, then transferring on the glitter HTV through the press, and then doing your final sublimation.

Step by step process for sublimation with Siser Easysubli;

Getting the print-ready:

  1. First, get Easysubli HTV sheets. I’m using an 8.4 x 11 size that fits my design and my Sawgrass printer.
  2. Insert the sheet into the printer from the plain side and print the design directly on the vinyl sheet. Though, you can also print the design on your paper and then transfer it to the vinyl sheet. This process is extended but the results are definitely worth the extra effort.
  3. Once printed, cut the design with Cricut or scissors.
  • I prefer using Cricut since it does better with finishing especially the designs with lettering. 
  • Using Cricut simply saves my time and efforts when doing it in bulk.

Process of pressing sublimation on cotton:

  1. Pre-press the cotton shirt to remove any wrinkles on it. Make sure to lint roll it properly too. 
  2. Preheat the heat press or easy press that you are using. I’m using my heat press here and I’m setting the temperature at 400 Fahrenheit. I set the timer for 55 seconds as instructed by the manufacturers. 
  3. Now place the design upside down on the shirt. Calculate the measurements and place it in the exact area where you want your designs. 
  4. Fix the design firmly with the heat-resistant tape. 
  5. Cover with Teflon sheets (again, don’t miss this step out). Now that looks ready to get some heat.
  6. Turn on the heat press and let it heat for 55 heats.  
  7. Now, wait for 5 more minutes because the design will be hot and you don’t want to burn your hands. After it is cooled, remove the tapes, then the wrap off the design and you’ll get the designs. 

Actual Results:

Well, you can see the picture by yourself! It turns out amazing. I’d definitely rate the process 9/10 considering all the ins and outs. However, my concerns lie in the quality and with it I previously had success. There were three shirts I sublimated with these sheets a year back and they still look the same.

Though one of them was in orange color and I noticed a little faded color after 15-20 washes. Well, that’s on average you can depend on the lifespan of cotton sublimation. You can learn more about how long do sublimation transfer last in our blog. All in all, with the design transfer rate, the colors, and the durability, this method is a go-to option for recreational sublimation artists. However, it is a bit expensive for the commercial side since 2 dollars per sheet results in a big budget that eats your profit in a long run.

Method#2 Glitter HTV

Glitter HTV is the oldest hack people use to sublimate things that are non-friendly with sublimation. I have used glitter HTV to sublimate my darker shirts and they turned out great. The compulsory material you’ll need to sublimate onto cotton with Glitter HTV are;

  • Glitter HTV sheet. I’m using the one I bought from the VynylRus store. They have quite a quality sheets with compare better washability than the rest of the
  • Cricut machine. Here using scissors will additionally increase the work so better be safe and let the Cricut do the work. 

Sublimation Process:

  1. Get the design printed on sublimation paper from the printer. I’m still using the sawgrass, however, I needed a smaller size sheet to fit my printer so I cut my ‎13″x19″ large-sized A-Sub sublimation sheet to 8.5″ x 14″ to get it to fit perfectly on my printer.
  2. Make sure you mirror the design since it’ll go through dual transfers.
  3. Now place the design upside down on the Glitter HTV, apply the heat resistant tape, and get it heated for 50 seconds at 400 Fahrenheit.
  4. Wait for 5 minutes (Don’t be impatient). Remove the sublimation paper from the vinyl.
  5. Cut the design through Cricut and set it aside.
  6. Get the cotton shirt ready and I’m using my black one with this method. I’ve already pressed and lint rolled it so it can accept the design neatly.
  7. Follow the same pressing method (from step 6) that we used in the simple vinyl sheet above. However, instead of using 50 seconds, keep the shirt along with the design in the press for 60 seconds at the same temperature.

Actual results:

Initially, I thought, naaah! It’s not gonna work. The shirt is dark plus I had a few failed Glitter HTV projects because of the heat temperatures I used (I used to go with 80-90 seconds which causes burns). But damn! The results literally intrigued me. The colors were incredible and they complimented well on that black base of the shirt.

They are affordable too, I’m definitely gonna utilize this method for my next projects using the rest of the sheets that I have left in my bundle.

However, one thing I’d like to highlight; they are not as durable as the plain HTV as I’ve already mentioned above. Though, for the kids, they can surely be a great choice.

Method#3 Sublimation Fabric Sheets:

Sublimation fabric sheets OR cotton sublimation paper have recently made their entry into the sublimation business and so far, this is the most versatile and budget-friendly method of sublimation on a cotton t-shirt. Even though, many people are still not aware of their existence. If you are into the sublimation business and got a bundle of cotton apparel to sublimate on, I’d surely recommend you go with this method. Here’s why.

