Sublimation Vs Heat Transfer – Thorough Analysis

When it comes to decorating apparel or any other material, there are multiple ways to do it. But the most widely used methods of printing aesthetic-looking designs on clothes and other accessories are Sublimation and Heat Transfer. This gives rise to the question that which method is better for printing. So a comparison of sublimation vs heat transfer can really help you in making your final decision.

Sublimation Vs Heat Transfr

It all really comes down to the preference when dealing with the subject of printing designs. One may like the sublimation method while the other would opt for heat transfer. This does not necessarily mean that the other method is not effective. Both the technique have their own fair share of pros and cons. In this blog, we’ll walk you through the most significant factors that would come in handy later for you to make your final call.

Sublimation Vs Heat Transfer:

The basic distinction between sublimation and heat transfer is the procedure. Meaning that the heat transfer only adds the printed design on top of the intended substrate. While sublimation prints the design by making use of ink in gaseous form.

Sublimation Vs Heat Transfer
Sublimation vs Heat Transfer

Both the techniques of printing which are sublimation and heat transfer give phenomenal results. The only difference is in the technology, along with the equipment that is being utilized for the purpose of decorating the substrate. But before we dive deeper into the sublimation vs heat transfer analysis, we must grasp the basic knowledge of both techniques of printing.

What About Heat Transfer?

So what the heck is Heat Transfer? Well, the answer is quite simple. It is one of the easiest methods of transferring your designs to the intended substrate. A heat transfer is nothing but a special kind of sheet of paper on which the image and/or the design is printed.

What About Heat Transfer

Once the design is printed on the transfer paper, it is placed on the substrate and then pressed with a help of a heat press. Some people also use a household iron but we highly recommend using the heat press for optimum results.

What Is Sublimation?

When it comes to sublimation, the entire process of printing is piece of cake. First, print the design that you want on a particular piece of paper known as the sublimation paper. After that, the sheet is put on the surface of the fabric which is supposed to be sublimated. After carefully placing the piece of paper on the substrate, heat press it away and you will get your favorite design on your favorite t-shirt.

What Is Sublimation

The only difference lies behind the sublimation ink, which is converted from solid-state to gaseous state, hence the name sublimation. When the ink is turned into gaseous form, the design is etched into the fabric of the garment.

Now that you have some sort of understanding of the basics of sublimation and heat transfer. It is time we dig deeper into the topic.

Cost & Materials:

Transferring images and other designs on clothes is extremely cheap when it comes to heat transfer. All you require is a trusty inkjet or laser printer for the purpose of printing designs, along with a heat press (or a household iron if you are not looking forward to breaking your wallet), a couple of heat transfer papers, and your piece of cloth that you want to decorate.

We highly suggest you give the Ricoma Ikonix Heat Press a try, as it is one of the most versatile and least expensive heat presses on the market right now. This bad boy is priced just a little over $200, which seems a fair price to us.

On the other hand, Sublimation might be a bit costly. But don’t worry, there are a number of printers that come with a complete sublimation kit which includes inks, papers, and all the other essentials (for instance, the Sawgrass SG500) for decorating fabrics. All you need to do is to own a heat press and you’re pretty much good to go.

Print Longevity:

In the case of sublimation, the ink is sublimated and engraved deep into the fibers of the garment. This is the reason why sublimation transfers last for quite a long time as compared to heat transfers. 

On the flip side, heat transfers only add a layer of the image and/or the design on the surface or top of the substrate. Due to this reason, the design or the image fades way too quickly and loses its charm after a couple of washes.

It does not necessarily imply that heat transfers are not suitable for decorating clothes. There are multiple transfer papers of premium quality that provide enhanced durability and a softer feel of the design once printed, for instance, PPD Inkjet Premium which we think is probably one of the best transfer papers.

Apparel Variety:

Through sublimation, you are able to decorate not only garments but also many other accessories such as mouse pads, mobile covers, ceramics, and what’s not? But when it comes to clothing, sublimation is only compatible with polyester (and poly-cotton blends, but the final result won’t be as fruitful as desired) as the fiber holds the ink very well. In addition to that, you can only use sublimation on light-colored garments.

In contrast, heat transfers can be used to transfer colorful designs and images on both light as well as dark-colored clothes. Along with that, you can also decorate polyester, cotton, and poly-cotton blends as well. So it seems that heat transfer takes the cake in this one.

Color Quality:

One of the most extraordinary features of Sublimation is that it allows you to print images and designs with vibrant colors. The ultra-high clarity makes the color pop which makes the quality of the color quite exceptional.

Heat transfer, on the other side, does not provide the same results as sublimation. This is where the heat transfers lack because the outputs you get from heat transfers are just not on the same level as the sublimation ones. Although it is possible to improve the color by using top-quality papers such as the JETPRO SOFSTRETCH Transfer Paper


One good thing about sublimation is that it saves your time and effort as you don’t have to manually crop out the design and/or print. But with heat transfers, you have to trim the design out for yourself. This can be done with either a scissor (if you have a lot of free time on your hand) or a cutting plotter (we advise you to go for Cricut EasyPress as it is less time-consuming). 

Benefits & Drawbacks Of Sublimation:

Extremely durable.Auto/self-weeding capability produces vibrant colors. Able to sublimate to soft and hard materials.
Only works perfectly with polyester. Doesn’t print on dark-colored fabric.

Benefits & Drawbacks Of Heat Transfer:

Relatively inexpensive & Budget-Friendly allows you to transfer designs on light and dark-colored garments. Able to print on polyester, cotton, and poly-cotton blends.Less time-consuming.
Does not allow you to print on hard materials.Less durable.

Sublimation Vs Heat Transfer – Which One To Go With?

Well! With everything that has been summarized above, we believe that both, sublimation and heat transfer are pretty much on the same level. It all really depends upon the preference of the individual and choosing the method of printing that suits them best.

Conclusively, if you are looking forward to a picture-perfect design that offers nothing less than an ideal, desired outcome, then there is nothing that can overshadow sublimation. Likewise, heat transfers are second to none when it comes to quick and affordable transfers.

This was an all-inclusive comparison of sublimation vs heat transfer covering all the important aspects of both methods of printing. Do let us know in the comment section down below which one will you go with!


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