The process is very simple, it includes:

  1. Getting sublimation fabric sheets, of course. Subli-tech or Forever subli-light sheets are one of the great to go for. Get
  2. the heat-resistant gloves too, because you’ll need to quickly remove the sheet after pressing.
  3. Mirror the design and get it printed on the fabric sheet. Make sure you print it on the pain side, not the fabric one.
  4. Now get the shirt ready by pre-pressing it and lint rolling it.
  5. Place the sheet directly on the shirt (yes, there’s no hectic cutting process).
  6. Cover the shirt with Teflon sheets or parchment paper.
  7. Heat it for 30 seconds at 365 Fahrenheit.
  8. Wear heat-resistant gloves and remove the design as soon as it is pressed. However, be a little gentle, you don’t want the printer design to go messy during the wrap-off.

Actual Results:

First of all, there is zero mess which alone is the sole reason to choose this over any other cotton sublimation method. Second, the process is way easier, even the entry-level artist can get a good hold of it quickly.

Now comes the transfer. Comparatively, it is the most accurate and vibrant one of all four methods. The sublimation fabric sheets are very thin so they transfer just as you do it directly on the cotton. Above all, there is no cutting and weeding (unless you want to add an extra step). And finally, they have the best washability, so it’s a 10/10 method for cotton sublimation any day!

Method#4 Poly Coating Spray:

 Poly Coating Spray

The last method is the Poly Coating Spray and it’s the instant cotton sublimation process. All you need is to get a Poly Coating spray that’ll cost you around 10-15 dollars. I own one from Kyler, and it is UV resistant too so the designs have an added life after several washes and exposition under the sun.

The process includes just a few steps:

  1. Get the design ready on sublimation paper and set it aside.
  2. Spray on the cotton shirt just enough to dampen it.
  3. Ready the cotton shirt following the same process above.
  4. Place the design upside down, fix it with heta-resistant tapes, and cover it with Teflon paper.
  5. Heat it for 30 seconds only and set the temperature to 350 Fahrenheit.
  6. After heating, let it cool down and spray the poly coating again to secure the design and ensures its finality.

Actual results:

Honestly, I’m not a fan of poly coating spray yet the process still managed to make me wow. Though, it is the quickest method and the cheapest one. You’ll just need to spray only that happens to be the cheapest cotton sublimation transfer material.

No cutting, no weeding, and transfer designs on different types of vinyl first. It is best recommended for home use and for those who need small cotton sublimated shirts for their kids.

However, durability is the biggest drawback. After each wash, the spray fades and so does the design.

Sublimation Heat Press Settings For Cotton:

Heat press settings are the core of successful cotton sublimation projects. Basically, they need higher temperatures such that 350-400 Fehreinheit with different times depending on the material you are using.

If you are using a heat press machine, the maximum time should not exceed 60 seconds, any second beyond that, it’ll burn your design. While the minimum is 30 seconds, you are not getting a good transfer at any time less than that. However, the setting varies with Cricut and Easysubli, so you should never miss looking at the instructions first before you set it. Remind me of the times I used to make this mistake that cost me three of my important projects!

Can I sublimate on 100% cotton?

By now, you have seen various methods that I tried. The results with some of them are amazing too. However, you might have a question “why we are not trying sublimation directly on cotton?” When I was new to sublimation, I had this similar question, and though, I tried it a few times hoping that it’ll turn out fine.

It was a time my I was about to lose my mind till I paid attention to the sublimation science with natural fabrics. Cotton has closed pores and sublimation ink needs to be defused. With polyester, the high temperatures open up the pores so that sublimation ink gets locked and neatly and permanently. On the other hand, heat has no effects on cotton and that is why it never works on cotton. Therefore, we always need a third channel in between to make it work.

Problem with cotton sublimation:

Cotton sublimation needs everything at full accuracy. From the paper to the settings of the temperature, everything should be considered wisely. The tools and materials such as a printer, paper, heat press, etc you are using should be high quality plus the temperature must be set in accord with the instructions that come with the manufacturer’s guide.

If there’s even a slight carelessness in any of the steps, the transfer won’t come true plus it’ll fade away as soon as you wash it.

Best Way To Sublimate On Cotton – Conclusion:

By now, you’d definitely get a good grip on how to sublimate on cotton and what method to use for 100% success. At your end, the methods are using Easysubli, glitter HTV, poly coating spray, or sublimation fabric sheets. Though you cannot directly sublimate on cotton, these methods can give you an edge with higher success rates.

By far, the best way to sublimate on cotton, in my opinion, is the sublimation fabric sheets. Though, you can have a differing opinion on this one depending on what materials are available to you, whether you do sublimation in a business or for fun, and which method you are most comfortable with.

I hope I have answered and catered to each of your questions and cleared up your thought about sublimating onto cotton. In case you need more clarity about anything regarding it, leave your queries in the comment section. I’d love to hear from you.

Emily

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